At certain specialty stores, you can browse an armada of cooking implements that promise to enrich yet simplify your culinary life. Why else would you buy a deglazing spoon, tomato corer, grapefruit knife or an instant marinator? (Instant marination: Wrap your head around that oxymoron.)
Before your plunk down $15 for a stainless steel zucchini peeler, remember that some day these tools will appear a) at your local Goodwill or b) at your neighborhood yard sale. You'll nab that zucchini peeler for a buck, tops.
In the spirit of fresh starts for the new year, here are kitchen items you should never buy—they are time wasters and space hogs. Or if you must, wait for the yard sale.
Don't try this at home, the espresso/latte maker: Some years ago, I fell under the spell of the Krups espresso maker, dreaming of languid Sunday mornings spent reading The New York Times and sipping homemade lattes. I cranked that baby up and ... it scared me. (I have a similar phobia about pressure cookers.) I could never get the milk to foam right. Frustrated, I now leave it to the professional baristas.
Don't fear the potato, forgo the scrubbing gloves: Sure, you need to scrape the dirt off potatoes before you eat 'em, but gloves are for snowball-making, not spud-scrubbing. Because once you've used the scrubbing gloves to clean the potatoes, then you have to wash the scrubbing gloves. This is insane.
When a knife is too much "trouble," a Salad Shooter: Salad Shooters did not shoot vegetables as much as spit them, fully masticated. Reminiscent of a musket, the shooter had to be loaded before you fired it, and was about as accurate. When it comes to radishes, it's better to bring a knife to a gunfight.
When a skillet is too much "trouble," a portable sandwich maker: Here's how to make grilled cheese without a portable sandwich maker: Get two pieces of bread. Cut 4–5 strips of cheese (a knife works well) and put on bread. Heat skillet and add about two Tbsp. of oil. Grill sandwich on one side. Turn over.
So I don't need an egg separator after all? I inherited my great-aunt's plastic yellow egg separator, a treasured heirloom that has been transported safely over 2,514 miles in the last 14 years. I lost it for a time and was flummoxed about how to fix my egg whites. Then one day, at age 44, I attended a breakfast meeting at the home of former INDY owner Steve Schewel. I saw him pour the yolk from one shell to the other, allowing the whites to fall into the skillet. Epiphany.
What all newlyweds don't need, a waffle iron: My husband and I received one as a wedding gift. Used it once. Tried to clean it once. Never again. Guess what? There are restaurants where you can order waffles, someone brings them to your table and then cleans up. Buy the bride and groom a gift certificate to their favorite waffle joint. They'll thank you later.
Now we call it recycling; then it was known as a trash compactor: What a great idea, toss your garbage in a canister that will smash it into a tight cube. Unfortunately, typical trash bags couldn't withstand the pressure—so intense it could turn coal into a diamond—and exploded.
In the 1970s, it didn't occur to anyone that landfill space, where garbage is compacted again, would eventually run out. By the 1990s, most of us realized that packing less into the suitcase, i.e., recycling, is more efficient than jumping up and down on the suitcase to get all our garbage to fit.
Not useless but dismissed by real cooks, a pasta measurer: I'm no good at eyeballing amounts. A pinch, a sprinkle, a fistful—they are in the hand of the beholder. So a pasta measurer, a plastic rectangle with circles whose circumferences correlate with the number of servings, is indispensible for the spatially impaired. My mom had one. I don't. So I just throw in the whole bag of pasta and eat on it for a couple of days, then waste the rest.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Resist temptation."