Stuff a cook's stocking with great gadgets

Frank on food

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By FRANK CHLUMSKY

If you followed my recommendation to see Super Size Me after reading last week's column, chances are you're spending a bit more time in the kitchen. And that's good. It also means that you're reading this column, and that's very good.

Seriously though, our collective mania for fast food in mass quantities, as this super documentary so well illustrates, indicates a condition of dependence that borders on addiction. I'd say it's time to go cold turkey and start eating our turkey at home.

And so I have some other recommendations, all from the housewares section of your favorite store and seasonally perfect for stuffing those stockings. All aimed, mind you, at getting and keeping you in the kitchen, and helping to put some fun in your cooking. I balk at the notion of a gadget for every kitchen task, but there are some indispensable tools. Here are some of my essentials:

Probably the hottest item right now is the Microplane grater/zester. This is the now-legendary grater discovered by accident when a homemaker, unable to find her old, beat up box grater, used her husband's new wood shaving file to grate the zest from an orange. The results were startling and she soon was using the wood shaver, which is made from surgical stainless steel, to grate chocolate, ginger and Parmesan cheese, as well. My one caveat is that it grates the Parmesan cheese so well that it comes out rather fluffy. Perfect perhaps for melting, but a bit too airy on top of my pasta. Still, this is a must-have item.

Second on my list is a high-heat resistant spatula. This handy, stain resistant tool is good for stirring sauces, making omelets, and for scraping the last bit of whatever from sauce pans and bowls. And it won't harm nonstick pans. This essential now comes in a variety of shapes and sizes.

Perfect for the holiday season is a Silplat non-stick baking sheet. This reusable mat makes any pan non-stick without having to add any additional grease. Use it for anything, especially food that's sticky, such as taffy or caramel. Even if you burn sugar, it just peels right off. Ideal for cookies, and believe it or not, I even cook fish on it.

The item I can't believe I did without for so long is a salad spinner. I've had a Zyliss salad spinner for years and not only is it a great tool for washing and drying lettuce, it's indispensable for parsley, cilantro and any other herbs that need to be chopped, as well. Just try chopping wet parsley.

Last, but not least, is a truly necessary non-gadget. A 2,000-foot roll of 12-inch plastic wrap (no kidding), is not available everywhere, but can be purchased at the Edward Don Outlet Store at 2525 N. Elston Ave. in Chicago (773/489-7739), or at Pierce Chef's Mart at 9685 W. 55th St. in Countryside (354-1265). Once you have it you won't be without it.

Have a great holiday! Break the habit!

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