I have had occasion before to comment on the American marketing prowess. I stand in awe of it. I believe that they could sell arugula to a wolf or a pashmina shawl to a sheep. And if the sale seemed iffy at all, they would wrap the product in sepia-toned crepe with a ribbon made of straw, slap an organic label on, and watch the customers fall over themselves trying to get at it.
But sometimes, my friends, they go too far. Just a tad too far. A lemon zester? A bagel slicer? Wait — a bagel slicer that isn’t just a good solid serrated-edge knife?
Here are some kitchen products that you Do Not Need. You should run out and not buy these right away. I am doing this as a public service, even though, you realize, my future advertising cash-flow is taking a big hit with this post.
Here are some facts that ought to raise doubts in the minds of the apple-corer constituency:
- Not all apples are the same size; ergo, not all apple cores are the same size.
- Apple cores do not take up the exact middle cylinder of the apple, no matter what size they are, in fact the core is in a rough sphere in the center of the apple. Which means that the corer is either wasting a lot of apple or not getting all the core.
- Apples will often have some brown spots, which means you will be reaching for the dreaded paring knife anyway.
- The corer cuts through the plastic skin in a perpendicular direction, which dulls the blade. If you use a paring knife, you will notice that you use the point to first pierce the skin, which is way better.
- They already make peelers that work for apples, cucumbers, potatoes, what-have-you, and will also shave off parmesan flakes. Meanwhile apple-peelers will only peel apples. Unless you are a maggot you do not eat that many apples. Plus, you should be eating the peel anyway.
Corn cob holder
I don’t actually deny that everyone should own a good pair of corn cob holders; otherwise, how would you hold corn-on-the-cob? It’s just that I own a good pair already, and so do most of you.
The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was to make Americans believe that bread-making needs a specialized appliance (other than an oven). Here’s what you basically do. Mix flour, water and yeast. Work off your aggression on the mixture by punching it into a dough. Wait. Roll into loaf shape. Wait. Bake. Basically, that is it. The only machine in this scenario is the Machine that is making you buy this stuff.
The other secret about bread is — it is very forgiving. You may be a complete novice and make seventeen basic mistakes, but you will get good serviceable bread.
Look, if there was a powder that you mix with water and cook, presto, pancakes, I would get it. I still would not purchase it, but I would understand it. But that is not what Bisquick is. You still need to add eggs, milk or buttermilk. You still need to mix a batter and remove most lumps. So why are you using Bisquick? Why aren’t you using flour? This is a mystery.
It’s not that self-rising flour will not rise. All it is is flour with baking powder and salt added to it. But therein lies the problem. How do you know how much baking powder? How much salt? What if the recipe suggests a different amount of baking powder? Or if it wants baking soda instead? Or if it wants no salt, or more salt? You are out-of-luck. You would have to have a set of chosen recipes that you make with self-rising flour and stick with only those. Possibly each bag of self-rising flour comes with a booklet of recipes you can make with it. Why would you cede so much control to your bag of flour? What are you really saving — moving your arm to the pantry and back to the mixing bowl twice?
I love lemon zest. Theoretically anything that claims to zest lemons should have my full endorsement. Here is why it doesn’t. The standard ‘lemon zester’ tool requires you to apply pressure to a lemon at a very awkward angle. Your thumb is stretched out. You are pressing down with the rest of your hand guiding it around the curve of the lemon. This is not ergonomic.
Then you find that the zest it is able to collect is a mere pittance and it is mostly crushed.
Here is a better way to do it. If you want nice long yellow sheets of zest, you use your trusty vegetable peeler. If on the other hand you want thin shavings, you use a microplane rasp grater. Both of these are true workhorses in the kitchen and I heartily endorse them.
You need 4 things to make yogurt: milk; a spoonful of old yogurt; room temperature; time. The last two are free, the third-to-last is almost free. You only need to pay for milk. Hence: yogurt maker.
Close your eyes and imagine yourself slicing bread. What do you see? There’s you standing at the kitchen counter. There’s your loaf of bread. A knife in your hand. Yes. The knife is moving. Yes, yes! The knife is slicing the bread. Yes indeed, yes…now. Which way is the knife moving? If you said back-and-forth, you are right. If you said straight down, you are wrong.
This is the thing. Push cuts and straight edge knives do not work well with bread. Slicing cuts (back-and-forth) with serrated edge knives do. The reason for this is two-fold. One, the crust of the bread is often hard, or, in case of the bagel, it might be glazed. You need the slicing action of the serrated edge knife to break through the crust. Two, the interior of the bread is usually soft. Push cuts tend to make the soft thing squish down instead of cut through.
Now the whole idea of the bagel slicer is centered around doing one big push cut through the middle of the bagel. You are not so much slicing the bagel as beating it into submission. What did the bagel ever do to you?
Next time you get some produce wrapped in thick rubber band, save it on a door knob. Then when you have a recalcitrant lid on a jar, wrap it around the lid and tug — it will open.
Spoon rests that look like big spoons
I’m not just being dyspeptic here, people. I get that spoon rests that look like spoons are cute. But a thing has to be good at what it is supposed to do, first, then take on any attempts at being cute while doing it. You wouldn’t think much of a coat-hanger that looked very cutely like a coat itself, while only managing to hang on to a single sleeve of the coat.
So what is my problem with spoon rests? They can just handle one spoon at a time! I usually have two pots going, possibly rice and maybe another main dish — so that is two big stirring spoons. Plus you might have a couple teaspoons you use for tasting, or a tablespoon you use to put soy sauce in, and might want to reuse. Plus you might want a waste area to perhaps pick out a bone from a fish, or whole cloves from the dish before serving. All that the ‘cute’ spoon rest gives you is room for ONE super special spoon.
What you really need is a spoon rest for an array of spoons. Absent any attempt by the kitchen industry to think through this problem at all, I’ve had to improvise. I personally use sushi serving platters laid horizontally to bear my array of spoons. These are decorative and you can have fun selecting them too.
Why horizontal? Because if you think about it, it is only the bowl part of the spoon that is covered in food an needs to be kept off the counter, the handle is perfectly clean and can be laid on the counter itself. One sushi serving platter can hold at least four messy spoons laid side-by-side. Problem solved.