Friday, March 22, 2013

Essential Kitchen Electrics


There are a few small electric appliances that I think any well-stocked kitchen should have.  These essentials make prep work easier and more streamlined, especially if one is working with multi-stepped recipes.  In my busy kitchen I rely on some more than others.  What I use depends on what I happen to be cooking or baking on any given day.  All of my appliances are well taken care of and are thoroughly cleaned after every use, with many having their dedicated spaces in my small kitchen.  I try to be as efficient as possible whenever I set out to create or follow a recipe, and thanks to my trusted kitchen electrics I’m able to work in an orderly manner.  I know where my stand mixers are and where my food processors are located, so that at a moment’s notice I can use them and not have to hunt for them.

With so many models, makes and brands to choose from, along with many price points, it’s good knowing what to look for.  Many stores have their favorites and push their name or house brands to the consumer, but it isn’t always necessary to get high end.  What’s most important is that you equip your kitchen with a sturdy, well-constructed appliance that will see you through years of meal preparations.  I won’t lie to you.  I do have my favorite brands and my favorite models when it comes to certain appliances, but on certain things I’m a bit more forgiving.  

As a cook & baker who has a limited amount of space, I don’t want my kitchen to be overrun with appliances and cords.  I have to choose carefully.  I know what works in my kitchen and what doesn’t.  My style of cooking may not be your style of cooking, which is why I’ve included an ‘extras’ category.  I wouldn’t mind having those appliances, but to be honest, I don’t absolutely have to have them.  



Toaster Convection Oven

If there is a must-have small kitchen appliance, it is the small toaster oven.  This useful appliance can make a big difference in such a small amount of space.  It’s happened to you that you’ve made a batch of cookies with one or two portions that couldn’t fit onto the last cookie sheet.  Rather than baking those last few cookies in your large oven (rather silly if you ask me), why not pop them onto a small baking sheet in your toaster oven?  Toasting nuts and other ingredients can also be done in these small ovens, and depending on the size, model and manufacturer, you can also bake a cake or a loaf in one.  I love those which have the option of convection.  They cost a little more than your inexpensive models, but if you bake a lot, it’s worth the small price increase.  

If your household is a single one or if you’re a couple without kids, a toaster oven can even bake, roast or broil your dinner.  I like not having to turn on a large oven in the middle of summer if I’m baking a banana bread or if I’m broiling a few pieces of chicken.  

Toaster/Countertop ovens are a good thing indeed!


Coffee Grinder
You should invest in a coffee grinder if you like a freshly ground cup of coffee in the morning.  I’m not particular about brands or styles when it comes to this appliance.  Fancy ones that cost well into the hundreds of dollars can be had for those who want a status symbol in their kitchens, but in mine, I use a humble $20 one.  

Buy a second one for grinding spices and only spices.  Attach a label to it so that you know it is intended for this exclusive use.  A small custard cup of freshly ground pepper is always near my stove, and I use a small coffee grinder to replenish the pepper whenever I need it.



Coffeemaker/Espresso Maker
Thermal Carafe Coffeemaker
Stovetop Espresso Maker

Electric Espresso Machine

This too is a matter of personal choice.  Do you want a single serve coffeemaker or one that brews a dozen cups at a time?  A thermal carafe or a glass one?  This is entirely up to you and what you need in your household.  

In my home, I have a thermal carafe coffeemaker because I like to remove the container and bring it over to the dining table.  It’s nice having it piping hot for up to one hour or so.  A glass carafe model will have the coffee sit on a hot plate, which sometimes tends to burn the brew.  I don’t particularly like these types of coffeemakers, but in a pinch they work if you’re serving coffee right away.  They’re less expensive than thermal carafe models

An espresso machine is a luxury if it’s automated.  They range in price from a few hundred dollars and into the thousands of dollars.  Single shots, double shots, ristretto or long shots, those which give a good ‘crema’ are available in many makes and models for the java aficionado.  I don’t own one...yet! 

The stovetop espresso maker which will cost you way less than $100 is a viable option if you brew one or two espressos a day.  They work wonderfully and are so easy to use.



Rice Cooker
If rice is an important part of your diet, then having a rice cooker is a saving grace.  This small appliance can cook several types of rice to perfection and keep it heated until you’re ready to eat.  Most seem to be easy to use.  Although I cook rice quite regularly, I don’t actually own a rice cooker. 



Handheld Mixer

Handheld mixers are old standbys in a lot of kitchens.  They’re great for mixing small amounts of cake batters, cookie doughs or batches of icing.  With the touch of a button you can have the beaters pop out for easy cleaning.  Although some claim to be powerful enough to knead bread, don’t believe it.  I would never tax the motor of these little mixers with such a heavy dough.


Stand Mixer

Stand Mixers are a must!  If there is one appliance that I use weekly (these days it seems to be on a daily basis), it’s one of my stand mixers.  With several attachments geared for specific tasks, stand mixers free up our step by step preparations for recipes.  While the machine mixes or beats an ingredient, one can be measuring another important component to a recipe without having to stand over the mixer.  

Several manufacturers have come out with stand mixers these days, including Viking, Cuisinart, & Breville.  KitchenAid is a favorite of many American households because they have been manufacturing the stand mixer for several generations.  It is the brand of choice at my house for this appliance.  There, I said it!

Whether you get a KitchenAid or not, make sure you have a model with at least a 5 quart capacity that has a 325 watt motor or higher.  The mixer should come with a flat beater meant for mixing batters and creaming ingredients, a hook for kneading bread doughs and a wire whisk for whipping egg whites, creams and buttercreams.  Let’s not even begin to talk about the different colors they come in!



Blender
Blenders are necessary in every household.  I find them useful to make smoothies, purees, salsas, blended drinks and more.  Because of the blades and how they’re situated in the tall, narrow container, a vortex is created which makes blending thorough and quite smooth.  I would rather puree a soup in a blender than in my food processor if I want it to be velvety.  



Food Processor
I’m lost without my food processor.  With several blades and disks, a food processor can chop, puree, blend, grate and shred just about anything.  If I’m making a pie crust, I always use the food processor for the task.  In under a minute I can have the best pate brisee mixed that’s ready to chill; pie crusts should always be made quickly in order to reduce gluten activation.  Bread making, too, is a breeze with a food processor.  Grating a large amount of cheese, carrots or whatnot is simple if I use the shredding disk.  There are many models out there with varying capacities, but I find one with an 11 cup measurement to be the most useful. 

Having said that, I also think it’s good to have a mini food processor.  This tiny appliance makes quick work of grinding small amounts of nuts, coconut or other foodstuffs that many recipes call for.  A larger model will just have these things fly all over the work bowl. 

Newer food processors have nesting work bowls which vary in size.  I love having the option of using a large bowl or a small bowl with the same motor base.  It saves precious kitchen space.

Toaster
Toasters are what we reach for whenever we want that deli bagel crusty and piping hot.  I like the French model that I happen to own (above), except for one tiny thing.  The chiming when the bread is done.  It’s way too loud.  Either way, toasters are here to stay.  If your family is a large one you may want to get a 4 slice toaster to make quick work of this breakfast task.  Again, these vary in price and as one who has owned the most inexpensive type to a higher end model, I would say that you get what you pay for.  



Extras
Juicer

Many people are into juicing fruits & vegetables for their breakfasts these days and manufacturers are listening.  These powerful juicers allow anyone to make juice-bar quality drinks from the comfort of the home kitchen.  Whole, unpeeled fruits & vegetables can be added to the machine, letting the internal disks pulverize, juice and strain the liquid.  They are rather costly, but if you want to keep a healthy regimen of fresh juices at home, the juicing machine will come to be a wise investment.

Panini Maker
I used to own one of these and used it only a handful of times.  Although I loved the ease with which it made all sorts of sandwiches, I found it too large for my kitchen.  There are cast iron pans that can press sandwiches, which I find to be good investments, but if you prefer electric, get electric.  Some models offer removable cooking surfaces that can be washed in the dishwasher.  Find one that is the right size for your household.  


Waffle Iron
I love a good waffle that is fluffy and tender on the inside, yet crunchy on the outside.  Irons which make thick Belgian waffles or smaller waffles in a variety of shapes and sizes are available in many price points.  Most seem to take up quite amount of room, but if your family has to have homemade waffles every single weekend, you will find space for it in your kitchen.  


Pressure Cooker
Pressure cookers allow anyone to cook dishes such as stews, beans and braises in a very short amount of time.  All come with locking mechanisms which securely keep the lid on during the cooking process and safety valves to release the internal pressure at the end of cooking time.  These appliances come in either electric or stovetop versions.  The electric models claim to be even faster at cooking.  


Slow Cooker
Slow cookers are completely the opposite of pressure cookers.  These appliances slowly simmer and cook just about anything with preprogrammed settings.  A lot of people use them to cook their dinners while they're at work.  Coming home to a fully cooked meal that is piping hot certainly is a plus for the busy household.  If you're going to buy one, look for a model that has an easy to clean insert which can go from stovetop (for browning) to cooker to table.  

Deep Fryer
Golden, crispy fried chicken, tender donuts, tasty apple fritters, piping-hot hush puppies and more can be cooked quickly and easily in a countertop electric deep fryer.  Choose a model that has a see through window so that you can gauge for doneness, a thermometer  to keep the correct oil temperature and one that has a good filter to minimize frying odors.  Imagine having crispy french fries to eat with a thick steak or perfectly cooked egg rolls to have with a roasted duck.  Electric deep fryers take the guess work out of deep frying


Ice Cream Maker
Homemade ice cream has its advantages.  You can control fat & sugar content up to a certain point and the variety of flavors you can make using seasonal ingredients is endless.  Models range in size, price and capacity.  It’s possible to find one that is less than $100 which will serve you well.  

  


3 comments:

  1. No pressure cooker here, but I have fantastic Dutch ovens...oh, and no deep fryer either. I just don't.
    But, I'm happy to report that I am the proud owner of all the rest of your kitchen essentials...and I use them all!

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  2. I realized that as I read through your blog post today that I am an appliance junkie as well. I have a great many of the appliances you listed. I am too prideful to admit how many. :)

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  3. Yes, I'm not surprised that you both have these appliances. It seems like we depend on most of them for so many things. Nancy, I don't have a deep fryer or a pressure cooker either! Marci, I can only imagine what your kitchen must be like!

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