More tools and tips from grandma's kitchen.
“I pity the kitchen filled with frivolous gadgets, the as-seen-on-TV items that hog cupboard space, bully the counter, and crowd utensil drawers with their limited functionality or poor performance,” I wrote in 2012 when showing off my favorite low-tech kitchen gadgets. “Asparagus peelers, the Perfect Brownie Pan, avocado slicers, the Bacon Genie! They're space-wasters and wasteful in general.”
My love for good low-tech gadgets persists and after a few years I’ve decided that there are a few more grandma gizmos that make the grade. I’m not saying that each of these are for everybody, but I find them indispensable for cooking and baking – they are durable and they obviate the need for a lot of fancy bells and whistles. And all of them serve many purposes ... if you’re going to live in my kitchen, you’ve got to be flexible, Banana Slicers need not apply.
1. Mesh strainer
Mesh strainer, really? Yes! I use mine – an old 6-inch workhorse – for so many things, I don’t think there’s a meal that gets made without it. It acts as colander, steamer, sifter, potato ricer, juicer and more. I strain pasta and vegetables, I rinse things, I declump and blend dry baking ingredients, I pass potatoes through it for a fluffy mash, smooth lumpy gravies, I strain fruit juices and vegetable stocks, I steam, I sieve, I always find new uses for it.
2. Good kitchen shears
The many ways in which I use kitchen shears were born out of laziness, I confess. A rinse of scissors makes for a much easier clean-up than than a knife and cutting board, plus to chop something with shears over a plate or bowl is neater and more direct. I use them for herbs the most – just snip from the bunch, it's easy and doesn't smash the leaves the same way a knife can. I use them for cutting so many weird things – they're perfect for dates, prunes, sun-dried tomatoes. They are great for cutting crust off toast if you are prone to indulging a crust-averse child (and if so, don't throw those crusts away! Use them for croutons or bread crumbs). They also come equipped with a plier-like grip above the handles that can be used to crack nuts or hard shells, and can also be put to use in opening stubborn jars.
3. Tortilla press
If you don’t make tortillas from scratch you can skip this one. But before you go, why don’t you make tortillas from scratch?! It is one of the easiest things you can do in the kitchen (if you have a tortilla press, that is) and they taste approximately one million times better than store-bought ones. You basically stir together flour or masa harina (for flour or corn tortillas) with warm water, salt and some olive oil, knead a little, allow to rest for a bit, break into balls, smoosh with your handy-dandy tortilla press, and cook for a minute in a pan. (Here is a good flour tortilla recipe
, and Mark Bittman's delicious corn tortillas are here
.) The press can also be employed in other scenarios where a rolling pin might be used for items with a more diminutive diameter – like crackers and flat bread, mini pies and tartlets, or wonton and dumpling wrappers. It can crush too; while it won’t make a fine grind for nuts, it can turn a handful of almonds or walnuts into a course chop in a manner of seconds.
4. Mini muffin tin for freezing
I could use ice-cube trays for 300 things other than freezing water, but I try to steer clear of plastic in the kitchen when I can. So, mini muffin pan to the rescue. The concept is to freeze things in little portions, then transfer to an airtight container for easy access to small bits of good things. I freeze the following items in such a fashion (and there are many more things you can do as well):
• Fruit puree for smoothies
• Bananas for banana ice cream
• Vegetable stock for pasta sauces, risotto, etcetera
• Tired wine for cooking
• Pesto for … pesto
• Pasta sauces
• Coffee for ice coffee
• Lemon-honey water for iced tea
• Fruit juice for fancy punch
• Leftover cookie dough
Oh, plus they can be used for baking mini muffins.
5. Mortar and pestle
I first bought a mortar and pestle for pesto
, but since then I find myself using it for things I never imagined, from nuts and seeds to herbs and spices. I use it to make mayonnaise and compound herb butters, hummus and other dips. My main use for it, however, is salt. My favorite salts often come in an arrangement of rock sizes that could threaten the integrity of anyone’s teeth – the mortar and pestle allow me to get the right texture and size in everything that I use it for. Food processors or spice mills may do all of this easier, but none offer the same control or look as pretty on the counter.
6. Bamboo steamer
I love bamboo steamers because one can steam several items at once with varying degrees of heat, and it leaves food with a wonderful texture. They can be used for steaming so many things: fish and chicken (if you swing that way); vegetables; dumplings and potstickers; tamales; and so on. It can be used to warm up (your homemade!) tortillas and to revive day-old bread. You can warm up leftovers in one! Off-duty uses include great storage for potatoes, onions and garlic – things that like the dark but also benefit from a little air. And for the baker on the go, a bamboo steamer does great double-duty as a cupcake or cookie tote.
Do you have low-tech tools that you can't live without? Leave a comment ... chances are I'll be writing about more in a few years.
More tools and tips from grandma's kitchen.