Besides being endlessly apprised of E. coli contamination scares and new breakfast cereals, we food writers are constantly being notified of "advances" in cooking equipment.
Unfortunately, the winners -- your Microplane graters, your horizontal-blade vegetable peelers -- are far outweighed by the losers. I asked myself: What are the most useless kitchen tools I've come across?
A former colleague and I had a running joke about bagel slicers. Every time she'd bring a new model to my attention, I'd say, "I have a great bagel slicer at home. ... It's called ... a knife." If you lay the bagel on its side, insert the bread knife around its equator, and then hold the knife steady while you rotate the bagel, you will obviate the need for what Alton Brown calls "a uni-tasker" (i.e., a tool that can perform only one task).
A few years, back we got wind of an appliance that made only hot chocolate. How much counter space would I need to have room for an electric hot-chocolate maker? Almost as much as I'd need for a soft-serve ice-cream maker and dispenser.
Small tools can annoy me as well. Especially small tools that work only on small quantities. In the TV commercials, those hand-operated mini choppers look useful, until you realize how many times you'll need to fill and empty them to get through the two large onions you need -- and that you'll have to cut the onions up before putting them in the chopping chamber.
Then there are the tools that just don't work well. I have never had any luck with a citrus zester. For my money, there's no better way to remove zest than with a horizontal-blade vegetable peeler.
Most egg separators work, but none as effectively as your own cupped hand, fingers slightly separated.
It's not that they don't work, but I feel that salt grinders are selling people a bill of goods. Whereas, pepper is a dried berry whose essential oils are best preserved by leaving the grinding until the last possible minute, salt is an inert mineral. "Freshly ground salt" will taste exactly the same as salt that was ground a few decades ago.
Erica Marcus writes for Newsday. E-mail your queries to email@example.com, or send them to Erica Marcus, Food/Part 2, Newsday, 235 Pinelawn Road, Melville, NY 11747-4250.