Kitchen Stuff We Can’t Live Without—Part 4: Appliances

Appliances can make your life a heck of a lot easier, but only if they work as expected. Sometimes the price of an appliance has no relationship whatever with the quality or reliability of it, however. Sometimes the price only reflects the marketing strategy of the manufacturer. So how can you tell which product is right for you? Read on.

Below is the list of items we think are critical to a new kitchen. If we don’t use ’em ourselves, we at least did some research to find out which were best reviewed and which didn’t seem worth the cost.

Appliances.

—An immersion or “stick” blender. Unless you plan to start a night club in your garage or are a masochist, skip the countertop model and go for the stick. Why would you want to puree your soup by pouring it batches into a hard-to-clean glass pitcher, when you can do the job in half the time by putting your immersion blender right in the pot? Ditto smoothies, shakes, whipped cream, mayonnaise, or just about anything else. I got rid of my big one years ago and have never looked back! We like the KitchenAid KHB300 Hand Blender. Actually, we liked a Braun stick blender from the early 2000s, but they don’t make that one anymore. This one seems nice too, though.

—A food processor. With these devices my view is that bigger really is better—motor, the bowl size, etc. After all, hearing a grinding noise or smelling smoke while making a heavy dough isn’t any kinda fun; nor is having hot soup seeping from every crevice of an overfilled work bowl.

Fortunately, they now make 14- to 16-cup models with garbage-disposal-grade power. I am thinking about upgrading from my old 10-cup Cuisinart myself, so I did some research and found this review by A. Chandler, which I found highly enlightening. Mr./Ms. Chandler’s very detailed analysis is a little aged by now and some of the models he/she refers to are now unavailable and more have come on the market, but I liked the selection criteria he/she used to compare the various models and suggest you use it as well to ensure you are comparing apples to apples.

All things considered, however, I think I’m going for the Cuisinart Elite Die-Cast 16-cup Food Processor at Williams-Sonoma. It is currently among the largest on the market. It is on sale for $299 (and has been for months). There is no shopping around on this one, however; it is a WS exclusive.
If I had big money, though I would definitely consider what may be a very top end model sold by WS—Magimix by Robot-Coupe Food Processor, 16-Cup on sale for just under $500.
Or I might go with the biggest, baddest Cuisinart I’ve seen for household use—the Cuisinart Classic DLC-XPBC 20-Cup Food Processor in Brushed Chrome—for $750. On the very plus side it features, well, 20-cup capacity and a 1-1/2 hp induction motor. On the downside, the motor is only warranted for 5 years, and the dough blade appears to be made of plastic.
Clearly, any of the above would be a serious upgrade from the little, weak Cuisinart I am getting by with today, however. So c’mon ya’ll, and buy some t-shirts! 😉

—Hand mixer. Use the force. In other words, get the most powerful unit you can find. The most powerful ones I found were 250-watt models, and the one that looked the best to me was the Viking Manual 5 Speed Hand Mixer, Metallic Silver. Maxed out power, three-year warranty against manufacturers defects, two sets of beaters, and retractable cord. For heavy dough, you are going to want to use your food processor anyway, so what more could you want?

—Coffee pot(s). Many of my friends mentioned this but didn’t come up with a specific brand or type, so I am going to take it from here as I just ditched my automatic drip machine for two, simpler devices that just so happen to rock.

The first, for any bean grind except “fine,” I run to my Bodum Chambord Coffee Press. You operate by putting in your ground coffee, pouring in your boiling water, and letting sit for four minutes before “pressing.” The result is consistent yumminess without having to do that whole vinegar cleaning nonsense. You can also store it in your cabinet. Look ma, no cords!

The second is for fine ground coffees like espresso—my Bialetti 6800 Moka Express 6-Cup Stovetop Espresso Maker. Goes on the stovetop, on high (ignore the directions about heating at medium or it will take an ice age to get a good steam going), and is even simpler to operate than the French press. Get this: almost fill the bottom with water, put in the bottom filter (metal, easy to clean), fill the filter with coffee, heat. When you hear the gurgle, the top is probably full and once it’s full, it’s pretty much done. I bought the 6-cup version which makes a couple of American-sized mugs or 6 demitasse cups.

Medelco Cordless Glass Electric Kettle. For boiling water before you can get your burner hot on an electric range. It’s fast as a microwave oven and produces better tasting for tea, coffee, and cooking.

—Milk frother. Great for blending powdered shake mixes into liquid or, you know, frothing milk is the Aerolatte 5 Milk Frother, Satin Finish. Easy to operate, battery powered, and powerful enough for the jobs described above and can sometimes whip a little cream. If you need more RPMs, just switch over to your immersion blender.

Breville BOV800XL Smart Oven 1800-Watt Convection Toaster Oven. Why wait for your big oven to heat up when you could be cooking already? Forget stand up toasters and go versatile with something you can use to make 13″ pizzas and much more!

—But wait, I hear you cry, didn’t you leave out the —stand mixer?! The STAND mixer!? Please rest assured. I did. And not by accident.

But, I hear you whine, stand mixers come in pretty colors, and when I look at them, visions of Christmas, hot, steamy loaves of homemade bread, brownies, cakes, cookies, and pies dance before my delusional eyes.

Oh, yeah? I retort. And just how long do you suppose it will take the Keebler Elves to give up their tree and start working at your house, Betty Crocker?! In other words, snap out of it already! That’s just the Kitchen-Aid marketing department talking.

Contrary to what you’ve been lead to believe, you are not going to start baking like a mad person, catering out of your back door, or shooting a cooking show in your kitchen, just because you buy one of these things. They will not make you hotter, stronger, faster, smarter, or richer. I promise.

Further, there is virtually nothing an expensive, counter-space monopolizing, dust-gathering stand mixer does that you cannot perform just as well (or better) with a hand mixer, a few good whisks, an immersion blender, and the above-referenced food processor. Further, these few items are far more versatile and/or easier to stow out of the way than that hunk of whirring red metal you’ve got your eye on.

And, if you are harboring some fantasy about what you can do with a meat-grinder/sausage maker attachment to such a stand mixer. I would say, get a STX Turboforce 3000 Series – 1800 Watt 2.4 HP Rated Electric Meat Grinder with Sausage Stuffing Tubes for better results. Pasta machine attachment? Whatsamatterwitha clamp on the counter hand crank unit? What? You are too good to turn a crank? Even on a Imperia SP150 Pasta Machine?

Other stuff you may want to consider are: (1) an Oxo Good Grips Salad Spinner— can help when trying to dry your rinsed greens or even lingerie. Of course, you could also just drain and air dry your herbs on paper towels (and for goodness sake, get your lingerie out of the kitchen!); (2) a Hamilton Beach Premiere Cookware 5-1/2-Quart Slow Cooker—useful on a party buffet for serving Swedish meatballs or jambalaya and for cooking stuff that requires low and slow heat, like soups and braises; and (3) an electric rice cooker like the Zojirushi NS-LAC05 Micom 3-Cup Rice Cooker and Warmer, Stainless Steel if you want the very best, have a lot of cash to pay for it, and don’t need a lot of rice at a time, or else buy the larger, nearly as well reviewed, and substantially less expensive Aroma 8-Cup Digital Rice Cooker & Food Steamer instead. These things would only be useful, however, if you routinely run out of stove top space when preparing meals and would like to use that burner for more than rice. Otherwise, in my opinion, any rice cooker takes up too much space for too little utility.

N.B. This list assumes you have a refrigerator-freezer, dishwasher, and oven/stove/range. If not, those should be your first priority (obviously). A microwave isn’t on this list for a reason. Please refer to my earlier post of March 29, 2011, “Ditch Your Microwave (and Rediscover Flavor)” to learn why.

Next time, kids, utensils!

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