Back in the 1980s, my husband and I spent a memorable New Year’s Eve with friends, trying to figure out how to operate their latest kitchen gadget, a plastic box designed to make square eggs.
The Egg Cuber is one of those totally useless tools that you may have gotten in your stocking this year. Originally made in 1977 for the Aluminum Housewares Co., the gadget is still available on Amazon, although we’re not sure why. It takes a regular hard-boiled egg — the perfect food — and squishes it into a square. Why?
Useless gadgets aside, there are lots of kitchen hacks that can actually save you time and effort. While they won’t turn you into a four-star chef, learning a trick or two can make your cooking efforts more efficient as well as delicious. That way you can get down to the fun part — eating dinner, then binge watching your favorite Netflix shows.
Perhaps you have already invested in a spiralizer and are now happily slicing your way to carb-less bowls of pasta carbonara. If you like to bake, you probably know your way around a Silpat and may have mastered using your waffle iron to make crispy latkes.
But the human mind is endlessly fascinated by learning new tricks. So to help feed that appetite, we’ve reached out to experts in the field — Wine Country chefs, cooking teachers and serious home cooks — to bring you 20 Useful Kitchen Hacks to learn in 2018. Jedi apprentices, start your ovens.
1. A cheap, plastic pastry scraper comes in handy for scraping your cutting board while chopping, then moving the diced food into the pot or pan on the stove. “It works really well and saves a lot of time and potentially dropped food,” said Bruce Riezenman, chef/owner of Park Avenue Catering in Cotati.
2. Another tip from Riezenman: If you need to grate a fine citrus zest but do not have a microplane, cut a piece of wax or parchment paper and place it on the sharp side of the smallest grate on your box grater. Grate as usual, gently remove the paper and place on counter, then gently scrape the zest off with a rubber spatula.
3. With immersion sous vide heaters now affordable (they start at $60), founder Donna del Rey of Relish Culinary Adventures in Healdsburg thinks it may be a good year for everyone to give this “cheffy” technique a whirl. “I’m adding a class in the winter designed for the home cook,” she said. “Lots of people are cooking sous vide-style at home with perfect results.” Warning: You will also need a vacuum sealer, which start at $100.
4. Do you have a super-sharp mandoline that you’re terrified to use? Slide on some cut-resistant, oyster shucking gloves, del Rey suggested, and you don’t have to worry. Then toss the leftover bits and bobs of carrots into a pot to make stock.
5. Home cook Amy Meiers has an old-fashioned pressure cooker that she uses for making comfort food dinner dishes in a hurry. “I can make a pot roast or short ribs in about an hour,” she said. “ And they are fall-apart tender.”
6. Electric, computerized multicookers, such as those made cultishly popular by Instant Pot, are another great way to get dinner on the table in a flash. Chef/instructor Lisa Lavagetto of Relish Culinary in Sonoma invested in an 8-quart multicooker made by Fagor and has become a convert.
Comparing Tasting Notes
Benchmark — Kendall-Jackson, 2014 Vintner’s Reserve California Chardonnay, 13.5%, $17: The Vintner’s Reserve has bright acidity and tropical notes of mango and pineapple. It also has toasty oak and a hint of butter. This chardonnay has broad appeal because it offers a slightly sweeter version of chardonnay.
Knockoff, 2014 California Chardonnay, 13.8%, $11: This wine does not taste similar to the Vintner’s Reserve because it’s a much leaner chardonnay. That said, it still has some appeal. It’s a fruity wine with notes of melon, apple and mineral. But what’s most characteristic about this wine is its stone fruit and crisp acidity.
Benchmark — Joel Gott, 2014 California (815) Cabernet Sauvignon, 13.9%, $16: Tasty aromas and flavors of cherry, plum and mocha. Slightly sweet, but this wine definitely over delivers.
Just Right, 2014 California Cabernet Sauvignon, 13.9%, $13: This wine does not taste similar to the Joel Gott Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s not nearly as generous with its fruit. It also has some rough edges and a slightly sour finish. The upside is it has some tasty black cherry fruit, and it’s layered with herbs and spice.
Benchmark — Meiomi, 2014 Monterey, Sonoma and Santa Barbara counties Pinot Noir, 13.9%, $25: Aromas of strawberry and mocha. Notes of blackberry, boysenberry and herbs on the palate. Supple. Lingering finish. Well crafted.
Misbehaved, 2015 California Pinot Noir, 13.8%, $16: This wine does not taste similar to the Meiomi Pinot Noir. It’s a dry wine with notes of cherry and plum. It’s one dimensional and has a short finish.