Food Friendly May: Gadgets I Don’t Need

(Image via Cookography, where you can find simple instructions for making yogurt on your stovetop)

When it comes to kitchen gadgets, I’m on them like Plummy on Spanish footballers. While some women dream of little Tiffany’s boxes, my heart races at the sight of the words Sur la Table. If in our travels we pass a kitchen-related shop, Mr. Twistie knows it’s time to go find someplace to kill at least an hour before he can drag me kicking and screaming out again. I own an ebleskiver pan. I use a mortar and pestle regularly. I have different sizes and shapes of whisk to use depending on the job. I have been known to gently pet both my KitchenAid stand mixer and my twelve-cup Cuisinart food processor.

And yet, there are certain gadgets out there that I cannot imagine myself using.

In light of yesterday’s conversation about yogurt makers (and I’m absolutely with Plummy on this one, I honestly don’t think it’s a necessary expense), I thought I would share with you kitchen gadgets that don’t fit into my life. Your mileage may – and very likely will! – vary dramatically.

Pie bird. It’s a fact that when you’re baking a pie with a top crust, you do need to vent the top so the steam can escape. If you don’t, then your pie explodes and you’ve got a horrible job cleaning up your oven. The idea with the pie bird is that you lay your bottom crust into the pan, sit the bird in the middle, put in the filling and then lay the top crust over the bird, allowing it to pierce the center. As the pie bakes, the steam escapes through the throat of the bird.

Okay, some of these little buggers are really cute, but I can’t see any point in using them. I’ve been baking pies for forty two years now, and simply cutting a couple small slits in the top crust with a kitchen knife has never yet let me down. My filling fills the entire center of the pie, and I don’t have to worry about cleaning that fiddly little bird at the end.

Deep Fryer. Don’t get me wrong, I can enjoy the heck out of deep fried foods. But no, I’m not going to cook them at home. Casa Twistie has very poor air circulation, and anything that gets fried – let alone deeply! – hangs in the air for days afterward. I don’t want to deal with the hassle of disposing properly of the used fat. And frankly, when Mama Twistie made her amazing tempura… she used a very deep pot and a kitchen thermometer and it worked just fine.

Pressure cooker. Not only do I have limited counter space available, this is basically a really fast way of steaming food. I have the time to do it with an ordinary pot and steamer insert. Also, I’ve watched too many pressure cooker disasters on Top Chef and Iron Chef. These buggers actually scare me a bit. Maybe when people aren’t under the pressure of a Quickfire Challenge they’re perfectly safe… but I’m not taking the chance. It just doesn’t seem worth the money or the counter real estate for my life.

Electric griddle. Again, there’s no place to put it. Besides, my beautiful stove, Algy, came with an included cast iron griddle that fits perfectly over that center oval burner. I don’t need to double what I’ve already got with something that will add to my electricity bill.

We all have different priorities. I have no need for a crock pot since I work from home and have the time to tend a stew in an ordinary pot on the stovetop. But for someone who goes out to work or spends more time running around chasing after her kids, it can be a real life saver. A deep fryer doesn’t fit into my world, but for another cook, it may be as necessary as air.

None of this is meant to dissuade you from something you have a real, serious use for in your life. It’s all about figuring out what does and doesn’t make sense in the life you lead. When you see lists of ‘must have’ items, always consider whether you as an individual must have it or not.

18 Responses to “Food Friendly May: Gadgets I Don’t Need”

  1. class factotum May 20, 2012 at 12:19 pm #

    I have a deep fryer, but only because my mom gave me one she bought at a garage sale. It is nice to make my own fried calamari and fried dill pickles, but we have the same air circulation issues that you do. Hence, the only time I want to use the fryer is when I can have all the windows open and then it’s too hot to cook, anyhow. I need to figure out how to use it outside so my house doesn’t stink.

  2. Jane2 May 20, 2012 at 12:20 pm #

    I’m with you on all but the pressure cooker…it’s the perfect tool for the lazy who likes tasty food, and I couldn’t live without mine. I swear those disasters on modern TV are made up for drama’s sake…the second and third generation pressure cookers (i.e. anything we’d buy now) are perfectly safe and reliable. I use mine extensively because of the shortened cooking time while blending flavours and being able to steam, braise, you name it (ok, not deep fry!). Soups/stews done in 20 minutes, risotto in 8, steel cut oats in 10…and all come out perfect and tasting like they’ve been cooking for hours. No more huge pots of boiling water for pasta…just barely cover the pasta to be cooked, and steam for 5 or so minutes.

  3. teteatete May 20, 2012 at 1:52 pm #

    I’m with you on all except the pressure cooker, as Jane said. It’s fantastic for cooking cuts of meat that would otherwise require hours of braising. I don’t have a crock pot because it freaks me out to leave an electrical appliance on all day while I’m at work with two curious kitties. My brother is an engineer who likes to cook (and he’s talented, too!). He was the one that turned me on to pressure cookers….explaining the science to me before my eyes glazed over…and he assured me they have safeguards in place that makes a disaster unlikely.

    On weekends, though, when time isn’t of the essence, I will gently caress the le creuset my parents gave me for Christmas (they’re so great) and put something delicious on to braise.

  4. Ros May 20, 2012 at 2:29 pm #

    Word on all of these.

    Kitchen stores and bookstores are my downfall – I know exactly how you feel!

    Given the gear I’ve got, though… I’ve got a toaster oven instead of a toaster (more multipurpose, and great for summer baking that doesn’t heat up the apartment), and, given the choice, I’d keep that and get rid of the microwave entirely (I’m trying to convince the boyfriend that we don’t need it. We’ll see how it goes…)

    The crockpot is the one I’m occasionally on the fence about… it takes up so much cupboard space, but nothing else cooks dried beans/chickpeas quite so well with so little attention, and the curry in winter, and the chicken/beef broth that gets made overnight, and… *sigh* If I had less cupboard space, I’d consider removing it, but it is astoundingly useful.

  5. SongBird May 20, 2012 at 3:28 pm #

    I have a pressure cooker, but don’t use it – I just never think of it in time (and I don’t know how; it was my partner’s and was here when I moved in), but I love my crock pot.

    I’m home many days, but still, it’s great to be able to just toss a chicken or some other meat in with veggies and then, in the evening, all I haev to make is sides. Perfect.

    SongBird

  6. thinposter May 20, 2012 at 10:07 pm #

    Oh, Twistie, you are right. Sometimes I just get carried away with something that is shiny, or cute, or might be fun to use.

    However, I do love my pie bird. It crisps the bottom of my pies in a way I could never accomplish with just a slit. Confuses the heck out of my aunt when I take pies to Thanksgiving dinner, though. (It also cost $6 and fits easily in my auxiliary utensil drawer, so I’m not wasting a lot of money or cabinet space.)

    Pie weights, on the other hand? I still haven’t figured out why I thought I needed those.

  7. Rebekka May 20, 2012 at 11:44 pm #

    I love my pressure cooker. It makes a mean pot roast. For that reason alone it has a place of semi-honor on top of a kitchen cabinet off in a corner.

  8. ChaChaHeels May 21, 2012 at 10:11 am #

    This year, my husband finally gave in to his culinary desires and bought a deep fryer. He used it once that day, and now it’s basically something his equally food-crazed friends envy. He may resurrect it next year to make some deep fried treat, and then again he may not, no one knows. But I’m with Twistie: a deep pot and a food thermometer would have been just as good.

  9. Lisa from SoCal May 21, 2012 at 5:33 pm #

    I lurve my electric griddle, though. I use it a lot.

  10. Aimiliona May 21, 2012 at 10:39 pm #

    My pressure cooker is the old kind–it belonged to my grandmother and the booklet includes instructions for using it on a coal stove. I haven’t exploded it yet.

  11. Leah May 21, 2012 at 10:58 pm #

    I love my pie bird, it’s true, it does contain some pie crust magic. I also love my electric skillet, nothing cooks bacon quite so well! Plus, if you go to potlucks it’s easy for on-site cooking & cleans up easily. I don’t love my fry daddy, but it is necessary for panko encrusted halibut. I live in Alaska, we eat it a lot… While I love kitchen gadgets of all kinds & am pretty sure I will never need a pressure cooker though.

  12. Violet May 22, 2012 at 2:10 am #

    Fifthed (?)on the pressure cooker. Somehow it infuses flavors deep into the meat without hours of marination.
    The pressure cooker I inherited blew a safety valve a year ago. No drama, made a small ‘pop’ and no longer useful to create steam pressure inside. I haven’t found a satisfactory replacement yet. :(

  13. Kate May 22, 2012 at 9:23 am #

    I need to start doing pot roast and braised meat in the pressure cooker, apparently. I have had one since I was a hardcore vegetarian, because no one who eats beans should be without a pressure cooker (and a copy of one of Lorna J. Sass’s handy vegetarian pressure cooker cookbooks, or at least the charts, therein). That is, unless you love having pots of beans simmering for an hour or two every time, or are really into cans. Chickpeas ready to go in twelve minutes — even if I forgot to soak them? Sign me up.

    Deep frying, whether in a special appliance or not, is one of those things best left to establishments with access to those disgusting grease removal dumpsters, in my opinion. I did used to have a deep fryer, but I don’t regret no longer having one.

  14. Gryph May 22, 2012 at 10:21 am #

    I guess so far I’m the only one whose family did a lot of canning growing up. A pressure cooker is a necessary device to canning your own veggies!

  15. Thinposter May 22, 2012 at 12:04 pm #

    @Kate, I agree about the deep frying! That mess is not something I want to deal with at home. The smell seems to permeate everything, too. Also, I don’t really trust myself not to attempt deep frying anything I can get my hands on.

    I am scared of pressure cookers! I stick with the oven or stovetop for braising.

  16. jojo.k May 22, 2012 at 3:03 pm #

    Can I say, the last 2 posts and comments have made me feel very lazy. And I thought I was pretty handy in the kitchen.
    Now I want to give homemade yogurt a try, as I’ve been having a hard time finding full fat, low sugar yogurt. Any recommendations on the milk ladies?
    Also, I have to back up the pressure cooker vote. My parents are still using the pressure cooker they received as a wedding gift, and I’m nearing the big four oh. I haven’t seen anything in the stores that comes close to the weight or durability of theirs, which is why I’ve called dibs on it. I remember many family dinners (pot roast, Brunswick stew, chili, 5 bean soup) originating from that pressure cooker.

  17. Susan May 22, 2012 at 11:10 pm #

    Try one of the new electronic pressure cooker or multi-ccokers — you will wonder how you ever got by without it.

  18. class factotum May 23, 2012 at 2:42 pm #

    Gryph, the only veg I’ve canned are tomatoes (I’ve also canned fruit), but I did it without a pressure cooker. Are tomatoes special? Maybe because they are technically a fruit?

    Jojo, I just use whatever milk I have, usually the stuff that’s about to spoil. The few times I’ve bought whole milk just for yogurt though – once you’ve had full-fat yogurt, you never want to go back.