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A Gadget Wish List

FOOD & WINE experts name their indispensable kitchen tools

Mini asparagus tongs and tuna-fish-can colanders are just the right size to fit inside a Christmas stocking, but frankly, who needs them? Any cook, though, would be delighted to pull out a peeler, a spatula, an oven mitt or a pepper mill, especially if it's one that the pros swear by. FOOD & WINE's culinary dream team--executive food editor Tina Ujlaki, test kitchen chefs Marcia Kiesel and Grace Parisi and food stylists Alison Attenborough and Rori Spinelli--put together a list of the small tools that really improve their lives in the kitchen. Our five experts didn't always make the same choices (some preferred traditional designs and materials, others liked high-tech kinds), so there may be more than a single recommendation in each category. But every one of these gadgets deserves space in your friends' Christmas stockings, not to mention your own kitchen drawer.

kitchen shears
Joyce Chen Unlimited scissors Extra-large handles allow for a better grip, particularly if you have greasy hands or if you're left-handed. "I have three pairs," Ujlaki says. ($19.86 from www.webvan.com)
Henckels kitchen shears The blades are fantastically sharp and durable. "You will never have to replace these kitchen shears--they'll never wear out," Kiesel says. ($24.95 from www.cooking.com)

peelers
Henckels swivel peeler The razor-sharp one-sided blade "lets you use a quick, easy motion," Kiesel says. ($8.80 from Zabar's, www.zabars.com, 800-697-6301 or 212-787-2000)
Kuhn Rikon peeler These inexpensive Y-shaped peelers have well-honed, carbon-steel blades. "Kids love to use them, since the handles come in bright colors," Ujlaki says. ($2.75 from www.chefstore.com, 888-334-CHEF)

mortar and pestle
Japanese suribachi The ceramic ridges in the bowl of the mortar "act like little knives and make the pounding faster," Parisi says. Try using a pestle to crush garlic instead of a knife: "Metal gives garlic a bitter taste," Kiesel says. ($14.95 from A Cook's Companion, 718-852-6901)

mandolines
Joyce Chen mandoline Sturdy plastic construction and replaceable blades make this a good substitute for the expensive French versions. "Mandolines save so much time if you're slicing potatoes or fennel, or just julienning carrots," Attenborough says. ($34.95 from www.kitchenemporium.com, 401-596-5588)

spatulas
Amco Superflex spatula The ultrathin, flexible metal blade slips easily between the food and the pan, which preserves crusts on fried foods. "But beware of lifting anything heavy, or you'll end up with food on the floor," Parisi says. ($6.98 from Zabar's, www.zabars.com, 800-697-6301 or 212-787-2000)
Oxosilicone spatula Heat resistant up to 400 degrees, this spatula won't melt on the stove. "It's great for stirring sauces," Kiesel says. ($7.50 from Oxo, www.oxo.com, 800-545-4411)
Le Creuset spatula These lollipop-colored silicone spatulas are heat resistant up to a remarkable 800 degrees. "The wooden handle is a plus because it doesn't get hot," Spinelli says. ($4 to $12 from Le Creuset, 800-827-1798 for store locations)

graters and zesters
Leifheit ProLine grater This solid grater won't fall apart due to constant use. "The rubber feet also stop it from sliding," Kiesel says. ($12.50 from Value America, 888-510-8258)
Microplane grater and zester The blades of this grater are super sharp. "I rely on it to puree garlic and grate nutmeg," Ujlaki says. ($9 to $14 from www.gourmetcottage.com, 800-860-9209)
Oxo zester Cooks like the comfortable handle and sharp blade. "It's the only zester I use," Parisi says. ($6.50 from Oxo, www.oxo.com, 800-545-4411)

mitts and pot holders
Kool-Tekmitts by Katchall These mitts, made from the same material as firefighters' uniforms, are heatproof but not bulky. They're also longer than conventional mitts to protect your arms better. "Get them in a dark color to hide stains," Kiesel says. (a 12-inch mitt is $21.95 from www.cooking.com)

pepper mills
Perfex French grinder Its heavy-duty mechanism, steel casing and compact size make it a chefs' favorite. "The 4-inch grinder fits in the palm of your hand," Attenborough says. ($51.95 from www.chefstore.com, 888-334-CHEF)
Peppermate mill This mill is easier to use than its French counterparts and grinds more pepper per twist. "Plus, the plastic bottom catches stray ground pepper," Kiesel says. ($39.98 from Zabar's, www.zabars.com, 800-697-6301 or 212-787-2000)

tongs
Amco Performance locking tongs They're light and have a responsive spring hinge that makes them easy to use. "I use the short ones for sautéeing and the long ones for turning big pieces of meat on the grill or rescuing boxes from the top shelf," Spinelli says. (9-inch tongs are $6.50 and 16-inch tongs are $9 from www.gourmetcottage.com, 800-860-9209)

kitchen timers
West Bend triple timer This digital timer has three distinct alarms. "It's handy if you're cooking a lot of things at once," Parisi says. (about $31 from West Bend, 262-334-2311)
Terraillon mini-timer This wind-up variety, in the Museum of Modern Art's collection, "is much better than those digital beeping timers," Kiesel says. ($19.95 from www.qvc.com)

Published December 1999
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