To cooking enthusiasts, certain kitchen tools and toys can be as essential as air and as fun as a video game.
From those that help slice and dice to machines that can do everything from mix cookie dough to make pasta, anyone who spends a lot of time in the kitchen has a must-have culinary implement.
Times Free Press readers discussed their favorite kitchen tools.
KitchenAid stand Mixer
Several readers expressed their appreciation for the KitchenAid stand mixer. Available in a variety of colors to dress up any kitchen, the KitchenAid mixer is a hands-free way to mix cookie batter or mash potatoes. Attachments are available that allow users to grind food, make ice cream and pasta, squeeze citrus and stuff sausage, among other options.
Former professional chef Karen Otto said she just "can't live without" her Microplane grater. She uses it to grate everything from lemon peel to hard cheeses and fresh nutmeg. The interchangeable blades allow for versatility, which Otto appreciates.
"You pop in whatever hole you're looking for," she said.
The Microplane, she said, is more efficient than a box grater and leads to fewer nicks of the knuckles.
Iced Tea Maker
Caroline Johnson and Dottie Curvin are both fans of their iced tea makers.
"It is hands-down the best appliance I own," Johnson wrote in response to a Times Free Press Facebook request. "I love iced tea, and this wonderful contraption makes up a big pitcher of it in about five minutes." She said she uses the iced tea maker, a gift from her daughter, all the time.
Charlie Loomis, executive chef at Greenlife Grocery, said a Vitamix is one of his favorite tools. It's worth the hefty price tag, he said, because of its versatility.
"It does everything from soups to ice creams to seeds to purees," Loomis said. "It's the strongest mixer I know of."
Loomis said he prefers making juices and smoothies in a Vitamix rather than a juice extractor because "you keep the fiber."
On a visit to Mexico, Ellen Hays noticed lime squeezers being used in all the restaurants there. When she returned home, she purchased one at La Carneceria at the corner of Main and Broad streets. Hays said she uses the tool every day to add lime juice to her water for cocktails.
"It's fabulous," she said.
Several readers are fans of immersion blenders. Scott Alexander, operating partner at Taco Mamacita, likes the Robot Coupe stick blender. The Robot Coupe is a larger, industrial-size hand blender used for restaurant batches of salsas or marinades.
At Taco Mamacita, they use it to make salsas or marinade. "It's basically a blender that's about 3 feet long," Alexander said. "It allows you to move up and down in a bucket."
A Mexican mortar and pestle, the molcajete is a three-legged bowl made from basalt, a volcanic rock. The pestle, or grinding stick, is called a tejolote.
At Taco Mamacita, Alexander makes good use of his molcajete, particularly when it comes to one of the restaurant's signature items.
"We make our guacamole using a molcajete and smush up the avocado," he said.
The tool is also used to muddle mint and limes for mojitos.
Ever burn rice so badly the bottom of the pan is scorched beyond repair? Cindy Bridges Ramsey doesn't have that problem -- she is devoted to her rice cooker.
"Now I have perfect cooked rice every time," Ramsey said. "No more guessing or checking. Plus I can steam veggies in it while the rice is cooking."
Have trouble making cookies of even sizes? Do you end up with batter all over your fingers from pushing it off a spoon? Try a cookie scooper. Jenny Schmeltzer swears by hers.
"Loooove mine," she posted on the Times Free Press Facebook page, using multiple vowels to emphasize her enthusiasm.
A pizza stone, or baking stone, is a flat, porous piece of ceramic that bakes cookies evenly and emulates that crispy brick-oven pizza crust.
"I didn't know it was a must-have till we had it," said Jack Smith. "I can't eat a pizza on a metal pan anymore.
Otto said her salad spinner is another invaluable tool.
"Besides washing the lettuce, if you have something sandy, like cilantro, it gets all the dirt off. You can spin herbs. You have to finely chop lettuce and wash it, but if it has a lot of water in it, it doesn't taste nice. If you want to do kale chips, you really have to get them dry, or they'll get soggy."
She makes use of the separate parts of her spinner as well, using the insert as a colander and the bowl as a serving bowl.