7 Essential Kitchen Gadgets

I believe that a major part of keeping your diet in check is having the ability to prepare great food at home. Of course, the occasional take-away or restaurant meal is great; but so is a Sunday Roast. Mmmm.

This series takes a look at several key tools and appliances for helping you prepare that perfect meal – whatever it is. First up, 7 Essential Kitchen Gadgets.

1950s kitchen

Over the past month the kitchen here was ripped out and replaced with a shiny new version. After a few minutes admiring the new cupboards, benches and major appliances; it was time to get out some of my favourite kitchen gadgets. 7, to be precise.

Note that when I say ‘gadget‘, I don’t necessarily mean that odd-looking single-purpose device you bought years ago at a kitchen show and never use. These are simply the tools and appliances in my kitchen that make life that much easier.

  1. Food Processor
  2. These vary enormously in price (from the cheap ones in your local supermarket to the professional models found in kitchen stores), and this is generally determined by a couple of features. If you need these, get your wallet ready.

    These features are :

    • the ability to handle hot liquids (such as soups)
    • the ability to handle hard objects (such as ice cubes)

    If you don’t particularly need these functions, congratulations – you just saved yourself some serious cash.

    Personally, I’ve always gone for the Magimix food processors – simply as these were favoured by several kitchen stores nearby when I initially bought one (a food processor that is, not a kitchen store). Highly recommended machines.

    There are, however, several other excellent devices on the market; and this will vary according to your location. A couple of great brands to watch out for are the Cuisinart and KitchenAid models.

    Cost : usually somewhere between $100 and $600.
    Where to get them : these are often one of the first things to be marked down in a ‘Grand Opening Sale‘ of a kitchen or department store. At other times, the larger department stores generally offer a good range.

  3. Rice Cooker
  4. I’ve always eaten a lot of rice (usually steamed or boiled). For a number of years I suffered with the common boiling water or microwave approaches; not realising just how convenient a rice cooker is. Now, of course, I can’t imagine living without one.

    With a lot of meals (such as stir-fries), a small amount of steamed rice is an ideal accompaniment. The rice cooker makes this such a pain-free process that you’ll be doing it all the time. In my case, once or twice a day.

    Of course, a rice cooker enables you to steam much more than rice. It offers the usual steamer setup – a container of boiling water working away under the food of your choice. A meal of steamed fish, vegetables and rice is only 20 minutes away.

    Cost : around $20 to $80.
    Where to get them : although you’ll find them in most department stores, the models in places like K-Mart or Target are generally pretty good.

  5. Coffee Grinder
  6. I’ve tried a couple of times to quit drinking coffee, with little success. Actually, there have been two major changes resulting from those attempts.

    The first is that I now drink much, much less of it than I did a few years ago (I reduced a habit of 8-10 cups per day to a much more manageable 2-3 cups per week). The second is that I figured if I’m only going to have 2-3 cups per week, they’d better be good.

    The gadget, then, is a coffee grinder. If you were getting ready for the words ‘espresso machine’, well, there’s something you should know. To me, the act of preparing coffee is half the fun.

    If I’m out somewhere, chances are I’ll let someone else do things their own way. When I’m home, however, a simple cafetière (aka presspot, French press or plunger) is my friend. To find out how to work magic with one of these things, head over to Coffee Geek.

    For the grinder itself, Coffee Geek again is the place to go.

    Cost : anywhere from $5 to several hundred.
    Where to get them : eBay and Amazon are great for this sort of thing.

  7. Chest freezer
  8. I don’t know what it’s like around your area, but chest freezers are anything but common in homes here. Pity, really; because they can be great for those on a tight budget. Used properly, that is.

    The general idea is to fill it with joints of meat, frozen fruit and vegetables. Buy these items in bulk (in season, of course) and pack them away for later in the year. Being able to add berries to almost any dessert feels very luxurious indeed.

    The Simple Savings site has some great information on being frugal with a chest freezer. Also worth a listen is their podcast on the same topic.

    Cost : anywhere from $20 (second-hand) to a few hundred.
    Where to get them : many of the stores that sell whitegoods (fridges, freezers, washing machines etc) will sell them, but won’t necessarily put them on display. Just ask – they can often order them in.

  9. Bread machine
  10. I love the smell of fresh bread. Walking past a bakery at 4 in the morning (especially toward the end of a big night out) is heavenly.

    Unfortunately, baking bread – although I love doing it – takes a fair bit of time and effort. For me, this usually means it’s a Sunday thing.

    If you’re in the same boat – you love fresh bread, but don’t always have the time to make it – get a bread machine. They’re wonderful things.

    The operation couldn’t be simpler. Pour the ingredients into the machine, select the desired finishing time and tell it how you’d like it (thick crust, slightly softer and so on). Press start and walk away. Several hours later the house will be filled with that wonderful fresh bread smell. Love it.

    Note : If you set things up before you go to bed, you get to wake up to that bakery aroma. Set your alarm 10 minutes early, and enjoy.

    Cost : Usually $100 – $200.
    Where to get them : They’re a little heavy to ship, so the cheapest place is often your nearest department store. Most of the majors will have them.

  11. Mortar and Pestle
  12. When it comes to therapeutic items in the kitchen, the mortar and pestle surely tops the list. This exceedingly simple setup of a small bowl (the mortar) and a stick (the pestle) is much more versatile than many people realize.

    The basic idea, of course, is to grind ingredients rather than slice them. This is the perfect way to prepare spice combinations such as Garam masala (once you’ve made your own, you’ll never buy the ready-made stuff again); mixing ingredients for foods such as guacamole and pesto; and making Japanese foods such as Mochi.

    Cost : $10 – $30
    Where to get them : These are available in any number of kitchen shops, department stores and online retailers; though my personal favourites are those found tucked away in tardis-like Asian supermarkets. Well-made and usually reasonably priced.

  13. Juicer
  14. One of the tasks I had whilst working in a cafe was to prepare the fresh fruit juice. Each morning, several crates of oranges and a large bag of plastic bottles was carted over to the largest juicing machine I’ve ever seen. Just watching it in action was amazing.

    Of course, there’s no need to go out and grab an industrial strength machine for home use. There are, however, several machines on the market that perform the same function – juicing your favourite fruits, minus the skins and seeds – without taking up the entire counter.

    Now, there are three basic approaches at this point, and your decision will determine the amount of cleaning up you’ll need to do after each use :

    • Simple mechanical devices that squeeze citrus fruits via a plunger action. These are the ones I usually go for, as they look great and require minimal cleaning.
    • Simple mechanical devices that operate via a grinding action (much like a mincer). These are great for items such as wheatgrass. Once again, these require only a small amount of cleaning.
    • More complex appliances that will take almost any type of fruit, remove the stones and seeds; neatly offering up a cup of fruit juice. These are great in terms of the end product – though there’s more cleaning up required.

    Personal favourite – a Metrokane plunger-style device that looks very much like the ED-209 from RoboCop. Long-lasting, minimal cleaning – it just works. Perfect.

    Cost : anywhere from $50 to $200
    Where to get them : the prices for these don’t seem to vary much between retailers, so any kitchenware shop or department store is a safe bet.

Kitchen Gadgets : Final thoughts

Whilst I enjoy a Chinese take-out or restaurant meal (or Thai, Vietnamese or Korean), there’s nothing quite like relaxing in the kitchen on a Sunday afternoon. The 7 appliances listed above are a great start when I’m doing exactly that.

11 Comments

  1. Darlene just put in the request of me for a Mortar and Pestle just the other day. Yes, going to get one for sure. Nice article Scott, really nice.

    When I started my journey of health back in the early 90’s I got a steamer and a juicer. Never really had a rice cooker because I always just used a pot. Mom taught me the simplest way to always cook perfect rice and I never looked back. Darlene has a rice cooker / steamer combo and I like it a lot, but it doesn’t cook the quantity that I like. I like how the rice turns out though and it frees up a spot on the stove.

    This gets me thinking about a post now as well.

    Top 7 Healthy Condiments! Darlene? honey?

  2. Glad you liked it Rob. With the rice cooker, most of the ones I initially looked at could handle pretty high volumes of rice (8-10 cups uncooked). If you want more than that, there are larger versions designed for use in Asian restaurants :)

  3. No, I wasn’t aware of that. I’m just using the one Darlene has. Hers results in about 2 cups net cooked rice. I’m looking for 8 net cups so I can store it for a couple of days of feeds and at least a good day of re-feeding. Maybe I’ll expand on this post with a review of 2 or 3 rice cookers.

  4. Wow! I have some shopping to do. Although I do have some of the items on the list. I gotta tell you seeing the rice cooker listed was a big thing for me. I have one that I received when I was married. You see my ex-husband is Filipino so his whole family has one. Most people I run into don’t have any idea what one is. It has helped me out on more than one occasion when I didn’t have alot of time to just stay in the kitchen while dinner cooked. Thanks for the tips.

  5. a Crock pot is good too. I use mine to cook yams and sweet potatoes while I’m out for the day. Great for stews and chili as well, but I use it mainly for sweet potatoes and yams.

  6. While I do like this list, how do you guys feel about indoor grills?

    I just started taking up a health-conscious lifestyle, and I’ve been cooking a lot more now. However, I don’t cook meats much…I always just buy them packaged pre-cooked like that Maple Leaf stuff…I’ve been thinking about getting a small George Foreman grill, anyone else use these things and have any feedback on them?

  7. Peter, I had a George Foreman until my cats broke it…maybe they were nervous thinking they were next! Loved that grill.

  8. @Peter – I use a foreman grill myself, the smaller one. Love it.

    I would highly advise you to run as far away from packaged meats as possible. Possibly one of the worst processed foods you could ever put in your body.

    Get the grill, then get real chicken, real steak, real bison meats.

  9. My favourite tool in the kitchen is my hand held mixer by Cuisinart. I spent a bit more for it and am happy I made the choice. Te one previous to this pne ended up breaking. The blade broke off and landed in a smoothie! Luckily, I noticed right away or otherwise it could have been dangerous. The Cuisinart one I have is awesome for blending soups, smoothies and drinks. It also has an accessory that is a grinder. I’ve used that for grinding nuts, flours, dips and hummus. Its a multi purpose tool, I love it! I couldn’t live without it and minimal cleanup.

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