I think that if you were trying to explain to an alien the essence of that side of American capitalism which is ridiculous, kitschy, pointless crap at its finest, one of the best places you could take them is the kitchen. It is amazing–exhilarating– to bask in the glow of that special mix of entrepreneurship and desperate consumerism that provides such a crucial basis for the thrift store industry in our country. From kitchen machines made for some uber-specific task like steaming asparagus, to the dozens of models of mechanisms to open your jars or break up your ice, the American kitchen is a long trail of cheap and confusing tools that boggle the mind. “Who on earth would buy an entire machine just to make popcorn?” we mumble to ourselves as we pay for our pre-sliced quesadilla maker. The adventure continues.
So as we wade through all this junk, I’d like to tentatively offer my recommendation as to what tools should make it into your arsenal, and maybe a few that shouldn’t.
YES: microwave. We can start with an easy one. Microwaves are amazing for leftovers, and there’s actually a few secret things they do even better than other tools (like melting chocolate and steaming certain veggies.) No one’s trying to vote the microwave out, but let’s give it a place on the list where it deserves.
YES: toaster oven. I never had one of these growing up, but I do now and I’m addicted. It’s really nice – this may seem obvious to the more jaded among you – for when you want to cook something that doesn’t take up the whole oven. It feels really stupid to heat up one slice of bread or keep three pieces of bacon warm in a huge oven, and the toaster oven can even cook real things like small pans of muffins or even a whole quiche (I’ve done it). Way more versatile than a toaster, as long as it is good at also making toast.
NO: george foreman grills or similar. This includes panini presses, quesadilla makers, and their ilk. Junior-in-college Todd would be mad at me for saying this, but although these can be a lot of fun, you can do almost the same thing on normal pans and griddles. Save the space for something cooler.
YES: blender and food processor. Both of these are choppy little machines, but both are useful for tons of different things, and worth the space they take up. Go for it.
NO: complicated wine opening machines. I saw a few of these before, and they blow my mind. If you’re the kind of person who likes wine or hates corks, I’m not going to tell you not to get one, but they seem unnecessary. This is coming from a former waiter who had to learn to uncork a bottle after someone had already ordered it. And I’m still doing okay with my little waiter’s corkscrew today. If you’re looking for space, clear this out.
NO: bread machines. I was tempted to leave this off the list, because anything that encourages people to make bread at home makes me happy. But on the other hand, you can make even better bread if you have a big bowl and an oven, and bread machines are huge and clunky. Kick it out!
YES: electric hand mixer. Some kind of little handheld eggbeater contraption with different speeds for the whisks is a great thing to have around. I’m still on the fence when it comes to the giant KitchenAid mixers, so I’m open to input. But at the very least it is great to have a little hand mixer, and they don’t take up nearly as much space.
I’ll stop there for now. Feel free to suggest others, and maybe I can extend the list in another post at some point.