Great little items to give as gifts (or keep for yourself)!
By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column
Every year, my husband and girls spend an hour or so at a kitchen store shopping for stuffers for my Christmas stocking. I've gotten all kinds of crazy gadgets over the years, from mushroom slicers to a microwave hot dog holder.
Truth is, they would be better off stuffing my stocking at Bath and Body Works (I love that store!). That's mostly because I already have a favorite cast of kitchen characters. These are the tools (some aren't even that expensive) that I use over and over again.
In honor of the holidays, I am happy to share with you my Top 10 lineup of helpful and healthful kitchen tools, in the hopes one may end up in someone's stocking or as someone's Hanukkah gift this year!
Please note that although I LOVE my KitchenAid mixer and it is a permanent fixture on my kitchen counter, it didn't make the list because let's face it: it's pricey. Something that sells for $300 isn't a gadget, it's an investment.
1. Misto Olive Oil Sprayer
There are many times when I want to disperse a small amount of olive or canola oil onto the surface of a pan or a food, instead of drenching it in oil. This way, you're still using oil -- but a lot less. There's just enough oil on the surface of the food so it can brown and crisp as it cooks. The best part about the Misto sprayer is that you don't have to throw it away when it's empty, unlike the cans of oil spray.
Cost: You find it in many kitchen stores for about $9.99.
2. Lemon Zester Hand Tool
I love this thing! I "zest" the peel off lemons, limes, or oranges for all sorts of recipes, from muffins, cakes, and bars to pies and pancakes. The zest, or outermost layer, of a citrus fruit holds plenty of aromatic oils, so this is an easy way to add a punch of flavor without extra calories or fat.
Cost: There are several brands, but they cost about $6.99.
3. Battery-Operated Pepper Mill
Since I don't use a lot of salt in my cooking and I'm always looking for ways to punch up flavor without adding fat or calories, the pepper mill is real popular at my house. I love the battery-operated mill because I can add the pepper with one hand while I'm holding a whisk in the other. And there's something about freshly grinding your pepper that adds to the flavor.
Cost: A Trudeau battery-operated pepper mill costs about $19.99.
4. Adjust-a-Spoon (professional series)
When you cook as much as I do, you always seem to find every measuring spoon except the one you need. The Adjust-a-Spoon is one tool that meets all your measuring-spoon needs, from 1/2 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon. And this particular brand is totally stylish with its stainless steel design.
Cost: Adjust-A-Spoon (professional series) sells for about $5.99.
5. Nonstick Frying Pans and Saucepans
Nonstick pans are a must for light cooking. You need a lot less oil or fat in your pan to keep food from sticking if you are using great nonstick cookware. I don't have a particular brand I like. I mainly look to make sure they are nice and thick and have handles that don't get hot, and then I buy what's on sale.
Cost: Varies from $19.99 to about $49.99 per piece. The cost is higher for certain brands, but this is the range in which I end up buying.
6. Progressive Chopping Mats
These are bendable, thin plastic chopping mats. After you chop your veggies, onions, or herbs, you just pick up the mat, and then bend it to pour the food into your bowl or saucepan. You don't even need a scraper to push it in. No muss, no fuss -- just the way I like it!
I have four of these. When I'm testing several recipes at once I use them one after the other, then clean them all at the end of my cooking spree.
Cost: A set of two mats goes for $3.99.
7. Hand Food Chopper
I use this tool often with the chopping mat I mention above. Cooking light means using ingredients that boost flavor without adding fat and calories, and some of these require chopping -- onions, red and green peppers, and fresh herbs come to mind. (You may be wondering why I didn't list garlic, so I have to admit I use bottled minced garlic for convenience.)
The hand chopper makes it easy to chop all of these without nicking a finger or shedding a tear. This tool works for chopping nuts, too!
Cost: $14.99 for the Zyliss brand.
8. Bread Machine
I almost never use my bread machine to actually bake bread. I just use it to create the dough, and then take it through one rise. I then shape the dough into cinnamon rolls, dinner rolls, or a braided bread loaf, and bake in the oven.
The great part about a bread machine is that you can make a bread or roll dough that's half whole-wheat and half unbleached white. And you can choose to add a tablespoon of canola oil instead of 4 tablespoons of melted butter, for example. You control all of the ingredients in your dough. That's pretty powerful!
Cost: $60 to $100, depending on the brand and style.
9. Mini Food Processor
We are a two-food-processor family. I use my mini food processor as much as I use my regular-size one. When you cook light, sauces or spreads sometimes need a little extra help combining, and the food processor always comes through to make everything smooth. I think I've had my mini food processor for more than 10 years now!
Cost: $29.99 for the Cuisinart Mini Prep Food Processor.
10. Microwave Steamer Container
If you are eating healthy, that means lots of vegetables, right? One of the easiest and most nutritious ways to cook veggies is either in the microwave (sitting in a small amount of water) or in a steamer (where the veggies sit above the water).
This new microwave steamer container lets you have the best of both worlds. You are using the microwave, yet your veggies are sitting above the water and being steamed. You can steam fish this way, too.
Cost: $9.99 for the MicroWare microwave vegetable/seafood steamer.
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