Given that my fridge is overflowing, methinks I’ll have to lay off the new recipes for at least a few days. Instead, I thought I might make a list of my top five must-have kitchen gadgets. The roundup is applicable to omnis as well as veg*ns, but it’s probably doubly helpful to those of us who have to make some of our own vegetarian and vegan foods, including (cue collective sigh) the elusive perfect vegan cheese.
Of course, this excludes the obvious appliances such as the fridge/freezer, oven/cooktop/range combo, microwave, blender and toaster oven. These things are more or less a given for a given for all but the biggest of city dwellers. And even then…I can’t imagine anyone in NYC going without at least a small fridge.
1. Bread Machine
Maybe it’s the Italian in me, but I’m a carb fiend – especially when it comes to bread and pasta. Since I live way out in the sticks – and the only bakery in town closed weeks before we moved here – store-bought fresh bread is a near impossibility for us. Unless we want to drive an hour and a half, round trip, every time we have a hankering for cinnamon oatmeal or sundried tomato loaves…which clearly we don’t. Plus, the store selection would never whet my appetite for new and unusual flavors of the yummy floury stuff.
Luckily, bread machines make it relatively simple to enjoy fresh-baked bread without leaving the house. The Sunbeam bread machine pictured above is a hand-me-down from my mother. Or at least I think it is; we’ve had it for so long that it’s hard to remember. Despite its old age, it shows no signs of giving out. Occasionally we’ve had to replace to bread pan, but that’s a relatively inexpensive accessory.
In the past, I’ve posted a recipe for Dutch sugar loaf bread, which is a personal bread machine fave (it’s almost pastry-like, especially if you time the addition of the sugar cubes just right, so that they congeal in the loaf’s center, making a sticky sweet mess); as soon as all those zucchinis and apples are gone (and I can move away from the oven-baked breads), I’ll blog some of my other specialties, including one bread recipe featuring tomato paste and sundried tomatoes, and another that uses Kalamata olives.
The beauty of the bread machine, of course, isn’t just the endless supply of fresh breads; rather, it’s the freedom to experiment with different tastes, ingredients and textures. The variety found in a bakery can never rival the variety found in your own imagination!
Plus, bread machines are way easier to use than you’d think. Shane and I are largely lazy cooks and culinary dum-dums, yet even we’ve mastered the bread machine.
2. Food Processor
The obvious benefit of food processors is that they make processing food, um, easier: they’re useful for chopping, grating, dicing, etc.
However, they’re also an essential appliance in a number of veg*n recipes. This is especially true of faux cheese recipes, such as those found in The Uncheese Cookbook. Like most veg*ns, we’re still searching for that perfect faux cheese recipe; if our cookbook survey is any indication, it will most likely come out of a food processor.
(Recommendations always welcome!)
Sure, you could pay $5 for a fancy bottled smoothie at Wild Oats…but why waste all that money and plastic when you can just make your own juice at home? A juicer is especially useful if you have a veggie garden or fruit trees – and lots of extra produce to consume before it spoils.
Our Pansonic Juicer is mainly Shane’s domain (it was a birthday present a few years back); it can get pretty messy, and I don’t always have the patience for it. The juice is really tasty, even though he sticks to basic recipes for apple and pear juice. If you’re a little more daring, you might want to try out Potassium Broth, Spicy Tomato Juice or Melonade. I even hear you can use your trusty juicer to whip up some “happy juice” for the adults. Just make sure your alcohol is veg*n, too!
4. Food Dehydrator
I’ve alluded to my Nesco Gardenmaster food dehydrator a few times over the course of VeganMoFo. Since I plan on eventually devoting a whole post to my newest favoritist kitchen gadget, let me just say that it’s an absolutely awesome must-have, especially if:
1) You grow your own fruits and veggies, and more often than not find yourself with enough produce to feed the Duggar family;
2) You love to snack on expensive dried treats, such as sundried tomatoes, banana chips, dried apples and pears, etc.;
3) You enjoy fruit leather or fruit rollups, but find that they’re too sugary for your taste (or your kids’ exuberance levels).
We bought our dehydrator last month, in order to preserve some of the many apples our fruit trees surprised us with this year. So far, I’ve dried apples (both plain and dusted with cinnamon/sugar), pears, green and yellow zucchini (to make chips), green peppers and tomatoes (the mini romas make excellent sundried tomatoes). I also made my very first fruit leather a few days ago, and it was yummy beyond words.
And I mean that, sincerely. Back in college, I worked in the natural foods department at a local Wegmans store. Because we needed to know what we were hawking, our main supplier let us sample the wares. So I was able to snack on Stretch Island’s Fruit Leather – the all-natural, organic version of a Fruit Roll-Up – to my tummy’s content. As a kid, I liked Fruit Roll-Ups; as an adult, I liked the Fruit Leathers even more. But the homemade stuff – which I made on a whim, without much planning, I might add – blows the “real stuff” out of the water (orchard?). So much so that I ordered eight more fruit leather insert trays last night; hopefully I’ll be able to use up most of my extra apples this way. And I have so many more recipes I’d like to try: blueberry applesauce, raspberry applesauce, cinnamon applesauce, applesauce with nutmeg and cloves, apples and pears, pears with berries, apples and pears with cherries, fruit leather with granola toppings.
Can I get a yumyum?
5. Popcorn Machine
OK, so this gadget is more of a taste-specific luxury. If you prefer plain, low-fat popcorn – or no popcorn – then a popcorn machine probably isn’t for you. Unlike an air popper, it requires oil to pop the corn, so there really isn’t a healthy option other than going a bit light(er) on the oil. But. If you like the buttery movie popcorn, yet find yourself shying away because you never can tell whether it’s actually vegan, then a popcorn machine may be the perfect treat for an occasional night in at the movies.
Again, this was a birthday present for Shane (he’s a gadget fiend, whether it’s computer- or kitchen- related); we’ve had it for about a year, and have used it roughly once a month since then. It makes really yummy popcorn, and if you want something different, you can choose from a variety of corn kernels and flavored oils. It’s definitely too rich to eat on a regular basis, though.
I bought a higher-end model with a cart, simply because we didn’t have any kitchen counter space for a smaller counter top model. (Our kitchen is a decent size, but currently much of our counterspace is wasted with ’70s-era built-in relics, like an old grill that sticks to pancakes like a mofo.) But if you’ve got room for one, the smaller models are relatively inexpensive – Amazon lists a mini-cart for as low as $30. Industrial models can run as high as a grand, but again, unless you’re the Duggars, I doubt you need that kind of power.
Now that I’m done blabbing, pray tell – what are your must-have kitchen gadgets?
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