Thursday, January 28, 2010

Kitchen Gadgets!

In this post, we’ll explore a few gadgets that can make cooking a little easier, more fun and will hopefully help you. Please note that the brands that we list here are only suggested because we have either used them ourselves and can personally vouch that they will work well or because they get good reviews. We do not endorse any particular brand because of any affiliation with that company. We wish we knew some folks in the cooking gadget business! If you have had a good experience with another brand of any of the tools we list here, please leave it in the comments below. The more information we share, the more we can learn about cooking!

Cheese plane (aka “slicer”): I was really surprised to find out that not everyone knows what this is and didn’t grow up with one in the house. While writing this blog post, I discovered that the cheese slicer I use often, especially for making grilled cheese sandwiches or cheese burgers, is actually called a cheese plane. Who knew!? Anyway, don’t waste your money on a cheapo version because you’ll just end up more frustrated than you were when you were trying to slice thin slices of cheese with a knife. A sharp slicer (planer?) with a comfortable handle is key. The one that I grew up with is the one that works the best, but unfortunately, I have no idea who makes it (if it’s even still made today). The one I own is made by OXO. It works fairly well, but if you know of a better one, please add it in the comments below. If you’re interested in adding a cheese plane to your kitchen gadget collection, it might be wise to visit a local cook’s shop and see if they can make a recommendation.

Immersion blender: This is one of the most used gadgets in our kitchen. I use it for pureeing our one year old daughter’s homemade baby food. ( Interested in making your own baby food? Contact Hannah through The Bitch Stopped Cooking contact form and she can give you lots of ideas.) We also use it for making pureed soups like Leek and Potato Soup or Tomato Soup (made from a can of diced tomatoes – yum!). Our morning smoothies are whipped up in a jiffy with our immersion blender. I love homemade hummus – the immersion blender makes it a quick and easy appetizer to make for pot lucks. The blender we own has a mini food-processor attachment. I used this recently when a recipe for Moroccan chicken called for ground fennel. I only had whole fennel seed, so I threw some in the food processor attachment, popped on the blender motor and viola! I had ground fennel! The regular blender rarely makes an appearance in our kitchen because of how convenient, easy to clean and space saving the immersion blender is.

There are a couple popular brands of immersion blenders out there. We have a Braun and have had it for years with no troubles and no need to sharpen the blades. My only complaint is that the blade area can be tricky to get really clean, but it’s not something that would keep me from recommending this to anyone. KitchenAid makes a similar model.

Here’s a Google search for immersion blenders so you can find one that fits your budget and needs.

Butter Bell: I love to use real butter on my toast or baked potatoes. Maybe the oil based spreads are a bit healthier, but the taste of real butter just can’t be beat. I also use less butter than I do the spreads, so maybe it’s better for me in the long run. Anyway, a butter bell is a useful and attractive way to keep butter at room temperature. No one knows the exact origins of butter bells, but they probably come from France. Back in the Middle Ages, people used to keep butter in salted water. The modern butter bell style probably came about at the turn of the 19th century.

To use: Fill the bell shaped part of the lid with room temperature butter. Put about ¾ inch salted water in the crock. Turn the bell upside down, insert into the crock and there you go! Change the water every three days. To salt the water, I just put a few shakes of salt from the salt shaker in there. Here’s the one we have at our home. Parsley not included :-) There are lots of designs out there, so you can find one decorated to suit your own style.

This company makes a variety of butter bells and has a page with instructions and drawings of how to use one.

Silicone spatula: A simple tool, really, but if you have a good one, it makes all the difference. The kind to get is one that has a very flexible head. This makes it possible to scrape out a bowl and pretty much get it looking clean. The one I use and love is from Crate and Barrel and made by Trudeau, but they don’t carry the exact spatula anymore, so I don’t have a particular one to recommend. Here is a similar one, also made by Trudeau, so it's probably just as great. If you know of one that you love, post it below in the comments section. Check out your nearest cooks’ shop for a great selection. I’ve also seen them at TJ Maxx and Marshall’s in their Home sections.

Kitchen Scale: A tool that you can definitely live without, but if you do have the means to stock your kitchen with one, go for it. I found one for about $5 at a discount store, so you certainly don’t have to spend a ton on one. There’s a great post here all about kitchen scales and how to use them. If you like to bake and are a bit of a nerd, Alton Brown has a fantastic and educational cookbook called I'm Just Here for More Food: Food x Mixing + Heat = Baking. This book talks extensively about the usefulness and importance of using a scale for measuring flour. Of course, your banana muffin or chocolate cake recipe will turn out great without one, but it’s possible to make them even better, and have consistency each time you make them, by using a kitchen scale to measure your ingredients.

Well, I could go on all day about kitchen gadgets, but for fear of boring you, our devoted fans, I’ll stop here. Happy cooking!


  1. I never knew that was called a cheese plane! How long can you keep the butter in the butter bell? Also, will it work even in the heat of the summer? (If it ever comes back..)

  2. The butter will last up to 30 days in the bell. You need to change the water every 3 days.

    We're sorry, but it looks like summer will not be returning.

    Also, I found this out about immersion blenders: To clean out sticky food from the blender head, immerse the blender head in hot, soapy water and turn it on. Voila! Clean blender!


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