Handy Little Kitchen Gadgets

February 9, 2010 1 comment

Another crazy weekend here in Atlanta, with more snow and ice on the way.  Time to do some more cooking.  My attention has now turned to kitchen gadgets and here are a few of my recommended favorites.

Cuisinart Griddler Jr.

It’s compact and easy to clean.  The nonstick upper and lower grills can be removed and tossed in the dishwasher for easy clean up.  This is a nice size for a single person or couple.  I’ve been using this for a couple of years with great results.  Big enough for a couple of fillets of salmon or a couple of burgers.  Nice for grilled cheese sandwiches, toasties and panini.

Tribest Personal Blender

I’ve had this for about a year.  It makes great smoothies.  Much more reliable than that Bullet thing.  The Tribest will actually shut off if it gets too hot so you don’t burn out the motor (I haven’t had that problem yet).  The cups have nice screw-on lids that I use to take my smoothies to work or to store them in the fridge.  The Tribest is also good for making salad dressings or blending small batches of whatever.  Another solid product.

Pyrex Storage Dishes

Round ones, square ones, I have a good collection of these.  The ones with the blue lids are the best.   I use them for freezing leftovers and taking leftovers to work for lunch.  These are very sturdy, the lids snap on nicely and they go from freezer to micro to oven and back.  Great to use glass instead of plastic, especially if you are heating up food in the microwave.  Shopworldkitchen.com carries the round dishes with the tabs on the lids that flip up to allow steam to escape when reheating food in the microwave — very handy.

Zojirushi NS-ZCC10 5-1/2-Cup Neuro Fuzzy Rice Cooker

Well, this is more of an actual kitchen appliance rather than a gadget, but I’ll mention it anyway.  (This is actually a newer — more expensive — model than the rice cooker I have, but it looks like basically the same thing.  The neuro fuzzy models are great because you just dump the rice in the cooker, set it and go.  The cooker knows exactly how to cook the rice.  (I always rinse my rice a few times before cooking, which cuts down on the stickiness).  The cooker has a number of settings for various types of rice.  This cooker makes fantastic oatmeal — I usually put it the cooker before  I get ready for work in the morning.   It cooks hands-free for a while, just in time for me to eat before I’m out the door.

There are a lot of recipes you can cook other than just rice.  The Ultimate Rice Cooker is the best resource I’ve found for recipes.  It has a lot of additional information about various rice cooker types and varieties of rice.  The recipes are easy to follow and specifically state which kind of cooker you need for which recipe (the neuro fuzzy cooker, as great as it is, can’t be used to steam vegetables, for example).  This is one handy little kitchen appliance!

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Where I Find the Good Stuff

I can’t say I spend a lot of time surfing the internet for recipes — there is just so much out there that it kind of overwhelms me. Despite what’s available online,l like to use cookbooks and actually have a decent collection. There’s just something I like about having recipes organized into physical books — I like to write notes in my books and see the occasional picture of what I dish might look like. I really appreciate books with extensive cook’s notes, which is something most internet recipes lack.

What I do like about internet recipes is that a lot of them are rated and users add all sorts of useful comments. Of course, it’s easy to search the internet to find just about any recipe you can imagine.

My favorite recipe site is Recipezaar. It has thousands of recipes and its categorization, filtering, browsing and searching capabilities are impressive. The ratings and comments are helpful and nutritional information is calculated for every recipe. You can also create your own “cookbooks” to organize recipes. Recipezaar also has the ability to create sbopping lists from the recipes you choose.

I also like Myrecipes.com which consolidates recipes from popular magazines including Cooking Light. Myrecipes is sort of a scaled down version of Recipezaar and has some of the same features. Myrecipes also has a mobile site you can access on you BB.

For slow cooker (aka crock pot) recipes, I’ve found Rival’s crock pot site has a great selection.

I haven’t found too many cooking magazines I really like, with the exception of Clean Eating. It has low-cal, easy recipes using only whole foods. It’s nice to have on addition to the cookbooks since it helps me to keep track of what’s seasonal.

So…what’s for dinner?!

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Shopping Lists Made Fun

I live in a wonderful intown neighborhood in Atlanta with easy access to several great grocery stores.  I rarely shop at conventional grocery stores.  Whole Foods is less than a third of a mile away; there are a couple of good independent health food-type stores nearby and if I want a really “international” experience, I’ll head down to the huge Dekalb Farmer’s Market.  I’m also conveniently located near the Buford Highway area which is the center for all things truly ethnic and international in Atlanta.

I shop mostly at Whole Foods since it’s close, has what I need most of the time and the quality of its food is very good (lots of organic produce, for example).  I typically plan my menu for the week and using a shopping list — I feel very weird shopping without a list!  I love the feeling of ticking items off the list as I shop. How can people can shop without a list?!!  One thing I rarely see is people using their Blackberry as their shopping list! Why not put that cool gadget to good use?

I love my Blackberry and one of the first apps I looked for when I got the BB was something that I could use as a shopping list.  Fortunately, I discovered Upvise, a fantastic, free shopping list program. The cool thing about Upvise is that you can create any number of lists via a web interface or your BB (after you’ve downloaded the BB app). Editing lists or adding items to the list on the BB is easy and the syncing between the web and BB is seamless. The really cool thing about Upvise is that you can assign more than one user to the account. This means that any user can update the list and the changes are immediately seen by the other users. Great for those situations when, say, I’m at the store and Craig suddenly decides he needs something not on the list: he can add it via the web interface or his own BB. I’ll then immediately see it on the list. Bought items are easy to check off on the BB and I like that the list can be filtered by category so that when, for example, I’m in the produce aisle I just see the produce items.

Upvise makes grocery shopping fun!

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Ah, the Joys of the Slow Cooker

I don’t know if it’s because of the recent cold weather, but I’ve had this urge to cooker over the past couple of weeks.  So I’ve dragged out the old slow cooker (aka “crock pot”) and have been a wild cooking fiend.  I quickly realized that I had outgrown my old-style cookers, so I invested a few dollars in the newer programmable models.  What a difference — the newer stainless steel type models are beautiful to look at, let alone cook with.  My newest model, a highly rated Cuisinart 3-1/2 quart model, has been a joy to cook with.

This one’s available at Amazon.  This cooker allows you to set it to High or Low and specify the cooking time.  Once it’s done cooking, the cooker switches to “Keep Warm” mode to keep everything nice and warm until, say, you get home from work.  The 3-1/2 quart size is nice for a couple, for preparing smaller quantities of food, or making appetizers or rice and grain dishes.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t work well for making breads and puddings (which require inserting a separate dish into the pot), which is one of favorite uses of the slower cooker.

I’ve been methodically plodding through one of my favorite cookbooks, The Healthy Slow Cooker.  I’ll give a more thorough review of the book later, but it’s a great book full of recipes using whole foods (meaning no canned soups).  I’ve probably made a dozen dishes over the past week using this book and it’s been fantastic.  It’s also meant I’ve been freezing a lot of food!

More to follow later.

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