Q: What kitchen appliances do I really need to help me be the best cook I can be?
A: Cooking has evolved over the past 50 years into a desirable hobby, a vacation destination and an enviable profession. Just look at all the food channels on television, the magazines, the novels and memoirs, the thousands of blogs and the stores devoted to this once arduous task.
To answer your question honestly, you only really need a good palate, some imagination, a few sharp knives, a clean area, an oven, a sink, a stove, some bowls, some spoons and refrigeration. That is all the mothers of some of the best chefs in the world had, and they taught their children the basic skills with these simple tools. (What is the difference between a chef and a great cook? One is getting paid.) Many of the greatest chefs of all time did not go to culinary school, but learned at home, then trained in kitchen after kitchen, always starting at the lowest jobs, and working long hours year after year.
But it is fun to have gadgets in your kitchen and many of them do great things to help you save time. Some of them help you prepare things you could not make without them. The list is endless: toaster ovens, blenders, Vitamixes, sous vides, crockpots, pressure cookers, ebbleskivers, blue steel crepe pans, electric crepe pans, electric skillets, woks, electric grills, warming drawers, hundreds of coffee makers, roasters, espresso makers, blenders, ice cream makers, gelato makers, popsicle makers, soda makers, cotton candy makers, margarita makers, cake pop makers, toasters, food processors, stand mixers, hand held mixers, immersion blenders — are you having a nervous breakdown yet? And this is just the stuff I am thinking of as I go around the perimeter of a store in my mind, I'm not even going through the middle yet with all the different wine gizmos, ways to chop garlic, and zest your lemons. Remember that cooking is big business now. Be smart with your money. You do not want a lot of clutter and drawers full of silly things that you do not use, so save for the big items you will use over and over again. Here is what I think a well laid-out kitchen would have. Anything else is personal choice.
A food processor. Buy the best brand and the biggest you can afford. Why? You want the most powerful motor. What you will do with it today may be doubled tomorrow once you get the hang of it, so you do not want to have to buy a new one. You also want a reliable name brand. This is not the place to try to save money.
2. A stand mixer. I say go with the biggest, at least a 6 quart. This is because the 5-quart motor is not powerful enough to knead bread, even though it comes with a dough hook and says it can do bread (maybe bread for Barbie) and it will burn up. You may want to start baking your own baguettes as you are developing your culinary ID You want to be prepared for that momentous day! Now Kitchenaid has gotten the memo and also makes a 7 quart like Cuisinart, so you have a choice if you want to go to the 7 quart. I like the rounded shaped of the Kitchenaid's bowl vs. the V shape of the Cuisinart.
3. A blender. Do you want a blender or a Vitamix? The Vitamix is really expensive, and I don't have one, so I cannot give great advice here. I kind of wish I had one, but had just bought my blender when they came Indiana's way. It does an awful lot of things, including warm stuff. It has a very powerful motor. It is kind of a cross between a blender and a food processor. I would love to hear from anyone who has one about how you feel about yours! If you get a blender, make sure it is powerful enough to do smoothies and crush ice.
4. A coffee maker. I have had everything from a Mr. Coffee all the way to a Jura. I love my fancy Jura, but I had to wait to get it on super sale because it costs more than 5,000 Mr. Coffees. Here is a groovy tip: I got a second Jura, because I loved it so much, as I previously said, for my shop on eBay! The company takes returns or factory rejects, repairs them and sells them for about a quarter of the price. Maybe it has a tiny scratch or a dent on its fabulous stainless steel body. Whatever the problem, it will be well-documented and photographed. Mine had an infinitesimal scratch on the side so was not up to Jura standards. (I pity the poor guy who hit it with his watch.) However, it performs perfectly and does everything my other one does. It is probably the same for all the fancy coffee maker manufacturers. No I did not get a cool box and a warranty and, yes, I took a chance. But I am eBay's biggest cheerleader; it is the best thing that ever happened to people building a house. I even bought my Le Cornue for the shop on it!
5. A slow cooker. The busy mom's kitchen ally and also a wonderful asset during a winter party.
6. A microwave.
7. Belgium waffle makers are fun for breakfast but you can do more in it than just waffles!
8. Places to save money and shop at the less expensive stores: A toaster, a hand-held mixer, an immersion blender (you do not need a fancy brand, but owning an immersion blender comes in handy), an electric can opener and any other small motor appliances.
This is all I need for a kitchen.
Think carefully before parting with your hard-earned money on gizmos. Save it for your knives or quality cookware! Do you really need an indoor grill? You could just use the broiler in your oven, which is probably healthier anyway because the fat falls under the broiler pan.
A toaster oven? Counter clogger. A rice cooker? Do it on the stove in a pot because making rice is easy. A bread maker? Use your fancy stand mixer to knead (or use your own strength), let it rise on your counter and perfume your home.
Think clean, spacious counters to prep your food, and you won't over-buy. In two weeks, I'll address the fun, but wallet-seducing, world of kitchen gadgets, so try not to get lured by anything until then.