Making fresh almond milk with our new Vitamix.

It’s officially the first day of spring, and for me, that means it’s time for my usual round of spring cleaning in the kitchen. I usually spend a couple of hours on a weekend afternoon digging through our drawers and cupboards to see what needs to get sold or donated to charity.

Having moved around the country many times in my life (25+ at last count), I tend to be pretty thrifty about what I keep in my arsenal. Packing and unpacking countless boxes of stuff over and over again will definitely cure you of any nascent hoarding tendencies. And as I’ve mostly lived in cities in smaller spaces, you have to be pretty judicious about what you have room for.

But I do have a fondness for gadgets –- or maybe I should say it’s more of a weakness -– and can spend hours at culinary supply stores ogling all of the latest contraptions. In order to avoid the packrat syndrome, I now have a “in-out” policy: if I get something new, then something has to go.

We recently acquired one of those awe-inspiring Vitamix blenders — which I’ve had my eye on for years — and splurged on a refurbished model from their website. These blenders aren’t cheap, but selling off our juicer helped offset some of the cost. I confess I was pretty lazy about coming up with ways to reuse discarded pulp and would just heap it into our compost bin. It felt pretty wasteful and now we can just blend up healthy beverages that include all of our produce’s fiber.

There are certain items in my kitchen, however, that always make the yearly cut and will never be consigned to craigslist. When friends ask me what I consider to be essential tools, I recommend the following list. (And there’s many companies that manufacture these products, so you’ll have to do your own research on which ones you prefer based on price, aesthetic, etc.)

immersion blender

1) Immersion Blender: This should be the first item you acquire when building up your culinary toolkit. It can chop, blend, mince, whisk, and it can probably give you a backrub with the right attachment. I use a model by Braun that comes with a mini food-processor that’s perfect for prepping garlic, herbs, shallots, even a small amount of onions and vegetables. It also has a tall cup for blending smoothies and other liquids, and a separate whisk attachment. And most importantly, you can blend soups right in your cooking vessel and thus avoid making a mess while transferring it to your countertop blender. Needless to say, I’ve let go of my Cuisinart food processor and KitchenAid stand mixer since we weren’t using them enough. This pretty much does what I need, and now that we have the Vitamix, I think we’re pretty covered in the processing department.

rice cooker

2) Rice Cooker: Given that I’m Korean-American and grew up eating a ton of rice, my counter just wouldn’t seem right without a rice cooker sitting there waiting to sing, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” when I press the “Cooking” button. When I was younger, I’d eat rice for breakfast with a raw egg cracked right into the bowl, then add in some soy sauce and butter. I’d mix it all up, and the heat from the rice would partially cook the egg for a delicious, savory meal. If I was hungry after school, our trusty rice cooker would always be on with some leftover rice warming inside so I could have a quick snack of rice with dried seaweed (the salted Korean variety that’s been rubbed with vegetable oil and toasted). But there’s so much more you can do with the rice cooker (film critic Roger Ebert wrote a cookbook devoted to its many uses last year), and we cook quinoa, barley, buckwheat and all kinds of grains in it. I know folks who make ramen and other soups, too. Just please, please, please promise me you won’t do this with your appliance or you’ll anger the rice cooker gods.

toaster oven

3) Toaster Oven: It toasts! It broils! It bakes! I’m a big fan of this little machine. If there’s a way I can avoid powering up our regular oven and just use the toaster oven, I will. It’s really efficient and also great for heating up some leftovers if you’re not in a hurry.

slow cooker

4) Slow Cooker: So while several of my foodie and chef friends have gone all nuts for sous vide cookers, I’m still using the tried-and-true old school slow cooker: put in your ingredients, add some liquid and aromatics, plug it in, and wait for the magic to happen. It’s awesome for cooking meat (especially cheaper, tougher cuts), beans, vegetables, and it’s much easier than the stove-top / oven braising method which requires much more time management.

In addition to the recent exodus of the juicer, here are some other gadgets that I’ve banished from the kitchen:

1) George Foreman Grill — I have a real loathing of “time-saving” gizmos that are sold in infomercials (except for the Slap Chop, but I haven’t managed to rationalize buying one yet) so I’m singling out this gadget as the representative for of all of those “As Seen on TV” products. While there wasn’t a big dramatic ultimatum scene where I said, “It’s either it or me!” when my husband and I first moved in together, the grill did quickly made its way to Goodwill. A good cast-iron pan or even your toaster oven will cook the same stuff much better.

2) Waffle Iron — I love waffles, but honestly, I never made them enough to warrant keeping this behemoth piece of equipment around. It takes up a lot of real estate and I’d rather just order waffles for brunch on the rare occasion that I crave them.

3) Garlic Peeler / Garlic Press — You really don’t need any of these gadgets. I’m embarrassed to admit how many of these I owned way back when I was first learning how to cook. You just need to do this or this.

So that’s my list. What gadgets can you absolutely not live without?

Should My Gadget Stay or Should It Go: It’s Spring Cleaning Time 19 March,2012Jenny Oh

  • Caroline

    Timely post. I was just browsing Amazon for a juicer and debating whether I will use it enough. I wonder if it’s “safe” to buy a used juicer from Craigslist. I am with you on the toaster oven — it’s the little oven that can! I am a Korean-American also, but I have packed away the rice cooker. I have limited counter space in the kitchen and found that cooking rice on the stove top is pretty easy and fast.

    • Hey Caroline, I think it’s safe to buy a used juicer from CL; I had bought a different model years ago through a listing on there. Good luck with finding one!

  • eclecticdeb

    1) Coffee Pot
    2) Coffee Bean grinder
    3) Old Coffee Bean grinder (for spices)
    4) Kitchen Aid (I love mine, it’s the nicest thing on my counter)
    5) Waffle Iron. You can do SO MUCH more than just sweet waffles. Some favorites are savory (filled with caramelized onions, parm cheese, bacon, herbs), then topped with a micro greens poached egg and hollandaise sauce), or Cheese Cheddar waffles topped with spicy chile. Mmmmmmm…..
    6) Stick blender (don’t have a fancy one — it’s old, inherited from my mother).
    7) Ice Cream maker. Turns a simple dinner party into one that people talk about for weeks.
    8) Toaster.
    9) Ninja Blender (gift from my teenage son, it was a “win-win” for him as he loves smoothies)

    That’s it for the plug ins. Whew. No wonder why my tiny kitchen is so crowded!

    • My husband would definitely agree with you on the coffee bean grinder front! It’s definitely a beloved object (I’m more of a tea-drinker). Thanks for sharing your list!

  • ML

    How about the good ‘ol pressure cooker? It’s indispensable in my house.

    • A good friend of mine swears by his pressure cooker, especially for beans and potatoes. I haven’t made the leap yet — but given my gadget-loving ways, I probably will test one out in the near future!

  • Stephanie Rosenbaum

    People are always giving me immersion blenders, and I give them away just as quickly. I use them in the kitchen at work–they are great for pureeing huge pots of soup–but at home, I’ve never warmed up to them. They look like vampire vibrators to me! I’d rather just do the old dump-and-blend in the blender if I really need something pureed; I also love my food mill, which gives the best velvety texture to things like pumpkin puree. That said, I LOVE my waffle iron and couldn’t live w/o it. What else? A hand-held cherry pitter, for once-a-year cherry pies (they work for olives too). Decent biscuit cutters. I don’t buy large electric appliances–too heavy, too bulky–but I love a few small, quirky items, like the cherry pitter, my French press, and my doughnut cutter–basically just a double-ring biscuit cutter. Otherwise, I stick with a knife, some cast iron pots/pans, and my hands.

    • While it sounds like we’re on opposite ends of the spectrum gadget-wise, I am a fan of cast-iron pots/pans, good knives and of course – good ol’ fashioned elbow grease!

  • Funny that you got rid of your Kitchen Aid — I love mine along with my Cuisenart Food Processor and Slow Cooker. I also recently got a popcorn make and I use it quite a bit especially after I figured out how to make Bacon Rosemary Caramel Corn!


Jenny Oh

Jenny is a long-time contributor to Bay Area Bites, KQED’s popular food blog. She formerly worked as an Interactive Producer for the Science & Environment unit. Jenny graduated with honors from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts Film and Television program and has worked for WNET/PBS, The Learning Channel, Sundance Channel, HBO and the University of California.

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