Modern Gadgets Simplify Cooking

Reader Contribution by Lois Hoffman
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Why do you cook, other than for the obvious reason that we all like to eat? Beyond that, is it a passion, a hobby, a challenge or a chore? Wherever you fall in these categories, there are some modern gadgets and appliances on the market that make this task a whole lot easier and faster.

You know what they say about old-school habits. Well, recently I learned the hard way how to break some of those in the interest of ease in the kitchen. I wanted to make my mother’s cranberry Jello salad, which calls for the cranberries and oranges to be ground. She always used the hand grinder, you know the kind that screws onto a table or cabinet and you put the food to be ground in a hopper in the top and turn a crank and all the goodies comes out ground into a bowl, or rather, they are supposed to. Instead, I always have a mess of sticky juice on the floor, on the table, and basically all over.

In the middle of this mess, it occurred to me that, unlike my mother’s world, I have a blender. So, I left the sticky mess and put it all in the blender, only to have this not work so well either because there was not enough liquid for it to work properly. Fine. So, I went to my handy dandy Pampered Chef all purpose chopper. It worked great, I had the consistency of the cranberries that I needed…but only after I had made a serious mess and dirtied three different gadgets. There are simpler ways to do simple tasks, we only have to embrace new technology.

One of those gadgets that is hot in the world of new kitchen technology is the Instant Pot. This is a single appliance that does the job of seven different kitchen tools including a slow cooker, electric pressure cooker, rice cooker, steamer, yogurt maker, saute-browning pan and a warming pot.

So many folks, including myself, are leery of using a pressure cooker because of the horror stories of something going wrong and hot food ends up in every corner of the kitchen. The Instant Pot has ten built-in safety mechanisms that make it safe to use. Being a pressure cooker, it cooks so much faster than conventional methods so, by saving so much cooking time, it makes it possible to eat healthy meals at home. Beef stew can be ready in under 30 minutes and baby back ribs are ready to set on the table in less than 25 minutes. It makes so many more meal choices doable for weeknight suppers and it does it using 70 percent less energy.

With the shorter cooking time coupled with requiring less liquid, food is more flavorful and it retains more nutrients, resulting in all around healthier and tastier food. The pressure cooker feature softens tougher, less expensive cuts of meat so you can save money without sacrificing flavor. You can even skip the defrost step because frozen food can go directly into the pot.

The Instant Pot is easy to use, easy to clean and convenient. It has a stainless steel pot that you can let soak for a little while then wipe clean. The cooking process is fully automated so you don’t need to babysit it like a stovetop, which means no adjusting the heat, no undercooking and no overcooking. You simply throw the ingredients in, set the controls and walk away. It even has an automatic feature that automatically changes to “keep warm” for up to 10 hours after the food is done.

When the pressure builds up, it is completely sealed so nothing escapes; no steam, no smell, no mess. It is great for summer days because it does not heat up the kitchen. Although it comes in 2, 4 and 12 quart sizes, the 6 quart size is perfect for a family of four. With the six quart models that I have seen on Amazon averaging $150, they are also affordable.

Another hot appliance on the market is the air fryer, which literally fries food by circulating hot air around the food rather than submerging food in hot oil. This is accomplished by use of a mechanical fan that circulates the air at high speeds around the food. Using an air fryer is an excellent way to reduce fat and calories without sacrificing taste. This appliance uses no additional oil, but a small amount may be added to the food itself to make the outside a little crispier. Even with adding this little extra oil, air fryers, on the average, use 75 percent less fat than other conventional cooking methods. Bacon comes out both crispy and chewy so you can please any bacon lover.

Air fryers may reduce cancer risk by lessening exposure to acrylamides, which are chemicals that are produced in some foods during high temperature cooking processes like frying. They are formed from sugars and amino acids in some foods and are potentially toxic and cancer-causing.

In reality, an air fryer is a table top convection oven so foods can also be baked in one. This makes it faster than a conventional oven and does well with baking because air is circulated above the food as opposed to all around it.

Speaking of convection ovens, many folks are opting for these over the traditional ovens even though many are confused as to what the differences between the two are. Basically, the difference lies in the way heat is distributed. In a conventional oven, hot air surrounds the food whereas in a convection oven, heat is circulated by a fan in the back. Since the heat circulates, food is cooked much faster.

However, faster does have its drawbacks. Sometimes a convection oven can cause the outside of a cake to bake but not the inside. They have also been known to dry cakes out before they are completely risen, which is why convection ovens sometimes put tilted hats on cupcakes and blows cookies clear across the baking sheet.

For this reason, it is best when choosing a convection oven, to buy one with four separate baking controls; bake (conventional oven), convection bake, convection roast, and broil. Convection bake has a slower fan speed so baked goods bake quicker but more evenly and convection roast has a higher fan speed, which is good for making chunky meats with crispy outsides and caramelized roasted vegetables. One of the best things to remember when using any convection oven is to reduce oven temperature by 25 percent of what a recipe calls for when using a conventional oven.

These new appliances can make our lives healthier and simpler. Remember when crockpots hit the supermarket shelves? It revolutionized how we cook. It meant we could come home to a hot meal without spending hours in the kitchen after a long day. We’ve come a long way.

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