Sometimes you just have to grit your teeth and shell out $5 to get the right tool for the job. If you would like to make your own ravioli, or cappelletti, or tortellini then this is the tool for you. It not only makes your work look professional, but it’s fun to use. And really, there’s no other way to get that zig-zag effect on the edges. There are specialized stamps and presses for ravioli, but they can only do one job. The pasta wheel also can dress up your pastries and cookies.

This tool used to be in every kitchen. Today most people don’t even know what it is. A potato ricer uses a plunger mounted on a hinged lever to press cooked potatoes through a perforated cylinder. A simple design that produces fluffy, aerated potatoes. Besides creating a smooth, consistent texture, this action allows excess moisture to evaporate quickly. The potatoes can then be used for time-honored recipes such as “farls” Irish potato bread and “kartoffelkloesse”    German potato dumplings.

If you need to keep your measurements accurate there is only one way to do that–by weight. Professional bakers and pastry chefs weigh everything to ensure their formulas work consistently. At home, you probably notice when you’re making cookies, meatballs, small appetizers or the like, that they tend to get larger as you go along. The downside to this is that small items will cook more quickly than larger one; sometimes they can burn before the larger ones are done. Even if you don’t weigh every one, it helps to keep your portions in the neighborhood. I like to weigh small items in grams as the fractions don’t provide as much guidance.

I use this tool almost every time I do anything in the kitchen. The basic model comes from the bakeshop, and is used to portion dough for rolls, and lift pastry from the counter. That’s just the beginning of what it can do. It is indispensible for transferring chopped vegetables and herbs from the cutting board to the skillet. In culinary school we were taught to use French knives for this purpose, but let’s face it, this tool cuts the number trips between cutting board and skillet. You are also less likely to cut someone in half while doing that. It is THE tool for scraping flour or other clinging materials from counters and cutting boards. By the time you wash it off you’ll be ready to use it again.

Here’s a step saver if you do any canning. The mouth on canning jars can be a mighty small target when you’re trying to hit it with a ladle full of hot liquid. A jar funnel creates a larger target. It also protects the rim of the jar from getting so much as a drop of fluid on it. That single drop will prevent the lid from sealing. Typically, you have wipe the rim before putting on the lids. The canning process is more efficient with one of these.


This is in my top 10 of must have gadgets. Unlike the older style instant-read thermometer that relied on a heat sensitive coil to measure internal temperature, the digital thermometer is accurate to the degree. The sensor is in the tip, rather than partway up the shaft, so you can be sure you are getting a precise temperature. Forget about the pop-up timers in poultry, they just let you know when the bird is overcooked. Next Thanksgiving, your turkey will be perfectly cooked if you use a digital thermometer.


 This little device produces perfect strips of peel from any citrus fruit. The strips are more uniform than if you used a vegetable peeler and then sliced them. You also don’t have to bother scraping off the tasteless white pith that underlies the peel. Use this tool to get finely grated zest, as you might use in baking. The fine side of a grater holds much of the zest and it is hard to remove. With this tool just mince the zest with knife and your yield is much better, and cleanup is a snap.


I received this new toy for my birthday. I’d always wanted one since it is one of the most useful tools imaginable. It saves 3 steps every time you use it. You don’t have to ladle soups or sauces into a blender, then pour the contents into an intermediary container, and then pour the puréed item back into the original pot. Insert the immersion blender into the liquid you wish to purée and a minute later it’s done. It won’t handle items like whole ice cubes, but I’m not sure why anyone would want to do that. If I’m making blender drinks I’ll use a blender. This gadget should be in every cook’s toolbox.



Beef Cleaver L . & I.  J. White, Buffalo, NY

Whenever I need to cleave an oxen in two this is my tool of choice. This enormous weapon was manufactured by L. & I. J. White Edge Tool Company of Buffalo, NY sometime between 1837 and 1928. I found a similar tool in the company’s 1905 catalogue: a Chicago Pattern Beef Cleaver, available at $42 per dozen. My cleaver is slightly larger than the one in the 1905 catalogue, sporting a 13-inch blade and an 18-inch wooden handle. It tips the scales at almost 8 pounds. The firewood is cut to 16 inch lengths to give you an idea of scale. Although the blade remains razor-sharp it is not much use for chopping wood.


My good friend, Craig, found this relic in an antique store about 30 years ago. Although I’ve never used the metal side of this trusted implement, the smooth face provides the heft necessary to pound chicken, turkey, and veal to the desired thickness. It is also perfect for crushing peppercorns or reducing nuts to a powder.



Perhaps the least expensive gadget I ever purchased. This little tool makes hulling tomatoes and strawberries effortless. Just twist it into the crown, and you’re done.


I’ve had this machine for 25 years. I can tell because there is a sticker on the box that say 1986. It’s made in Germany, and therefore called a Kirschentkerner. It makes quick work of pitting cherries. You just remove the stems, pour into the top of the machine, and push down the plunger. It pushes the pits into the box underneath. When the plunger moves back up it releases the pit free cherry into an awaiting bowl. 

6 thoughts on “GADGETS & GIZMOS

  1. And did you know that plastic dough cutters, in pairs, are the tools of choice to clean up cat puke?
    Fabulous site. I’ve been a fan of your writing since (severely under-appreciated) Cookbook Number One, and now there are pretty pix, as well.

    • Yes, a terrific use of the tool. Cookbook #2 will soon be released.
      The Vermont Home Cookbook: Local Ingredients, Global Flavors, Universal Techniques is in the final stages of editing and design.

  2. I just made the Buttermilk Rye Bread from your cookbook, The Vermont Home Cookbook, which I checked out from Rutland Public Library. It is an excellent recipe. The bread is absolutely wonderful. Thanks so much!!!!

  3. I find that a pastry blender is a must in any kitchen. I use mine for not only making pie crust, but for chopping nuts, making egg salad, mashing bananas and more!

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