WRITER | LISA BECKER CAMPBELL
“It’s the best thing since sliced bread!” we commonly exclaim when we discover an ingenious solution to a problem.
The familiar saying also suggests that, for many generations, cooks have delighted in discovering utensils perfectly suited to enhance their experiences in preparing, cooking, and serving meals. So what are the current must-haves and fun gadgets?
Most cooks know that a top-of-the-line wooden spoon and high-quality set of knives are fundamental. The wooden spoon is treasured because it doesn’t conduct heat or cause damage to pans or to delicate foods like risotto. Also, a quality wooden spoon will grow more comfortable in your hand as the years pass. Good knives are a necessity, and since they can be sharpened, they’ll last for years.
“A sharp knife is a safe knife, which makes for the most enjoyable cooking,” says Ron Cook, who owns Cook’s Kitchen and Pantry with his wife, Peggy. The specialty store in Grand Haven carries Wusthof Knives which are well known for their quality.
Another essential cooking tool is a quality thermometer, not just to ensure food safety, but also to ensure quality; overcooking can diminish the quality of cuts of meat. The store carries Thermopop Brand thermometers that range from $30 to $100.
Beyond these essentials, Cook acknowledges that many other specialty products bring great happiness to users, from high-end specialty cookware to inexpensive, novel gadgets.
The latest trend at the store is Epicurean wood products – cutting boards and spoons that are dishwasher safe (unlike traditional wood products that require handwashing). Made of pressed fiber, Epicurean products provide the comfort and attractiveness of traditional wood but are easy-care, efficient workhorses that will last for years.
Pour-over coffee is also trending. This manual method of brewing coffee exactly to one’s liking involves new methods and nifty, stylish devices, such as slow-pouring kettles and pour-over drippers.
Extravagant gifts are particularly popular at this time of year, including the colorful and multifunctional Le Creuset Dutch ovens and super-stylish cook-and-serve ware that is dishwasher safe. Revol offers whimsical interpretations of chicken- and pig-shaped bakers, large and small. The refined dishes encourage creative tablescapes described as “un bol d’air pur” – a bowl of fresh air. Casafina presents gifts and cookware, such as unusually long and narrow bread bowls that appear artfully delicate but are oven, microwave, and dishwasher safe.
Cook’s Kitchen and Pantry also offers table linens and cutting boards, with boards available in many sizes, from expansive, tailored beauties perfect for indulgent charcuterie trays to smaller, handcrafted one-of-a-kind boards with an earthy, natural feel by Bear Claw Woodworks in Spring Lake.
Table linens boasting luxurious damask designs in vivid colors from Garnier-Thiebaut are among Peggy’s favorite items because, in addition to being visually stunning, they’re treated to repel spills, allowing for worry-free celebrations.
When their gift selection is complete, customers will select the gadgets that make life easier and more efficient for themselves, according to Cook.
A myriad of nifty cooking gadgets in all price ranges line the shelves at specialty shops like Cook’s Kitchen and Pantry as well as the bigger chains like Sur La Table.
Nick Robinson, resident chef at Sur La Table in Grand Rapids, and his fellow staff members selected the following as their latest favorites:
- A Bench Scrape was among the first items the staff noted. Used to scrape work surfaces clean and available in many sizes and types, this nifty tool far outpaces the edge of a cutting blade.
- ScanPan’s newest line, ScanPan CS+, is “awesome, with a lifetime guarantee,” according to Robinson. You’ve never seen nonstick cookware like this.
- The Instant Pot, lauded for making pressure cooking easy, is enhanced with functions such as sauté that allows for building in flavor.
Many simple, inexpensive tools can bring pleasure to the user. A corn cob stripper is a hand-held device that efficiently trims kernels off an ear of corn. A pie chain is a weight that prevents blind-baked pie crusts from bubbling up. Simply delightful!
Novel chopping tools abound for the efficient slicing of produce such as watermelons, avocados, and many more. Options for dicing multiple products include the Vidalia Chopper, a Slap Chopper, or a tiny Kuhn Rikon Swiss Pull Chopper, to name just a few.