I gave up a lot of kitchen gadgets when I moved here. As happens when you move by plane, you must choose what to keep and what to toss; you can’t monopolize valuable luggage space with bulky items you can buy at your destination (and that require outlet adapters). I sorted through all the goodies I had accumulated in my deep kitchen cabinets, tossing the scratched Teflon, donating the plethora of Pyrex, and dispersing the cool electric appliances to friends and family. It’s embarrassing to admit, but I found things in their unopened boxes that I had stashed for years. Why didn’t I ever use those pieces?
I didn’t use them because I didn’t need them. That was a pretty simple revelation once I got here and started stocking our miniscule galley kitchen. I have a fraction of the space I used to and simply started adapting. Now that I have converted, I don’t think I will ever go back to wanting a pile of useless kitchen toys.
The following are some of my favorite low-tech kitchen gadgets that I use far more than anything else in my cupboards, which doesn’t really leave much.
Cast Iron Pans
These two pans get a lot of love from us. Cast iron is versatile and remarkably easy to care for and I will never purchase a coated nonstick pan again. The sarténs are a really crude, rough iron and have wooden handles (the only bummer- they can’t go in the oven), which is probably why they were so cheap. Nevertheless, we don’t have many issues with food sticking, and we use very little oil; in contrast, both of our old coated pans were tossed after a few months because the nasty carcinogenic gunk started flaking off. Y eso no es bueno. The smooth one we’ve had for a month and is halfway seasoned; the above eggs stuck in a small divot off the center that we haven’t quite smoothed out. The ridged skillet is ideal for cooking bacon or bife de chorizo.
My partner claims I take care of these like they are my babies. He might be right.
Mortar & Pestle
I don’t know how I ever cooked without a mortar and pestle! It’s so much fun to smash and grind herbs and sauces. Oh wait, I had a food processor that did the fun part for me. I mostly use this to grind up hierbas secas, though we sometimes make pesto or aioli with it. We bought it for a mere 30 or 40 pesos in Barrio Chino. The one negative is that the weight makes it very unpleasant to accidentally pestle your finger against the rim. Ouch. I am hoping I never drop it on my foot.
Pyrex was my preferred style of baking dish, and while I still use one glass pan, I now use a ceramic casserole dish for everything but cake. I have baked many foods in it and I’m surprised by its abilities- it cooks evenly no matter the consistency of its contents, foods rarely stick, and it’s a cinch to clean. Unlike the glass dishes, I don’t need to use steel wool to scrub off the crusty bits.
Another sleeper hit is the inexpensive aluminum cake pan. A smear of butter and an even sprinkle of flour is better than any other nonstick coating I have ever used. No more Pam cooking spray!
Honorary Mention: Wine Key
It would be blasphemy to live in Argentina without a corkscrew! My prized waiter’s key hasn’t met a bottle it can’t open; I know there are fancier devices available, but this little guy packs power and durability. My corkscrews hold up for years despite us annihilating wine almost nightly. It’s as simple as that.
Admittedly, there are a few things I miss and have on my wishlist.
The first is a kitchen staple that really isn’t considered a “gadget”. You absolutely can not have a functional kitchen without a good chef’s knife! We are currently using a wretched cuchillo that cost us about 50 pesos. I am saving for a trip to a reputable kitchen store to buy something higher-end. A quality knife that feels comfortable in your hand can carry out just about every kitchen chopping/dicing/peeling task with a bit of skill, and should not be considered a splurge- it is a necessity. I guarantee its high ticket price will pay for itself over the course of its first year. Remember to store it in a way that prevents blade nicks- my favorite way is a magnetic wallstrip- and sharpen and steel it regularly.
The second, and true gadget, I really want is either a food processor or blender. I had both back in the states and used both about equally. My excellent little Cuisinart could power through anything I tossed into it, though I openly lust for Vitamix blenders. I know two items of similar use is redundant, plus we just don’t have the spare space to store both. There is no reason I can’t make a smoothie in a food processor (which I used to do when I worked in a kitchen) or a pesto in a blender!
The final item is an electric toaster. I can live without a blender, a drip coffee pot, a waffle iron, egg beaters and maybe a microwave (I think, though I am not ready to give that up unless necessary), but I cannot live without a toaster. We use this dinky thing:
This is not a toaster! It’s a flimsy piece of perforated metal that is meant for camping, not for use at home… Ok, clearly I’ve been living with this contraption instead of an electric toaster; I haven’t died and my quality of life is no less satisfying. This tostador does the job, but my bread doesn’t toast evenly and I have to keep a constant watch for fear of burnt carbohydrates. It requires too much effort in the morning before my coffee is ready.
Cooks for centuries have concocted fabulous dishes without the use of many modern “conveniences”. I am grateful that I don’t need to start a wood fire to cook, but I recognize there is no need for a many of the gadgets I used to own. One of the more surprising things I have discovered from using more traditional utensils is that most of my kitchen tasks ultimately take less time than they used to. I don’t have any small parts to clean, I don’t have to worry about scraping off carcinogenic coatings, and my food is cooking faster and more evenly. Sure, some things suck (a hand-mixer is faster and less painful for whipping eggs than a whisk) but overall I am enjoying the extra sweat and love that go into my preparations.