Katharine Shilcutt's trashing of useless kitchen appliances really made me hot under the collar. I have all of those appliances -- except the electric cheese grater. And I intend to go buy an electric cheese grater this weekend.
Then I will invite Katharine over for spaghetti and make her grate the parmesan by hand until her knuckles bleed. "Oh, I forgot to tell you -- I have an electric cheese grater!" I will suddenly reveal in triumph as I hand her the Band-Aids.
Meanwhile, here is a list of treasured kitchen appliances that my foodie friends make fun of:
1. 18-Quart Turkey Roaster Oven
Ten years ago, I bought a bunch of old kitchen equipment when a friend cleaned out an elderly relative's storage unit. The price was cheap, but the deal was, I had to take everything. I had no idea what I was going to do with the old, white 18-quart turkey roaster oven. But it has since become a prized possession.
While researching my Tex-Mex Cookbook, I asked a lot of people down in the Valley how they cooked cow heads for barbacoa. One lady told me that when her family in Los Ebanos got together for a big pachanga, they wrapped heads in wet cloth, stuck them inside 10-gallon lard cans, buried them, built a fire on top and let the coals cook the heads all night.
"But when I am making just enough for my immediate family, I stick the cabeza in an 18-quart turkey roaster oven with some water," she told me. I started making barbacoa in my turkey roaster oven, and it came out wonderful. It's also a great way to steam a large batch of tamales, cook two whole chickens in a bath of Riesling or -- roast a turkey.
It's really just an extra oven. But the best thing about it -- if you live in Texas -- is that you can set it up outside in the summer to cook without heating up the house.
2. Bread Machine
I got my Panasonic bread machine in the same storage unit clean-out deal. I thought I hated bread machines. Now I bake fresh bread in it nearly every day. As I learned from Beth Hensperger's Bread Lover's Bread Machine Cookbook the utility of a bread machine isn't really in the baking, it's in the rising.
I could never get my dough to rise when I tried to bake bread until I got a bread machine. A bread machine is a rising oven that warms the ingredients before mixing, then keeps the dough at a perfect 100 degree temperature while the yeast does its thing. As Hensperger explains, you use any recipe you want and take the dough out to bake it if you don't like the goofy shape.
If you have kids who demand white sandwich bread, white bread from a bread machine is a great alternative to Wonder Bread.
3. Electric Tea Kettle
I know, I know: "Why in the world do you need an electric appliance to boil water?" Especially when they make so many cute designer tea kettles that you can leave on your stove.
Ask anybody who drinks a lot of tea. They'll tell you that an electric tea kettle boils water so fast you barely have time to find the teapot. And if you walk away and forget you left it on, it turns itself off with an automatic switch.
This is a tea drinker's favorite appliance.
4. Electric Egg Cooker
An electric egg cooker make perfect three-minute soft-boiled eggs every time. You determine the cooking time by measuring the water you put in it. When it runs out of water, it shuts off. It comes with a measuring device that indicates the doneness of the egg rather than the cups or tablespoons.
While our kitchen was being redone, the electric tea kettle and electric egg cooker provided a hot breakfast every morning.
5. Vacuum-Seal Food Saver
Most people associate these things with fussy old ladies who fear messing up the fridge. I bought one so I could store doves, venison sausage and backstraps in the freezer without any freezer burn. But now when I see a family pack of pork chops on sale, I buy them, season them up, vacuum seal packages of three or four, and throw them in the freezer. When I want pork chops for dinner, I'm all set.
I am going to be use the vacuum sealer for some sous vide cooking experiments one of these days too.
There was a time when I turned up my nose at slow cookers. I associated crockpots with Campbell's Cream of Mushroom cuisine. Now I have four of them. I bought my first one when I was writing Legends of Texas Barbecue Cookbook.
Taylor Cafe pit boss Vencil Mares convinced me that beans taste best when you cook them slowly. He uses an 18-quart turkey roaster, but he makes a lot of beans. I included his recipe in the book. (A surprising number of people have told me that "Vencil's Slow Beans" is now their family bean recipe.)
A crockpot is also the perfect way to keep chile con queso, chile con carne, or gumbo hot while you are serving a crowd. We often get out all four crockpots and line them on the buffet when we're having a football-watching party.
7. Used Coffee Grinders
I get a lot of raised eyebrows when I buy old coffee grinders at garage sales or thrift shops. Sometimes they are stained and the lids are cracked. How many coffee grinders do you need? You might wonder. I like to have at least three on hand.
I use them as spice grinders. It's especially useful for making your own chile powders. If you do a lot of grilling, use a lot of barbecue rubs, or make a lot of chili, you would be amazed at how much money you can save on spice blends by grinding your own dried chiles. Put anchos, pasillas, guajillos or chipotles in the oven for ten minutes until they are brittle, then crumble them up and stick them in the grinder. Store the powder in bottles.
I tried using the same grinder for both coffee and spices, but you end up making weird flavored coffee all the time. It's nice to have one for coffee, one for chiles, and one for other spices.
8. Pressure Cooker
I got a pressure cooker to make baby food, and now I use it for lots of other stuff. It's a wonder Rachel Ray doesn't endorse one of these things for her 30-minute cooking show. If you are in a hurry, a pressure cooker is indispensable. A vegetable soup that usually takes an hour is done in 15 minutes. A pot roast that usually takes four hours is done in 45 minutes. Risotto becomes instant rice.
When I first started using a pressure cooker, everything I made in it was too watery. Because none of the water is lost while you cook, you have to adjust your measurements. But once you get the hang of it, it's pretty easy. To make a potage in a pressure cooker, I cook the vegetables and herbs together for 12 minutes, then remove the top and stick an immersible blender inside.
9. Mandolin Slicer
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I got an $18 plastic mandolin slicer at Hong Kong Supermarket. People make fun of it because it looks like a kid's toy. But they stop laughing when they eat my cucumber salad made with wafer-thin slices of cucumber. I also use it to shave onions for sandwiches, bagels with lox, and salads. You can stick a julienne blade on it and use it to julienne matchstick potatoes if you want too. Or just go ahead and laugh.
10. Rice Cooker
Foodies are mystified by this thing. Yes, I can cook rice in a pot on the stove. But when I am focused on the gumbo or the curry, I often lose track of the rice. That's why I use a rice cooker. Measure the rice and water, turn it on and your rice is cooked perfectly every time. It never gets burnt. It never boils over. You never forget to turn it down. The rice cooker switches itself from "cook" to "warm" when the rice is done. (How does it know?)
Then you can stick the rice cooker next to the crockpots on the buffet line if you are serving rice and beans, curry, or gumbo to a crowd. No pot to scrape either.