Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Kitchen Equipment Wishlist: To Buy or Not to Buy

I wanted a salad spinner for years but thought it was a one function item and a frivolous purchase, so I resisted buying one.  Finally, a couple of years ago, the longing for properly dried romaine grew too intense and I broke down and got a nice Oxo Good Grips Spinner.  I have never regretted it.  After a quick soak in ice water and a whirl through the spinner, my salad greens are always crisp, fresh and lovely.  My dressing always adheres.  My herbs are clean and dry.  I use the big acrylic bowl for (of course) salad, as well as chips, popcorn, large cold dishes, etc.  I sometimes use the inner strainer as a colander.  Salad spinner is not a frivolous item, in fact it has become something that I use several times a week for a number of purposes.  I was happily wrong.


It makes me wonder about some of the other items on my wishlist of kitchen items I admire, but never buy.  These are confronted by two questions: Will I Use It Enough to Justify the Expense and Cabinet/Counter Space?  and Does It Cost More Than The Value I Will Get From It?  * edit: Wait.  Is that the same question asked slightly differently?  Ugh, I think it is.*


Maybe you could weigh in.  Do any of you own these or similar items and do you think they are worth having if one is on a tight budget and has a small kitchen?


The Heavy Hitters:


Stand Mixer:  I have a small, inexpensive hand mixer, but I covet the KitchenAid Artisan stand mixer.  Aside from being very expensive, they are also huge, heavy and would take up a lot of prime counter space in my small kitchen. I love to bake, but don't do it as often as I would like to because of my ever expanding waistline.  I want to be able to make homemade marshmallows and various other things that take more power than my hand mixer can manage, but... will I do it enough to justify?   I don't want an expensive piece of kitchen eye candy.  Who has a stand mixer, and how often do you use it?
Fancy Rice Cooker:  Everyone in Louisiana should own a rice cooker, right?  Except that I make lovely rice on the stove and since I am usually cooking for just two, rarely need to make more than 2 cups at a time.  This Japanese beauty, the Zojirushi Micom 3-Cup Rice Cooker and Warmer, is expensive at about $125. but the reviews are excellent and a friend, who knows about such things, highly recommends the brand.  It has a rice porridge setting.    If you haven't noticed from previous blog posts, I'm a little obsessed with rice porridge.  I already own a very simple rice cooker which I only break out of the pantry for times when I have company.  Do I need to splurge on a fancier version?  Probably not, but I can't help but want to.




Hot Water Dispensing Pot:  I work from home and drink French pressed coffee in the mornings and green tea in the afternoons.  I also use boiling water for miso soup packets and endless other things.  Each time, I fill the kettle and wait for it to boil on the stove top.  When making tea and coffee, I keep an ear perked from the next room hoping to hear and catch it in that moment just before it actually boils, just before it's ready to whistle, so I can avoid scalding the coffee grinds and tea leaves.  I would love to have a dispensing pot such as this one from Zojirushi, that can heat water to a variety of temperatures (140, 175, 195, and 208 degrees F) and keep it there, at the ready, for me to have a nice cup of whatever at any given moment.  It seems that it would also be useful when cooking (starting off boiled eggs, supplementing stock when in the last stages of risotto making, thinning a sauce, etc). But again... expensive (about $90) and requires counter space.  Worth it?  I am strongly compelled to say yes, but then I think... what's the big deal?  So I have to wait a few minutes for the kettle to boil?  How am I in such a big hurry that I can't wait on a kettle?  I'm really not.  Anyone have an opinion on this?


The Little Guys:

Mandolin:  I chop vegetables nearly every day.  I like chopping.  It is meditative and calming.  I take pleasure in learning to use my knife as an extension of my hand.  However.  Chopping many vegetables is sometimes tedious and takes too long, and makes a meal that I'd like to have on the table in 35 minutes take much longer if there are many ingredients involved.  Mandolins are precise and quick (and scary).  They can do things that I can't really do by hand.  While there are well-reviewed, inexpensive Japanese mandolins like this one from Kyocera available, I still hesitate to buy one.  I don't want it to take up valuable drawer space, gathering dust as I continue my love affair with my chef's knife.  Anyone have one, and do you put it to good use?
Madeleine Sheets:  This one really is frivolous, I think.  I love madeleines and I know they are easy and most delicious when freshly baked.  I have read up on madeleine sheet pans and hear over and over again that it's the metal pans that do the best job.  Only problem is... do I really want to spend $20 on something that I absolutely cannot use for anything else?  I want so badly to bake Chez Pim's bergamot madeleines.  I'm just plain aching for them.  Will I bake madeleines 2 or 3 times and then let the pan sit unused in the back of my cabinet?  This is a question that only I can answer for myself, I know.  *sigh*  I'll let you know if I ever decide to go for it.


Your thoughts are welcomed.  What items are on your kitchen wishlist?

13 comments:

Melissa February 17, 2010 at 2:08 PM  

I have the KitchenAid stand mixer. It makes baking a breeze. You can also buy attachments for ice cream-making and meat-grinding.

A mandoline is great to have for slicing potatos and vegetables for gratins.

A rice cooker is, to me, not worth it. As you said, you make small portions on the stove. You could probably make rice porridge in a slow cooker, a more versatile small appliance I'd recommend.

Hot water pot doesn't seem worth it. But get one or two madeleine sheets. They don't take up much space in a cabinet, and if you like to make madeleines, indulge!

I really want some good enameled cast-iron dutch ovens.

NOJuju February 17, 2010 at 2:26 PM  

Melissa, watch Amazon for a good deal on a Staub or Le Creuset. I got my first enameled dutch oven (well, Staub calls it a cocotte but same thing) last year and it is, BY FAR, my most loved pot.

Tim Vandergrift February 17, 2010 at 3:04 PM  

Kitchenaid, check. I use mine every week, and have the pasta, and meat grinder attachments. I don't even own a hand mixer, just KA and my whisks.

I have a zen thing going on with rice: for some reason I can cook rice--any kind of rice, from brown to long-grain to sushi rice--absolutely perfectly, every time, so it would be wasted on me. Also, rice cookers are too single-task for my taste.

Mandolins are good if you're doing vast amounts of garnish, but for actual food-prepping tasks you'll get more mileage out of a decently sharpened French knife.

Of course you need Madeleine pans! How else will you make me Bergamot Madeleines when I come over?

Lisa February 17, 2010 at 3:29 PM  

The Kitchenaid is out for me, mainly because I have very little counter space and it would be more trouble than it's worth. I seldom bake, although I love the idea of making fresh pasta.

I make white rice in the microwave, brown rice on the stove. I got a rice cooker for Christmas and it just doesn't seem worth it for a small serving of white rice; it burns brown rice every time.

I absolutely adore my Mandolin! I do not have great knife skills, so when I want paper-thin slices of celery for a salad or a chiffonade of brussel sprouts for stir fry, it is invaluable. I got mine on Amazon and it snaps onto a mixing bowl, so it does double duty. Love it!

The hot water dispenser seems pretty cool! I want an electric kettle, and that would be even nicer.

flojindamesa February 18, 2010 at 8:46 AM  

My Kitchen Aid was a gift so I did not purchase it myself (it would probably take me five more years to find the justification for such a purchase), but I love it. I have the pasta attachments, which I use more than anything else, but it is a dream for baking too. As far as your counter space concern, I see the Kitchen Aid as decoration. They're beautiful, aren't they?

Lola,  February 18, 2010 at 8:58 AM  

The stand mixer is an awesome idea if you have the counter space to keep it out. I bet you'd use it a lot less if you had to pull it down from a shelf or up from a cupboard, though. I'm thinking of one too--my ancient hand mixer gave up the ghost (or smoke, rather) last weekend.

The rice cooker I would skip. I got one from my wedding, and I do use it, but basically just to keep the stove more clear to cook on. Rice is so easy to cook yourself, and if you decide you want boiled rice Indian style instead of steamed, you'd have to cook it on the stove anyway.

I am intrigued by the mandoline-have never used one, but I find slicing vegetables uninspiring rather than meditative. Bergamot madeleines sound amazing, and you can hang that gorgeous pan on the wall if you tire of making them.

Katrina February 18, 2010 at 1:40 PM  

We love our Kitchen aid and our zojirushi rice cooker. We set the rice cooker overnight to wake up to hot and ready steel cut oatmeal. We also set it to cook rice while we're at work so that it's ready for our stir fry, red beans, etc... when we get home. You can make awesome polenta and risotto type dishes in it too....
If you do a lot of baking, the kitchen aid is a must. And, the pasta attachment for it rocks! It makes better pasta than a pasta machine. So thinly and evenly rolled, you can almost see through the sheets of pasta!

We burned up two of the hot water kettles like the one you have pictured at our shop. They hold a lot of water and were not that fast at boiling it. It was better for keeping the water hot, but not getting it there quickly. And, each one only lasted a year. Zojirushi is a good brand, so theirs' might be better. What we do have at home, that we love and use all the tiime, is a hot water kettle from Proctor Silex. It cost between $20-$30. It heats 1.7L in a couple of minutes. We use it every morning for our French Press Cofffee, at night for tea, and any time we need hot water quickly-when making broth with better than Bouillion, heating up water for boiling pasta, etc...

Carmelo got a Mandolin, but we hardly ever use it. A good knife is so much quicker and easier to clean up.

I don't have a Madelein pan....

NOJuju February 22, 2010 at 11:19 AM  

Tim, you need to get here so I can make them for you. And bring me a bergamot, while you're at it.

Lisa, I'm starting to hear that kettle is the way to go.

flojindamesa, you're right about decoration.
They are incredibly beautiful. It sounds like I should seriously consider and KA savings fund.

Lola, pan on wall! You are brilliant.

Katrina, your insight is so valuable! I love that you have real life experience with the zojirushi. I have a feeling that I would feel the same way about the mandolin. Knife does seem much quicker and more versatile.

Celeste February 23, 2010 at 2:30 AM  

I don't bother with a rice cooker for regular size portions (though I do own a big ol' one for large gatherings). The OXO mandolines (or Benriner brand) are inexpensive and work well (around $20 at TJ Maxx). Madeline pans--I don't make madelines, but I will probably buy some eventually when I see some on sale.

Now my KA mixer--that's another story. It is used weekly. Shop carefully on Amazon or at BB&B, and you can get a big 5 quart one for around $200...get the bowl-lift mechanism, not one of the tilt-head (lower powered) models. I own the meat grinder, which I rarely use. The beater blade is an essential accessory---it scrapes the sides of the bowl as it stirs.

NOJuju February 23, 2010 at 11:57 AM  

Celeste, that's exactly what I'm going to do (troll Amazon, etc for a good deal). Yesterday, I was given a glorious recipe for a particularly good Meyer Lemon Tart. I was so excited! The first thing it required for the dough was stand mixer with paddle attachment. Foiled again! I've got to get one.

Leslie February 24, 2010 at 3:23 PM  

Amazon will sometimes sell refurb KitchenAid stand mixers. I like to watch SlickDeals.net for those pricier items.

Cynical Cook March 3, 2010 at 2:52 PM  

As far as the two zojirushi items, I actually got one of their top end 10 cup rice cookers for Christmas and it is pretty fantastic. It actually takes a lot longer than my previous $30 model, but there's so much more room for precision. If you're looking for one as small as 3 cups, just remember they use 6oz as cup, not 8.

Like you, I'm trying to justify one of those hot water pots. Unfortunately, I can't get past the fact it takes 2 hours for the water to come to temp, so I just stick with a standard water boiler for my tea.

NOJuju March 3, 2010 at 3:37 PM  

@Cynical: I'm pretty sure it shouldn't take 2 hours to heat... more like 10 minutes (according to my friend who has one) and then it stays hot indefinitely. Maybe you're talking about one with a larger capacity?

Good note on the cup sizes! I'll keep that in mind in the future.

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