If only our culture wasn’t so food-centric.
Then maybe, just maybe, we wouldn’t spend half our lives thinking about preparing food, shopping for food and, best of all, eating food. It’s hard not to be obsessed with yummy things when Purim is just days away and Pesach lurks frighteningly close behind, but let’s be realistic – eating occupies our thoughts all year round. I guess that’s just how it is when you have large families and are typically hosting a multitude of guests.
With all those food related thoughts doing a perpetual happy dance in my head, I am always hunting for new and exciting kitchen gadgets and appliances, but it is important not to overlook those kitchen basics, the tools you turn to time and time again no matter what you are doing. So allow me to introduce some of my new faves, tried-and-true items that may be helpful additions to your Pesach arsenal or kitchen stars that you may enjoy using all year round.
Cuisinart Power Advantage Plus 9 Speed Hand Mixer: To be completely honest, I actually own a high quality stand mixer that does a phenomenal job whipping up egg whites, mixing batters and putting dough together, but for reasons that even I don’t understand, I rarely, if ever, take it out. More often than not, I find myself mixing things up with an oversized spoon or reaching for the $9.99 hand mixer that lives within arm’s reach of my kitchen sink. But when that 20-year old hand mixer finally went belly up after beating its last bowl of cream into fluffy white peaks, I decided to take the plunge and upgrade to a higher quality model, given that even better hand mixers are fairly budget-friendly.
It sounds silly to say that what I love most about my Cuisinart Power Advantage is the fact that the beaters and power cord store in a case that locks onto the body of the mixer, but it is the truth. Clutter makes me nuts, so being able to snap the whole kit and caboodle into one convenient little package is a real plus for me. Of course, all that neatness would be completely meaningless if the mixer didn’t do its job right, but this little Cuisinart lives up to the family reputation for well-crafted products. With nine speeds, including three that are low enough to get your batter off to a safe start without splattering flour all over your walls (yup, been there, done that, and I’m sure you have too), an easy-to-read LED display and an impressive but not overly loud 220 watt motor, the Power Advantage is the little engine that could and the one you will find yourself reaching for time and time again.
Magic Mill MUR25: There are few Jewish homes that don’t have a hot water pot somewhere in the kitchen on Shabbos or Yom Tov and our hot pots have definitely evolved over the years. My first, a 30-cup urn, was relatively simple to use and had few breakable parts, but because the heat tended to dissipate through the metal walls, the water never really stayed all that hot. I used to try to solve the problem by wrapping my urn in a towel, held in place with binder clips, while my sister actually crocheted a sweater to keep my mother’s urn warm. How’s that for creativity?
The next generation of urns were pump pots that were great at keeping their contents piping hot, but the pump mechanism had an annoying tendency to break, as I discovered after just six years of use. Since I had no interest in buying a new and fairly pricey pot every six years, I turned to Google, hoping to find a better solution.
In the end, it was a visiting relative who saved the day, pointing me towards the Magic Mill line of hot water pots, which come in an impressive variety of sizes. Like my original urn, the Magic Mill is made out of metal, but the water stays at just the right temperature due to the double insulated walls, which also keep the pot’s exterior relatively cool to the touch. Boil and keep warm switches on the side of the pot are under a hinged cover so that no one accidentally touches them on Shabbos and a small sticker on the side of the pot keeps all relevant usage information, including how to refill the pot on Yom Tov, right where you need it. Be advised that this pot comes in two versions, with and without a child safety spout. Although the regular spout is a little more elegant looking, if you have little ones who like exploring, the child safety lock is an absolute must.
OXO Good Grips 5 Pound Scale: While there are plenty of moments when even the most exacting cooks go with their gut and just wing it, there are times when accuracy and precision are essential, making a kitchen scale a worthwhile and relatively inexpensive investment.
As always, size matters and when it comes to kitchens, less is actually more because no matter how big your kitchen may be, cabinet space is typically at a premium. Slim and compact, the OXO Good Grips scale can fit into even the narrowest of spaces, but still packs plenty of versatility including a pull-out display that keeps the readout visible even when working with large items and a removable, washable weighing platform. Also great is the ability to zero out the display while weighing something so that you can measure the weight of extra ingredients as you add them in.
Swiss Diamond Knives: They say that you can tell a lot about people by the watch they wear or the bag they carry, which leaves me wondering if that same corollary can be applied to kitchen knives. Can you be a good cook if you use relatively inexpensive knives? Does having a set of high-quality knives automatically transform someone into a gourmet chef?
Trying to make judgments about my cooking abilities based on my knife collection would probably leave you scratching your head because I have the most motley assortment of knives you have ever seen. I have knives that my husband bought when we were engaged, colorful knives that they make me smile every time I use them because they are so cheery and a watermelon knife that I should probably throw out because it in no way improves my truly pathetic melon-cutting skills.
Having accumulated so many basic knives, I am finally coming to understand that good knives are like the little black dresses of the kitchen – the ones that you reach for time and time again. It was a set of three Swiss Diamond knives that brought me to that realization and may just have me tossing out all those extra knives taking up space in my drawer that never see the light of day. Pick up a Swiss Diamond knife and you can feel right away that these were designed by professional chefs who spend their days slicing and dicing and understand that a good knife isn’t just sharp, it is also comfortable to work with. And yes, be warned, these babies have serious cutting edges so be sure to watch your fingers when slicing and dicing.