On this side of the world (Western hemisphere), there’s only two more shopping days until Christmas – unless you’re like my family and decide that the after-Christmas/year-end clearance sales (which last from December 26th to around New Years’ Eve, maybe New Years’ Day, if a store decides to stay open then. Some stores will even stop the day before New Years’ Eve so they can differentiate between the after-Christmas sale and the year-end clearance sale) are the best time to buy Christmas presents.
Shopping for a foodie or a home cook is a lot like shopping for a child: there are a lot of new, shiny toys out there that everyone wants, some of which are good to have, while others are just novelty that no self-respecting home cook/foodie would want or need. A quesadilla maker does seem like a good idea, but, as the “Thanksgiving Leftovers” post showed, you can get the same results with a good cast-iron pan and a canned good or the back of a spatula pressed firmly, but not too firm or the cheesy filling will spill out (unless you like it like that). I guess I should be one to talk, since my grandmother recently got our family a breakfast sandwich maker from Hamilton Beach and that’s about as novelty as you can get on a kitchen appliance without it being a knock-off of something you’d find at a county fair or circus (cotton candy maker, snow cone maker that’s not the classic Snoopy one, or hot dog roller). However, my family hasn’t had a bread toaster in years, our toaster oven broke, and there are days where we (myself included) either don’t feel like using the oven or stove or can’t, because we ran out of vegetable oil. In that regard, I say, “Don’t pick a novelty kitchen appliance unless you have a good reason to use it and you will use it more than once,” like a pasta maker:
I had to work with one of these monsters in my Bistro class and my Fine Dining class at Job Corps. It seems easy and you’d think I’d get the hang of it just because of my quarter-Italian heritage, but it just didn’t happen, especially since the hand crank kept falling off. The only successful time I had with this machine was when I made kreplach noodles for my Jewish chicken soup, but that was because I had a partner who helped me hold down the machine. If you want to make fresh pasta and you don’t have anyone to be your spotter when hand-cranking it, then invest in an electric pasta maker, get a pasta maker attachment for a Kitchenaid standing mixer, like this one…
…or learn how to cut pasta by hand. The last one isn’t recommended unless you have the time, patience, skill, and a good kitchen knife or pizza cutter and ruler to do it.
So, what constitutes a “kitchen need” vs. a “kitchen want”? It all depends on whether or not you can see yourself using the appliance frequently or if you answer “Yes” to the question, “Could I do the same thing without this appliance?”
Like the panini maker/George Foreman grill. While you may jump down my throat and say that a panini maker is essential in the kitchen, it’s actually not (and this is coming from experience, as I have two broken ones). You get the same results with a cast iron skillet with a ridged bottom, whether you’re making a turkey and brie panini or a pan-grilled steak. On top of that, you can easily soak a ridged cast iron skillet in the sink and not have to worry about emptying the fat/oil reservoir every time you use it.
Then there are the specialized cutters (the ones used for one kind of food, like watermelons, corn, bananas and butter). The only kind of cutters you need in a kitchen are for cookie dough (though you can easily make stencils out of sturdy paper and not bother with those metal ones) and an apple corer. The knife kits they have in stores from Williams-Sonoma to Wal-Mart look almost like the ones that professional chefs use, and work just as well.
Coffeemakers: I’m not much of a coffee drinker, and, if I am, then it’s always cold and always sold at Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, or Cosi’s. I did have one in college, but that was because my sister and I also bought a blender so we can make cold coffee drinks and it ended up getting thrown out when we moved out. If you just have to have coffee, then don’t go for the needlessly complicated ones, like this one (yes, I know it’s a parody commercial from Saturday Night Live, but the Verismo is real. They’re just making fun of the crummy service of real Starbucks cafes): http://vimeo.com/62425881. Go for the ones that look like this:
So, what have we learned in this blog post? We learned that a foodie Christmas shouldn’t have to break the bank like a regular Christmas. It should be about what you need in the kitchen, not what you want (though if it’s not considered redundant and you plan on using it more than once, you can splurge on a “kitchen want”).
Thanks, and have a very foodie Christmas.