Tools for Possibilities: issue no. 64

Once a week we’ll send out a page from Cool Tools: A Catalog of Possibilities. The tools might be outdated or obsolete, and the links to them may or may not work. We present these vintage recommendations as is because the possibilities they inspire are new. Sign up here to get Tools for Possibilities a week early in your inbox.

Precise sharp slicer for kitchen

Microplane Grater

Microplane began making micro-blades for woodworking use, but they’ve diverged into making fantastic kitchen tools. Their kitchen graters will turn a little block of Parmigiano-Reggiano into a huge cloud of billowy cheese wisps. Vegetables grate into little strips that almost melt in your mouth. My favorite use is with citrus zest. My lemon bars, lemon tarts and key lime pie have a much greater depth of flavor than ever before.

With most zesters, you end up with too much of the pithy white rind of the citrus fruit, but the Microplane takes off only the very thinnest layer of the outside of the fruit, the part which contains the intense and volatile citrus oils. Hands down, these are the best tools I’ve tried for fine-grating and zesting. — Jeff Zimmerman

Tears through tomatoes

Tomato Shark

I have dozens of tools and gadgets in my kitchen. Years working in the restaurant and catering world left me with an inventory of items that I bought for this job or that party. Some were quite expensive and most were probably only used once or twice (I’m looking at you, Mother of Pearl Caviar Spoon!).

But there’s one tool that cost me less than $2.00 at a restaurant supply store over 10-years ago that I still use on a fairly regular basis, at least during the summer. Anytime I need to core a tomato or hull a strawberry I reach for my Tomato Shark.

It’s a simple little metal spoon with sharp teeth that digs into your tomato or strawberry, removes the core or hull cleanly, and leaves you with just the fruit to work with. Unless you have super sharp knives and great paring knife skills you are probably used to coring a batch of tomatoes for sauce being a time-consuming and sometimes messy job; the Tomato Shark makes this job easy, tidy and quick.

This is one of those items where you should buy the actual Tomato Shark brand. I’ve found similar items just don’t hold up over time: the teeth get dull quicker, and you just don’t need to spend the extra money on a fancier version (unless you have problems with your hands and need a plastic handle for ergonomic reasons). — Caryl Shaw

Quick apple peeler and corer

Progressive Apple Peeler

My wife’s grandmother seems to effortlessly make dozens of wonderful apple pies. And yet, she has poor hand strength due to advanced rheumatoid arthritis. Finally, we convinced her to pass along the secret behind her pie-making success: She uses one machine to peel/slice/core her apples.

Simply poke the three prongs into the base of an apple and turn the crank. Before you know it, a lovely spiral of apple skin will unfurl before you, leaving a perfectly cored and peeled apple that can be quickly cut into quarters and thrown into a pie.

As soon as you see the device in action, it’s obvious just how elegant the mechanism is. It’s safe for children to use, once the apple is situated on the prongs. Best of all, it makes prepping apples so simple you’ll wish you had one years ago. There’s a version that clamps to a kitchen bench, but I find the models with a vacuum base are the same price and are far easier to set up and use. — Steve Allen

Healthy snacking in 30 seconds

OXO Apple Divider

I like apples but I’ve never been a fan of the form factor, which tends to be tough on the teeth and jaws. The OXO Apple Divider cores and chops in one fell swoop. Total prep time, including rinsing the apple beforehand: 30 seconds max, 20 if I’m in a hurry. Like other OXO products I’ve tried, the OXO Apple Divider is a well-designed, well-built version of a classic tool. The company’s included its trademark “good grips” and sharp blades.

I appreciate it every time I use, it because I’m a chocoholic with easy access during the day to cookies and hot chocolate. Bringing a plastic container filled with wholesome, fresh, organic apple chunks makes it easier for me to resist the lure of chocolate. Even if you don’t consume apples as frequently as I do, the OXO Apple Divider is one single-use tool that’s worth keeping around. — Jonathan Steigman

We we bought this and use it regularly on potatoes to make oven fries. Slice the potato, toss the pieces in olive oil and spices of your choice, and bake on a non-stick sheet for 20-30 minutes at 450F, turning once. I didn’t even know this device was actually for apples until I saw it on Cool Tools! — Julee Bode

Best garlic and ginger press

Kuhn Rikon Epicurean Garlic Press

I’ve used this tool for about 10 years and it’s still going strong. It’s probably the best garlic press in the world. It’s constructed very robustly from stainless steel; it has an unusual lever-action which is far superior to the one-to-one action of most garlic presses; it opens up easily and is trivial to clean.

To see a demo, have a look at America’s Test Kitchen Equipment Review (below) where they come to the same conclusion.

But note that Kuhn Rikon have another garlic press called the Easy Squeeze, which is a lot cheaper. It has a slightly different action and plastic handles. It’s not nearly as good. — Stuart Wray

Bulk pineapple slicer

Pineapple Slicer/Corer

I’m not usually a big fan of single-use tools, but this is by far the only tool for this job. We had a party where I needed to core and slice three cases of pineapples, and what could have taken all day took but a few hours. No skill is needed. You just cut off the top of the pineapple and screw down the corer. Once you are at the bottom, pull out the meat and you’re done. The pineapple is evenly-sliced and you are left with a usable hull (for serving fruity drinks in, of course). I have seen these on sale for as little as $7. —Walter Susong III


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