Photo Credit: Jewish Press

It’s baaaaack!

Yup, summer is here for real, bringing with it that vacation vibe and, even for those of us who still have to report to work every day, there is something in the air that makes you feel like a kid again. County fairs beckon invitingly, the nearest pool seems to be calling your name and it just feels like the right time to pack up a picnic and head for a local park for a few hours of chill time or a night full of fireworks. Somehow, no matter how you choose to spend your down time, food always manages to factor into the equation. Let’s face it: our culture really does revolve around food, so why not stock your kitchen with items that make your life easier?


Seltzer makers have become a hot item in recent years and for good reason. With the ability to make fresh carbonated beverages on the spot and dozens of varieties to choose from for those who prefer flavored sparkling water, Sodastream may forever redefine your beverage consumption. While this nifty appliance’s reusable bottles may draw the environmentally conscious, not having to shlep soda from the store or find a place to store all those bottles has an even more universal appeal. A few things to know about Sodastream: If you want to be able to use it on Shabbos, be sure to get one that doesn’t use electricity and be vigilant about only carbonating plain water and not overfilling the bottle. Trust me when I tell you that not following instructions may result in a very wet and soggy kitchen counter. Sodastream offers a large variety of OU-certified flavors, both sugar-free and sugar-full, with kid-pleasing choices like Kool-Aid Tropical Punch and Fizzy Blue, and more gourmet choices like Stevia Grapefruit Lemongrass, Green Tea Litchi and Eboost Acai Pomegranate. Watch the sales, especially around holiday times, and chances are you will be able to find a good deal on a Sodastream, making it an even more appealing addition to your kitchen.

While hot weather equals barbeque season for many, grill pans give you the ability to capture some of the benefits of outdoor cooking without ever leaving the air-conditioned comfort of your kitchen. Because of their ridged bottoms that catch drips and juices, grill pans allow you to produce nicely-seared, fabulous burgers and so much more (think fish, chicken or succulent steaks) with those mucho-appetizing grill marks. While there is no doubt that cast iron pans offer superior heat distribution and other advantages, I can’t deal with a pan that requires so much TLC, making Cuisinart’s dishwasher safe CastLite series the answer to my dreams. Made out of enamel-coated cast iron with a non-stick interior, it provides the best of all possible worlds, producing great results with easy cleanup. While this pan may be almost 50 percent lighter than a conventional cast iron griddle, I strongly suggest you not drop this one on your toe; weighing in at five pounds, it still packs quite a wallop. What size grill pan to get? That depends on your priorities – a bigger pan will give you more cooking area, but requires more storage space, so choose accordingly. Me? I am loving my 11-inch square griddle, but if space is at a premium, a smaller model may make more sense.

Speaking of storage considerations, it is important to remember that no matter how big your kitchen is, it will quickly become cluttered and disorganized if you fill your drawers and cabinets with stuff you never use. You know what I mean. The pastry blender that hasn’t been used since we last had a Clinton in the White House. The turkey baster that you got as a gift at your bridal shower and is still in its original packaging even though your youngest kid is now 15. Give them away to a friend, donate them to a needy cause or throw them all out and then stock your kitchen with items that work for you. In my case, the last gadget that I thought was practical enough to have earned real estate space in my kitchen was a Joseph Joseph Stretch Expandable Trivet. What makes this silicone-nylon trivet so practical is that while it opens to a generous 21 ½ inches to hold hot pots or pans, it folds down to a surprisingly svelte 3 inches, taking up just a tiny little spot in your drawer. Whether you go with the funky lime green or the more discreet black, this is one product that definitely works for you.

Although the Westbend On Demand Corn Popper does take up a heftier amount of kitchen space than the trivet, you may just find that this machine has slimming possibilities of its own. Pour popcorn kernels into the dispenser of this sleek stainless steel hot air popper and with a press of the lever it pops a single serving of popcorn, a great, low-calorie high-fiber snack. Want to make a bigger batch for the whole family? No problem. Just depress the lever three more times and get ready to enjoy those white, fluffy bits of goodness. Best of all, this popper, which holds 28 ounces of popcorn, does all the measuring on its own, leaving you with nothing harder to do than to grab a bowl and a salt shaker so that you can crunch away.

Entire volumes can and probably have been written on the importance of high-quality knives but I can tell you right now that I am not qualified to discuss the merits of one knife over the other or the superiority of a $150 knife. As someone who is not a gourmet chef and likes to keep things uncomplicated, my criteria are fairly simple: give me a knife that feels good in my hand, isn’t too heavy and, most importantly, does a good job cutting. While there are plenty of great candidates out there that are an asset to any kitchen, I am finding myself very impressed with my newly-acquired Tovolo knives. While they may be best known for whimsical items like smiley face spatulas and rubber ducky ice molds, the nice folks at Tovolo have also made a serious line of knives in a full range of sizes that can tackle just about any kitchen job. Made out of high carbon stainless steel with comfort grip handles, these knives get the job done. My favorite? The five-inch prep knife, which is big enough to handle most jobs without being overly cumbersome. Does the fact that these knives come in a rainbow of colors make me love them even more? Yup. Guilty as charged.

Alright, everyone, time for me to say farewell for now. I am going to take my own advice and toss both my pastry blender and the turkey baster, leaving me extra room for more cool kitchen toys!

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Sandy Eller is a freelance writer who writes for numerous websites, newspapers, magazines and private clients. She can be contacted at [email protected].