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December 22, 2005

Gadgets for cooks


photo of gadgets for cooks

L-R: Waiter's friend corkscrew, Oxo peeler, Oxo dish scrubber, stainless steel bottle corker, Mouli cheese grater, All on a Chop Chop cutting sheet.


By the time you read this there will be less than three shopping days until Christmas and/or Hanukkah, four days until Kwanza, but I know some of you procrastinators have put off shopping until now. Here are a few ideas for tools for cooks, mostly things that will cost you under $10.

Let's start at the bottom. The five items shown are on top of something called a Chop Chop, a fairly recent invention in the grand scope of cooking history, but one I find essential. It's a space-age cutting board, a simple plastic sheet tough enough to cut on, but still flexible. I have a couple stashed at the back of my kitchen counter, and I use them constantly -- every time I cut something. When you have your mushrooms or whatever sliced, you pick the Chop Chop up, bend it into a cone and slide them into your pan. You can find them in most grocery stores or in kitchen supply places for no more than $2-$3. I have two. My friend Gregg tells me he reserves one just for garlic, and you can get them some places in different colors if you keep a kosher kitchen and want to reserve one for dairy, or if perhaps someone in your household is a serious vegetarian. Not being vegetarian or kosher, I just make sure I scrub them well with hot soapy water.

That's where the item in the middle comes in. It's an Oxo brand dish scrubber with a built-in well for dish soap. We have one of these in the Journal office and I found it so cool I searched around until I could find one for myself. I should note that was after my boss bought me a no-brand knock-off that did not work nearly as well. A lot of stores carry Oxo stuff, but the only place I found the scrubber locally was at Bed, Bath and Beyond, so it took a trip to the mall. It was worth it.

Next to it on the right is another Oxo product: a Good Grips peeler. I bought one of these years ago for my mom when arthritis was making it hard for her to hold the classic metal-handle carrot/potato peeler. Then when I used it making mashed potatoes for Christmas dinner, I knew I had to have one for myself. You'll find these at Pacific Flavors in Old Town or at the new Caravan of Dreams Home store on the Arcata Plaza, or anywhere they have the Oxo line.

Now, a lot of people will be buying bottles of fine wine for friends over the holidays. The item on the left is an essential tool for wine aficionados, something called a "waiter's friend." It's a very basic corkscrew with a serrated blade built into the handle for cutting the foil and a two-stage system for easing the cork out. It's designed to fold up and go in your pocket, but we keep ours in a drawer. Somewhere at the back of the same drawer is an expensive Rabbit opener that I never got used to using. I prefer simple, classic tools. The one shown also serves as a bottle opener for those foreign beers without screw-off caps. Ours has the name of a winery on the handle and was a casual gift from our wine-broker friend, Margann. You can get one for under $10 when you buy that bottle of wine at a wine shop like Libations on the plaza -- or, as Dan from Libations points out, if you're buying your friend a $250 bottle of wine, you might also consider the more upscale French Chateau Laguiole model for $125. It's basically the same tool, but fine-crafted with a wooden handle.

Another idea for the wine drinker: The conical stainless steel bottle stopper bottom right. It's heavy, so it stays in place without force, and I find its design quite elegant. We got this one at Wildberries last year. I checked and they have a few left, $8 and change, but I just sent my wife off to buy one, so you'd better hurry or they'll be gone.

The last item, top right, is a Mouli cheese grater. It's a French gadget and something I use almost every day, or at least every time I grate parmesan, which is pretty often. The one shown is an older model bought at some thrift shop or yard sale, but they still make them and they're still just the same -- why mess with a design that works? It came with a couple of other drums, but I mostly use it in fine grate mode. I could not find a store in Arcata or Eureka that carries the Mouli line, but you will find variations on the same theme. Expect to pay $25-$35 for one that will last, but keep it simple. Do not go out and buy some variation of the Salad Shooter that will end up sold unused at next spring's yard sale.

All of the above share the same quality: They're all basic everyday tools with classic designs that will stand the test of time. And if you are buying them for someone who spends a bit of time in the kitchen, they will use them all the time -- and maybe they'll think of you when they do.

Happy merry whatever to all, and to all a good night.


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