So you may have noticed, if you read my feature in this month’s Westchester Magazine or my recent post here on coal ovens, that I get a little jazzed about kitchen equipment. Nothing makes me breathe faster than paging through Harris Restaurant Supply’s inch-thick, industrial kitchen catalog, gazing at gleaming deck ovens, powerful floor-standing Hobart mixers, and nested stacks of seductive sizzle pans. Call me kinky that way.
So, I thought, why not indulge my rabid fantasies even further? For this week’s post, I’ll be giving you the extended scenes from my “Semi-Pro Kitchen” article. Let’s just call it the plug-ins.
Here are the seven necessary small appliances for a functional kitchen (not counting a microwave). You have my permission to consider anything else a re-gift.
Good Quality Toaster
Absolutely the most used plug-in in the kitchen, so don’t buy junk. You don’t have to spend $250 on the sexy-as-hell Dualit (though if you have the cash, why not?), but don’t try to sneak away with a $20 piece of junk. Remember, if you cheap out here, you’ll need to buy a toaster per year; and they’ll only annoy you in the morning, when you’re least prepared to deal with it. We’re happy with our sturdy, four-slice Cuisinart, which is an obvious imitation of the Dualit we really wanted, but couldn’t financially justify.
These things are expensive space hogs, but necessary if you plan to do any baking. We like our basic Kitchen Aid, though we’ve managed to kill the motor twice with the same brioche recipe. In both cases, the slapping dough inched the machine right off the counter at the exact moment I glanced away—at minute 18 of a 20-minute kneading process. When I re-started the machine (well, I wasn’t going to chuck it out after all that), the motor seized. Both times, my Kitchen Aid was repaired by the sweet man at Eastchester Appliance Repair (288 Columbus Ave, Tuckahoe 914-337-8134), who didn’t even laugh at me, though I deserved it.
Annoyingly, you can’t get by without one. Food processors are not designed to handle liquids, so if you need to purée and aerate something—I use mine for Yorkshire pudding batter—you should reach for a blender. And since I’m not a huge blender-drink imbiber (crushing ice cubes requires a huge amount of power), I go pretty cheap here. I use a base model Osterizer, which cost less that $40.
I’m waffling on this one, because I don’t believe that food processors are great for chopping vegetables, the task they’re most often purchased to perform. Food processors cut food into random shapes—which, to be honest, just looks tacky to other cooks—but worse, they pulverize the food and release a lot of liquid. That means that, if you whizz up a basic trio of onions, celery, and carrots, intending to sauté the chopped vegetables in butter, you’ll be dealing with a mess. The pieces, having released their water in the food processor, will simply boil in their own liquids rather than cook in the fat. Your recipe is now doomed, and you’ve only just started.
However, food processors are unequalled in doing things like grating large amounts of firm-ish cheeses like Gruyère or cheddar, and cutting butter into flour for pastry. I use mine to start pie dough and pastry of all kinds, and I just used it to grind up prosciutto di Parma for Cesare Casella’s delicious Tuscan onion soup. In that recipe, though the ham was whizzed up with vegetables, the fatty base of ground prosciutto seemed to keep the water in check. Though other models have come and gone in popularity, I own an ancient Cuisinart that’s been with me since my adolescence.
This is a handy (and fairly cheap) little item that’s perfect for fine-tuning the texture of hot foods like sauces and soups. So, if your gallon of hot soup is not quite as smooth as you want it (and you don’t want to put it through a blender in six sequential batches, tempting the mixture to explode at least once all over the kitchen, as hot liquids are prone to do in the blender), just stick this tool in the pot and blend until your soup is just right. Leave it in longer for silky soup, or pull it out quickly to leave some honest chunks; stick blenders are easier to control than blenders or food processors. Also, since they’re small, they won’t take up tons of room in the dishwasher or drawer. I like my Braun, though my model seems be currently out of production; a similar stick blender is made by Cuisinart for under $30.
Weird? I don’t think so. Most people store their conventional kettle on their stovetop—where it hoards an entire burner, plus gets really greasy just sitting there. My electric Braun kettle is tucked where I want it—right next to the faucet—and it boils faster than a regular kettle. Plus, it stays cool to the touch and relatively clean.
Ice Cream Maker
Sadly, you kind of need one (unless you have a porch, a crank, rock salt, and loads of time), but the good news is that the cheap, gel-filled canister ice cream makers are great. (Though I wouldn’t kick a $700 Italian ice cream maker out of bed, if someone were to give me one. Ahem.) I like my 10-year-old Donvier just fine, though Food and Wine prefers this $50 Cuisinart.
Bread machines: Space hogs, and a stand mixer will knead—plus, who wants coffee can-shaped loaves?
Rice cookers: I know everyone loves these things, but unless you eat rice daily or have miles of space to spare, these bulky cookers are extraneous. Listen, people have been making rice without electricity for millennia: so can you.
Electric woks, griddles, crock pots, egg flippers, panini makers, pizza bakers, rotisseries, etc: See above, and remember—real cooks work with fire.
Coffee makers: Do yourself a favor and get two large French-press pots. That way, you can make decaf and regular at the same time (for that jerk who always wants decaf), and you don’t have to sacrifice a single square foot of counter space. The press pots fit in your cabinet when not in use, and you can bring them right to the table so that Decaf Boy can serve himself.
Toaster ovens: You already have a toaster. You already have an oven with a broiler. Enough said.