Market Musings Blog

The Sustainable Kitchen: Liberating Your Countertops

Since World War II, kitchen countertops have been increasingly taken over by electrical appliances: food processors, electric grills, coffee makers, blenders, immersion blenders, yogurt makers, toasters, toaster ovens . . . Unless you’re an exceptionally austere cook or someone possessed of atypical countertop yardage, the chances are your prep space has decreased and the space occupied by electrical appliances has expanded over the years.

Take back some of that space through judicious weeding! Doing so will increase your mindfulness in the kitchen and considerably lighten your material load. Most of the handheld replacements described here are superior as cooking tools and far cheaper as well. I undertook a major purge of electrical devices about five years ago, and I’ve not regretted the loss of a single one. Here are some prime candidates for recycling:

Food processor 

If you’re over 50, you managed to cook without a food processor when you were young. The food processor became popular when ancient kitchen skills, like sharpening knives and efficient chopping and slicing, became rare. No question about it: chopping and slicing are real drags with dull knives—and most Americans’ knives are dull, mostly through no fault of our own: stainless steel is soft, and even chopping a carrot can bend a stainless knife’s edge enough to make it feel dull. For $10, you can buy a razor-sharp carbon-steel Chinese vegetable cleaver and say good-bye to dull knives. With your cleaver, chopping and slicing become pure pleasures. If ultra-thin slices are what you habitually use a food processor for, invest $25–30 in a Benriner handheld mandoline (and only a Benriner: its blade is made from superior Japanese steel; other handheld mandolines use soft stainless that isn’t up to the task), and it will still be razor-sharp 20 years from now. If you mostly grate hard cheeses in your food processor, invest $8 in a restaurant box grater at the local Hochenberg’s; its sturdy design is far superior to that of box graters intended for the domestic market, and it’s cheaper, too.

Electric grill 

Those bulky Forman grills are another good candidate for recycling. A plain, stovetop cast-iron grill pan produces superior results, and it contributes valuable, needed iron to your food as well. (Recent Centers for Disease Control studies point to iron deficiencies in all age groups, particularly among children, Mexican Americans, and African Americans.) You can pick up a partially seasoned Lodge cast-iron grill pan at Frattallone’s (Grand & Cambridge store only) for about $25. Used on medium heat only, it produces beautifully grilled steaks, boneless chops or chicken breasts, vegetables, polenta, or grilled-cheese sandwiches in no time. Nothing better for making crispy toast, either. And you can take it along when you go car-camping.

Coffee maker

Few people develop genuine fondness for their coffee makers, perhaps because the usual lifespan of such appliances is so short. Consider replacing your electric drip pot with a French press or a stovetop espresso maker. Neither takes any longer to produce coffee than an electrical behemmoth, and each produces far superior results. The first French presses brought to the US by travelers returning from Europe in the 1950s left a lot to be desired: the glass beakers cooled rapidly and broke too readily. Now you can buy metal vacuum French presses that keep coffee hot for hours. Because you aren’t filtering out the flavor-carrying oils when you use a French press, your coffee  will taste much livelier than paper-filtered coffee does. Stovetop espresso makers have undergone a revolution too: today, you can find inexpensive, whimsical stainless-steel models as well as the original aluminum ones. In five minutes, you’ll have a potent, memorable brew.

Local Sources

Carbon-steel Chinese cleavers  Unhappily, you won’t find these locally. The Wok Shop (www.wokshop.com) in San Francisco sells a variety of carbon-steel cleavers; the most useful is a #3 vegetable cleaver ($6–10). I can’t recommend these highly enough. Delivery is speedy.

Benriner mandoline  Most of the Asian grocery stores on University Avenue carry this extraordinary Japanese mandoline. Accept no substitutes! Also available from the Wok Shop online.

Restaurant grater  Hochenberg’s Restaurant Supply carries these admirable graters. Hochenberg’s recently moved from its old location on Kasota Avenue to a new one at 2015 Silver Bell Road in Eagan (www.hochenbergs.com).

Stovetop cast-iron grill pan  These are made by Lodge, the oldest culinary cast-iron manufacturer in the US. Versatile, venerable, and stackable (the same size as your big cast-iron skillet). Frattallone’s on Grand at Cambridge in Saint Paul is the place to find one.

French press  There are now so many brands of insulated, stainless-steel French presses—that’s a good problem to have! Nissan, Bodum, and Frieling make handsome ones. Their initial cost is higher than  for the glass models, but you’ll never need to replace a glass beaker again, and they produce far superior coffee.

Stovetop espresso maker  Mississippi Market carries the venerable Bialetti aluminum pot in several sizes. Bialetti also makes a wide range of sleek stainless-steel models; you can find these at local kitchenware shops.

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