There’s a cooking gizmo for everything. Just walk down the appliance aisle of your local department store and you’ll pass shelves of popcorn makers, crepe makers, electric egg poachers and more. Turn down the kitchen utensil aisle and you’ll be bombarded with special slicers for every type of fruit and vegetable under the sun. But which gadgets are worth the splurge and which are worth passing on?
We asked Kidspot’s resident foodie, chef and mum of four, Jen Cheung, which 10 cooking gadgets she really can’t live without. These are her picks. Does your kitchen have them?
1) A good cooking knife and paring knife
Ask any chef what their essential kitchen item is and a good cook’s knife is always going to be at the top of their list. “I have used one knife for 13 years. A good knife doesn’t have to be expensive, but you do need to maintain it properly,” says Jen who regularly sharpens her knife.
Along with a good cook’s knife, Jen says a razor sharp paring knife is her other essential blade in the kitchen “Perfect for slicing tomatoes and for cutting anything small that you have to hold in your hand.”
2) Quality garlic crusher
There are garlic crushers and there are garlic crushers and this is one kitchen gadget that you definitely shouldn’t skimp on. “A good garlic crusher needs to be sturdy and easy to clean,” says Jen who says that the best garlic crushers are ones that you can throw an unpeeled clove into and it does all the work for you. Plus, it should have a removable basket that’s easy to clean.
3) Food processor
If your appliance cupboard is cluttered with a juicer, blender and other gizmos that you use once in a blue moon, donate these to the charity bin and make room for a food processer – it will make preparing the evening meal a cinch. “A food processor can make your life easier in so many ways. It will make you a shortcrust pastry in seconds, make a mix for meatballs and rissoles quickly and whip you up a nice dip in a flash. A good food processor is expensive but will save you time and money by making the harder jobs easy,” says Jen, adding that a food processor will also slash your weekly shopping bill as it will encourage you to make more foods from scratch and not waste money on expensive convenience products.
No kitchen is complete without a set of scales and once you have a set, the world of recipes will get a whole lot bigger. “Don’t cut yourself out of cooking some great recipes because you can’t measure the ingredients. Scales don’t have to be fancy, they just have to measure,” confirms Jen, who says she is still using a set she bought for $3 from a garage sale.
5) Stick blender
A nifty hand-held stick blender takes up little room in your appliance cupboard and is a godsend in the kitchen. Use it to puree baby food fast, quickly crush nuts, blend soup while still in the pot and whizz smoothies before work in a flash. “Stick blenders are a real necessity in the kitchen as they can do the job of many appliances that take up lots of room,” says Jen, adding that they are super-easy to wash under the tap. “Bamix is an expensive brand but mine is 18 years old. They are an investment.”
6) Good potato and vegetable peeler
Cooking is a breeze when you have the right implements and a quality potato peeler that removes skin in seconds is an essential kitchen item. “My lovely MIL bought a vegetable peeler for me and it peels pumpkin like it’s butter. You don’t just have to use your peeler just for peeling. You can make yummy vegetable ribbons or crispy sweet potato chips using the peeler too,” says Jen.
7) Measuring cups and spoons
Like scales, Jen also can’t live without her other cooking calculators – measuring cups and spoons. “Baking is a science and one of the hardest parts of cooking is getting that right,” she says. “A handful of flour doesn’t work, unless you are Nigella!” To ensure you always get your baking measurements right, invest in some quality stainless steel measuring cups and spoons that are easy to keep clean.
Cooking recipes for the right amount time is the best way to guarantee success in the kitchen – so a timer is a gadget that’s worth the clutter. “Once you’ve gone to all the trouble of making that cake, don’t forget it! It is so easy to get distracted,” says Jen. “When baking, I always set the timer and put it in my pocket so I can hear that ding! The timer gets used for other things in my house too, like timing showers and TV time.”
While a KitchenAid is the Rolls Royce of mixmasters, Jen says you don’t need to spend a fortune on this essential kitchen appliance. “It doesn’t need to be fancy and a hand mixer will do, but you do need to own one to cook a LOT of recipes. Think pavlova and how hard it is to whip egg whites by hand,” she says, adding that a mixer with a stand is better because it allows you to add ingredients as you mix.
10) Non-stick cookware
If you’re still using cookware that you have to scrub and scour after dinner, it’s time to upgrade to non-stick – because busy mums just don’t have time for this! “Non-stick cookware is so easy to clean and every cook loves that,” says Jen, adding that non-stick will also help you to cook lighter meals as you’ll be using less oil to cook with.