Tools of the Trade

Stocking your kitchen with the right gadgets to make healthy cooking a snap.
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As you stroll through your local mall, you may someday be tempted by the siren call of such seductive purveyors of kitchenware as Williams-Sonoma or Sur La Table. Heck, even the housewares section of your favorite Target will beckon and whisper nowadays. Abandon hope, all ye who enter here! Your head will be awhirl with visions of molded exotic custards and towering fantasy cakes and row upon row of mysterious gadgets will parade themselves before your eyes.

But which ones do you really need? Here's a look at three useful tools that will make your life easier and your cooking skills legendary.

The Microplane

This recent addition to the roster of kitchen tools makes everything that preceded it obsolete. Etched instead of stamped, its razor-sharp edges make your old box grater a has-been wimp.

Want to produce perfectly fluffy and aromatic citrus zest for your key lime pie and lemon bars? Get a microplane. Need grated chocolate for the top of your birthday cake, delicate Parmesan to shower on your favorite pasta, or a whisper of truffle for your scrambled eggs? A scatter of nuts for your tart, ginger for your teriyaki, or fresh nutmeg for your nog? All are simplicity itself with a microplane.

Now that I have one, I can't imagine how I ever cooked without it. Get started with the classic zester/grater. If you get inspired, try other versions with larger and smaller holes, or shaving slots for chocolate and such.

The Food Processor

Food processor

Another indispensable item for even the most basic kitchen. And no, you can't use your blender instead. If you want to make a perfect hummus or a flawless mayonnaise, if you love salsa and sambals and relishes, if you need tons of uniform shredded carrots for your holiday cakes, the food processor is your friend.

Another latecomer to the kitchen party, the food processor began its evolution in commercial kitchens and made its way into the home in the 1970s. From bread to budino, from flourless chocolate cake to latkes and spinach dip, this baby performs any number of time-saving tasks effortlessly and speedily.

When choosing a food processor, do your homework. Read the reviews, figure out what you'll use it for, and then choose a model with features and capacity that fit your needs.

Small Packages

Give your food processor its very own "baby"-a mini food processor. Ideal for chopping a couple of cloves of garlic or a handful of nuts, a mini processor handles the tasks that your full-size food processor is too grown up for. And a perfectly decent one won't set you back more than $20 or so.

Flexible Cutting Boards

My sister-in-law sent me one of these, and in my foolish snobbery I pooh-poohed it, thinking it was yet another useless invention foisted upon a gullible public. Wrong! Another brilliantly simple idea that makes cooking faster and easier. Chop your onions and celery, lift and flex this supple sheet, and whoosh, right into the soup pot without a single escapee. Making a salad? Chop everything right there, mix it about, and slide it into the bowl, again without one errant vegetable in sight. Chocolate for melting, turkey for chili, veggies for steaming-they all transfer smoothly with a bend of the board.

In further proof of their cleverness, you can get them in three-packs with designated icons for vegetables, chicken, and meat, so no fear of cross-contamination. And they're dishwasher-safe, so you can get them truly clean.

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