There are two items in my kitchen that make my life oh-so-much easier. These kitchen gadgets take a lot of extra time and work out of food prep. In the process, they make it easier for me to cook healthy meals from scratch, AND help me save money by cutting my own produce (instead of buying the prepackaged, not-as-fresh-as-cut-yourself, pricier chopped veggies prepared by the grocery store staff).
If you haven’t tried them before, or roll your eyes at the thought of cooking from scratch mainly because of the time involved, or wish you could eat more healthfully but feel you don’t have the prep time needed to do so – or, if like me you’re just plain uncoordinated – then read on.
Consider getting a mandoline slicer. And/or a cut-resistant glove.
These two tools have revolutionized my time in the kitchen.
Don’t get me wrong; I’ve long loved to cook, and I like to think I do a pretty decent job. But I have never been particularly gifted when it comes to things like basic hand-eye coordination. In other words, I’m a bit of a klutz.
Lots of cooking from scratch, or healthy meals utilizing fresh veggies (which I love), involve a lot of cutting things with sharp knives.
Sharp knives plus me don’t always make the best combination.
Enter my two best friends in the kitchen.
My Mandoline Slicer
I first saw a mandoline slicer when I was a student, home for the summer, and we spent a few days visiting one of my mom’s friends. I was already living on my own and cooking for myself at that point, and my first reaction was, “Oh, my goodness, I MUST have one of those!” Zip-zip-zip, and in a few seconds – literally! – a large onion was reduced to a pile of uniform paper-thin slices. Ditto for cucumbers, carrots, celery, potatoes, zucchini, summer squash, peppers…. Were I to try to do that by hand with a knife, it would take me at least ten times as long because of my need to be extra-careful. As I noted above, I can be a bit klutzy, and I’ve sliced myself while prepping dinner more than once in my life.
As soon as I could, I bought myself a mandoline, and revolutionized my own kitchen existence. You can get a decent mandoline for $20 or $30 (though of course, you can spend lots more, too, if you prefer). Mine, like most, came with an assortment of slicing plates, including two grater/shredder options, a julienne slicer, and plates for three different thicknesses of slices. It also came (critical!) with a “handle” to place on top of the food you’re cutting, in order to decrease the chances that you’ll accidentally cut yourself as you near the end of whatever it is you’re slicing.
One thing I especially like about using the mandoline is the way it sits nicely on top of our four- and eight-cup measures, as well as many of our mixing bowls. Yet unlike hauling out the food processor whenever I want to slice something – say, a little bit of onion and pepper to top homemade mini-pizzas or burritos for lunch – it’s a lot less cleanup and hassle, making it worthwhile for small jobs as well as big ones. (Ours can even go in the dishwasher!)
- Problem: Mandolines can be dangerous!
Just to be clear, mandolin blades are VERY sharp. If you get one, you’ll want to find a very safe place to store it, away from curious fingers. Your kids can hurt themselves badly on them. So can your spouse. (Mine has – a rather nasty finger slice that took two weeks to heal, when thumb encountered mandoline in the drawer where it then lived. Lest you get the wrong idea about my spouse, I’ll have you know that he’s actually a much better cook, and more savvy chef in general, than I am.) So can you, if you’re not careful.
And much as I loved my mandoline slicer, I still found myself in a potentially hazardous situation whenever cooking something that required dicing, or when I was down to trying to carefully get the end-bits of an onion or potato or what-have-you into the mandoline.
Enter my Middle-Ages solution for my twenty-first-century kitchen.
Solution: Get yourself some chain mail.
You don’t need a whole suit of armor; just a metal glove will do. When preparing for our wedding, my now-husband and I were strolling through Williams-Sonoma to see if they had any kitchen gadgets for which we could register that we didn’t already own. That was where I discovered one of the most brilliant things I’ve ever seen for kitchen klutzes like me: a stainless-steel, machine-washable, cut-resistant glove.
I used to cringe when watching Julie & Julia, or old Julia Child episodes, because my instincts told me that Julia Child was going to slice off half her fingers any second whenever she diced up those onions – and that surely I would do just that if I tried to imitate her speed and skill. While my metal glove hasn’t inspired me to toss all caution to the wind and try to dice as rapidly as she does, I’ve yet to cut myself when I’m wearing it. It’s ambidextrous, so whenever I’m doing a lot of kitchen prep involving sharp knives and/or my mandoline, I just put it on whichever hand is holding the food.
So. There you have it. The next time you’re reading a recipe that calls for something like three cups of thinly-sliced fresh vegetables, you no longer need to write it off as too time-consuming to prepare (or to clean up from if you’re a food-processor fan) – or as too dangerous to prep if you are, like me, less-than-gifted when it comes to basic motor skills and sharp kitchen implements. Give my two favorite kitchen gadgets a try, and see if they simplify your life as much as they’ve simplified mine.