4 Tools That Will Change Your Life 

(plus a few more you might also like)

Continuing in Intro to Cookery, let’s talk about useful small kitchen appliances.

Please keep in mind that other brands may be as good or even better than the products I list below. I’m just telling you what I’ve learned and giving you my honest and unbiased opinion in hopes to help you shop around. The prices listed are current Amazon prices (as of the day of this post).

1. Digital Scale

Salter 3003 Aquatronic – $40

It takes a whole shift in mindset to go from using measuring cups to a digital scale when measuring ingredients. Most recipes use volume for measurements so why even bother getting used to weight, right? Well, I’ll tell you. It’s faster, easier, and more accurate. Here’s an example of how I get around using volume measurements when I find a new recipe:

Let’s say I’m baking a cake. The recipe says to mix wet ingredients in one bowl and dry in another. I put my bowl on the scale and zero (or tare) it so that my screen reads “0 oz”. Then I measure my 1 1/2 cups flour into my bowl. Now I know how much 1 1/2 cups flour weighs (about 6.3 oz) so I write that next to the ingredients on my recipe. I still measure the salt and baking powder using teaspoons because they’re such small amounts. Moving on, I remove the dry ingredients bowl and add a new bowl for my wet ingredients. Zero the scale, add eggs, record the weight; zero the scale, add sugar, record the weight;… and continue for the rest of the wet ingredients. Next time I make this cake, I won’t need to get out a bunch of measuring cups and a butter knife for leveling, and so on. Instead, I’ll refer back to my weights. Once you start doing this regularly, you won’t believe how much time and cleanup it saves you; and “less cleanup” is my motto. Not really but you get it. 

2. Blender
Blender was tied with Food Processor for the #2 spot on my list but in a shootout, the blender won.  You can use the two interchangeably for puréeing. The food processor chops and shreds while the blender blends and makes delicious frozen drinks. Of course, you could always have both but if it’s one or another, you need to decide what best fits your needs.

I choose glass over plastic when it comes to just about anything so I definitely go with glass for my blender container. It’s mostly a personal preference so go with what you like.

VitaMix 1782 – $379

While a VitaMix is awesome, most people don’t have $400+ to blow on a blender. These things have a lot of power and can pulverize just about anything. But truth be told, I haven’t found anything that my $60 blender can’t take care of so I can’t justify the price. We used one like this in the bar at work and it didn’t last any longer than a standard home blender (and we didn’t do a ton of frozen drinks) so I’m not sure there’s much of an advantage in buying this one. I’d love to hear from someone who’s used both a VitaMix and a standard home blender, just to get some more opinions.

Waring Pro – $100ish

I like this Waring. It’s simple and effective; two of my favorite attributes. You can get one on Amazon for under $100.

Oster 7-Speed – $60

This Oster is the one I have. My old roommate’s parents got it for me for Christmas and I really like it. It crushes ice better than the VitaMix due to it’s “reverse” setting (the blade goes one direction, then the opposite direction, then back to the first to thoroughly chop). It’s bulkier and not nearly as sleek as the Waring but it’s definitely the best value.

3. Food Processor
Probably the most important thing to keep in mind when shopping for a food processor is bowl capacity. Bigger is not better in this case. If your bowl is too big for the amount of pesto you’re making, for example, your ingredients will be spread out along the bottom of your bowl, below the blade, and the blade won’t make much contact with the food. If your bowl is too small, you’ll have to use it in batches and that’s frustrating. Cuisinart recognized this problem and made a food processor for all your needs.

I’m loyal to Cuisinart when it comes to food processors because I think they’re the best. I made the mistake of buying a cheap one once and I HATED it. I’ll never do it again. Don’t waste your money on cheap brands, you’ll usually regret it in the long run. For me, it’s better to save and get what I want. And don’t go for gimmicks like a special spout that sends food directly to your salad bowl. Trust me.

Cuisinart 12-Cup – $225

This Cuisinart is uh-mazing. It has a small bowl (4-cups) within a large bowl (12-cups) so you can decide which one is the right size for your job. All in one. At about $225, you’re paying for the genius design but my disdain for kitchen clutter makes this worth it for me.

If you don’t have $225 to spend, you can always go with one or both of these to replace the one above.

Cuisinart 4-Cup – $30
Cuisinart 9-Cup – $150ish

4. Stand Mixer
I’ve lived a lot of my life without a stand mixer but the years I’ve had one sure are easier. I’ve used a few and they all do the job.

I’ve shopped around for mixers but always end up with a KitchenAid. If, for no other reason, than because they have so many useful attachments. My favorites are the pasta roller, the food grinder, and the ice cream maker. I could buy them all separately but having a machine that does it all is so much easier.

If I ever win the lottery (the chances are slim since I’ve never bought a lottery ticket), I’ll buy an old Hobart. Hobart makes industrial mixers. They made the original KitchenAid mixer for home kitchens and eventually sold KitchenAid to Whirlpool in 1986. By all accounts, the old Hobart KitchenAid was a much better machine so I’d love to have one.

KitchenAid 6-Qt Mixer

These mixers come in an array of sizes; anywhere from 4.5-qt, 250-watt to 6-qt, 575-watt. Mixers can poop out so if you work them hard, get one with higher wattage. Just make sure it fits in your kitchen. Seriously, my cousin wanted a mixer so her husband bought her the biggest, baddest KitchenAid of all. Only it didn’t fit under her cabinets at her old house so she had to lug it out every time she wanted to use it. It’s a small price to pay for an awesome gift but still something to keep in mind.

This one is commercial-style; the bowl sits on pegs instead of on the bottom of the stand. The design gives you a lot more room from the top of the bowl to the top of the mixer so it’s easier to add ingredients to the bowl while it’s in place. It’s a personal preference so shop around and read other reviews to determine what’s best for you and your budget. Hand mixers work just fine in most cases and won’t cost you a car payment or two.

I planned on giving you a list of my 5 favorite kitchen tools but none of the others can really be considered “favorites” so I stopped at 4. However, I have a few other gadgets I like that aren’t really necessary but can help you out.

Cuisinart Smart Stick – $33

Sometimes this immersion blender is easier to use than a food processor or blender, especially when making puréed soups. And cleanup is way easier than with the other gadgets. I like this one and I actually think it purées faster than the small, industrial version I used at the restaurant. But it’s only use is for liquids so keep that in mind.

Cucina Pro – $70

I know, it’s a bit pricey for a waffle iron but let me tell you why I like this one. First of all, if you’re gonna buy one, you have to buy a Belgian waffle maker… it has deeper grooves for the batter to sink into which make much better pancakes. Then you have to make Belgian style waffles, as opposed to American style, but we’ll get to that later. Also, this makes 4 small, rectangular waffles so when I make them, I make a bunch and freeze the leftovers. They fit perfectly into a toaster for homemade frozen waffles, minus the mystery ingredients in the store-bought version.

Cuisinart 2-qt Ice Cream Maker – $72

If you don’t go with the KitchenAid ice cream maker attachment, this is a great alternative. There’s a cheaper option also made buy Cuisinart but I feel like my ice cream sets up faster in this one, and that’s slightly important. The other will still work but this one will work better.

Zojirushi 1lb Bread Maker – $185

My grandmother has been making homemade bread in her Zojirushi for years and she swears by this machine. She has perfected a wheat bread recipe and it’s delicious. Others try her recipe in other machines and the texture just isn’t as good so buy others at your own risk. She has the 2lb loaf capacity but I like this 1lb. Zojirushi also makes machines that lay on their side and make the shape of bread you normally see. I like this one because it takes up less room on the counter. And because I like to cut off the top bubble of bread while it’s still warm and lather it in butter and honey before I devour it. Oh my.

Aroma 8-cup Rice Cooker – $34

This one definitely isn’t a necessity but it has come in handy for me many times. I love the ability to put on some white rice and know that it will turn out perfectly every time. I don’t eat rice that often but I bought it for a dinner party when I was serving 30 people. It made things a lot easier and I’ve used it more than I thought I would.

What I don’t have:

Toaster – Weird, right? I like toast the way my grandma cooks it… under the broiler in the oven. I know I mentioned a toaster when I talked about homemade waffles but that was when I lived with my roommate, who had a toaster. They toast just as well under the broiler.
Microwave – No, I’m not afraid of getting radiation cancer… I just don’t need it. My houses have always had microwaves built in above the stove and in that case, I use them. But my loft didn’t have one and I never missed it. Except when working with chocolate; it’s much easier to temper chocolate in the microwave than over a double boiler. Even leftovers are better when reheated in the oven.

That rounds out my kitchen gadgets. Do you have a brand you prefer over one I’ve listed? Or something I left off the list altogether?

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