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Budding cook; microplane or vacuum sealer?

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Well, I've finally got my kitchen set up with all the basic tools I need like a good set of pans, good knives, etc. I'm trying to figure out what new tools I'll get the most out of. Unfortunately, I'm on a bit of a budget; I can't justify spending more than $50. I've been looking at Microplane graters (mostly for zests), but I'm waffling between that and FoodSaver's FreshSaver handheld vacuum sealer. I think I'll get more use out of the vacuum sealer, but it seems designed mostly for veggies and cold cuts; I'm not sure if it'll perform as well for freezing meats and batches, which is a big reason I want one. Does anybody know it the handheld unit works fine for freezing stuff? Should I just go for the microplane? I like adding zests to dishes, but it's kind of a pain with the box grater, so I don't do it very often. Any input would be welcome; and, of course, if there's some other (uncommon) tool that you think is absolutely essential and will be used again and again, I'm open to suggestions. Thanks, everyone!

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  1. I have never owned a vacuum sealer, but I use my microplanes (1 coarse and 1 fine) almost every day. Since I only use the microplanes for peels, I usually just run a brush over them and rinse them.

    1. A microplane is essential.

      1 Reply
      1. re: jaykayen

        I use mine almost daily. Mostly for zest and hard cheeses.

        The microplane is used to to enhance the food that could end up in a vac bag. That trumps the vac in my book

      2. Unless you intend to cook sous vide, the vacuum sealer is hardly essential. You can use ziploc freezer bags and other means just as well for freezing.

        Anyway you can buy your microplane zester for 15 bucks or less. They are easy to clean and work for ginger as well as citrus peel. You will enjoy. Im big on silicon spatulas these days too if you need another tool. they come in lots of shapes and degrees of stiffness but good for all kinds of things from blending and stirring to scraping out your food processor, etc.

        3 Replies
        1. re: jen kalb

          I second the microplane and silicone spatula.

          1. re: jen kalb

            Ziploc freezer bags do not do the job of the Food Saver; don't even come close.

            1. re: pikawicca

              Have you tried submerging the bag in water as you're sealing it to help force the air out? For many foods (though not all) this technique is pretty decent at mimicking the effect of a home vacuum sealer.

          2. Definitely a microplane! like most others, I use mine almost daily! As far as "vacuum sealing" goes, unless you need an absolutely perfect vacuum seal.. just stick whatever it is your sealing into a zipper bag, and submerge everything but the zipper into a sink full of water. The water will do a mighty fine job of pushing most of the air out of the bag. Unless your making sous vide, I would pass on the vac sealer. And for that matter I've made a few excellent sous vides using the zipper bag/sink method anyways..

            Other wise, if you don't already have one, a Japanese whet stone for your knives and a good sharpening steel would be a good idea. As would a silicone baking mat, a few squeeze bottles (if presentation is important to you) and a good heavy meat pounder.

            Otherwise you could invest that $50 into a window sill hydroponic herb garden, and supply yourself with more fresh herbs than you know what to do with. That could certainly be a good way to turn your cooking up a notch.

            Let us know what you do!

            Cheers

            1. I have both a microplane and a foodsaver. Neither is essential but the microplane is nice to have and it's only $10.

              I love my full size Foodsaver BUT - if you don't have a dedicated place to keep it on the counter, you probably won't use it. The handheld Foodsaver bags are very expensive. They are reusable but you would have to carefully wash them after freezing meat with them. I doubt that their seal would hold well under freezing conditions. I think you would probably do just as well with ziplock bags and evacuating as much air as you can from them. You could even wrap the whole thing in foil (for sure for sure).

              As far as knives, start with a chef's knife and a pairing knife. Those fancy brands are nice but start with Victorinox, they are much cheaper. Get a steel with the knives. As for pans, All-Clad is very nice ... and very expensive. Look for Try Ply Stainless steel. Tramontina Pro is nice and fairly inexpensive. You need a 10 and a 12 inch stainless steel skillet. A 10 and a 12 inch "stick free" skillet. Get the cheaper teflon coated pans. You will have to toss them when their coating gets ruined. Next a 1, 2 and a 3 quart saucepan with lids. A 5.5 quart enamel over cast iron "Dutch Oven" allows you to braise and that is a very good thing. A Le Creuset will cost $250.. a Tromontina will cost $40.

              There are a few tools that are very useful such as:
              Silicone Spatula
              Hot pot mitts
              Digital Thermometer that is inserted into meats and signals you when a certain temperature is reached.
              A set of mixing bowls
              A set of small prep bowls for your mis en place
              A set of dry measuring cups
              A set of liquid measuring cups

              1 Reply
              1. re: Hank Hanover

                measuring spoons for baking.

                i also agree a microplane is near essential.

                i am a very accomplished home cook, entertain often, and have never thought of buying a food-saver. i use ziploc bags. i am NOT a gadget person.

              2. 100% microplane over vacuum sealer. ESPECIALLY if you are wanting the sealer just for storing foods and not for sous vide. just buy less food at once.

                1. Heed the Hounds: You'll use the microplane a lot more, and with it, it will enhance your culinary efforts much more than the vacuum sealer ever will.

                  1. Well, microplane seems to be the clear winner. Thanks, all!

                    1. I have and lover the food saver I bought. I make large pots of chile, soups, stews, roasts, etc and use it to make the 'leftovers' stay fresh. You can drop the bags of already cooked food into boiling water, or put them in the microwave oven. It realy helps me to have something very healthy on hand and I don't eat junky fast food that way. What I love is that I can't have salt so it makes it hard to eat out, but I've almost always got a yummy meal ready to reheat onhand. I haven't used it for things to keep in the fridge, just the freezer. I use the zipper bags for the fridge. It really keeps the frozen foods from getting freezer burn.

                      The brand I use is Food Saver Pro 90 and I only spent about $79.00 on it last Mother's day (on sale). It is available right now on Amazon for $99.00. I know that is above your budget, but I really save money with mine when I buy meat on sale and can just freeze it up. I had a problem with my first unit, called them and they had me send it back and they replaced it for free and gave me more bags as a way to cover my postage.

                      I've never had a miroplane nor do I want one. But you can get on for much less the your $50. buget.

                      1. I have a foodsaver machine; it's two years old and I have NEVER used it. DH has used it two or three times. We don't have a place for it in the kitchen, and so getting the FS out of the store room is too much work.
                        As for microplane: I have three different sizes, and use the "medium" the most often, at least twice a week. The grater was $18.

                        1. Hey, long before vacuum sealers, the rest of us used plastic wrap, zip loc bags, and aluminum foil. I personally prefer the combination of plastic wrap and zip locs. You can wrap individual pieces of meat in plastic wrap and then put all of those pieces in a zip loc and label it. If your cooked food contains a lot of liquid, line a plastic container with heavy duty foil, put the contents in, cover with more foil, freeze, and then take the whole "brick" out and put it, foil and all, into a zip loc.

                          Now, I am eyeing those vacuum sealers too, and I do think they would do a more efficient job, but ... I have made it well into middle age without one. You can get by just fine. My inexpensive microplane, of course, now -- that I would miss.

                          1. I understand why a microplane is very useful. It is very high performance, which can slightly improve your food, but more so cut down your time and your efforts. I have no idea why a FoodSaver is particularly useful. It can be quiet wasteful. In my view, one is a good buy and the other is not.

                            I may also suggest you to look into one of those anti fatigue comfort mats. Not essential, but helpful for all circumstances.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                              I know a couple people that have spoken favorably, and I figured it'd help cut costs with less thrown out left overs. Most people seem to not dig the foodsavers here, and absolutely rave about the microplanes, so it's an easy decision.

                              1. re: OckhamsFolly

                                Ockhams,

                                "I figured it'd help cut costs with less thrown out left overs. "

                                True, but the real efforts may be smaller for many people. I think the Foodsaver will save you money if you do leave a lot of expensive food which are freezable for long term. Problems are that:

                                1) The machine and the bags are not cheap. so unless your foods worth much more than bags, then it is not worth it.
                                2) Certain foods taste horrible after freezing which renders it useless. To me, most vegetables do not taste very good after freezing.
                                3) We can perfectly freeze foods with regular ziploc bags. The vacuum sealer will preserve certain food longer. So really we are talking about foods which we need to freeze for months as opposed to a week, and I rarely find the need for long term freezing cooked foods.
                                4) Certain foods do not benefit from vacuum seal freezing vs regular freezing. Again, this makes it less useful. For example, I bought some potato tots, and these definitely do not benefit from vacuum seal freezing.

                                So ultimately, it is most useful for foods which are expensive, intended for long term freezing, freezable without significantly degrading the food texture, benefit from vacuum freezing over regular freezing. This window of real usage is narrow -- for me.

                                1. re: OckhamsFolly

                                  there are so many ways to save leftovers at less expense than this machine. Labelling is key, whether you re-use plastic containers, use ziplocs or ther means. THe key is labelling and proper freezer organization so you dont lose track of all the lumps in the freezer. Whatever storage method you use, the above is the key.

                              2. I know this board is cookware, but when you are setting up your kitchen the pantry is essential. If I were now down to $40, having spent $10 on a micro plane, I'd make sure I had some of those pricier pantry items that make otherwise ho hum food pop. Base it on your preferences of course but I always make a point of having sundried tomatoes, dried mushrooms, capers, stone ground and Dijon mustard, etc. on hand. Consider starting crocks of red wine and white wine vinegar. Store bought vinegar can be pricey and IMHO pales in comparison with home made. Also, if you have a good Asian market, go there for spices and save a ton of money. If you have a place to grow herbs those 99 cent plants will pay huge dividends, but mind the climate. Down here in Texas I tried to grow tarragon two or three times before giving up and substituting Mexican mint marigold.

                                1. Thanks for all the help, folks. I'll let you all know how I like it after I get a chance to get my butt to the kitchen store.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: OckhamsFolly

                                    I agree with the microplane recommendation as mine gets used for zests, ginger and parmesan/pecorino romano cheeses regularly. However, don't discount a proper vacuum sealer. I have saved its cost many times over by buying chicken breasts/thighs, stewing beef and sausages on sale. And since I have a smoker, I make my own bacon, smoked ham hocks, and pulled pork. I can do a winter's supply in a few days, vacuum seal and freeze. Smoking season here ends in October and it's a long way to May.

                                    1. re: slacker1

                                      as mentioned by another poster, i cook and entertain often and have made it to my 40s quite successfully without a vacuum sealer. it's one more gadget taking up space in the kitchen. if you're throwing out frozen food, you're not managing your kitchen efficiently.

                                      my freezer has quite a few bags of stocks, broths and seasonal fruits, as well as portioned out stuff like home-made meatballs, "taco beef", and pulled pork. i seal them well, pushing out all the air, and date them. no waste and always something on-hand when in a time or budgetary crunch.

                                      i am distrustful of reheating anything in plastic, and i do not like cooking in it.

                                  2. For what it's worth, I have a FoodSaver (paid around $80 for it new), and it's pretty worthless. The bags are expensive and often take several tries to get a good seal, and even after double-sealing them, it seems like about 50% of the time the bag has lost its seal when I dig it out of the freezer (i.e. there's air around the food). Perhaps a more expensive one would work better, but IMHO you can get results that are fine by using good quality Ziplok freezer bags and the water trick to get as much air out as possible. Plus, they're reusable.

                                    Microplanes rock. Get a few - finer for zesting, coarser for hard cheeses, etc. Like the others here, I use mine practically daily.

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: monopod

                                      I bought a foodsaver a few years back and had the same experience as monopod.
                                      Maybe they have approved these, but I suspect the people with good experiences with this technology are not using the entry level consumer products.

                                      I dumped mine.

                                      1. re: jen kalb

                                        Mine is fairly new, and I bought it based on generally good reviews which said that the more expensive ones (at least from FoodSaver) didn't do anything differently, they just had more features. So I'd imagine the same issues apply. Perhaps the commercial-grade brands are better, but I wouldn't buy even a higher-end FoodSaver.

                                        1. re: monopod

                                          good to know. It will be even easier to walk past the costco display knowing that.

                                    2. I think if you have to ask others which tool is most important to have, you shouldn't be buying either of them! When you find yourself regularly reaching for one or the other, you'll have your answer as to which (if either) is the one for you. Meantime, keep the cash!

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: Mrs Sparkles

                                        Except that sometimes you don't realize how useful something is until you've got it to reach for. I wouldn't have thought I would be so attached to my Microplanes, but there you go. Since they're cheap, I think it's worth taking the plunge. (Of course, I wouldn't say the same about a $200 item - at that price, you need to know that you need it.)

                                      2. I have an older Foodsaver, a Vac500. They can be finicky when you start out using them. But if you have a freezer that likes to freezer burn food or want long term storage I find them way better than ziploc bags.

                                        I wouldn't recommend a hand held model, you are better off looking at which of the latest full size models are getting the best reviews.

                                        I buy the rolls and create my own size bags rather than the more expensive ready sized bags.

                                        Now you just have to decide which of the microplanes to get :)

                                        I like Tim's idea of some pantry items that have a decent shelf life that will make your meals better.

                                        1. I don't know how I got on in the kitchen before I got my microplane. It makes perfect citrus zest pulverizes garlic and ginger, and makes nearly effortless piles of parmesan "snow" for pasta dishes. On the other hand, I have yet to use my Foodsaver, though I bought it last year.

                                          1. Right guys, so I got myself a microplane about a week ago (I'm slow sometimes), and it is very very useful. I've only used it for zests so far, but I'm thinking about getting some nutmeg; a friend told me their perfect for grating the groats. Thanks for your input, everybody!

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: OckhamsFolly

                                              Fresh grated nutmeg makes all the difference, OF.