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The View from My Kitchen

Benvenuti! I hope you enjoy il panorama dalla mia cucina Italiana -- "the view from my Italian kitchen,"-- where I indulge my passion for Italian food and cooking. From here, I share some thoughts and ideas on food, as well as recipes and restaurant reviews, notes on travel, and a few garnishes from a lifetime in the entertainment industry.

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Grazie mille!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Two Inexpensive Kitchen Gadgets You MUST Have

Work Smarter, Not Harder

My home kitchen is ridiculously well-equipped. In fact, I've found I often have more and better stuff in my home kitchen than I did at my restaurants. My wife would tell you my kitchen is over-equipped. And she's probably right. She has this rule: before I can buy anything for the kitchen, I have to get rid of something. But sometimes I can slide around the rule if the item in which I'm interested is really unique and/or practical. I've recently acquired two such items. And I'm so hooked on them I may buy several and give them as gifts.

The first one is the nifty ChicWrap Plastic Wrap Dispenser. My wife has hated using plastic wrap for as long as I can remember. Not that she has anything against the wrap itself. No, plastic wrap is an indispensable cook's tool. But wrestling it out of the cheap cardboard containers it comes in can try the patience of a saint. The cutters on those boxes are seldom adequate to the task. The boxes themselves are usually flimsy. You have to hold your mouth right and twist your wrist just so and even then the wrap comes off the roll twisted and stuck to itself and you wind up spending frustrating minutes trying to straighten the whole mess out. Or you just give up and get some aluminum foil. There is an art and a technique to getting plastic wrap off a roll smoothly and evenly – and there shouldn't be. With a ChicWrap dispenser, there doesn't have to be.

The manufacturer calls it “the world's best plastic wrap dispenser.” Of course they would; but they happen to be right. Made in the USA of sturdy BPA-free plastic, this refillable dispenser dispenses plastic wrap cleanly and evenly every time. No struggle, no waste, and no aggravation. Just pull out as little or as much wrap as you need and run the attached slide cutter over it. Doesn't matter if you need a foot or an inch, the cut is neat and clean and the wrap is wrinkle and cling free. The dispenser is about the same size as a standard box of plastic wrap, measuring 2 3/4" wide x 3 1/8" high x 13 3/4” long, so you can store it just as you would a regular wrap box. It has little rubber feet on the bottom to help keep it from siding around on your counter top and it is both fun and easy to use. Yeah, that's right; I said a box of plastic wrap is fun to use.

Each ChicWrap dispenser comes with one 11.5" x 261' (261 sq. ft.) roll of professional grade plastic wrap that is far superior to grocery store wrap and refills are available. At about fifteen bucks a pop, the ChicWrap plastic wrap dispenser is an incredible deal on an incredibly useful kitchen tool. I got mine through King Arthur Flour, but they are available from Amazon and from the ChicWrap website, where you can also find dispensers for parchment paper and aluminum foil, as well as for craft and wrapping paper.

The second item I slipped past my wife is called the Scrap Trap.

We do a lot of prep work in our kitchen. One or the other of us is always peeling, cutting, chopping, or slicing something. Carrots, celery, onions, garlic, potatoes, etc. And there's always a pile of scarps accumulating on or around the cutting board or counter top. Over the years, I've tried numerous methods of dealing with the mess. I used Rachael Ray's idea of a dedicated “garbage bowl” for awhile and I also tried having a small trash can handy into which I could just transfer the scraps. But now I've found a better option.

The Kitchen Art Scrap Trap is a sturdy 2-quart plastic container that fits just under counter level by way of attaching to a drawer or cabinet door. It's got a handy little scraper and brush thingy that fits into a pocket on the front of the bowl for storage, but the bowl itself is the real star. I fell in love with mine on first use. I hung it over a drawer in my prep area and went to work on some vegetables. The problem with the “garbage bowl” and the trash can ideas was the same: you've got to work directly over the bowl or you've got to pick up the scraps by hand and deposit them or you have to hold the bowl with one hand and scrape scraps with the other. Not so with the Scrap Trap. The scrap bin is mounted at working level and you just scrape everything right off the cutting surface directly into the container. Quick, clean, and easy. When the bowl fills up, dump it, wash it (dishwasher safe), and you're good to go for next time. I'm lucky enough to have a place where I can leave mine more or less permanently mounted, but you can just stow it away in a cabinet and hook it up whenever and wherever you need it.

I read a number of “reviews” on this product and, unfortunately, people tended to be negative. Nobody had actually purchased the product, they were just commenting on it based on what they read. Most said things like, “I just use my hand” or “I position my trash can under the counter.” Some said, “I could never hit that small of an opening” while others thought it wouldn't work for small crumbs and still others couldn't even figure out how it attached to anything. All examples of knocking something before you've tried it. I prefer to keep my hands clean and free to do other things, thank you, and, yes, I could drag my whole trash can over from the other side of the room, but why would I? The opening on the bin is about 11 1/2” x 4 1/2”. Who couldn't hit that with a pile of peelings? And I sliced some bread this morning and brushed the crumbs quite effectively into the bin hooked over the front of my flatware drawer.

I ordered my Scrap Trap from Amazon. You can get yours there or direct from Kitchen Art. At a cost of around twelve dollars, I find the convenience to be worth the price.

A popular phrase exhorts us to “work smarter, not harder.” And no place does this hold true more than in the kitchen. I'll admit neither of these gadgets is an absolute necessity, but both do enable you to work smarter, and in my book that makes them worth having. My wife must think so, too. She loves them both and I didn't have to get rid of anything to buy them.

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