From the desk of Christopher Kimball
Dear Home Cook,
Stories about the great flood of 2011 are still filtering in. In Danby, the historical society’s Millbrook House (I believe that it was once owned by Pearl Buck) had to be smashed into pieces as it threatened to destroy a bridge and back up the river. You can watch the house being crushed by an excavator.
On a happier note, this is the time of year that I list my favorite kitchen things, from gadgets to small appliances to tools. Some of these are new and some old, but they are the items that I have found most useful during the past year. I do not make any money on these items, so this is not a “profit deal,” just friendly suggestions as to what you might like to give a fellow cook.
Daman u’Select Shaftless Pepper Mill; $56 for 6½-inch model. Our winning peppermill has been the Magnum model for years, but it is made out of black plastic and is, well, hideous. I have been on the hunt for a better-looking mill for years, one that also produces a good amount of ground pepper. This mill does the job handily. It is about to be tested by our test kitchen, but I thought you might like an advance heads-up.
King 01096 1000/6000 Grit Deluxe Combination Stone; $60. I have taken to using a sharpening stone ever since I interviewed Bob Kramer, the guy who makes custom kitchen knives in Seattle. I found that it is easier than I thought and particularly good for sharpening old-fashioned knives made from carbon steel, which is softer than the newer high-carbon stainless steel that most knives are made of today. This stone is recommended by Kramer and really does the job; it is much easier than smaller stones I have used before. I also like the feel of sharpening my knives manually rather than using an electric sharpener, which is the easier but less satisfying method. (You start on the 1000 grit side and finely hone the blade on the smooth 6000 grit finish.)
California Cooler T-Rex Large Collapsible Rolling Cooler; $79. (Only available at www.keepyourcooler.com.) This is by far the best cooler ever made. It has rolling wheels, a collapsible handle, and double-wall insulation with a removable inner liner, and it does a fabulous job keeping stuff cool since it is air insulated. It is also light and collapses for easy storage. (And it has a peek-a-boo flap on top for quick access.) I love it and use it all the time.
Forschner BladeSafe; $6. These plastic knife sleeves are well made and protect kitchen knives from everyday nicks and scratches. There are four sizes—I use the largest, which is made for 8- to 10-inch blades. They have a snap closure that keeps them locked up and safe. Buy a bunch and use them as stocking stuffers.
Breville 800CPXL Stainless Steel Citrus Press; $190. Yes, this is nuts. It is hugely expensive and takes up a lot of room on a counter. But I use it everyday to press fresh OJ in the morning, and I wouldn’t be without it. It is by far the best-designed citrus press in the history of Western civilization and cleans up in seconds since the key parts are easily removed and rinsed out. It is also a dream when juicing lemons and limes, one of those small annoying prep steps that nobody loves. If you can’t stand supermarket OJ and are addicted to the real thing, you need this juicer. If you only squeeze upon occasion, go buy a $20 plastic model (the Black and Decker CitrusMate Plus) that will do a reasonable job and not break the bank.
Super-Fast Thermapen Instant-Read Thermometer; $95. Folks go nuts when I tell them to buy this thermometer since you can buy a CDN for $20 or so and those models do a reasonable job. The reason the Thermapen is almost essential to good home cooking is that it reads in a second or two, it is easy to read (big display), and it is accurate. I use it for everything including grilling and roasting and baking bread, custards, and cheesecake—you name it. It tells me what is going on inside the food, something that is hard to judge by eye or touch. Give me a sharp knife, a good skillet, and this thermometer, and my kitchen is well equipped!
Prepara Pop Savor; $18. I have used all sorts of salt boxes over the years, most of them antiques, but this one is the best. It has a flexible, silicone top that presses down to protect the salt and then pops back up with a flick of the finger. It also comes in cute colors and is under twenty bucks. And it has a small spoon at the back that I never use, but it may come in handy some day!
Broil King PCG-10 Professional Nonstick Griddle; $100. I have used all sorts of electric griddles, mostly for pancakes, and they all come up short. This is the only one that has perfectly even heat and lots of it. It is also very heavy, very well made, and makes griddling so much easier. If you are the pancake king or queen around your house, then this griddle is for you. If you only use a griddle two or three times a year, buy a cheapie model (the West Bend is half the price and works well too) and be done with it.
Nuance Wine Finer; $30. The problem with red wines is that they really do need to be exposed to oxygen to open up. Simply uncorking a bottle and letting it sit for an hour or two is useless since little oxygen gets into the bottle through the narrow neck. So welcome gadgets that aerate the wine—let it breathe—almost instantly. There are lots of models out there, some of which are messy, and some of which only sort of work. This Nuance model is inserted directly into the mouth of the bottle, and then you simply pour. It’s neat and simple—no mess—and the wine tastes a whole lot better.
OXO Good Grips Food Scale with Pull-Out Display; $50. I have used the Soehnle for years, which I also love and which is the same price, but this little gadget has a cool feature—the control panel is detachable and pulls out so that you can view the weight even when large bowls are sitting on the scale. The scale also lights up with a blue backlight for easy viewing. It’s nicely designed.
Bodum Assam Tea Press with Infuser; $21. Our test kitchen marked this tea press down for a variety of reasons (makes weak tea, the plunger got stuck), but I love it and use it almost every night for a pot of herbal tea before bed. It is easy to use, I can see the strength of the tea as it steeps, and it is also easy to clean. And because it’s made of glass, not plastic, it’s a winner in my kitchen.
That’s it folks. Hope you have a wonderful holiday and best wishes for 2012.
Founder and Editor
America’s Test Kitchen