Summer may find us gravitating towards salads and other light fare, but the winter months were tailor-made for foods that cook for hours and warm the house, the soul and, of course, the tummy. But while we may enjoy seasonal winter foods that benefit from extended cooking times, most of us are still looking for dishes that are relatively simple to prepare. In short, we want the gadgets to do the hard work for us, preferably with minimal cleanup time.
Given that most of us have limited kitchen space, it makes the most sense to devote precious kitchen real estate to versatile appliances that can handle multiple jobs. One such workhorse is the food processor, which can make short work of all of your shredding, slicing and chopping and, because it is one of those items you reach for again and again, it makes sense to spend a little more and get a machine that will prove itself worthy year after year after year. There are plenty of big names out there in food-processor-land but my latest love is my new Cuisinart Elemental 11-cup processor. Cuisinart has been making award-winning kitchen appliances for over 40 years and what makes the company great is that its quality is high but the prices are moderate, especially if you shop the sales. Having lived with a 9-cup food processor for years and often finding myself with more ingredients than my bowl could handle, I was thrilled to upgrade to an 11-cup model (the Elemental comes in 8- and 14-cup models as well).
Other great features? An enormously wide food chute, which means you don’t have to waste time pre-chopping before feeding ingredients into the machine and I loved the idea that while it can handle relatively large quantities, it doesn’t take up more than its fair share of space in my kitchen. With its 550-watt motor, two-sided shredding disc, two slicing discs and an s-blade, my Cuisinart pretty much does it all and quickly. Having been through several food processors over the years that just couldn’t handle the heavy work that our food-centric households tend to dish out, it is great to know that my Cuisinart, made by a company whose reputation for excellence speaks for itself, is durable enough to go the distance.
For those of you who were watching television in the ‘70s, the name “Ronco” conjures up images of all kinds of interesting gadgets featured frequently on infomercials, long before any of us really knew what infomercials actually were. I was more than a little surprised to discover that the company is still making products. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the Ronco Ready Grill, an indoor smokeless grill that looks like the average toaster’s tall skinny cousin. I had no problem fitting three adult-sized pieces of chicken into the grill’s removable wire basket and, an astonishing 25 minutes later, my chicken was perfectly cooked. While I can’t tell you that the chicken had that just-off-the-grill flavor, it tasted absolutely amazing. The adjustable basket can accommodate items of various sizes and, lest you think this baby can only cook chicken, it can handle meat, fish and vegetables, with the enclosed recipe book suggesting some really amazing-looking desserts (broiled grapefruit anyone?). My biggest hesitation was the cleanup factor, but the nice people at Ronco must have been reading my mind: the bottom drip tray was easy to clean and several interior portions of the Ready Grill come out easily for simple cleaning, and are dishwasher-safe. A word of warning: check the placement of those interior pieces before you remove them or, like me, you may find yourself spending twenty minutes wondering how on earth you are ever going to fit them back in. While the Ready Grill isn’t large enough to handle large family meals, those of you who aren’t feeding quite as many people will find yourselves falling in love with this machine that gets the job done fabulously, easily and in record time.
Of course, not every great kitchen item has to be plugged in. How many times have you found yourself using half of a fruit or a vegetable and then wondering how to store the remainder in the refrigerator so that it stays fresh? Enter Food Huggers, silicone food savers that stretch to seal in the cut end of your produce, keeping them fresh and your refrigerator clean and drip-free. Not only do they come in a variety of sizes, Food Huggers work equally well as jar and can lids. Best of all they are dishwasher-, freezer- and microwave-safe, which means easy to use and easy to clean.
No matter how cold the weather, it is never the wrong season for a slushy dessert or beverage and Chill Factor’s Slushy Maker allows you to enjoy a frosty fix in literally less than a minute. The Slushy Maker makes use of what the company describes as Rapid Freeze Technology: the product’s inner vinyl sleeve is comprised of vertical pockets filled with a material that gets super cold, so, when you pour liquid into the sleeve and squeeze the silicone outer cup repeatedly for about 45 seconds, your beverage turns into slush. While the Chill Factor suggests freezing the cup for four to six hours to get it cold enough to work properly, I found that I got better results by freezing the cup overnight in the coldest part of my freezer. One of the best things about the Slushy Maker is that you can use any beverage you want, so whether you use chocolate milk to get more calcium into your kids’ diets, orange juice to make sure that everyone gets enough Vitamin C during the sniffly winter season or alcoholic cocktails for a more adult beverage, the Slushy Maker has got you covered, giving you great slush in under a minute, all from the comfort of your own home.