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July 27, 2011

Kitchen Gadgets

Margaret Maron

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about world-changing gadgets and how I disagreed with the list that the History Channel thought were most important. (Lots of you did, too.)  That set me thinking about how we might rank the gadgets in our own kitchens, excluding the refrigerator, the range, and the dishwasher.

100_1829I have two drawers devoted to the usual assortment of gizmos: potato peeler, lemon zester, butter curler, garlic press, can opener, tongs, scissors, baster, etc. and I use them all fairly frequently . . . well, no, maybe not the butter curler.

I give cupboard space to a waffle iron, toaster, espresso machine, and deep fryer, but these seldom come out of the cupboard more than once or twice a year and that’s usually when we have houseguests (with butter curls for their waffles!) Images-3


A blender and a crock pot live in that same cupboard, but the blender’s a summer gadget—frozen margaritas and canning tomatoes—and the crock pot makes hearty stews in the winter so both get a lot of use in their seasons.

The toaster oven and microwave sit side-by-side on their own open shelf above a counter and each gets used two or three times a day.  As does the coffee maker that is important enough to merit space on the countertop itself.

All these gadgets are useful and make my life easier, but if I were told I could only have three gadgets and the rest would have to go, which three would I save, which would I sacrifice?

This is not Sophie’s choice.  We’re not talking children, one’s own flesh and blood, nor even an unblemished lamb, but it did make me think a bit.

Okay, I could give up the crockpot, toaster oven and microwave.  They are efficient, work well and quickly, but my gas range could handle their functions and surely I’d eventually start remembering to take things out of the freezer two hours earlier?

The coffeemaker?  Again, I know how to make stovetop coffee in a saucepan.

Spoons and knives could do the work of most of the gadget drawer's contents.

So which three would I most hate to do without?


#3 – our electric coffee grinder. (Are you listening, Twist?) Beans freshly ground to the desired fineness is a true luxury that has become a necessity in this house ever since a friend sent us this Cadillac of grinders.

#2 – a hand mixer.  As someone who grew up without an electric mixer, I can’t tell you how weary you can get trying to whip egg whites into stiff peaks or make smooth mashed potatoes or even mix up pancake batter with only a wire whisk.

#1 – our 13-year-old food processor.  It can, if absolutely necessary, do most of what a blender can (very, very small margaritas though) and I bless it every time I need to slice carrots, dice onions, chop nuts, or make cole slaw, an integral part of Southern cuisine.

If you had to strip down your kitchen, which gadgets would they have to pry out of your protesting hands?



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Yup. I'm with you on the hand mixer.

I don't care about grinding my own beans, but I love and cherish my Moccamaster coffeemaker.

And, while I expect it will kill us all one day, I would have a hard time without my microwave. I even microwave the sponges I use to wash the dishes.

Good one, Margaret!

My list of three:

#3 - Electric can opener: Cannot prepare meals without it.

#2 - Jug tipper: For . . . aaah . . . tipping jugs.

#1 - One-cup coffee drip cone thingy that sits on top of my mug and makes really good coffee, even if I can't grind the beans fresh each time . . . as long as I use good coffee and double/triple the recommended amount. I don't like coffee that tastes burnt, but I do like it very, very strong and very, very fresh!

I don't know what got into Mr. Typepad--he said twice that I was previewing my comment, then he just ate it. Sigh.

Anyway, in short, my kitchen is very small and very modest: coffee grinder, check; hand-held mixer, check; waffle iron, check! Half-functioning toaster oven, in exile (one of those, 'why do I have this taking up space?' things that occurs to me at the exact moment I haven't time or money to do anything about it). Very old O'Keefe and Merritt stove, check. Rarely-used but sometimes important electric can-opener, check.

Since I haven't [yet?] married, I never got the 3 crockpots and 4 food processors, but, if ya never learn to use 'em, ya don't miss 'em.

Like you, I could manage coffee, however reluctantly, without the grinder. I could open cans without the electric thingy. I could return to the classic fork with which I learned to beat eggs.

But, having home-made wild rice waffles hot off the iron with the managed coffee and hand-beaten eggs on special occasions? Essential!!

I have an electric grill that I do like to use but could live without, after all a cast iron pan can fry a steak pretty darn good as well.

My newest gadget that I adore is a yogurt maker! I had no idea that homemade yogurt could be so much better than the store bought stuff.

I don't drink coffee so no implements of coffee making in my house.

I do like my hand mixer when egg whites need to be whipped.

I have an old blender, bought for me by my dad in 1981! An Osterizer that still works terrific. I use it when I make roasted garlic/tomato sauce.

Now that I have a recipe for gluten free waffles, a Mickey Mouse waffle maker may be in my future. (Really now THAT is a useless gadget!)

You'll take my Capresso (built in grinder, cone filter, thermal carafe, 10 cups of perfect coffee) when you take my Mac... and you'll get both when you pry them from my cold dead fingers....:)

William, I have to admit that Capresso sounds good. And of course the Mac. I assumed that was a given. If I could only have one thing it would be those two glued together.

My rotisserie oven (best $100 I ever spent), Crock pot (of course) and electric roaster. With those 3 I could do without a stove...except that my stove is gas and I like being able to cook even if the power is out.

Truth time: as long as I have a telephone and a car, I can get whatever food I want.

I do cook/bake/the whole nine yards several times a year for holidays, though and I do some basic cooking and baking throughout the year.

This is for my house, not just me:

1. Tom's fancy espresso maker that grinds, does 4 cups at a time, lets you set it at whatever strength you want, etc. I do not drink coffee, but am willing to give up this first spot to ensure my own sanity, or at least part of it.

2. Kitchenaid mixer. I love this thing and it does the work of several gadgets.

3. Microwave. This is the one thing in the kitchen that everyone uses every day.

What a fun topic!

I'm not much of a cook, and my kitchen is about the size of a rat nest (rather resembles one, too,) so this is easy. There really are only three I'd hate to do without:

1. Bread machine (bread-making is my one culinary skill, but there's simply no good place in my kitchen to knead dough!)

2. Food processor, because I seem unable to chop vegetables without chopping myself in the bargain.

3. And, finally, God's gift to poor suffering humanity, the coffee maker.

I have a small kitchen, so we keep gadgets to a minimum. I tend to use the George Foreman grill on a daily basis. For Christmas, my husband, who is the coffee drinker (not me) who hates to actually make his own coffee, was given a Keurig (am I spelling that right?)which is the simplest, no-brainer coffee maker of all time.--You stick a little creamer-like container into the machine and presto!--flavored coffee. He's happy. And I don't find moldy coffee grounds in the pot a week later. Win-win.

Is a butter-curler a southern thing? I have four sizes of ice-cream scoopers (ideal for baking) but no butter curler.

Your post conjured up images of me pounding coffee beans with a rock.

When I got my first food processor, I laughed at the 20-year warranty on the motor. It lasted 25 years, with hard use, and I replaced it with the same model. That's on the list.

I'd keep my Kitchen-Aid Mixmaster (it will do everything a hand mixer will, and more). And they too live forever--I still have my mother's.

I should have guessed that writers (and readers!) are devoted to their coffee, and I'm right in there with them all. Even my characters drink a lot of coffee, and seem to offer it to anyone who walks in the door. So I guess like everyone else I'll have to keep the grinder.

I love a good cheese grater. And potato peeler. Simple tools here usually get more use than the electric gadgets. Although I've got to admit I'm rabid for a new coffee maker!

I have catered to forty people with a half-sized refrigerator, a hot plate and a toaster oven. Which means that I am supremely grateful for the appliances an tools that I have.
• We use the toaster oven/convection oven far more than the range oven for the two of us.
• My knives, silicon spatulas and wooden spoons.
• My cast iron skillets, augmented by one non-stick, and dreams of an All Clad Chef's Pan.

Reine, tell us more about the 1-cup coffee maker. Sounds like a gadget I could use.

Sarita, you're right about the very simple tools, but I have to confess that I'd been keeping house at least 10 years before someone showed me how to use a potato peeler properly. I'd been pulling instead of pushing.

Sheila, yes, coffee is the fuel that keeps us running. And although it's not a kitchen gadget, I'd sure hate to part with the little miniature hot plate that lives on my desk and keeps my mug of coffee hot.

Kathy, sounds as if you have a "cookbook" similar to my husband's favorite how-to book: the telephone directory.

Dangit - I just typed my whole response and it vanished.

The more of others' comments I read, the harder it is to choose.

I love my Keurig machine, as Nancy mentioned, and would probably keep that, if I could also have the little adapter you can buy so you don't have to use the little Keurig coffee pods.

My kitchen is very small, and inconvenient, and has a TOTAL of TWO drawers, one of which is currently broken, and very little counter space - so my appliances/accessories line the top of the cabinets and the top of the refrigerator. I do use my crock pot in the winter, and love my KitchenAid mixer, and besides the Keurig machine I also have an espresso machine (and I'm the only one in the house who drinks coffee!). I also have bread maker, waffle iron, blender, small food processor, and sundry gadgets in the drawer.

However, besides the coffee maker, I would probably choose a can opener (don't have an electric one), even though cans are going toward those pull-tab tops, and a hand mixer.

However, I'm awfully enamored with my new ice cream maker... maybe the novelty just hasn't worn off yet.
And then there's my mango slicer...

I don't mean to speak over Reine, but I think she's referring to this:


I have one I used to use at the office. They sell little filters that fit into it, you just place it over a mug, spoon coffee into the filter, and pour boiling water over it. Very handy for traveling as well.

And I always pull with the potato peeler. I don't like pushing. ;)

My husband does all the cooking, so I don't care too much for the gadgets. I make the salad and I love to bake. So I'll need the OXO vegetable peeler and my Kitchen Aid mixer. I can't really think of a third. Maybe the coffee maker. Although I can get a nice expensive cup at any one of the hundreds of coffee shops around here.

I am old school in my tiny apartment kitchen. The restaurant grade wire whisks get used more than the hand mixer or wonderful Kitchenaid stand mixer.

Things that are deal breakers:
My J Henckels knives. I am a knife person. Good knives are worth the money.

The mandolin. I love using the Cuisinart, I just hate cleaning it. Actually, my $10.00 mandolin may be getting upgraded. I need to find something between the $50.00 Willam-Sonoma and the $10.00 breakable.

The scale, measuring cups and spoons. One of the big parts of skinny Al is everything gets measured and portioned.

Margaret, cook is a noun not a verb to me. (Butter curler? The instructions are still taped to the top rack of my oven and I have yet to use my gas range.) My essential gadgets are the microwave, the single-burner induction cooktop, and the Breville countertop oven. The S'mores maker and popcorn popper are a close fourth and fifth.

I am very glad your Cadillac is still running well. I'm not a coffee drinker, but when the guy let me pour the beans into the demo model and it made that great noise, I was sold.

A Clarification for Noname:

I was not talking about intentionally coughing on other people's food. I have thought about it, but, no. There is a little voice that sometimes wants to say, "Ma'am, you understand in the next 30 seconds I am going to put my hands in your food. Are you sure you want to call me a Moth**f****r?" But the big voice takes over.

I was talking about for the vast majority of people who put fries in bags, fry chicken, bring plates of crab legs or ask if you would like butter and sour cream with your potato do not get sick days. For some of them, asking off is the same as quitting. We work when we should not. It is that simple. If you think it is wrong, speak to your congressman. While you are at it, how about abolishing the tip minimum? By law, food servers do not have to be paid what they are worth. How hard would you work for $5.25 an hour?

Tip your servers, I will be here all week.

When I think about what I use everyday--coffeemaker, corkscrew and the trusty wooden spoon I've had since 1981 (and I inherited it so it's likely fossilized by now)--it fits my hand perfectly.

Peel puller here, too. I have three different kinds, and the only one that gets pushed is the Kitchen Aid version of the old-fashioned kind.

By the way, Kitchen Aid (an Ohio company, yay!) makes a wonderful non-electric can opener, which is what I use. Never cared for the electric ones after I saw how many EMF's (electromagnetic fields) were registered close to a running one. Which you kind of have to do. It's hard to back away from something you have to operate.

This is my newest one-cup coffee cone, similar to the Melitta, but so, so much better (and it can use Melitta paper or permanent gold filters):


I just got this over the weekend, when Al S. and his wife Pat and I saw it at the farmers' market on Saturday. They were making a victory loop around the country, meeting four of us backbloggers! It was pretty cool to meet and spend time with them. Al is a super, super nice guy, in case you couldn't tell by his posts!

Undine, you would love this bread recipe, which doesn't require kneading (and it's about the best bread I've ever tasted). The only catch is that you need a Dutch oven and lid that can withstand 475 degrees.


Because I was too scared to use the gas oven in my apartment in 1976, I was the first person we knew to own a microwave. (My husband always jokes--maybe he's joking--that he married me for it!)

So, to recap, my three would have to be:

1. Fancy new coffee filter (and teapot, natch)

2. Microwave

3. Kitchen Aid cast iron Dutch oven (with silicone handle)

I think I could get by with that.

Oh, shoot, I'd have to add a wire whisk, too. Darn coffee. If it weren't for needing my daily fix I could choose more stuff! :-)

Margaret, I finished the ARC of your newest book the other night at about 2 AM. Could. Not. Put it down. Three-Day Town, everybody. Watch for it, everyone.

I cannt resist browsing the kitchen gadget aisle, always on the lookout for another toy for me and my kitchen. I won't part with my 25 year old Oster Kitchen center, one motor mount base for a mixer, blender, food processor, ice cream maker, ice crusher, coffee grinder. It still works great and I hope it never dies since they don't make them anymore. My other must have is my set of 30 year od Cutco carving knives. Good knives are essential for good cooking.

Again I say, like Judy, gadget? The corkscrew!
I'm a puller too and my other amazing gadget is the cherry/olive pitter.
Come to think about it I use my Handyaid gripper a lot too. It seems I have trouble un-screwing these days. Trouble? I can't get the gas cap off the car any more! But I've always depended upon the kindness of strangers.

Considering that I am a baker, you would think I would love power equipment...wrong. I still prefer to mix most cake recipes with a hand wisk, unless butter is a base ingredient. :)

However, for sentimental reasons and the fact that it still works, I would have to keep my Grandmother's stand mixer. Mom says it is oooooold. LOL!

I don't drink much coffee, but do have a black & decker one-cupper that I love. It works great for making one cup of hot coffee for my great-grandmother's chocolate cake recipe (no mixer required, other than my hand and a wisk).

My chef's knife. Man, that thing can cut about anything...and the only time it actually cut me was when I was taking it out of it's packaging. :) Just used it last night to shiffenade a bunch of spinach for my dinner concoction.

I have a little kitchen and am not a cook. I am a take out person mostly. I do use the microwave, can't live without it, My coffeepot also is important but I can do without it as my electric kettle can heat the water and make coffee to pour over a filter and cone . The one thing I learned years ago when I moved into my first apartment that I cannot live with out is a v shaped metal item my dad installed under a cabinet in my apartment and moved to my house. It is a jar opener. You slide the jar in and when it is tight twist and the jar is open. My favorite kitchen item .

My Kitchenaid Mixer, my blender, and my knife sharpener...

Glad you enjoyed it, Karen. I know I'm going to enjoy the forget-me-nots you sent.

Mo, isn't it amazing how well some appliances are made while others die the first years?

"Cook" is a noun, Twist? That's like barbecue. A noun here, too.

Xena, I have at least two versions of lid-twisters for when hot water doesn't work. Also a cheap little plastic gizmo which pops the vacuum seal on pickle jars, etc. VERY useful.

If we're going all-electric, it has to be:

coffee pot
toaster oven

If not, then:
hand-driven can opener
corkscrew/beer opener
cast iron skillet

Apparently, I'm going to stir, flip, and baste with my fingers, lol.

Wow! We love our gadgets! I really like my coffee maker, and while I could make coffee without it -- I really don't want to.
My microwave stopped working, and Sears repair guys took four weeks and three visits to fix it -- I hated being without it, actually contemplated buying a spare while waiting.
I guess third would be the toaster oven, which I use all the time, especially since Mom raised me not to heat up the real oven in the summer.

Emergency hijack of blog: does anyone here speak Spanish like a native? I need a Spanish word for "witchy" or "seductive" or something along those lines. Referring to a woman, not a gadget.

Okay, back to gadgets.

I have now fallen in love with my manual cheese grater since I am stepping up in my cooking prowess.
Grating parmigiano reggiano puts a whole new meaning to pizza.

Corkscrew, mos def.
But oh, I'd need a wooden spoon.

Wait! Keurig coffee maker!
Sharp knife or kitchen shears.

Ah, Margaret, you're diabolical. Having just three is not enough. It takes--a village. We'll have to share!

Wow, I must be the only one here without a microwave. I have never had one and have lived in such small apartments that I was never willing to sacrifice counter space for one. If someone asks me to use there microwave at their house, I have to ask for instructions . . .

I am with Al on having a good knife set. I have had the same set for 30 years and love them. Also, I agree with you on your rebuttal to noname, only would add if you are going to comment, use your name!

I use my potato peeler to make curls of romano cheese, I love how fancy they look and how easy it is to use.

I also have 2 sets of measuring spoons, couldn't bake without them. Does anyone else have the classic orange Tupperware measuring cups! I would be lost without those!

To paraphrase Richard Nixon, "I am not a c(r)ook!"
But I like my blender for smoothies and my teakettle. My toaster died three weeks ago and tired of risking burned hands while making oven toast -- so I'll buy a new one.

Major factor for me in choosing between toaster oven and microwave is power usage. Certainly the microwave is the more efficient in the time it consumes, but does anyone know which uses the least electricity for the same job?

And Karen, thanks so much, it sounds like my favorite type of bread.

I may have to add a Dutch oven to my can't-live-without list...

Harley, all I can think of is cuchi-cuchi. (What? It worked for Charo.)

Coffee maker, electric can opener, corkscrew. Everything else is a luxury.

My mother keeps an old tin coffee drip pot on hand during hurricane season. It makes THE BEST coffee.

Undine, I often use half whole wheat flour in that recipe, and it's still great. Have also folded in at various times: roasted garlic cloves; flaxseed meal; cinnamon; herbs; nuts. It's always good, and foolproof, as long as you follow the directions to the letter.

Karen, I started off with a cast iron dutch oven, but haven't seen it in years. May have set it to a rummage sale. Too bad, because in the video, the bread came out looking exactly like the paesano bread I pay $3.50 a loaf for. Roasted garlic would be wonderful in it.

Thanks, Ramona. Of all the people I do not want to evoke in the minds of my readers, Charo tops the list.

Margaret, it's the Ready Set Joe by Melita. https://shop.melitta.com/itemdy00.asp?T1=64+010 You can use almost any mug and some cups. Step and I each have our own, because I think his coffee tastes like dishwater, and he has to add water to mine. It takes #2 filters, but we save money by buying large packs of the store brand #4 and folding them to fit. And for me at least, the taller and wider top make it easier for me to pour the boiling water where it's supposed to go!

Laura's would be great, too!

Reine, have you ever seen the gold filters? They're reusable gold mesh, and slip right into the Melitta cones.

I use one; it does allow a little bit of sediment in the bottom of the cup, which some people don't care for. My husband says it makes it "chewy". LOL

Hi Karen, Sweet Marias is very clever, but I don't like my coffee to sit and "brew." I really like it to just drip. I got the gold filter and it was wonderful for quite a long time, but having to wash it out to keep the coffee oils off wore the gold coating off and . . . well it wasn't cost effective enough for us in the long run. I did like it, though.

Laura, I have one of those adapters for the Keurig. If you want it, I'll take a look out in the garage. Just let me know.

Thanks, Reine - I do have one. I just wanted to make sure it came with my Keurig as one of my choices. ;)

Karen, I have an extra-hevy free-standing Cuisinart cn opener that doesn't require my holding onto anything.
It was recommended to me at Rancho Los Amigos rehab clinic, because I can't hold my arm out or remain standing. I never would have spent the money otherwise. Not everyone likes it. I've read some pretty bad reviews, but I love it, and it allows me to do a little cooking - even if I do need help. Yea!

I see my keyboard is acting up again . . . . Sorry kids.

Skipper, the Sierra Club has this to say about microwave as compared to toasters, toaster ovens, and full-size electric ovens:

"In general, toasters use a little less energy than toaster ovens, and toaster ovens use about half as much energy as a full-size electric oven. (A microwave conserves even more, though. It uses about two-thirds less energy than a conventional electric oven.) A convection fan can reduce the energy use of a toaster oven by cooking the food 20% to 30% faster.

This and other useful energy information can be found on their Sierra Club Green Home Blog:

We use our toaster oven almost as often as the microwave. Seldom use the stove oven in the summer. I refuse to heat up the kitchen and then have to cool it off.

Thanks for the Melita info. I just may have to get one.

I come from a long line of kitchen gadget-lovers. My all-time favorite thing has to be running hot water! It makes life in the kitchen so much easier! When I was in my late teens, early twenties, many of the places I lived had none! Such as living in derelict houses where the power had been turned off, or, in a tent, working at fruit picking in some orchard, running water at all was a dreamed-of luxury.

My college roommate, Janice, has one rule for kitchen gadgets: they must serve two purposes. No room for one-use gadgets. She grew up with hoarders. I, on the other hand, have expanded my kitchen to the tune of thousands of dollars to make new storage for the gadgets. I love them! My latest purchase is an electric ice cream scoop. We haven't tried it out yet. My husband requested it for a 32 anniversary gift!

There are certain items that even the most dedicated home cook rarely, if ever, attempts to make and the reliability of toaster oven surely help you a lot.

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