Cookware for the Weary Cook

Convenient kitchen tools to help you quickly get dinner on and off the table.
Cookware for the Weary Cook

Call it kitchen crunch time — that race against the clock to get dinner on, and off, the table. If you're a working parent like me, then you're usually scrambling to get dinner ready in 30 minutes or less (the average length of your kids' favorite DVD). But even when you're done preparing and eating your meal, there's still the dreaded cleanup.

With so much to do and so little time to do it, how do you make the time to actually enjoy a meal and quality time around the table? Part of the answer could be hiding in the housewares aisle of your local department store. That's where you'll find a variety of handy gadgets and practical cookware that can help you slash preparation, cooking and cleanup times so you can have more "me" time. Here are a few suggestions for your to-buy list.

Immersion blender
Puréeing soup has never been quicker — or neater! This nifty hand-held blender lets you purée ingredients in a stockpot instead of messily transferring it in batches to a conventional blender. Other dishwasher-safe attachments allow you to chop and whisk ingredients, too.

Box grater or slicer/shredder
KitchenAid offers a box grater with a lidded container that fits inside it to catch food. The container is microwave- and freezer-safe, so you can just grate and go. And Hamilton Beach's Change-a-Bowl & Slicer/Shredder allows you to slice or shred cheese and vegetables right into GladWare Big Bowls that can be refrigerated, microwaved or used as serving bowls. "If you're slicing veggies for dinner later in the week, you can do all your slicing at once and have everything in bowls ready to go," says cookbook author and recipe developer Bev Bennett. "You can even have your own salad bar as you slice and shred."

Silicone baking mat
This flexible mat turns out perfect cookies every time since silicone promotes even heat distribution. It can go from your kitchen counter to freezer to oven — excellent for home-bakers preparing dough in advance. And baked goods just slide right off the nonstick surface, making cleanup a snap.

Silicone grill mat
These are similar to the baking mats except they are perforated and intended for grilling delicate fish, fruit and vegetables over indirect, not direct, heat. Now there's no longer a need to scrape sticky marinades off your grill rack.

Slow cooker with warming setting
Some new slow cooker models have a programmable warming feature. Your machine will automatically switch to a safe holding temperature after your selected cooking time ends so you don't need to rush home to store it in the fridge.

Soft-skin fruit and vegetable peeler
It's no longer necessary to boil tomatoes or peaches and then chill them under cold water to remove their skins. Simply peel them with this practical gadget, and you can have tomato soup or peach pie in a jiffy.

Countertop toaster oven
If you already have one of these, be sure to use it for more than just toast. Mine can broil asparagus and burgers long before my full-size oven has had a chance to warm up — and it doesn't heat up the kitchen. It's ideal for quickly defrosting frozen foods, too. As Bennett points out, "Because it's small and on the countertop, it's easier to clean than a conventional oven — if anyone cleans an oven these days."

Salad Spinner
Salad spinners help cut back on prep time (not to mention paper towels!) and many can serve double duty as storage and serving bowls. Kids love to see how fast they can make the salad spin, so you can even get the little ones in on the action.

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