How many enticing recipes do you save -- then skip -- because the instructions for ingredient preparation seem to involve more time than you are willing to spend at the kitchen counter? Every cook, even the pros, are looking for ways to save time while adding a variety of fresh food choices to our menus. Here are our 5 favorite time saving kitchen helpers for fruit and vegetable laden dishes.
Mandoline: Every professional cook we know values the mandoline slicer to shorten prep time and assure clean, uniform cuts on fruits and vegetables.
The most versatile models have interchangeable blades for straight edge cuts, julienne cuts and waffle cuts. Choose one with an adjustable rather than fixed width guide to set the thickness for see through paper-thin cuts to wider planks. The best mandolines have blades that can be removed for cleaning and sharpening. Our favorite for price, ease of use and need for storage space (minimum) is the Benriner Asian Mandoline. Word of caution-USE THE FINGER GUARD!
Spiral slicer or Spiralizer: This is THE tool for turning raw vegetables into long noodle like strands, ribbons and thin round connected slices. A favorite tool for raw food enthusiasts creating vegetable "pastas", we just like the results of mounds of colorful vegetable ribbons to use in salads and for garnishes. Two we like to use are the Benriner Turning Slicer and the Paderno Spiralizer.
Rice Cooker: Perfect rice can be made on the stove top, in the oven or even the microwave. Why bother with another appliance in your kitchen? If every household in Japan reportedly has one, there must be a reason. Rice cookers offer a foolproof method of preparing rice, other grains and legumes without the need to stand watch over the pot. Best feature is the warming mode to hold cooked food until ready to serve. There are a variety of models with differing quantity capacity and featured settings to cook a variety of grains, legumes and cereals. Zojirushi makes a wide range of models.
Steamers and steamer inserts: Steaming uses moist heat to cook food, and the low moist heat method means retention of a food's nutrients and natural juices. A steamer basket holds food over boiling or simmering water in a pot or a wok. Asian bamboo steamers have two to three tiers to hold dumplings, vegetables or fish. Stainless steel and silicone steamers are adjustable to fit a range of pot sizes. Pot and pan manufacturers also offer steamer inserts that fit a specific size pot. Steamers offer an excellent method for reheating food without drying it out.
The products listed can be found at kitchenware stores like Sur La Table and Williams Sonoma or on-line by brand name. Asian markets and specialty shops like The House of Rice carry a variety of rice cookers and slicers.