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This is the second post in my new Sarah’s Gadget Showcase series. Post 1 (Audio Gadgets) is also available.

Disclaimer: The following has nothing to do with libraries, unless you’re holding cooking programs :)

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Like many people, I love to cook.  I tend to stick to the basics.  I am definitely not a kitchen appliance purchaser.  I do not own a bread machine–if I make bread, I’m going to knead it by hand like nature intended.  I’m old-fashioned that way.  That being said, I do have nifty tools that I love.

Sarah’s Love of Foooooooood

Let me start by explaining why I love to cook.  Cooking is love.  There is nothing in the world like creating a wonderful dish and seeing someone you care about enjoy it.  Seeing the person smile and make that scrunched-forehead-while-chewing “OMG this is amazing” face…  Seeing a hand reach for more…  Sharing your techniques…  Beautiful.  You’ve created something that not only pleases the palate, but sustains the body. Magic.

I was taught as a child by a cast of amazing women in my family.  I learned to make cookies and a killer pie crust from my great-grandmother when I was so small I still needed a step stool to reach the counter.  My dad’s mother taught me how to make salad that didn’t include iceberg lettuce and how to cook vegetables properly (read: not over-cooked, gray, mushy Midwestern vegetables like I was served growing up).  My mom’s mother taught me how to make fudge, chocolate sauce, apple butter, and to can peaches and tomatoes.  And my own dear mother taught me everything else I learned as a kid–lasagna, casseroles, cakes and frosting, cacciatore, potatoes a thousand different ways, on and on.

I became vegetarian in my teens and vegan a few years ago. With those changes, I learned to cook differently.  I learned to cook dishes I had never heard of growing up, much less eaten — quick pickled cucumbers, pesto, scones, risotto, beer-battered mushrooms, potato tempeh sausages, congee, baby bok choy in garlic sauce, haupia pie, tempura, curries, even (*gasp*) how to properly cook white rice that did not come out of an Uncle Ben’s box.

I love my diverse diet, and I love cooking for myself.  Last night? Pesto and gnocchi, both made from scratch.  A few nights before that? Black bean and pumpkin tamales made from scratch with homemade salsa and guacamole. Oh yeah.

And with all this cooking, I need tools that make the job easier or better.  Here are my favorites.

The Gadgets

American Innovative quad timer ($29.95): You can set four separate concurrent timers that can all be adjusted, paused, or reset independently.  The large LCD display shows up to two of the timers at once.  Easy to control click wheel and buttons makes the timer priceless when your hands are covered in flour or oven mitts. Because I cook multiple things at once quite frequently, this is a lifesaver.  I used to time one thing on the microwave, one thing on my phone, one thing on the oven, etc.  Ridiculous. This is perfect.  Just imagine how much easier Thanksgiving will be!  Well, the dinner cooking part. I can’t help with the family drama.  That’s all part of the traditional celebration, no?

OCD Chef Cutting Board ($24.99): Speaking of family drama, yes–there is an OCD Chef Cutting Board. I mean no disrespect to people with OCD (trust me) but it is what the device is called.  A 9″ by 12″ beechwood board with measurements down to the millimeter, including various angles of cuts as well. Super, super precise and it makes me feel like an engineer while I’m chopping veggies.

 

 

Pixel oven mitts ($16.99): *tee hee*  Fairly good oven mitts, and they make you look nerdy. With that extra boost they become really good oven mitts.

 

 

 

 

Oster automatic wine opener ($19.99): One-push of a button and your bottle of wine is opened up, cork drawn up into the opener. Push another button and it ejects the cork. Rechargable, works every single time, and is easy on the hands and wrists (which is why I bought it).

 

 

 

JA Henckels International knives ($varies): They start sharp and they stay sharp. They don’t rust, bend, or loosen from the handle.  They have a lovely weight, a perfect balance.  I love how these knives feel in my hand.

 

 

Kapoosh knife block ($39.99): And to put my lovely blades in, Kapoosh! I’d seen these on gadget blogs and blown them off, but then I tried one in a store and literally said “Ooooooh!” aloud to no one in particular.  It’s a whole bunch of little teeny tiny rods (think very small dowels). Slide the knife in wherever you want in the block, and poof! It sticks. Better for the blades too — less wear and tear than in a traditional knife block.

 

 

Air Bake cookie sheets ($15-$20): Best cookie sheet on the planet. End of story.  Stuff cooks evenly and doesn’t burn on the bottom. I will never go back to a normal cookie sheet again. Ever! You can pry this one from my cold, dead hands.  Then I’ll probably reach up at least once, B-horror-movie style, and grab it back.

 

 

Circulon cookware ($varies): Circulon evenly heats things and doesn’t burn them. Simple as that.  I notice this particularly with the larger pans and pots, cooking chili or sauces.  Evenly distributed heat is key when you’re someone who may from time to time forget to “continuously stir.”

 

 

 

Wonder Plunger measuring cup ($5.99): Suction-based, plunge the cup down to the exact measurement you need, pour liquid in, plunge the liquid out.  Nothing wasted, no need to scrape the sides of a measuring cup with a finger (ahem, spatula, of course).  This is a huge effort saver when it comes to viscous liquids like molasses, brown rice syrup, oils, etc.  Best $6 I’ve spent of late.

 

 

 

 

Zojirushi Mr. Bento Stainless Steel Lunch Jar ($42.88): Bento! In a canister! In a little shoulder bag with cutlery! Cute, dishwasher safe, and perfectly sized.  Downside?  I wish I remembered to use it more.  Laziness rules sometimes, and I just grab something portable and throw it into a container. This requires a modicum of forethought. It does make you look cool though.

 

 

 

 

 

Butter Boy butter (or vegan margarine) holder ($9.05): I <3 corn on the cob. I do not <3 putting margarine/butter on the aforementioned corn.  Except when I use Butter Boy. Jam some margarine down into his neck, then push the plunger underneath him to push out exactly what you need.  Curved perfectly for corn, no need to have messy hands ever again. Thank you Butter Boy!

 

 

 

 

 

Grandma Witmer’s Old Fashioned Peanut Buter Mixer ($9.95): Yes, I eat natural peanut butter. Go ahead and crack the left-coast-vegan-Californian stuff now.  It is yummier and better for you. So there. But it’s a bitch to mix up the first time. This mixer screws on top of the jar in place of the lid, and then you just turn the handle. I’m excited now to crack open a new jar of peanut butter whereas before it induced cold night sweats hallucinating about spilling oil all over the floor and being too weak to stir a fork in the hard-as-rock peanut part. When I bought mine, there was just the one model. Now they have tons of choices with better ergonomics and for various jar sizes. Nice!

 

What do I still want to buy?

Breville Juice Extractor  ($200-$500) - I like juicing. Veg, fruit, all mushed up…all good.  But I hate pulp like the plague and the nasty airy chalky frothy junk you get on top of a lot of fresh juices makes me kinda nauseous. Voila! The Breville Juice Extractor even has a “foam separator attachment.” Nice! At the cost though, this one’s going to have to wait a while.

And…a good espresso machine – I was also recently exposed to a most excellent low-profile table-top espresso machine that I now want. Must…get…make…and…model.  The problem is–home or office?  Or both?  Decisions, decisions.

Update: The espresso machine is an illy Francis Francis Y1 iperEspresso Machine.  $295. Definitely want. Low profile, pretty, and *gasp* it comes in black!

Time to talk back! What are your favorite kitchen gadgets?  What do you recommend to friends and family?  What would you never give up?  Pray tell.  I have about negative $1,000 budgeted for kitchen gadgets for the rest of the year, and that debt ain’t gonna spend itself. So bring it!

“Sarah’s Gadget Showcase, Part 2 (Cooking & Food Gadgets)”

  1. Judi Wolinsky Says:

    Would you share the black bean and pumpkin tamales recipe. Sounds wonderful.

  2. Alan Stolson (nerd boy) Says:

    That peanut butter mixer is going to save my life. I recommend Oxo anything. Everything they make is wonderfully useful.

    And is it weird that the thought of a hot librarian wielding deadly blades makes me happy? Probably. Am I sorry? No. Because “Bookin’ Blades” is your superhero persona now if you ever need one! Seriously Sarah thank you for sharing.

  3. Paulette Says:

    OMG–I am ordering the cutting board & knife block; I own the peanut butter mixer and the Wonder plunger measuring cup. Cool stuff. Hope you will post the espresso machine decision soon

  4. Astrid Says:

    Love, love, love my immersion blender. Mine is from Cuisinart. Only $25 and it is the best thing for blending soups and making quick smoothies in the beaker that comes with it!

  5. Brad Wirz Says:

    I think you just single-handedly helped me finish my Christmas shopping list (for myself and others)! The only question is which ones to choose. That knife sharpener looks amazing, as does the wine opener (ours just broke after, dare I say it, years of over-use). And who doesn’t need a Butter Boy!

    Thanks for sharing!

  6. Sarah Houghton (Librarian in Black) Says:

    Quick clarification – the Kapoosh is a knife holder, not a knife sharpener. :)

  7. Denyse R. Says:

    I’m right there with you with the Air Bake cookie sheets. Mine are a little worse for the wear but I will NEVER do without them! The other gadget that I cannot do without is my KitchenAid stand mixer. It gets used at least once a week and I’m not sure how I ever baked without it.

  8. Sarah's Gadget Showcase, Part 2 (Cooking & Food Gadgets … Says:

    [...] more here:  Sarah's Gadget Showcase, Part 2 (Cooking & Food Gadgets … Posted in Elecronics info | Tags: about, animation, apple-stores, following-has, [...]

  9. Maryanne Mills Says:

    I’ve got a Breville juice extractor and LOVE it– when I actually use it of course. My favorite kitchen helper right now has been transported to my office: The Capresso PerfecTea glass water kettle with variable temperature settings (5). So, set it to 160F for green tea, 195F for your oolongs and boil for black teas. I know it sounds ridiculous, but my green tea tastes much better now that I’m not boiling it.

  10. Jenny Reiswig Says:

    A few of my favorite gadgets:
    The Perfect Beaker – you can find it at a lot of places online. That’s it’s name. Has tons of different measurements on the side, is lightweight and easy to read.
    Escali primo digital kitchen scale. I’m trying to watch what I eat more and beating into my brain what a “serving” really is. This is a low-profile unfussy kitchen scale that measures out your grams or ounces. It’s very small and easy to put away.
    Cuisinart crockpot: Set it and forget it – nothing like throwing in some tomatoes, oil and spices in the morning and coming home to slow-cooked fresh tomato sauce with not one ounce of preservatives or HFCS. It also does a great job cooking hard winter squash whole – no more hacking. I like this one because it has four heat settings and comes in a smaller 3qt model which is great for a spinster librarian like me.
    Tip for the thrifty: I wouldn’t stack them up against Henckels for quality, but Ikea sells knives that are amazingly good quality for the price. So if you can’t afford great knives right now, these will do you well for quite a while til you save your pennies.

  11. Jenny Reiswig Says:

    Ugh, wrong it’s. Its name. I know better. Gah.

  12. Spinstah Says:

    [...] -Sarah Houghton-Jan, from “Sarah’s Gadget Showcase, Part 2 (Cooking & Food Gadgets)“ [...]

  13. Eliza Says:

    I keep looking for an espresso maker whose parts are all stainless steel, could be glass but NOT plastic.
    Have you come across one?

  14. Sarah Says:

    @Eliza – I have not, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist!

  15. kp Says:

    For my family that quad timer seems as though it would fulfill so many needs. Instead of having all different buzzers going off this seems to be a very convenient gadget to easily keep track of what food you are preparing, and even better there is less chance of loosing a timer in the craziness that is the kitchen. When using it did you ever find that one of the timers didn’t go off/got deleted? That would be the only worry for me.

  16. Sarah Says:

    @kp: it works perfectly :) never had a problem.

  17. Christine Says:

    I love my Keurig, if you like tea or coffee this is the best $110 I ever spent. Frankly it’s about the same price as some of the electric water heaters I considered in the past for tea, and provides the same function. Thanks for your electronics posts, it’s great to hear about these things from someone with no agenda.

  18. Sarah Houghton (Librarian in Black) Says:

    Nope, no agenda! Just stuff I <3

  19. Linda Eells Says:

    Best one-cup coffee maker EVER…Cheap cheap cheap, low tech, a snap to clean, and really does make one excellent cup o’ brew. My husband and I are totally addicted.
    http://aerobie.com/products/aeropress.htm

  20. Sandra Fernandez Says:

    the Mr. Bento lunchboxes are awesome. One of my friends has one, and I’ve had it on my “to buy” list for a while. maybe it’s time to just buy it.

  21. Ann Says:

    @Linda….just purchased the super cheap aeropress in an attempt to create a little mindful ritual that produces a lovely cup of coffee (and hoping that will keep me at one cup per day). I’m on week two and I have to say: Love this thing. Love it love it. It by far beats the automatic drip and inches out the pour over method too. I do prefer cold press but the it is way too labor intensive to do all the time. This new little press is soooooo awesome. I was worried it would be too much like a french press which I don’t like. But, it isn’t. The taste is incredible and the clean up is so easy. And you can clean off the filters and reuse if you prefer. I’m a huge fan of the Americano and I’m sure my girlfriend is sick of hearing me say: if I could just have one Americano every morning….. (i’m too frugal to puchase coffee every morning). This is probably as close as I’m going to get to a real Americano in my own kitchen.

  22. Blue Mountain Bistro Says:

    We like the Butter Boy! It’s soon becoming corn season in the Hudson Valley, and the question always is – how do expect kids to butter their corn well when adults have trouble doing it? The Butter Boy can be the perfect solution! Also want to mention that in our experience, a basket filled with useful & unique kitchen gadgets makes an awesome gift for family & friends who love to cook! We enjoyed your blog post Sarah.

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