5 Confounding Kitchen Appliances (and How to Use Them)
Others rave about these tools, but there they sit in your kitchen, taking up space. With these basics, turn them into workhorses.
knife sharpener
Knife Sharpening Steel
The basic how-to: Hold the steel in your nondominant hand and rest the tip firmly on a folded dish towel. The steel should be perpendicular to the countertop or table. Then take the knife (which should not be any longer than the steel) in your dominant hand, placing it behind and perpendicular to the steel, with the back of the blade (the part nearest the handle) against the steel. Pull the blade toward you while gliding it down the steel. Do this 10 times on one side; then bring the blade to the front of the steel and do the blade's other side 10 times.

Common mistake: Not sharpening knives often enough. Keep the steel handy and use it whenever you notice your knives are slipping on food instead of slicing through. This can be as often as once a week if you cook a lot.
Meat Thermometer
Meat Thermometer
The basic how-to: For poultry, insert the thermometer into the inner thigh area, near the breast but not touching the bone (bone is a better conductor of heat than meat, so the reading will be higher than it would be for meat farther from the bone). For beef, pork, lamb, veal and ham, aim for the thickest part, staying away from bones and fat. Here are the USDA's recommended safe minimum internal temperatures for meat.

Common mistake: Not calibrating. A thermometer can become inaccurate over time, so reset it by putting the thermometer in a glass of ice water and waiting until the indicator stops moving. With the probe still in the water, use a wrench to turn the thermometer's adjusting nut until the dial reads 32 degrees.
Pressure cooker
Pressure Cooker
The basic how-to: These amazing machines cook food up to 70 percent faster than traditional methods, and their microwave-like speed has brought them back into style after a surge in popularity in the '70s. Fear of an explosion is why most people stay away, but the new models are foolproof. The best instructions we've seen are on the Presto website (the leading pressure cooker brand, which debuted at the 1939 World's Fair). Here are some key points: Hold the lid up to the light and look through the vent pipe to make sure it's open and unclogged before securing it onto the cooker. And your cooking time begins when the cooker begins maintaining a slow, steady rocking motion.

Common mistake: Overcooking. Things happen so quickly, it's easy to go from done to overdone in a matter of minutes. And cooking continues even after you turn off the heat, thanks to the buildup of pressure inside. To stop the cooking process, either lift the pressure valve or put the hot pressure cooker under cold running water.
Food Processor
Food Processor
The basic how-to: Many of us don't bother pulling this heavy, multipiece clunker out of the cabinet for fear that it'll drop on our toe (or slice off a finger). But think about it this way: Would you rather spend 20 minutes kneading piecrust or a minute and a half? Just fit the bowl onto the base, place the blade in the center, then turn and lock the lid into place. Insert food using the feeder tube, and voilà: smoothly pureed soups, sauces, pestos and spreads. If you're making dough or crust, pulse instead of running the machine continuously, since you want the dough to just come together and not get overworked.

Common mistake: Forgetting about the shredder attachment, which makes quick work of turning carrots and other vegetables into shoelace-thin pieces—great in a stir-fry or salad (not to mention carrot cake).
French Press
French Press
The basic how-to: Yes, you can prep your drip coffee maker the night before, but that doesn't mean the French press is at the other, high-maintenance extreme. It's simple, really: Start with a tablespoon of beans per cup of water, and grind them rougher than you would for drip coffee (to prevent the grind from passing through the filter). Pour boiling water over the ground coffee and let it sit for about five minutes; then press and drink right away. And don't be put off by cleaning; most are dishwasher safe. If you're hand washing, use warm, soapy water. Make sure you rinse off any soap residue and let the parts air-dry.

Common mistake: Using water that's too hot, which results in bitter coffee. Let the water cool for a minute or so after boiling it; then pour it over the grounds.