Top 5 gadgets for the cookgeek


I am a total gadget whore; particularly when it comes to kitchen-related items – my term is cookgeek.  I love all cook’s tools with a passion, gadgets that slice, dice, sliver and mush; gizmos for charring, caramelising, grilling, grinding and grating; wine and bar tools; all specialty knives; groovy electrical appliances …  I adore kitchen-related gadgets, love browsing stores such as Cut It Out and WA Hospital Supplies (and Williams-Sonoma and online), and am always deeply excited when I find a new gadget or appliance that will make life in the kitchen easier and more interesting.

To make it onto this list, items have to not only be a cool design but something I actually use, not one of those items that languishes at the very back of your kitchen cupboard for ten/fifteen/twenty years.  Getting this list down to five was difficult; I may have to post a revised version sometime.

Number One has to be my Wusthof Classic 17 cm Santoku knife with hollow ground edge.  While it has been said by many top chefs that the only thing a chef really needs is a good chef’s knife, I must twist this axiom to include my Santoku.

I am a big fan of good quality, solid, carbon steel tanged knives.  I have a nice collection of Mundial knives (16 cm and 20 cm), carving knife and fork, small utility knives, sapphire sharpening steel, plus a gorgeous Global waterstone.  The Santoku is my new love and to a large degree has edged out the plain chef’s knives, and the carving and utility knives. It is a lighter, better balanced cross between a normal chef’s knife and an Oriental (Chinese/Japanese) cleaver.  The Hollow Ground Edge refers to serrations pressed into the sides of the blade, which make for – I find – sleeker slicing and easier removal of foods, especially “sticky” things like garlic and meats, from the blade.

It is, as I said, light and beautifully balanced, so it is a great option for small wimpy people like me with joint and musculoskeletal problems who are still rabid cookgeeks.  The lighter weight does not in any way compromise the Santoku’s effectiveness in whacking through meat, chicken carcasses, etc.  It’s a dream for chopping vegetables and reducing garlic to mush.

The Wusthof Classic brand has a lot to do with the brilliance of this item; I am even considering – when I win Lotto, or something – trading in my Mundials for a set of Wusthofs.  I’m much more impressed with their overall craftsmanship and performance.

The 17 cm Santoku with Hollow Ground Edge retails at around $210.00 but you can get better deals – or worse! – if you look around.  Cut It Out and other knife specialty shops offer knife sharpening services if you aren’t into DIY with a waterstone or other implements.

Two – Braun Multiquick Hand Blender.  I’ve had a Braun Multiquick of some model or other in my arsenal for about 20 years – usually increasing in wattage and groovy accessories with each new model (parents and brothers have scored the old, spurned models).  I’m not sure of the model number of my current baby, but it’s 500 watts and has as well as the standard immersion “shaft”, a good sized grinder which can tackle just about everything, and a beaker, which I use mainly for cocktails and smoothies.  Newer models have higher wattage – 600 watts which is more than many food processors you see on the market – plus ice crushers and whisks.  That’s next on my list … maybe.

The immersion blender is brilliant for pureeing foods, especially cream soups, and the aforementioned smoothies.  The grinder attachment is the real beauty; the blade can handle pretty much anything.  I haven’t tried coffee beans but it can handle my rather tough home made curry pastes, pesto, mincemeat mixtures, nuts and chocolate with ease.  It’s also very easy to clean and care for, and making your own curry pastes is an absolute breeze.

… I don’t own a food processor – yet – but have my eye on the Cuisinart 3.5 Litre Power Prep Plus, which may render the Braun redundant for such jobs as curry pastes and dumpling innards , with the additional advantage of greater capacity.  Never ever for creamy soups though! – who wants to have to lean down on the lid of a food processor to stop boiling hot Potage Parmentier spraying all over self and kitchen when there’s an immersion blender handy?

Three – Zyliss Mandoline.  This was a rather dangerous purchase – what, me and incredibly sharp slide-y blades?  A recipe for disaster (and I have had one rather nasty incident, but I learned from it, honest).  The Zyliss Mandoline is a really nice design, very solid easy-clean white plastic, with a very comfortable hand grip on the underside at one end – the starting line, so to speak.  The “pusher” which the vegetable of choice is placed into for sliding over the blade can be mounted on either side for left- and right-handed people – a nice touch.  The pusher is very safe and designed to keep fingers way from the blade.  It’s only idiots like me who have such incidents … but be warned all the same, and they are definitely NOT child-friendly.

The blades themselves are interchangeable; there are five, of different widths and shapes.  Three are plain ranging from 7 mm to 0.7 mm, perfect for potato dishes such as gratins and vegetable chips, yes?  The other two blades are jagged teeth for julienne-ing, for salads, coleslaws, pretty garnishes, whatever.  The sky’s the limit.

I do love this gadget, and had looked everywhere for a mandoline for sometime.  I was thinking I might have to order a $300.00 model from the US when I spied the Zyliss (which is safer and better made and more versatile than the basic models I’d been looking at), at only $50!  I love the Zyliss brand and have many of their gadgets in my cookgeek drawer – the Swivel Peeler is the best peeler EVER.

Four – Le Creuset Screwpull.  Where would we be without a decent corkscrew?  I have two versions of the Le Creuset Screwpull – the Pocket and the Table versions.  They share the same design concept – the user turns the handle/tap at the top and the corkscrew spirals down into the cork and pulls it out.  All the user has to do is remove the cork from the corkscrew – there’s no yanking, pulling, and breaking of cork (or bottle, or user’s arm) involved.

The Table version comes with a foil cutter, and you can buy separate foil cutters for the Pocket version – I’d really recommend one of these.  I believe that even the most dedicated user of the Waiter’s Friend could be converted to a Screwpull.  I do not understand why they’re not used in restaurants – probably for le snob value (hey look how kewl and au fait I am!).  Personally, if something is groovy and makes my life easier, and prevents me from subluxing a shoulder, I’m happy.

As with all things Le Creuset they are a great design, come in a range of colours, and are not cheap.  But they last forever; I mean it, I’ve had mine for about 15 years and they’ve got some pretty hard use and are still going strong.

Five – Old Thompson Carousel Spice Rack.  I wasn’t really sure if this qualified, but it is a kitchen tool that has made my life easier and is an absolute joy to use.  And it looks damn cool.  It is, as the name suggests, a carousel spice rack – it turns on a centre pole with a top and bottom of solid looking square chrome plate.  The jars are glass with black and chrome lids, and slide into their little circular compartments at a 45° angle.  Very pretty.  The jars come already labelled but as I had different herbs and spices to add in, and some there that I had no use for (Italian Seasoning? WTF?) I made my own labels on the computer and they look just as handsome.  I arrange my herbs and spices in alphabetical order so when I’m at the stove all I have to do is reach to the side, whiz my Old Thompson around and grab what I want out of this delightful culinary merry-go-round.  Much, much better than hunting through shelves and rummaging into the back of cupboards.

My model has 20 jars; there are 16- and 8-jar models also available.  Mine cost about $100.00 some years ago but I got it at half price at the time, but would have paid the full price without a blink.  It’s sweeeeet.

What are your favourite cookgeek items?  I’d love to know – also where you shop and where you found your treasures.

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