Well Dined

20Mar/120

My Favorite Products Pt 3

In this post, I will be discussing my favorite kitchen appliances. This list is a continuation from Part 1, which covered cookware and bakeware, and Part 2, which covered cook's tools and cutlery. Again, I will post the disclaimer that whereas most of my links will be to Williams Sonoma (because that is what I am familiar with) you can find the same or similar items at many stores like Sur La Table, Macy's, Bed Bath & Beyond, and even Amazon.

Appliances

(Image and product information courtesy of Williams Sonoma)

One of the most standard and useful items in the kitchen (especially for baking) is the stand mixer. Kitchen Aid has been around for almost a hundred years, and their mixers are as sturdy and trustworthy as they have ever been. I own the beauty pictured above - a 5 quart Artisan model for $300.00 - which comes in 20 colors and features a tilting head feature for removal of the bowl. Kitchen Aid also sells a bunch of attachments for the mixer like a meat grinder, pasta roller, ice cream maker, and more. The most useful accessories for the mixer, in my opinion, are the curved spatula and bowl scraping paddle.

If you can't afford to invest in a stand mixer yet (or have limited counter space), you might want to consider a hand mixer instead - like this one that has a bunch of attachments and a storage case for $80.

(Image and product information courtesy of Williams Sonoma)

The workhorse of the kitchen is the food processor - which can do anything from chop to shred to knead dough. I have the 16 cup Cuisinart (shown above, $300.00) which is a beast - it has3 different size interchangeable bowls, an adjustable slicing disk, a reversible shredding disk, and a separate setting for dough. You can certainly get away with a smaller, simpler machine. I use mine must often for shredding cheese and grating vegetables, actually, and pureeing after that. I also have a mini processor (like this one) that I use when I just need to chop a handful of nuts, a single onion, or a piece of bread for breadcrumbs.

(Image and product information courtesy of Williams Sonoma)

Blenders! There are tons of manufacturers and models out there and each has it's own merits and downfalls - but I have never used anything as amazing as the Vitamix Pro Series 500 (shown above). This is a professional grade blender with a pricetag to match - a whopping $600. I didn't think I would even own one, until Jasper bought me one for Christmas - best husband ever! The 2 horse power motor can cut through anything - I actually use my blender more often than my food processor to chop and puree (pulling the heavy FP down from the shelf has something to do with that, too)! It can grind grains and knead bread, and has different programed settings for smoothies, frozen desserts, and hot soups. You can actually make ice cream and sorbet in this thing. And you can cook soups - not just puree them, but actually COOK them, in the blender. It's pretty ridiculous.

So the Vitamix is a top of the line, fantasy blender - for something more reasonable, look to Kitchen Aid. Also - if you love to make margaritas or other frozen drinks, consider the Margaritaville Frozen Drink Maker ($350). It actually shaves ice into the blender before mixing with liquid for the perfect uniform drink - no chunks!

Another item to consider is an immersion or stick blender. These little guys are so useful when cooking - instead of having to puree soup in batches in a blender, pouring back and forth and making a mess, you can just stick the immersion blender into the pot and whirl away. They are also great for making a single serving smoothie so that you don't have to wash out your blender - most come with a little beaker that you can blend in and then drink right out of. I have an old Braun model that they don't seem to make anymore - it came with a beaker, whisk attachment, and mini blender attachment. I loved all these attachments when I first got it because at the time I didn't have a blender or stand mixer yet, but now I never use them. I would recommend something like that for someone who is just starting out and doesn't need a lot of heavy duty appliances. Here is a comparable one from Wolfgang Puck for $60.

(Image and product information courtesy of Williams Sonoma)

A crockpot or slowcooker is a GREAT appliance to have - you can make one pot meals that you start in the morning and forget about until dinner. I love my slowcooker and I seriously use it all the time. I have the All-Clad shown above ($280) which has an aluminum insert that you can use on the stove top or in the oven - that means that you can brown meat on the stove, put the insert into the base and continue cooking, then take it out and brown the top in the oven, all in the same container! It's super convenient, plus the insert is nonstick so it takes seconds to clean. I was worried about this model at first because there were some reviews saying that the circuitry died after a few uses or that the nonstick surface peeled up, but I have had mine for over 2 years with no problems.

A rice cooker is a bit of a specialty item, but I love mine. I don't have to worry about burning rice - it shuts itself off when the moisture level reaches a certain level, and then stays warm - and it has a nonstick insert that is super easy to clean. Rice cookers can also work like slowcookers - you can put your whole meal in there and let it cook together. Most also come with a steaming basket so that you can cook your rice and steam veggies at the same time. When buying a rice cooker, don't go for anything with special settings or timers or programs. All you want is a switch that goes on and off - anything else is messing with a good thing.

(Image and product information courtesy of Williams Sonoma)

A panini press is another great product - especially if you are like me and don't have an outdoor grill.  In addition to making pressed sandwiches I grill meat, burgers, and vegetables on mine.  I have the Breville press shown above ($120), which comes with a drip tray to catch grease and has adjustable temperature and height settings.  It also has a super easy to clean nonstick surface.

(Image and product information courtesy of Williams Sonoma)

Let's talk coffee: everybody has different likes and needs - do you prefer drip or French press, how many cups do you need to make a day, do you want a machine that will automatically start in the morning? All these are things that you need to think about when buying a machine.

Personally, I like to drink lattes and Starbucks is really expensive - so my solution was to buy an espresso machine and a milk frother to make my own lattes at home. I didn't want a big fancy machine that would take training and would be hard to clean, so I opted for an automatic espresso machine from Nespresso. I actually have the Essenza model, which I got because it was the smallest and least expensive - had they existed when I was purchasing, I would have gotten the Pixie (shown above) because it is even smaller, less expensive, and comes in fun colors. I love the Nespresso machine because it is super easy to use and clean - all I have to do is drop in a pod and push a button. The pod drops into a tray that slides out so that you can empty it - that and the drip tray are the only parts I have to clean, and the only other maintenance is keeping the water tank full. The coffee is very high quality and the machine has extremely high pressure which means that you get a perfect shot every time - it would take months of training to pull a shot like that on a manual machine.

I have to order the pods from Nespresso directly because they don't allow anyone else to sell them for quality control reasons. They also don't have very many physical stores, so I have to order online. That doesn't bother me though, as I do a lot of online shopping anyway. The pods come in a variety of blends from all over the world, and stay fresh for up to a year - which is great because the shipping rate is the same no matter how many you order, so you can stock up for a year at a time.

 (Image and product information courtesy of Williams Sonoma)

Okay, this last one is purely for fun - a Breville mini pie maker.  It is totally unnecessary, but so cool.  It comes with a plastic cutter so that your dough is the perfect size to fit in the little well - fill it with whatever sweet or savory filling you want and they will be done in 10 minutes!  This is so great for a single person or couple who don't want to eat a whole pie by themselves.  I love this thing so much that I even got a cookbook just for it, and a special lifting tool.  (That cherry pie filling in the picture is one of my favorites, too.)

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