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Building the Perfect Kitchen, Part IV: Electronics
By Kirk Leins
Often when approaching a project like building the perfect kitchen, we tend to focus on the obstacles rather than the possibilities. Phrases such as, "It's going to be a lot of work" or "I hope it doesn't cost too much" seem to drive the design. For those who've been following this series of articles, I'm hoping thoughts like these will never enter your mind.
Creating your kitchen isn't about spending a ton of money or reinventing the culinary wheel. Rather, it's about establishing a very important space in your home and making it work for you. Once finished, you'll be left with a highly-functional kitchen that you and your family can enjoy for a very long time.
I've saved my spiel about electronic appliances for this final installment of the series for a couple of reasons. First, I believe that most non-professional cooking can be accomplished without them. Also, electronics is an area where people are inclined to overspend. This is partly due to the endless supply of cool products and partly due to consumers not giving careful thought to their actual needs. This brings us to our first product.
Every home kitchen needs either a quality food processor, a quality blender, or both. Your decision regarding which to buy depends on the type of cooking you do. Food processors are built to handle bigger jobs, especially food jobs that involve pureeing, chopping, and grating. Quality blenders can handle some food jobs but are at their best when dealing with liquids like mixed drinks, soups, smoothies, and marinades.
My suggestion is to consider your cooking preferences and buy accordingly. If you're interested in having both a blender and a food processor, buy them in the order that makes sense. Quality versions of both appliances are not cheap, so if you buy them simultaneously, be prepared to spend a little dough.
Starting with food processors, the brand that's been the leader for years is Cuisinart. I personally own a Cuisinart processor, and I absolutely love it. It's powerful, reliable, and fairly quiet. I have also found Cuisinart's customer service to be pretty awesome. After years of faithful service, the lid from one of my older processors finally broke. The good folks at Cuisinart replaced it for free. That's unheard of – and that's one of the reasons they keep getting my business.
For most home chefs, I suggest concentrating on two of the Cuisinart models specifically; the DLC-5 and the DLC-8S. The major difference between the two is size. The DLC-5 has a 7-cup work bowl, while capacity for the 8S is 11 cups. The 8S also includes a few extra features, like a second slicing disc for creating paper-thin slices of raw ingredients.
When buying any of the Cuisinart food processors, I suggest logging on to www.shopping.com and conducting a product search. I did exactly that and found the DLC-5 for as low as $99.99 and the DLC-8S for as low as $157! Both are very good prices.
If a blender is what you're looking for, there are a ton of good ones out there. However, I suggest that you bypass most of them and concentrate on only the brands with "commercial" lines. Doing so will help to ensure that you'll find a restaurant-quality blender for a good price. Blenders sold in retail stores as "professional" models are usually fine products, but trust me when I say they're going to cost you. Commercial lines, on the other hand, allow you to get far more bang for your buck.
Waring is one such brand that features a commercial line. I personally own the Waring BB150, and I love it. I've had it for about six years now and haven't had a single problem. Believe me when I say it gets a lot of use. The reason for its durability is that it's constructed with professional bartenders in mind. It has a 48-oz., hardened plastic pitcher; a fairly powerful 2-speed motor; a die-cast enameled base; and suction cups for gripping to a bar's surface.
For a step up in both quality and price, I recommend the Waring HGB146 and HGB150. The 146 is almost like the BB150 but features a 1-horsepower motor. The HGB150 also has a 1-horsepower motor but features a 1/2 gallon stainless steel pitcher, perfect for both food and liquid.
As far as price is concerned, I found the cheapest price for the BB150 on www.shopping.com. One of the companies listed was offering it for a modest $54. A quality bar blender for less than sixty bucks - not bad at all. Regarding the HGB146 and 150, I found the best prices at www.blenderworld.com. They were $257 and $287, respectively. See what I mean about being expensive? I really liked Blender World's website, as it also features commercial lines from Hamilton-Beach (reasonably priced) as well as Blendtec and Vita-Mix (very high-end).
Moving on, I'd like to talk a little bit about toaster ovens and toasters. For starters, I believe that toaster ovens are a bit of a waste of space and are best suited for office kitchens and motor homes. Besides, anything you can do in a toaster oven, you can do in your regular oven.
As long as you're not buying a toaster oven, how about getting a better-quality toaster? Dualit, an English company, makes beautiful machines priced somewhat affordably. The company's line of Vario toasters is both near and dear to my heart. They're well-built, and they look great, toast great, are easy-to-use, and they have a few really nice features. For starters, the toasting slots are wider so they accommodate more types of bread. Also, once toasting is complete, the toast stays warm inside the toaster until it's manually ejected. It also happens to be an energy-saving appliance.
The Dualit is considered a high-end toaster, so if you buy it at William-Sonoma or any other retail store, expect to pay upward of $200. I'll direct you back to www.shopping.com for a much better price. There I was able to find the Dualit Vario (2-slice) toaster for less than $80.
Before I finish up, there are a few last pieces of equipment I'd like to address. A very reasonably-priced, yet handy piece of equipment is something called an immersion blender. Sometimes, when a job is too small to warrant breaking out your food processor or blender, an immersion blender (also known as a wand blender) is all you need. You can obtain this product in any kitchen store, but I think the best prices are found at establishments like Target or K-Mart. You can usually find a respectable brand like Hamilton-Beach or SunBeam for somewhere around $20.
A waffle maker is something else you may want to consider buying, depending on how much you'd use it. For the best prices, I'd again start by looking at a store like Target. Pricier "professional" models can be found at high-end kitchen stores, restaurant supply stores, and on the Internet. However, I urge you to do your research because many models do not yield a waffle superior enough to warrant spending the extra money. One important feature to look for in any model you choose is a temperature control that allows you to brown the waffle as much as you want.
Don't forget about a coffee maker. However, if you live by yourself or don't frequently make coffee for large numbers of people, you may want to consider a manual pot like a French press. It costs under $20, and it makes awesome coffee. But, if an electric pot is what you're looking for, once again you really need to do your research. There are many different models with too many varying features for me to cover here.
If fresh coffee is your thing, pick up a couple of moderately-priced electric coffee grinders. Use one of them for nothing but coffee and the other for grinding whole spices and fresh herbs. Two of them will cost you $30 or so at any department store.
A microwave is also something to think about. Even though I never cook in a microwave, I do find them useful for reheating food. When microwaves first came on the market, they were monsters, both in size and in price. Not any more. Once again, do yourself a favor and buy yours at a store like Target. You'll probably spend around forty bucks.
Finally, a couple of higher-end pieces of equipment are the panini press and the stand mixer. I received a panini press as a gift, and I absolutely love it. Mine is made by VillaWare, and, not only does it make great panini, but it's also great for grilling vegetables and meats like bacon and ham.
Regarding mixers, your need for one really depends on the amount of baking you do. The exception to this is if you buy a KitchenAid mixer in order to enjoy the wonderful attachments (sold separately) like the meat grinder, pasta maker, sausage maker, ice cream maker, etc. I have a KitchenAid mixer, and I can't say enough good things about it. It truly is the Ferrari of mixers. But it's important to know that you will not find many great deals on a KitchenAid. They cost what they cost because they're worth it. If you're in the market to buy one, my suggestion is to scour the Internet.
Well, we have come to the end of our journey, as our perfect kitchen is pretty much complete. I truly hope it was as good of an experience for you as it was for me. I'd like to leave you with one final thought. Many of my fondest memories involve time spent in the kitchen with my family. If family memories are something you're craving, try cooking for them – or along with them. I believe that a more rewarding experience does not exist.
Kirk Leins has been cooking his entire life. No stranger to professional kitchens, he currently devotes most of his time to cooking instruction, food writing, and producing television. Kirk also provides his services as a personal chef in and around the Los Angeles area. He has made several TV appearances on both the national and local level, and is the Executive Chef for YOU Magazine. His free newsletter, The Everyday Gourmet, is available by contacting Kirk at EGcuisine@gmail.com.
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