If a recipe is only as good as its ingredients, is a cook only as good as his tools?
Darla Ford, owner of Form and Function on 923 E. Broadway, doesn’t believe that. But she does think that a good gadget can make cooking a much more enjoyable experience.
“Some things aren’t necessary, but they make cooking more fun,” Ford said. “They make cooking less of a struggle by saving time and frustration.”
Form and Function is the only specialty store in Columbia geared solely toward cooking and kitchen needs. Several other stores carry cooking related items. Catalogues and Web sites of national home furnishing stores also advertise plenty of fun gadgets that can get any chef’s juices flowing and help prepare dishes faster, safer and easier.
But while these tools might make food preparation a bit more interesting, they aren’t essential to good cooking, said Mike Keene, resident instructor at the MU School of Hotel and Restaurant Management.
“Are you going to produce a better product? No,” Keene said. “But it might be more fun.”
Chefs should think twice before overloading their kitchen with trendy gadgets, Keene said. He emphasized the importance of having durable tools that have practical purposes. Keene said items such as a food processor, standing mixer and steel mixing bowls last longer than trendy gadgets and are a more worthwhile investment.
Both Keene and Ford said one of the most essential cooking tools is a good set of knives.
“I’d be lost without my knives,” Ford said. “Once you use good knives, it’s hard to use anything else.”
Not every gadget is worth its price, Ford said, but for those who want to add a little more excitement to their kitchen, a few fancy tools are available.
— An adjustable plastic sleeve on this product slides to accommodate wet or dry measures in both cups and liters. It adjusts to a number of different levels and has a tight seal to prevent slips and spills. The product can even be used for sticky substances, such as peanut butter and honey, which are easily cleaned from the metal and plastic parts in the dishwasher.
Available at www.crateandbarrel.com for $9.95.
— These thin, flexible mats function in two ways — protecting countertops from chopping and then folding into funnels to transfer chopped foods into pans or bowls. The mats are dishwasher-safe and provide a 15-inch by 11-inch workspace. The sets of four are color-coordinated to prevent food contamination: red for meat, blue for fish, yellow for poultry and green for vegetables.
Available at www.crateandbarrel.com for $12.95 per set.
— This three piece unit removes much of the mess of an ordinary food processor or blender by mixing soups, sauces and shakes in their own containers. Immerse the blender into a pot of soup instead of removing portions at a time, or use it to whip cream without worrying about a cord hanging in the way. The unit includes a charger with an ergonomically designed handle, a motor body and a detachable shaft which can be placed in the dishwasher for easy clean-up. The blender also comes with a beaker, storage stand and whipping attachment.
Available at www.cooking.com for $49.95.
— Three interchangeable blades make this product unique. It can be used to cut potatoes into narrow or wide slices, and to core and wedge apples. Save time by using it to make French fries, potato wedges or apple pie.
Available at www.chefsresource.com for $24.99.
— This patented creation was made for people with little time. The micro-serrated blades of the scissor-like contraption cut through fruits, vegetables and salads while tossing them at the same time. Place lettuce, hard-cooked eggs or cold cuts into a bowl and toss and chop simultaneously. The best part? These blades never require sharpening.
Available at www.chefsresource.com for $24.95.
— Don’t let the name fool you, the Mushroom Express not only slices mushrooms, it handles hard-cooked eggs, bananas, olives, soft cheeses, fruits and more. Nine steel blades sit 8 inches long by 3 inches wide, making this slicer larger and more versatile than most. A stay-shut latch keeps the device compact for storage, and the whole unit is dishwasher-safe. The slicer also comes with a mushroom brush.
Available at www.kitchenetc.com for $9.99.
Stainless steel cookie scoop
-Straight out of the lunch lady’s hands, this scoop works exactly like the mashed potato scoop commonly used in cafeterias. The scaled-down size of this tool makes it good for scooping cookie dough into a consistent size, creating uniform-sized cookies that will bake more evenly.
Available at Form and Function for $10.99.
-This stainless steel grater slices and grates fine, extra fine, medium and coarse. The sliding base can be removed for use with a bowl. It’s dishwasher-safe.
Available at Form and Function for $25.
-Much simpler than traditional pepper grinders, this gadget makes grinding ground pepper easy. Soft handles squeeze together to grind the pepper, and a dial on the base adjusts the coarseness of the pepper grounds. The pepper, which sits in a clear ball just below the handles, can be refilled through an opening on the side.
Available at Form and Function for $15.99.
Stainless steel potato ricer
-Similar to a garlic press, this tool helps to create more perfectly textured potatoes. Cooked potatoes are placed in the drum of the ricer and pushed through the tiny holes, creating smooth and virtually lump-free mashed potatoes. The ricer can also be used for squashing soft foods, such as bananas and cooked carrots, for homemade baby food.
Available at Form and Function for $22.99.
-Able to withstand 675 degrees Fahrenheit, these flexible 7-inch square silicone pads offer considerable protection. The textured no-slip pads double as trivets and jar openers, can be easily cleaned in the dishwasher and come in a variety of bright colors.
Available at Form and Function for $7.99.
-These mitts allow cooks to stick their hands into things they never would have before, including boiling water. The silicone mitts can resist temperatures up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. The mitts are waterproof, nonstaining and dishwasher-safe. Use them in boiling water, around hot oils or even as everyday oven mitts.
Available at Form and Function for $19.99.