First things first: electrics are not essential. If pressed, I could do everything that these tools do, by hand, the old fashioned way. I could also spend the entire day in the kitchen and never leave the house. Since that would not be very fun for me (or very practical), I have small electric appliances that help me feel like I’m living in the future. I think I have too many small electrics, and one of these days, before we pack out to wherever we’re going, I’m going to give some of them away (I’m looking at you chocolate tempering machine that I’ve never used. At least you were a free floor sample…) My first two essentials never leave the counter.
1. Toaster Oven
2. Rice Cooker
3. Electric Kettle
4. Crock Pot
5. Food Processor
6. Hand Mixer
We use the toaster every day. If it isn’t providing beautifully browned bread, it may be cooking an empanada, baking an individual oversize muffin, toasting some nuts. My dad likes to warm plates in their toaster oven. We bought an Oster toaster oven from Costco, but for me, brand isn’t the biggest concern – features are. For me, a good toaster over must: a.) have toast, broil, bake and warm functions, b.) have temperature settings, c.) have a good timer, d.) be large enough to broil two 6 ounce steaks (generally, a clearance of 4 inches from the heating element to the rack is necessary).
The Oster fits the bill, and actually helps keep our electricity bill down. If what I would otherwise put in the big oven can comfortably fit in the toaster oven, I prefer to cook in the toaster oven. While I may have to put a little aluminum foil on top of an empanada for the first half of cooking to keep the top from burning, it will cook faster and more efficiently in a small space than in the large cavern of our oven.
A rice cooker may not be essential to everyone, but mine has a permanent home on my counter and is used at least once a week. I grew up with a very basic rice cooker – press the button and in a half an hour you have rice. The last time I bought a rice cooker I decided to go fancy. I got a Zojirushi Micom Fuzzy Logic 5.5 cup cooker and I’m never going back. It cooks brown rice and quiona like a dream, has a convenient retractable cord and a flip up handle. I don’t understand how the fuzzy logic works, but I don’t care since my food comes out perfectly. However, my favorite feature, which I wish we had while I was growing up, is the timer. It is so nice to be able to add rice (or quinoa) and water, set the timer, and have the food ready when I’m going to want it.
Electric Tea Kettle
We have a very basic electric tea kettle. You plug it in and it boils water, there’s an automatic shut off. Basic, very helpful for pasta, boiling potatoes, blanching vegetables, tea, coffee (we use a press thingy that isn’t a French press…I’m not the coffee drinker, you’ll have to ask Chad about it). The stove takes longer to boil a pot of water so it’s very convenient and energy efficient. However, if I had to buy a new one, I’d get one that lets you set the temperature you want. I don’t need the water to boil for tea (apparently, it affects the flavor of coffee as well), and it would be nice for poaching eggs as well. However, the current one works just fine, so a fancy new kettle will just have to wait.
Slow Cooker/Crock Pot
Oh Crock Pot, where would I be without you. Chili, pot roast, corned beef, braised turkey legs, apple sauce, beans… the list goes on and on. My favorite part of cooking with a Crock Pot is that I can let things cook overnight at a low temperature for a long time. My second favorite thing about a Crock Pot is that it’s perfect for sharing hot dishes at pot lucks. There’s no need to re- heat anything, just keep it plugged in at the ‘warm’ level. My least favorite thing about a Crock Pot is that if you’re around while it’s on, the smell of wonderful food cooking can be enough to drive you crazy. Mmmmmmm
I always patiently minced with my knife, pounded with the mortar and pestle, grated large amounts of cheese by hand and used a pastry cutter to bring flour and butter together. Then I got married, and the house in Hawaii we rented to stay in and host the wedding had a large (probably 12 cup) food processor. I used it to chop the macadamia nuts and crystallized ginger in my tropical carrot, and to bring all of the dry ingredients together. I was hooked. So when we got back, my Sur La Table coworkers had pitched in on a gift card to put towards a food processor of my very own. I got a 12 cup KitchenAid, though after reading this really great Food Processor Buying Guide, I think I should have gone for the Cuisinart – oh well. Pastry crusts and pesto are still awesome in my KitchenAid.
Yes, that’s right, hand mixer. I have a KithenAid 5 speed hand mixer and no need for anything more powerful. I spent over a year at Sur La Table wondering if I should get a stand mixer. Pros and cons for a stand mixer: a.) less muscle power, especially for things like whipping egg whites to stiff peaks. Yes, that take a long time with a hand mixer, but it’s not so bad if you let the eggs come to room temperature first. Also, I’ve only had the need twice in the past two years. Also, I prefer to use a spatula for bringing dry and wet ingredients together for cakes so I don’t over mix, I would probably forget about whipped cream and end up halfway to butter, and I use a no knead method for bread, so the dough hook is unnecessary. These are good enough reasons for me to pass on the stand mixer, but throw in the fact that I would never use any of the attachments I’d feel compelled to buy (maybe one day I’ll need a meat grinder and a grain mill), but it’s also big, heavy, and takes up too much space. Therefore, I’ll just stick with my little hand mixer and be happy. This is definitely one of those instances where we need to make sure that our tools match what we actually cook.
DisclaimerAll views and opinions expressed on this website are my own, and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. State Department (they have their own website...).
- Douglas on Preparing for the Foreign Service Oral Assessment: Part II
- Anuradha Shastry (@runneranu) on The Foreign Service is Plan B
- Anuradha Shastry (@runneranu) on Studying for the FSOT (how I did it)
- kristel on My Statement of Interest for the Foreign Service
- Joel on FSOT Score Breakdown