Alton Brown -- a kitchen genius in my eyes -- has strong feelings against non-useful unitaskers, those kitchen items that perform a single task. Usefulness is obviously in the eyes of the beholder and what may be a timesaving tool for you is merely clutter for me. He suggests clearing out a drawer or cabinet in your kitchen and placing all your utensils and gadgets in a separate space. As you use one, you move it into the drawer or cabinet, and you will soon see which items get enough use to warrant their existence in your home, and which ones are simply taking up space.
Er ... except what do you do when you suddenly remember those leftover items several years into the experiment, which is what happened to us when we gutted the storage room this summer. We found a treasure trove of old wedding gifts that we had been Altonizing -- an ice cream machine and crepe maker and a rice cooker that took up an entire shelf. A bread machine that Josh brought into our marriage. A box of canning equipment (side note: I made strawberry jam. Once.) Three dozen small gadgets such as the onion chopper (which is different from the Cuisinart prep; which, by the way, is different from our large Cuisinart).
Alton Brown has his own list of unitaskers that should make the cut, but our list keeps in mind a small kitchen with two working parents and two young kids. This is what we kept and why, as well as what we gave away (and how my list differs from Alton's):Keepers
Ice cream maker: we're actually on our second ice cream maker at this point and having a bit of a homemade ice cream renaissance. Buying a carton of Breyers is ten times easier and tastes good too, but ice cream making is one of those places where kids can participate and get creative. Our kids think up flavour combinations they wish they could find in the freezer section. And it's one of those things that make dessert feel special, but you can make the batter ahead of time and then set the machine running during the meal when you're having a dinner party. In other words, it gets a big "wow" from the table without a lot of work on your end.
Crepe maker: this is one of those items that didn't leave the box for probably 8 years, but is now being used so frequently that I rarely put it away. Here's the thing with crepes -- the batter is best if made ahead of time. So I pull together a double batch when I have time and then leave it in the refrigerator. A few minutes before dinner needs to be served, I pour a few spoonfuls into a pyrex pie dish, dip the crepe wand into the batter, and toss off 12 crepes in under 10 minutes. I keep dinner exciting by changing the filling. It's much faster than pancakes and easier to clean up. Therefore, for a family with young kids, this unitasker becomes a lifesaver.
Cuisinart: it's a pain to clean, so I only use it if I'm shredding a large amount of ingredients (if I have to grate one potato, I do it by hand. If I have to grate 10, I'm using the Cuisinart). But during those times, it saves an enormous amount of time. There are recipes I'd probably never bother making if not for the Cuisinart. Best use of the Cuisinart -- to make Morning Glory muffins. Just pop in the apple and carrot for a quick shred.
Kitchenaid: this is the one gift we got for our wedding that never made it into the basement. It's just too damn useful. I make bread several times a week using the kneading hook. I throw together cookies and cake batters. I love that you can dump the ingredients in and walk away from the machine while it does the bulk of the work for you.
Indoor grill: It was dormant for a long period of time, but I'm now using it as both a back-up plan when the weather won't cooperate outside, and as our winter grill. I know it's merely an electronic pan and not an actual grill, but the food ends up tasting as if it has been grilled. Sort of. Can I just chalk it up to the fact that everyone needs a back-up plan when their main method of cooking is at the whim of the weather?Dumpers
Rice cooker: this didn't make the cut, and it's probably more a testament to how often we eat rice vs. the tool's usefulness. You need to be eating an enormous amount of rice to warrant a tool this large in your kitchen, and we're eating a positively minuscule amount in the rice cooker world: about 3 cups per week. Instead, we use a 2:1 ratio of water to rice, get the water to a rolling boil, dump in the rice, reduce the heat to medium-low and cover the pot. 20 minutes later, we have perfect rice and all we've used is a multitasking pot.
Wish List Items
Breadmaker: this is another machine that was given away. Josh brought it into the marriage and while others swear by it, I feel like it removes everything I love about breadmaking. No matter how much time it saves me, I don't want a machine taking away the moments I find therapeutic, namely, the kneading. Plus, the smell that comes off the bowl when you remove the towel to punch down the loaf after the first proof.
Of course, there are unitaskers I've coveted for years, but have so far managed to tune out their siren song (and the fact that I've lived without it for this long probably should tell me that I don't need it).
- Waffle maker: like the crepe maker, except without the flexibility of the crepe (waffles feel like a one-note food, whereas crepes can be filled with thousands of things).
- Stick blender: I'd love to be able to blend the soup in the pot without transferring it to the blender.
- Blender: and on that note, I'd love a new blender. One that can crush ice. Our current blender is too wimpy to make mixed drinks.
- Cherry pitter: I don't eat enough cherries to warrant getting one, but damn, if I had one, I'd probably start making tons of pies.
What unitaskers get heavy use in your kitchen? Which ones are languishing in a cupboard somewhere? Which ones do you wish, wish, wish that you had?
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