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January 24, 2006

Eat Your Heart Out - January 24, 2006

It seems that there are so many kitchen tools these days that appear to make perfect gifts—until you realize that they would be cool for about five minutes and would then live out a very happy life in the back of the kitchen drawer next to the recipes that were clipped out of magazines and then never made. Stores like Sur La Table and Williams-Sonoma are filled with gadgets like these, and I’ll admit I occasionally get excited about a new tool. But then the five minutes go by and I am over it. I mean, life in the kitchen seemed to carry on fine before the invention of the avocado slicer and the garlic press. (Is it that hard to cut an avocado? Is finely chopping garlic that taxing? I don’t think so.) Are you really going to make pizza on your pizza stone and then cut it with your pizza wheel? There is a reason that pizza delivery is so popular.

Yet there are some kitchen tools which are extremely useful and worth having around. My favorite is probably the benriner, also known as a Japanese mandolin. This tool allows you to slice vegetables or other food items into super-thin sheets, ideal when making a potato gratin or a salad. Some benriners also come with specific blades for julienning (i.e. cutting into matchstick-thin strips) vegetables, which are handy if you are making latkes or celery remoulade and would rather have thin strips of vegetable as opposed to grated vegetable. The benriner is quite sharp, however, so you must take caution when using it and use a blade protector (almost all benriners come with one) so as not to chop off your knuckle. Benriners generally cost around $10–$35, depending on where you purchase them (Amazon.com carries a selection of benriners, as do most kitchen specialty stores, but for a better deal, try the housewares department of an Asian market).

Another tool similar to the benriner that I love is the zester. However, in the world of kitchen tools, not all zesters are made equal, and the zester that I would wholeheartedly recommend is the one made by Microplane. Their zesters are ideal for zesting citrus fruits since they avoid the bitter white pith while removing the flavorful zest, and also work fantastically on hard cheeses or even whole spices, such as nutmeg. They are also dishwasher safe and are inexpensive at $10. Microplane zesters are available on the Microplane website (microplane.com/40001.shtml) or at any kitchen specialty store.

Fennel Salad with Orange Vinaigrette

The Ingredients

1 fennel bulb

1 Tablespoon chopped parsley

2 Tablespoons orange juice

3 Tablespoons olive oil

a large pinch of salt

freshly ground pepper to taste

The Directions

1. Wash and trim the fennel bulb and discard the outer layer. Place the bottom side down on a benriner, and then using the benriner, slice into thin ribbons.

2. Combine all the other ingredients in a bowl and whisk until smooth. Pour over fennel and mix well, coating all of the fennel. Serve as a salad or as a side dish.

Gremolata

This is an Italian condiment that often accompanies osso buco. However, you could also sprinkle it over veal or chicken cutlets just before finished for an additional hint of flavor.

The Ingredients

2 Tablespoons grated lemon peel (grated using a Microplane grater)

1 Tablespoon minced parsley

1/4 teaspoon minced garlic

pinch of salt

The Directions

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Sprinkle over meats.