While not essential, a meat thermometer is a handy gadget to have in your drawer. Undercooked meat and poultry can contain harmful bacteria such as salmonella and E.coli that can lead to food poisoning. A thermometer measures the internal temperature of meat during cooking, allowing you to accurately judge when the dish is ready. There are different types of meat thermometers; the main ones are those that are oven-proof and can be left in the meat during cooking, and those that are inserted into the meat to instantly read the temperature. When you insert a thermometer, place it in the thickest area of meat away from bone, fat and gristle, as these hold the most heat.
The NSW Food Authority suggests cooking fish to 65°C, minced meat and sausages to 71°C and whole roast poultry to 82°C. Because meat isn’t always uniform in shape, the same ideal temperature may not be reached in all areas at the same time, so take a reading in two different places. Bear in mind that steak only needs to be seared on the outside and can be rare inside. Minced meat, sausages and poultry, however, must be cooked until well done. As a rule of thumb, there should be no pink meat and juices should run clear.
Chopping boards pose another food safety concern. They can harbour harmful bacteria and a heightened risk of cross-contamination if they’re not properly cleaned or if raw foods containing bacteria come in contact with food that is already cooked.
There are four main types of chopping board – plastic, wood, marble and glass. No matter which type you use, you’re less likely to cross-contaminate if you thoroughly wash and sanitise your boards between uses and follow the correct food safety practices. For greater protection, have a couple of boards on hand, ideally one for raw meat and fish and another for fruit and vegetables. Colour-code or mark them so you don’t mix them up. It’s also worth investing in a small chopping board for preparing garlic and onions, to keep their odours separate from other foods. Chopping boards are available from your nearest supermarket or department store, and can cost anywhere from $10 up to more than $100 for a designer model.
Plastic chopping boards It’s easy to find a set of colour-coded plastic chopping boards; they also come in different sizes and are relatively inexpensive. Fiona found that some foods can slip on plastic boards, as well as stain the surface. The knife can also leave cut marks on the board – a place where bacteria can hide. To clean plastic chopping boards, wash in hot soapy water. The hot-rinse cycle on your dishwasher will also help sterilise the board.
Glass/marble boards are more difficult to use as the knife can slip, posing a safety hazard. These types of boards can also damage your knives. If you’re really keen on glass or marble, look for a board with non-slip feet. We recommend using glass boards for food presentation rather than preparation.
Wooden boards are the way to go, in our opinion. They stay stable on your bench, are knife-friendly, and long-lasting provided you look after them properly. When it comes to cleaning, wash your wooden board in warm, soapy water. To deodorize and disinfect your board, rub a lemon over the surface.
This gadget is used to cut firm fruits and vegetables, and can slice thick or thin, dice, chip or julienne. There is a range of different types on the market, but they all work on the same principle. They’re usually made of heavy-duty plastic, but can also come in more expensive stainless steel. Some have a handy box into which the cut food falls, while others are placed on a chopping board and kept stable with rubber feet. They also come with safety holders to protect your fingers from the extremely sharp blades.
We give the Ergo Mandoline Powerlance ($45 from www.kitchengadgets.com.au) three stars. According to Fiona, V-slicers work well and give a creative touch to food preparation. She recommends the Powerlance to those who are not confident using a knife or don’t have a food processor.
For such a simple gadget, vegetable peelers come in a myriad of designs and materials. A good peeler is versatile and comfortable to hold; if it can peel the skin of a butternut pumpkin, it’s a keeper.
Fiona’s favourite vegetable peeler is the Culinare Swivel Peeler C12009 ($5). It’s the cheapest of those we looked at and is available in most supermarkets. She found it peels all vegetables with ease, including tomatoes and butternut pumpkin, due to its swivel-action blade that conforms to the contours of the vegetable being peeled.
A potato masher should be comfortable to hold, with a large surface area and small holes. When making mashed potatoes, you only need to use this gadget to finely mash the potatoes before adding butter and milk. To get creamy, smooth mash, beating with a wooden or other large spoon gives the best result. If you’re after a finer, fluffier consistency, consider buying a potato ricer, which is like a large-scale garlic press in that you squeeze two handles together to force the potato through small, sieve-like holes. Using a ricer requires a little strength, but is definitely the way to go if you want to finely mash fruit or vegetables.
Clean your masher or ricer straight after using – rinse it under cold water to remove any leftover potato, then wash in warm soapy water. Potato is a starchy food, and using hot water bakes the starch onto the masher, making it more difficult to clean (bear this in mind, too, when cleaning your saucepan).
This is a kitchen gadget you can possibly do without, as it’s often easier to use a knife or microplane grater.
We looked at three different types:
Culinare Garlic Press C12010 ($12) This press can accommodate one or two cloves of garlic. We found the garlic needs to be scraped off the press and often blocks the holes, requiring immediate cleaning.
Vibe Garlic Machine V-GM-130 ($29.96) This crusher accommodates between six and eight peeled cloves of garlic. It also acts as a storage container for any unused garlic. However, the handle is awkward to twist, not to mention the annoyance of cleaning the unit afterwards.
Vibe Rolling Garlic Chopper ($14.94) This gadget rolls over your bench top to chop the garlic. It’s difficult to start the chopping process, and once it has started the garlic is pushed to the edges away from the blades. This leaves the garlic roughly chopped, and getting the garlic out is a nuisance.
Nowadays most cans have ring pulls, but a can-opener can still be a handy tool to keep in your kitchen drawer for backup. Look for one that has an easy-to-grip dial and a comfortable handle. Avoid all-metal can-openers, as they’re hard-edged and require strength to attach to the can.
We looked at three different can-openers, ranging in price from $4 to $24, one of the more expensive models, the Zyliss Essentials Safety Can Opener 9920373 ($24), rated highest. It has a comfortable handle that’s easy to attach, and requires little effort to turn the dial knob. It also leaves no sharp edges around the can. Although it's more expensive we recommend it for its ease of use. The Zyliss Essentials is available from Target.
Kitchen hammers tenderise meat by breaking apart its tough fibres, and are available in wood, metal or plastic. We recommend buying a metal type pounder, which should last a lifetime. Look for one that’s double-sided – one side flat for tender cuts of meat, the other notched for tenderising thicker cuts.
These protective gloves allow you to handle hot pots, pans and ovenware while shielding your hands and arms from burns. They’re commonly available in either cloth or silicone, both of which have their downfalls. Cloth mitts generally protect your entire hand and wrist from heat and splatters, but they can be clumsy to use and lifting some cookware with them can be awkward. They can also stain easily, and hot liquid can quickly penetrate through the glove, burning your skin.
Silicon mitts, by contrast, grip well and can be easier to handle. They can also withstand high temperatures. However, most silicon mitts only protect your hands, leaving your wrists and arms vulnerable.