Best and worst kitchen gadgets

Ed at Tomato wants to know our best and worst kitchen gadgets. I have cupboards full of both. Rental house brown wood veneereal cupboards, as it happens, not the slinky monochrome he’s got.

The comments so far are a lovely mix of the purr of the satisfied owner and then bewilderment at the price, stupidity and lack of suitability of things that once seemed worth purchasing. I’ve been enjoying thinking about the rubbish lying around here and watching the things that I use every day, wondering if you could work it out on a matrix. After entertaining myself for a little while I decided against it because the pleasure we take in making stuff in the kitchen will often be very subjective.

Some kitchen things are Objectively Good. The most useful and used things in my kitchen are the whopping big wooden chopping board, a Wusthof Trident 20 cm cook’s knife and a sharpening steel. They’re used every day, a lot, and each is lasting beautifully with care.

After such basics the things that save my time most in the kitchen are measuring spoons, jugs and electronic scales. Ed’s Georg Jensen scale is unspeakably sexier than my Propert one, however mine cost $50 on sale and weighs up to 5 kg in one gram increments and I am happy. I am a bit proud of my (GENIUS!) measuring spoon scenario, adding a 15 ml tablespoon to a cheap ring of standard Australian measures. Useful, cheap and multipurpose.

Useless Japanese Rice SoakerThe bad stuff’s bad though. Like this Japanese rice soaker. Because rice couldn’t soak in a bowl, could it? Not when it could soak in this bowl, with its utterly nonfunctional drainage holes. The Japanese can usually be trusted for tricksy cuteness, but not this time. At least it was cheap

Useless asparagus steamer and useless pasta claw These are both stupendously and objectively pointless items. The asparagus steamer was a gift, but to my mind asparagus cooks fine in a splash of water in a non-stick pan or else on a ridged pan. And as for a special tool for picking up pasta – even if it worked it would be pretty redundant. It’s off to the charity shop to join the piece of plastic with holes in it that apparently told you how much spaghetti to cook for dinner. It wouldn’t matter how cheap any of this stuff is, because like the rice soaker they are not good tools. (And as you can see I wasn’t lying about the cupboards. You may also have noticed the orange benchtops …)

Papa's hand!This is useful, but only for the very limited purpose of making dumplings. Don’t let those pictures on the box fool you (click any of these small images to enlarge them). I only ever use the small one and only ever to make Chinese dumplings. It’s earned its place because there are no more complaints that there are not enough dumplings and peace reigns throughout the kingdom – even though I only really bought it (for $2 from an op shop) because the box says ‘The original “Papa’s Hand”!’ which I found slightly creepy yet delicious. I buy quite a few kitchen bits and pieces from op shops – useful things like small standing colanders and food covers and crap like spiral serving plates and leaking bento boxes.

Mexican juicer Grocer, Naomi and host Ed all mentioned at Tomato that their big fancy juicers were a waste of time. It need not be that way! This one was pretty expensive and can only really be used for juicing citrus fruit of a certain size. Or pomegranates, which is handy isn’t it? No more time-wasting manual pomegranate juicing around here. Despite those limitations, it is a supremely good juicer and is in daily use in our house. We love it so much that we even take it camping, and on our last trip it was indispensable for making the cocktails that got us through the third day of rain. We bought it from an American supplier on eBay, unable to find it in Australia at the time. It cost as much to ship as to buy, about $125 all up from memory.

Finally, here’s my new love – the cast iron wok burner that compensates so completely for our wimpy stove. It came camping, too. Hungry camper = sad camper. In the photo it’s being used to season a new wok. It’s bulky, heavy and fragile. It creates so much heat and smoke that you have to use it outside, which is starting to get a bit bloody cold. It cost $40, but we then bought a small gas cylinder and the connection fittings, so all up around $80. And after years of rental house electric stoves, I love it like you would not believe.


30 thoughts on “Best and worst kitchen gadgets

  1. I totally want one of those dumpling thingies, even though I’ve never made dumplings and likely never will. My friend Jamie is the King of dumplings, though, and when I lived in Canberra there were many nights when I’d take myself over to his place for an evening of tea, handmade (and pleated!) dumplings and sympathy.

    I moved recently, so fortunately my kitchen drawers are relatively well edited, but my penchant for fussy, single purpose bakery tools is soon putting an end to that. I’m acquiring a wide range of cookie scoops, which are terribly useful for the making of biscuits, and so neat and even and exact but also cluttery. I recently bought an apple corer, and will probably buy the inevitable melon baller soon, too.

    Yet somehow I never think to buy more spatulas, ever.

  2. Rach, you should make dumplings. They are so very, very good. I read about your cookie scoop thing in your last post – but you didn’t admit you had a whole range of them. They look like little tiny old fashioned ice cream scoops don’t they?

    I say go the melon baller – without one I could not make “Stop and Gos” (green grapes and watermelon) which the kids devour all summer.

    As for spatulas, I’m a fan of the “baker’s friend” kind rather than the handle kind.

  3. If you made rockmelon/cantaloupe balls as well then you could have ‘Stop, Caution and Gos’. Actually I’m sure you’ve thought of this so I guess they don’t like rockmelon/cantaloupe.

  4. I did try it, PavCat, but it’s hard to summon up the requisite tone of enthusiasm to entrance a toddler when the word “caution” features.

  5. Yeah, ‘caution’ isn’t really a buzz word in the toddler age group. It would be good for older people. At the moment it’s all toddler slipping, sliding, tripping, bashing… at what point do kids stop leaving stuff all over the floor and then falling over on it?

    I think if I chucked out all the lad’s toys he’d have fewer prangs.

  6. Veneereal cupboards eh? I know the ones. They’ve expanded and they just won’t stay shut, right?
    You’ve never seen wooden spoon-work until you talk to a home brewer about their favourite wooden spoon. If they had special nasal sprays for stirring implements, the home brewers’d be right into it.

  7. I saw that exact same dumpling maker box in an op shop a couple of months ago. I wish I’d bought it. Obviously I didn’t see the bit about papa’s hand.

  8. I once saw an egg slicer on a list of the most useless kitchen gadgets everywhere, but IT WAS A TERRIBLE LIE. We use the egg slicer every time we have a salad.

    My most useless kitchen gadget is a device that changes colour to tell you when your egg is soft boiled or hard boiled – I can tell by instinct because I have cooked so many, and if I hadn’t, a timer could tell.

    I also love op shop gadgets, and recently got one that cuts vegetables into the shape of a flower. Doesn’t get cooler than that.

    Non op-shop gadgets I love my icing syringe, kenwood mixer, bamix, and ice cream maker.

  9. Wasn’t it Delia Smith who said the salad spinner was a useless gadget? I love mine. A salad spinner just keeps on giving: it’s a salad bowl and a lettuce/leafy greens keeper for the fridge too.

    Other fave gadgets include the microplane grater and the Japanese mandolin (sp?)–yes, you may lose a finger or two, but they cut through parmesan and slice perfectly thin slivers of raw fennel. Such delights are vital for the continued existence of humanity on earth.

  10. Kate – don’t ask me, hasn’t happened around here yet.

    Devil Drink – They don’t stay shut but I think it’s because I keep buying crap at the op shop.

    Laura – oh noes! They took my dumpling bukkit!

    Rebekka – egg slicers are also very handy for playdough. I’d love to see some pictures of your veggie flowers.

    Kirsty – I’m also on Team Salad Spinner and Team Mandoline. (And Team Thin Slices of Fennel, too.) The microplanes are very exxy aren’t they? What makes it worth it?

  11. my brother in law appeared scandalised and vaguely offended when he found out we don’t have a salad spinner. It’s not any sort of principle thing, though, just that I only realised very recently that you can buy your own kitchen gadgets and you don’t have to wait for someone to give you them for Christmas.

  12. My favourite items are the Tupperware Garlic Crusher (it IS magic!), the plastic thingy I got from Woolies that lifts up ring pull can lids so you don’t cut yourself (I have not opened a single ring pull by hand since I got 3 stitches out) and the Turbo 3000 Small benchtop quick cooker oven thing I got from my parents – it does a mock roast and veggies from start to finish in less than an hour.

    The useless stuff I have is mostly cupboards of unused Tupperware and the three pans from the 1950’s I inherited from my Nana.

  13. The microplane takes all the effort out of grating parmesan and nutmeg and chocolate and garlic and ginger and I think that’s it, no it makes perfect citrus zest too, no stray pith. It’s just like magic. It’s worth the price for how it deals with any one of these ingredients, that it’s so good for all of them makes it one of those gadgets that pays for itself over and over again.

  14. Yay! I love this blog!

    I just bought a gadget: an apple corer. “It’s german,” said the kitchen gadget shop man. So you know it must be good. I tried not to look right or left, because otherwise I’d see other things. I really want a salad spinner.

    Now I can make cored Granny Smiths baked with brown sugar, sultanas and cinnamon in the middles, with thick cream.

  15. I once saw an egg slicer on a list of the most useless kitchen gadgets everywhere, but IT WAS A TERRIBLE LIE.

    I used to use my mum’s as a ukulele. Good strategy to persuade them to buy you an actual instrument.

  16. When Ms FX just announced she was taking the Electric Wok Non Stick to the Op Shop I just got busy with head down doing busy stuff.

    About two years ago she and offspring gave the electric wok to me for Fathers Day. Without asking first. Now I knew that electric woks non stick were crap since long ago, but for the rest of the family to whom cooking largely consists of re-heating stuff I’ve cooked a few days ago, they all expected me to be pleased with Wok present.

    Anyway I made a few sulky, but obvious, attempts over the years at using it to cook and then quietly retired it to down bottom of cupboard.

    Now it will be up in the local op shop for some clueless non cooking sucker to grab for $5 – almost new.

  17. YOu might regret that one day FX. Remember the Longford Gas Explosion when Victoria had no gas for… I forget how long but it was a few days. I envied my friends who were savvy enough to go STRAIGHT to K mart for an electric wok, they got the last one.

    We managed to borrow one of those big square electric frying pans from our olds. Remember them? I’ve still got it, I have a vague plan which never comes to fruition, to use it to make a Steamboat dinner.

  18. A few days? What drugs were available in inner burbs hippy drummer households back then – it was 20 days.

    That’s twenty freezing days of sitting in the bathtub on a milkcrate topped with a towel as padding and having a quick APC (armpits and crumpet) with a jug of boiled water. And me having to wash my hair every day.

    My oven is electric with gas top (only way to go) so I could cook in oven or on gas BBQ until gas bottle ran out. And yes I did find an old square electric frypan to use.

  19. Kristy – Here’s the line-up I used to get those jobs done:

    Perhaps if I didn’t have them I could justify a microplane!

    Helen – thanks! I have an apple corer, too. I used to tie a cored and peeled apple on a long piece of elastic and put it around Sage’s neck when he was a little, after despairing of the food waste zone that is a toddler:

    We also have a hand cranked apple peeler/corer/slicer bought through a fundraiser at Sage’s preschool. He was desperate for an “apple slinky” machine so we made him buy it from the piggybank. Hardcore parenting, but we ended up paying him back because we all love it. If I send an apple to school, he won’t eat it – takes too long to eat when he could be playing and it’s harder for a little mouth to bite into a crisp apple. If I “slinky” it and splash a bit of lemon juice on, he’ll wolf it all down (skin snake too).

    FX – there’s a deep kind of sadness that comes from such a terrible present, isn’t there? They Should Have Asked. My saddest sad wok story was when my Dad invested hours scrubbing off ten years of seasoning from my cast iron wok, thinking he was doing his slattern of a daughter a big favour. TEN YEARS. I wouldn’t have been rushing out for an electric wok, in part because we have an electric stove. But even still, I’d be just stocking up on cylinder gas.

    Nice image of you in the bath, too ; )

  20. Yes, I grossly underestimated the number of days for which it lasted. i was trying to allow for my tendency to exaggerate and swung wildly too far the other way.

    The milk crate idea is a good one should I ever need the sponge bath routine again.

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  22. I love the term “rental house brown veneereal”: the disease that smells like rotting chipboard.

    As for the dumpling maker, anything that has the As Seen On TV! logo on it is suspicious, especially so if you’ve never seen it on TV.

  23. Phil, you’ve got it completely arse about – if you have seen it on TV, you must not buy it. If you’ve never seen it on TV, it is much more likely to be worth the big investment.

    Laura, that depends entirely on the cat – not recommended for cats with strong sense of dignity. Try it on Pud and let me know. Might work better with offal.

  24. Bumblebee’s school will slinky an apple for free if you bring your own, or it’s 20c to buy an apple. B has always loved a cut apple in his lunchbox, as long as it’s cut into eighths…

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  26. Hi from North Queensland!
    Does anyone know where I might buy (or how to make) a cannelloni filler/stuffer?
    A bit crazy; it’s for a relly who uses a little tunnel shaped spoon!
    Go the Maroons! (Rugby League for all you Mexicans!!

  27. Cheesh, I just use my fingers for canelloni and, when they’ve reached their limit, the end of a wooden spoon. I do wash the fingers first.

    I love my electronic scales ($80), my breadmaker ($40 from a friend who was tired of packing on the kilos), my lemon zester/parmesan cheese/ginger fine grater ($4 from Coles) and my gas Weber which is big enough to roast a leg of lamb in, thus sparing me oven cleaning and alleviating the smell of lamb fat in the house.

    I also have a pasta maker of which I am very fond, even though I rarely ever use it. Though I was less than impressed to get it as a Christmas present – smacks of labours of love.

    I would LOVE one of those old electric frypans. There is nothing like them for making things like fritters and mashed potato cakes, or cooking rissoles.

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