Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Cleo Coyle's Most Useful (and Useless) Kitchen Gadgets and the Perfect Hot Dog

As with most crowded, urban areas, New York is a place where affordable space is darn expensive, and that includes storage space.

After twenty years living and working in NYC, my husband and I have developed strategies for dealing with limited closets, no basement, and no attic. Suitcases, for example, are always packed in the Coyle household, and this has nothing to do with our travel schedule. We pack away summer clothes in winter (and winter clothes in summer) then slide the suitcases under our bed. See, we didn’t need that extra closet after all.

Cleo Coyle, appliance-challenged
cook and author of
The Coffeehouse Mysteries
The kitchen is far from immune to the Big Apple space issue. Now I love our kitchen. It’s cozy. It’s sunny. It's functional. It's also tiny, which means I have to exercise extreme willpower when catalogs arrive in the mail: Williams-Sonoma; the Chefs catalog; Bed, Bath and Beyond, et al.

At this point in my life, flipping through those glossy pages is a little like fantasy football. I dream of a state-of-the-art kitchen with bread machine, gelato maker, meat grinder, coffee roaster. Yes, I said coffee roaster. Roasting your own green coffee beans at home is now possible with a tabletop maker. The one I dream of owning is pictured at the right. Designed for small coffee shops to roast their own beans -- and only $4,500.00! :)

I swear, a few of these dream items will make it into my kitchen one day. In the meantime, I thought it would be fun to ask you…

What "dream" kitchen appliance do you want to own someday?

And while we’re at it…

What’s your most useful
kitchen gadget or appliance?

And what’s your most useless?!

I’ll start…

My Most Useless Gadgets:

Slicers (apple and egg)

Yes, I know. They're supposed to save time.
I just don't ever use them.

They sit in my drawer while I tackle my eggs and apples the way my grandmother and mother did -- with a nice sharp knife.

Rice cooker

A gift I thought would keep on giving. I used it once or twice then put it away and never looked back. These days my rice cooker is six feet tall with a deep voice. Nobody beats Marc at cooking basmati in the battered old pot my beloved late Aunt Mary left me. I swear that pot makes everything taste delicious. And the shiny new appliance remains in its box.

Bacon press

This thing is cute as all getout. We used it twice. Once for bacon. Once to press a sammy. Now we might as well convert it to a paper weight. Who needs perfectly straight bacon, really? And we're back to using our spatula for grab-and-press on grilled sandwiches. Sigh.

Chestnut cutter

If you've ever roasted chestnuts at home, then you know how difficult they can be to X properly so that they (1) release steam and don't explode in your oven and (2) allow you to breach the skin easily after roasting. This baby is perfect. I love it. I just don't use it unless I have chestnuts, which is maybe once or twice a year. Then, of course, it moves to my "useful" list. And speaking of my useful list...

My Most Useful Gadgets 
(lately, anyway...)

Dualit hand mixer
- It's fast, efficient, easy to clean, and packs away in very little space. I highly recommend this brand. For a home kitchen hand mixer, the motor is one of the most powerful I've ever used.

Collapsible steam basket - A little water and this basket turns any pot into a steamer. Veggies, dumplings, you name it. Use it all the time.

Box grater - Six-sided and I use at least one of them every day.

Soon to be added - Vertical Chicken Roaster! Click here to read Krista Davis's Monday post and see if you aren't convinced to add this one to your gadget list, too. :)

Pizza Pan with holes (ours is Wilton)

While we absolutely love New York's pizzerias, we sometimes save money (and time) by doctoring a frozen pizza at home.

Click here to read my past tips on becoming your own Frozen Pizza Doctor. One of the things that will make your frozen experience a good one is using a pizza pan like the one pictured. The holes in the pan prevent the frozen crust from baking up soggy. Instead, you'll get a nice, crispy crust every time.

Or visit our good bud Dave at A Year on the Grill blog and get some fantastic tips on making your own homemade pizza sauce. Click here to read Dave's winter pizza post.

While I don't have a traditional recipe for you today, I do have a fun cooking tip. Like our suitcase solution to our NYC storage problems, Marc and I often look for ways for one gadget to serve two or more purposes.

Case in point: our pizza pan with holes. Scroll down to see how we make use of it when we cook hot dogs...

Cleo's Tips for Cooking the
Perfect Hot Dog...

Into a saucepan of water toss 3 or 4 cloves of whole, peeled garlic, 1 teaspoon of yellow mustard powder, and some ground black pepper. When the water begins to boil, add the hot dogs. Boil for 15 to 20 minutes.

The garlic, mustard powder, and pepper add nice flavor to your average dog. The boiling will plump them up and you can eat them right away or throw them on a grill for a few minutes to add even more flavor and put some nice pretty grill marks on them.

Here's the pizza pan trick: During the last minute or two of boiling the dogs, set your pizza pan with holes over the saucepan's top. Place your open hot dog buns face down on the pizza pan, and in just one or two minutes you'll have nice, warm steamed buns to go with your flavorful dogs. Just slap on a little mustard, relish, onions, and...

Eat (and read) with joy!
~ Cleo Coyle

New York Times bestselling author of
The Coffeehouse Mysteries

Yes, this is me, Cleo (aka Alice). 
Friend me on facebook here.
Follow me on twitter here
Visit my online coffeehouse here.

To view the
Coffeehouse Mystery
book trailer, click here.

Now a National
Bestseller in Hardcover

A Coffeehouse Mystery 

*Starred Review* -Kirkus

"Top Pick"  -RT Book Reviews

"...a highly satisfying mystery."
-Publishers Weekly

See the book's
Recipe Guide
by clicking here.

* * * 

Coffeehouse Mystery
Free Title Checklist
(with mini plot summaries)

The Coffeehouse Mysteries are bestselling
works of amateur sleuth fiction set in a landmark
Greenwich Village coffeehouse, and each of the
13 titles includes the added bonus of recipes. 

* * * 

Haunted Bookshop
Free Title Checklist, 

The Ghost and
Mrs. McClure

Book #1 of 
The Haunted
Bookshop Mysteries

To learn more, click here.


  1. Love that tip for adding flavor while boiling the hotdogs! I am definitely trying that!
    I have a small kitchen too, though probably not nearly as compact as yours. I just went through and got rid of a ton of stuff out of my kitchen cabinets though. I've got it down to my food processor, my hand mixer, my bread machine (really could not live without that last one), and the toaster.

  2. My kitchen is probably as tiny as yours. I'll have to take a photo and post it to my FB page. We have a policy here... Buy something, toss something. I have 4 or 5 really good knives for differing purposes. That's a must have. One of my 12" coated fry pans died so I'm tossing it to replace it. It's the only thing that works.

  3. I try not to buy gadgets, and contend that all a person really needs is a good, sharp knife and a microplane grater, but I have to admit that I absolutely love them. I got the Williams-Sonoma pie maker for Christmas and can't wait to give it a try.

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  5. Cleo, I actually love my rice cooker! LOL
    Love the tip re: the hotdog buns. My dog will thank you. :} Some of his medicines get sopped up by hotdog buns, kid you not.
    My favorite gadget - a cutting board and a good cheese knife.


  6. I use my apple slicer almost everyday! I think it's so funny how one person's completely useless is another person's "can't live without."

  7. What a great idea for cooking hotdogs! Brilliant! And that collapsible basket for steaming looks like something I need to get. Can you believe that I do actually use my egg slicer a ton? I think after I massacred a few hard boiled eggs, I decided to give it a go!

  8. Let me think...I agree, Cleo, that my box cheese grater and hand mixer are musts, but when I'm making large batches of cookie dough, I love my Kitchen Aid standing mixer. And I also agree that a good chopping board and a SHARP knife is absolutely necessary for any kitchen. I have to laugh at the the apple slicer. I had bought it, put it in a drawer and didn't use it again until my granddaughters discovered it and now it's in constant use!
    Now for useless. I have a french fry slicer (kind of like the apple slicer) that I have never even opened the package, microwave pasta cooker (please don't send me hate mail, I know it was a terrible mistake!) and an ice cream maker attachment for my Kitchen Aid mixer that, at the time, seemed like a great idea but sits in its box. I think that covers it (until I dig into cabinets and discover another "great idea") for the useless. Oh, BTW, my youngest son and my husband LOVE our rice steamer! They can cook rice properly every time without burning out valuable brain cells!
    There is a kitchen gadget store in one of our local malls and I have to look at the floor and walk fast to avoid being sucked in! Nurse JudyMac

  9. thanks for reminding me that I have an apple and egg slicer somewhere in my kitchen gadget drawer along with a fancy can opener that I have no idea how to use, skewers and a mesh strainer.

    My most useful gadget is the old-fashioned can opener and my cutting board.

  10. Speaking of gadgets and hot dogs...here's the intersection: When I was in college (yes, they had electricity then), I had a gadget called, cleverly enough, a "hot dogger." It had four slots (like a battery charger), and on each end of the opening, there was a metal electrode (like a battery charger). To "cook" the dog, you'd jab one end of it into one electrode, then jab the other end in the other electrode. Hit the on button. Voila, electrocuted hot dogs. Tasted great, once you got past the metallic smell of arcing circuitry. Hmm. Wonder what ever happened to that gadget?

  11. I have a large kitchen and a walk-through pantry next to it, and they're both crammed to the gills. I'm with Nurse JudyMac: the standing mixer is essential. I inherited a stainless steel one from my mother, and only reluctantly replaced it a couple of years ago because the motor just wasn't up to the job any more. But the meat grinder that went with the original (that I saw my mother use maybe once?) still fits the new one, and I used it this week.

    We were at a holiday party that featured a Yankee Swap (long story), and one single guy ended up with a cutting board--something he claims he has never possessed (does he eat?). I started counting and realized that I have at least twelve, in all shapes, sizes and materials. And then there are the knives, which I keep buying (well, they all do different things!).

  12. I'm making a shopping list! I have got to get me one of those hand mixers (I like the red), and that vertical roaster looks like a "why didn't I think of this before?" idea. You ladies have come up with a few others I need, too. They'll join my KitchenAid Pro 600 stand mixer, KA food processor (with the small inner bowl, which I use daily), Chatsford teapot with mesh filter basket, and Oxo smooth edge can opener. Useless: salad spinner, professionally calibrated tea scale, electric crepe maker, and who wants to wash a multi-part hamburger press just to shape a few burgers??

  13. What a fun post, Cleo! Interestingly enough, I was browsing for a new kitchen gadget yesterday. I had a very nice Williams Sonoma gift certificate and needed to decide what to buy that I didn't have.

    What I use constantly here are my KitchenAid Mixer, my hand mixer, a grater/slicer/mandolin, (I would like a box grater though. That's next.) a garlic press (love, love, love that!), colanders, cutting boards, knives, and my new potato ricer.

    So, what did I buy with my hefty gift certificate? I came home with a giant 12 quart multi-purpose pot with mesh insert. I suppose it's meant for pasta, but I can imagine a lot of other uses as well. Plus it has a separate veggie steamer. Cannot wait to give it a go.

    I've purged most of my useless items, but I still have a drawerful of gadgets I rarely touch. I agree with getting rid of the egg slicer. Mine constantly bent or broke. And, Laine - yep - those salad spinners are a great idea but they take up too much room and are a pain to use.

    Fun, fun post!

  14. I told my husband about your hot dog flavor type and he went, "Hmmm..." I suspect I'll be giving that a try soon!

    I actually use my 4-cup rice cooker all the time to make "one pot" lunches for myself. It's a lifesaver. :)

  15. I love this post so fun. I warm up are hot dog buns the same way with our pizza trays that have holes. My favorite gadget is my Kitchen Aid Mixer. I actually use my egg slicer all the time and love it. My most useless gadget in the kitchen is like Nurse Judy is the ice cream attachment to my Kitchen Aid never have used the thing.
    The World of Book Reviews

  16. Hey, thanks so much for the shout out. I spent one year in a studio apartment (upper east side) in Manhattan. had the time of my life. I stored my winter sweaters in my oven. Don't think I ever turned it on. But the Thai take out place knew me by voice when I called in an order.

    For Christmas, I got myself a pizza stone. It has become a new favorite, not only pizza but baking bread, even making toast for bruschetta (too thick for my toaster). Now that's the way to avoid soggy crusts.

  17. I'm like NurseJudy, I have to put my head down and run by gadget stores.

    My favorites would have to be my handy dandy KitchenAid mixer, and my little Kuhn Ricon vegetable peeler, which I use a couple of times a day.

    Totally useless? Has to be turkey lifters. Two thick kitchen towels give me a much better grip for turning the turkey. The sad thing is that I have several sets of turkey lifters because people keep giving them to me . . .

    ~ Krista

  18. Cleo, I love hot dogs, so you can bet I will be trying your new hint. A long long time ago when hubby and I were first married and he was still in college, he worked at a restaurant called Lums where they steamed hot dogs in beer. They were yummy.

    I am a gadget girl – I love all gadgets. In my Christmas stocking this year, I got something called a bag caddy. You attach your Ziploc bag to it to make filling it with leftovers a lot easier. I haven't used it yet since I had hand surgery, and I'm not doing much cooking, but I just know I'm gonna love it.

    As for useless gadgets, I could write a book. For me, I would have to say crockpots. I have three of them. Don't ask me why as I've never used them. Guess it's time for Goodwill.

  19. I'm with Julie, I've purged out the useless items. My favorite, most used item, though, has to be my coffee bean grinder. My french press comes a close second.

    Anyone sense a trend here? :-)

  20. That's ok, Java, I've just bought jars for my tea collection...someone at another forum suggested cleaning out my cabinets and sacrificing spouse and/or children for room. I laughed at the time, but I now see his point...

  21. I long for a new Kitchen Aid mixer with lots of attachments! I have an old one circa 1960 something that keeps on chugging along so I can't convince myself to buy a new one...though I think a bright red one would look fabulous in my kitchen! I use my "holy" pizza to make oven fries...they get so nice and crispy. My latest greatest tool is a slab of marble that I got at a counter shop down the road. They rounded off the edges for me and now I have a great board for rolling out dough as well as cutting!
    As far as useless stuff...oh my I'm embarrassed to admit how many useless things I have ;-)
    Fun post today, Cleo..maybe it will spur me on to make a Goodwill box!
    p.s. The egg slicer is great for strawberries!!

  22. Replies to...

    Shel – Oh, baby! You have one of my dream appliances – a bread machine! I’m glad to hear that it’s a useful one for you. The smell of baking bread is one of my favorite kitchen aromas. I have a toaster, but it’s not quite the same thing. :) TY for dropping by, and I’m so glad you liked the hot dog tip.

    NoraA – Ode to the urban kitchen! You have a very smart philosophy, my dear. Marc and I should do that, too, because, before you know it, the kitchen cupboards are full - and not with food!

    Pattie @ Olla-Podrida – I love my microplane, too. It almost made my list today, but the box grater won out. When your pie is done, give me a shout, okay? I’ll be right over with a pot o’ joe. :)

    More replies to come...

    ~ Cleo
    Coffeehouse Mystery.com
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  23. Dan.Eliot - I just love veggies and have blogged vegetarian recipes in the past. I have vegetarian friends and often enjoy their recipes, too. In fact, I wish I had a nice, big plate of curried peas and cabbage right now.

    Avery Aames - I love my rice cooker, too, but only because he’s good for so much more than making rice. (Oh, god. That one needed a rim-shot. :)) TY for dropping by – and tweeting too.

    mub – Absolutely! As with many things in life: One man’s junk is another man’s treasure. In a way, it’s reassuring. Our world is big and beautiful with room for many tastes…and favorite gadgets. :)

    Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams - LOL on the egg slicer! Nancy just convinced me to use mine, too. She says they’re great for slicing strawberries, which I’ve never tried. (Thanks, Nanc!) I’m so glad you like the hot dog tip, and I do indeed have a very special relationship with my steamer basket. (I see another blog post in my future. :))

    More replies to come…

    ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  24. Replies to...

    Alan – Electrocuted hot dogs. Lol. My husband recalls those devices, also from college. They were totally retro, even back then, and the student who had one ended up setting fire to his dirty laundry, which resulted in a dorm-wide ban of electronic cookers of any kind. Ah, the quiet times of good old days.

    More replies to come...

    ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  25. I use my egg slicer all the time,and two of my favorite "gadgets" are the battered kitchen fork my grandmother used to cook bacon--a son-in-law declares that's the only inheritance he wants--and her equally battered paring knife. I can rarely purge, but what I want right now is a sausage stuffer. Itching to make homemade sausage.

  26. Replies to…

    @Sheila – A meat grinder and knives in all shapes and sizes. For a mystery writer? Priceless.

    @Laine of Laineshots – Oh, yes! I once owned a salad spinner, too. (Key word once.) LOL on those multipart burger makers with all those lovely parts to clean. Give me a skillet and spatula and I’m in burger town. :)

    @Julie – That WS purchase sounds like a party in a pot! I’m with you on the useless list. I had a much, much longer one years ago. We learn as we go, lol.

    @Janel – Hope you enjoy the dogs as much as we do. (We use Boar’s Head brand, btw.) Nice to hear about your rice cooker love. Believe me, if the hub goes on an extended trip, my rice cooker will move back to my “useful” list!

    @Babs - Oh, that’s awesome that you use the pizza pan trick. The egg slicer love is amazing, too. (I’m inclined to take another look at it, given the enthusiasm, and Nancy’s suggestion to try it on strawberries.) Still keepin’ that gelato maker on my wish list though. :)

    ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  27. @Dave at A Year on the Grill blog – I just read your comment aloud to my husband so he could LOL, too. Sweaters in the oven is perfect. When I shared a one bedroom in Alphabet City, my roommate and I jammed about 30 people in there for a holiday party. Space was so tight that we had to hang our Christmas tree on the wall (literally). I cut it out of green felt and hung it up. On the pizza stone: Your bread-baking posts are fantastic, and I have no doubt your crusts are never soggy.

    @Krista – Oh, yes! A good veggie peeler is a thing of beauty. LOL on the useless nature of the turkey lifter. (Which reminds me. I need to shop for some really good oven mitts.)

    @Liz L. – OMG, Lums is legendary! How very cool that your hub worked there. Tell him that hot dogs in beer is okay by me. (I cook them that way occasionally, too.) Your bag caddy sounds like tons of fun. I hope you recover quickly from that hand surgery, then you can put that caddy high on your useful list. :)

    More replies to come…
    ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  28. Replies to…

    @Java – Oh, yes. You and I are on the same caffeinated page. The truth is: In putting together my “most useful” list, I just knew it would be a total bore if I told the truth. Most used items in the Coyle kitchen: coffee grinder, coffee maker, coffee press, coffee filter, Moka express pot, battery-powered coffee bean vacuum canisters… (you get the picture)!

    @Shel – (See my other reply to you above.) TY for dropping on by the Kitchen. I’ll be sure to put the teapot on for you the next time you come!

    @Nanc – Love your name for the "holy" pizza pan. I can’t wait to try making frozen fries with it. Great idea. I’m also mucho impressed with the marble slab concept, although marble always makes me think of cute Italian stone masons and Marc might not like that. P.S. Using my egg slicer to slice strawberries is genius. (I think I mentioned it in these comments replies about three times already!) Thx, Nanc, for your great ideas and for dropping by the virtual Kitchen. Always great to see you here.

    Judy – Oh, homemade sausage! That’s a wonderful undertaking. I’ve never done it, but I would love to try that, too, someday. I also love that your favorite gadgets have such wonderful sentimental value. I’d give up anything in my kitchen except my aunt’s battered pot and her crinkle pastry cutter (brought from Italy). They’re worth more to me than almost anything.

    ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  29. Replies to...

    Last but far from least (apologies for answering out of order...)

    @NurseJudy – LOL on the gadget aisle. Love it! I, too, must struggle against the siren song of shiny chrome and electric hum. The rice cooker is getting quite the endorsement today, I must say, along with the apple slicer. Makes me reconsider my useless list (almost). TY for dropping by. I’m always so pleased to see my favorite nurse in our Kitchen.

    @Dru – The cutting board gets a lot of use at our house, as well. Great point. And the old-fashioned can opener…yep. We’re a by-hand house, too.

    This was so much fun! Cheers to everyone for your wonderful comments...

    ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  30. Most useful...box grater is right up there for sure! Second would have to be the stand mixer. I bake a lot, and I use it on multiple settings.

    Least useful...bread machine. We used to use it a lot, but then we discovered Jim Lahey's method for making bread and we've never looked back. We bought his book (My Bread), but the basics of the recipe can be found at: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/08/dining/081mrex.html It's easy, delicious, and you'll never use a bread machine again.

  31. Reply to...

    Oh, Laura - You and I are definitely on the same page! I do indeed make bread this way all the time. (I also use my own recipe for beer bread.) I'm planning to share a special post with MLK readers about it soon. Stay tuned. For those who have "fear of yeast" baking and no bread machine, I'm hoping my future post will resolve all issues.

    Cheers and thanks
    for dropping by the Kitchen...
    ~ Cleo
    Coffeehouse Mystery.com
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  32. Cleo, while reading the posts and your original post in particular I was shocked!! What? Our Coffee Lady not mentioning anything coffee related!! Our Latte machine, coffee maker, and coffee bean grinder are at the top of our most useful list. But you finally fixed that omission, our faith in you has been restored! Next comes our Ninja Blender which we recently acquired. A bread machine used to be on our list, but the poor thing couldn't keep up with us. Crystal's favorite "dessert" is bread. Must try Jim Lahey's method. I also have a hard time living without a microwave. I use crock pots (usually for beans) one of Bob's favorites. My stand mixer and Crystal's mixing wand are definitely musts. Cutting boards and knives, who can live without these? Veggie peelers are ok, but I prefer a Scotchbrite. Most useless item, waffle maker.

  33. Hi Cleo....I just love reading all of your Blogs and staying in contact with you on Face Book too.

    Thanks for that tip about the Buns, and the Hot Dogs...I'm going to try that next time....well - except for the Buns....I need to get me a pizza pan yet.

    Take care Cleo
    Keep on Writing
    Linda K, Railroad