New kitchen tools for the new year!

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Learning to cook seems to lead to life-long learning. My first attempts at cooking were limited to cake mixes before I ventured into making baked goods from scratch. It wasn’t long before I tried making homemade pumpkin pie.

This was before kitchen gadgets such as blenders or Cuisinarts® were common, which meant roasting chunks of pumpkin, processing the pumpkin through a ricer, and cooking the riced pumpkin with spices on the stovetop. That was the first and last time I ever used a ricer; I admit, I have not seen one in anyone’s kitchen since then.

Kitchen gadgets seem to mirror other areas of life, whether it’s art or sewing or gardening or carpentry. Different tools come into fashion and fall out of fashion. We initially learn the basics, then work to achieve higher skills, often purchasing more expensive equipment to achieve the results we want. And yet some of the best tools of any trade are antiques that have stood the test of time.

Cooking gadgets span several areas: technology that combines art, science and practicality. Today we look at kitchen gadgets in each of these areas.

First, the current high-tech cooking trend mirrors one used in high-end restaurants: Sous-vide. This French term translates to “under vacuum.” What exactly does that mean? Sous-vide combines the art and science of slow cooking at low temperatures with that of a bain-marie, which is a water bath held at a low, fixed temperature. This technique requires that food be sealed in plastic. Meats and vegetables cooked using this method have superior texture and flavor. This is because the lower cooking temperatures help seal in liquids and flavors that are lost to high-heat cooking, which rapidly breaks down the food’s cellular structure. And, while grilling or roasting can result in dry or overcooked food, one benefit of sous-vide is that a controlled low cooking temperature in water prevents food from ever being overcooked.

But the drawbacks to sous-vide include a learning curve involved in understanding the process, then applying it to tried and true recipes. It’s quite a departure from the classic use of an oven or crock pot. Next, home cooks usually need to research and compare various sous-vide methods and equipment. With price points ranging from about $150 to more than $500, this investment is for the adventurous soul who is not faint of heart.

High-end technology plays into cooking gadgets in different ways. Dedicated cooks can purchase the Prep Pad, a smart scale that links with your electronic devices to register the nutritional information of the food you weigh, computing carbohydrates, fat, protein and calories. In fact, appliances from crock pots to wall ovens are able to interface with technology, allowing you to start cooking processes, as well as monitor them, remotely.

Remember the food replicators on Star Trek? We’re not quite there yet, but consider this: microwave ovens started changing the way people cook more than 40 years ago. One can only imagine what technology will offer 40 years from now.
Many home cooks search for recipes on their laptops, tablets and cell phones, and then carry their device to the kitchen and chopping-block. Whether you are multitasking or just forgetful, it’s a sad day when your electronics come into contact with what you’re cooking. If this describes your cooking style, the Sony Xperia™ tablet may provide an ideal solution. The Xperia tablet can withstand being soaked in running water and even being submerged in water for up to 30 minutes.
But there are low-tech items you might find while shopping for something else. One example: while browsing items at Target for a baby shower, I discovered the Boon Grass Countertop Drying Rack. This simple one-foot-square white tray holds spiky lime green plastic shoots of “grass” meant to hold just-washed-up baby bottles and pacifiers, allowing them to air dry. I immediately saw that this could also apply to cheese knives, hors d’oeuvres forks, wine glasses, chopsticks, shish kabob skewers and other small items that would otherwise be lost in dishwashers or sink drains. This drying rack now has its pride of place on our kitchen counter.

And some low-tech gadgets are as mesmerizing as high-tech gadgets. Case in point: apple peelers. Retailing for about $30, the apple peeler will magically peel, slice and core apples in the blink of an eye. I had seen these peelers for years, but didn’t get one until I was given twelve pounds of apples. In less than half an hour, those apples were processed and made into apple pie and slow-cooked apple butter.

Keep your eyes open for kitchen gadgets that can do the heavy lifting; whether high-tech or old-school, what works best for you is the best investment. ■

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