While there are certainly a number of essential cooking utensils that everyone should have, not every home cook wants to stop with the basics. There are many cool appliances available, with options ranging from bizarre gadgets to practical options that allow you to expand your repertoire in the kitchen and/or save time by simplifying the preparation or cooking process.
5 Cool Kitchen Appliances
1. Countertop Convection Oven
Luca Manfè, Bauli Chef Ambassador and winner of Masterchef Season 4, states, "I really like the counter top convention ovens, they are great! I even have one at home. They pre-heat very fast and do not heat up the whole kitchen. They are much easier to clean than a regular oven, and because they are smaller, they cook the food more evenly."
The folks at Kenmore sent me one a Kenmore Digital Elite Countertop Convection Oven (around $170) to review, and I can definitely see the advantage of this specialty item. It serves double-duty as a small countertop oven with convection capabilities and a toaster oven. It is great for those times when your oven is full, you need to bake something at a different temperature than what is already in the oven, or when you want to speed up the baking process for a favorite recipe. It's also a great option for re-heating leftovers quickly without using a microwave.
2. Multi-Purpose Electric Cooker
Manfè states, "One of the things I like most in my kitchen is the Fast Slow Cooker from Breville. It's electric and can be used in five different ways." This multi-function item can be purchased for around $180. It costs more than traditional slow cookers, but is much more powerful.
Manfè states, "My favorite way to use it is as a pressure cooker for all my braised meat, but I have used it many times as a steamer for my healthy meals. It works as a sauté pan as well, just in case your gas stove isn't working, as well as a slow cooker and to heat things up. It's one of those machines that makes cooking very easy, you just need to put the ingredients in it and it cooks by itself."
3. Stand Mixer With Attachments
Rachel Sherwood, Food Stylist and Culinary Strategist with with impressionsathome.com and author of The Pretty Plate, recommends stand mixers that come with helpful attachments as a great speciality option. She states, "Yes you very well can mix batter, and make whipped cream by hand but these items do save from arms from doing all the work. Attachments can help reduce space while providing access to specialty items like a pasta maker, ice cream maker or meat grinder."
Kitchen Aid stand mixers are a great option for home cooks looking for a mixer that does more than just mix batter. This brand offers the attachments Sherwood recommends and more. The line even includes a grain mill and a fruit/vegetable strainer. It's no wonder that Kitchen Aid's Artisan Series stand mixer (around $420) is on the top of Better Homes & Gardens' list of the best stand mixers. This is an investment piece, but it's well worth the money. I have owned one of these mixers since the early '90s - it is one of the first 'luxury' kitchen tools I purchased - and it is still going strong more than two decades later.
4. Rice Cooker
Sherwood suggests adding a rice cooker to your collection of specialty kitchen tools. She states, "A rice cooker makes perfect rice every time with very little thought. It also opens a burner if you are cooking many things with little stove space." Quality rice cookers aren't cheap, but they are very useful.
According to FineCooking.com, the Zojirushi Neuro Fuzzy® Rice Cooker & Warmer (model NS-ZCC10-WZ) is the "best all-around" rice steamer. It is available for less than $160 from Amazon (pictured). It can cook up to 5 1/2 cups of rice, and will make a sound when it is cooked to the perfect degree of doneness. You can use the memory setting to let the machine know exactly how you like specific types of rice prepared for perfect texture every time.
5. High Quality Blender
Sherwood recommends beverage blenders as great specialty tools for home cooks. While you can get very low-cost blenders, the higher end models are much more powerful and serve multiple purposes in the kitchen. She states that this type of small appliance "not only makes the typical fruit smoothie, milkshake or margarita, it can also be used to purée soups and sauces."
According to CNET, the Ninja Ultima is the best blender priced under $500. Priced around $260, it is not a low-cost option, but it is powerful and serves double-duty as a food processor. CNET indicates that, with its 1,500 watts of power, this blender is as powerful as the much more expensive VitaMix 7500 and other higher-end models. In testing, the blender made almond butter from whole almonds faster than any of the other models tested.
CNET also recommends the less-powerful but still high-performing 900 watt Nutri Ninja (pictured) for folks who would rather spend around $100. Ninja provided me with a Nutri Ninja to review, and I am extremely impressed with its capabilities - it works much more efficiently and faster than the traditional blenders I have owned over the years. I have never tried the Ultima model, but can say that the Nutri Ninja does an excellent job with smoothies and shakes and it also works great for juicing. Unless you're going to use your blender as a food processor, it's probably sufficient for you.
Expand Your Cooking Power
Cool appliances like these expert-recommended options provide a great way to enhance your capabilities in the kitchen. When you're ready to take your cooking to the next level, consider adding these - and other specialty selections - to your collection of kitchen tools.