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Saturday, January 20, 2007

What In Heaven's Name Is A (Kosher) Kitchen? - Part Two

What In Heaven's Name Is A (Kosher) Kitchen?

Part Two

(See: What In Heaven's Name Is A (Kosher) Kitchen? - Part One)

In this part we will discuss all those "minor" appliances. (Nice to have, Wish-List and Luxuries)

It would be well to keep the Talmudic dictum, as relayed in the Tractate Avoth, commonly known as "Saying Of Our Forefathers", in mind when shopping for appliances:

"The more possessions the more anxiety."

The more you own the more crowded and complicated life gets. Appliances will sooner or later break, and Murphy's Law will tell you that:

"The appliance will break when you have just one more thing to do that requires the use of said appliance, which is critical to the recipe, and the oven is hot, and everyone is waiting impatiently for the food to be served."

Nothing listed below is a "must have" and some appliances will turn out to be useless for your needs. Unless you are celebrating Hanukkah with an unlimited budget take your time and see how things go in the kitchen.

Yet again Murphy's Law here will further complicate matters:

"If you did not buy it because you were being careful and budget conscious, you will require its use just when all the stores are closed and you are in the middle of a complicated no-wait recipe."

Forewarned is forearmed. Use a measure of sane budgeting along with some planning, and always be ready for the unexpected. That should keep the tears of frustration to a minimum.

An important point here, which I find, surprisingly enough, something even the best designers leave out of good kitchens. There seems to be a conspiracy of sorts on never having an ample amount of electric outlets for all the gadgets in the kitchen. Keep in mind, that almost every one of these appliances, demands that it be plugged into electricity to work. So if you have only three outlets in the kitchen, you are either going to have to double or triple up, or you will be constantly moving things around to plug them into the wall. That is not a terrible problem, but when your hands are covered with cheese and sauce from your lasagna and you have to move the food processor into place, things are going to get dirty, awful fast. Smart planning and design is critical here. When you do decide to purchase another appliance, make sure you have a good use for it, room and an electrical outlet free in the kitchen.

1. Food Processor (Blender)

The more possessions the more anxiety. - The Talmud Of all the appliances and utensils listed here, I always find the "food processor" the most confusing. Walk into any department store, and it seems that there are so many different kinds which accomplish so many different things. Some come with only one blade, others come with a range of blades to cut anything from potato slices to tomatoes to blocks of cheese. So whichever you decide to purchase just make sure it has a safety catch. This does not allow the food processor to be turned on until the plastic top is in place and the blades are covered.

Of course, as you get better in the kitchen, and begin to experiment, the food processor will become more and more valuable and its versatility will be important. But wait on that real expensive do-it-all food processor until you are one million percent sure you will need it. (I did not say "want", I said "need". Try telling that to my kids in the mall!)

2. Hand Mixer (Electric or battery operated)

This should be fairly inexpensive, and not a bad thing to have when you need to whip some ingredients. It does the job well with just two moving parts, is easy to clean and when it breaks you will not have to mortgage your soul for another. If you can splurge a couple of extra dollars, see if you can get one with two or three speeds.

3. Toaster

The appliance will break when you have just one more thing to do that requires the use of said appliance, which is critical to the recipe, and the oven is hot, and everyone is waiting impatiently for the food to be served. - Murphy's Laws Of The Kitchen Duh! Of course you have a toaster. Well I did not have one until a few months ago, and now it just sits in the corner rarely used. We are not big bread eaters, (the perennial diet and all that), but if you do have a toaster it does add to certain meals. Look for one which is long enough to hold and toast a frozen waffle. They are, of course, a bit more expensive, but if you are splurging on a toaster then it is worth the extra money.

4. Grill Cheese/Sandwich Toast Machine

A real inexpensive luxury, and it can be used for a variety of quick meals, and you can make some really interesting toasted sandwiches in it. Many models come with no off-on button. You simply plug it into the wall and wait until the sandwich is ready. I find this incredibly inconvenient and dangerous if you let the little kids make their own grill cheese or toast sandwiches. My daughter once forgot to unplug it, and hours later, when I smelled something burning, after a long search I found it still on. So look for a model that you can leave plugged in, has an on/off button and preferably has some type of buzzer or light to let you know when the sandwich is grilled.

5. Drip Filter Coffee Maker

If you did not buy it because you were being careful and budget conscious, you will require its use just when all the stores are closed and you are in the middle of a complicated no-wait recipe. - Murphy's Laws Of The Kitchen This is my splurge but if you like coffee then consider the coffee maker. It is a necessity in my house and I also have a coffee bean grinder to go with it. These can be small and fairly inexpensive. I buy the beans, grind them (takes all of one minute) and then put them in the coffee maker. Offering good freshly ground coffee with desert is a great way to end a meal with friends. You can also experiment with different flavored coffee beans mixing and grinding them together.

Try the following mix if you are adventurous. You will not require a lot of beans for one pot, so buy one-quarter pound (around 100 grams of each type of bean), afterwards if you do not like the mixture, or want to experiment with others you will not have wasted money on something you will not drink.
  1. One-quarter pound of a rich Columbian coffee bean (the strength of the bean is crucial and depends on your palate and how you like coffee.) I usually go for the stronger Columbian beans.
  2. One-quarter pound of French Vanilla coffee beans.
  3. One-quarter pound of Cinnamon coffee beans. (Some people do not like the smell of Cinnamon, and of course you can mix another scented bean or just use half Columbian and half French vanilla which also has its own pleasing scent.)
If your grinder is the small kind, then take the plastic top of the grinder which holds the amount of beans required for one pot of coffee, or the measuring cup in the larger models, and fill it halfway with the Columbian beans, a quarter with French-vanilla beans and the last quarter with the Cinnamon beans. Grind them together and drop it into the coffee maker. It will produce an aromatic, though not heavy cup of coffee which will taste and smell great. Do not underestimate the power of smell. It is critical to the cooking process, and even more critical to the experience of taste.

I have a stash of around thirty different teas with a nice wooden serving box to put on the table. I have another wooden box for the ever-more popular "green teas" as well. You can purchase a hand tea press but beware there is more work involved in making the tea than just putting a tea bag in the cup. I usually try to have some fresh mint leaves, known as 'nana', to add to the tea for guests. They hold in the refrigerator quite well. Before pouring the hot water, wash off just a couple of leaves and add them to the cup. Nana leaves should be taken out of the tea after approximately a minute or so, as they tend to turn the taste bitter if soaked too much. Both tea and the accompanying mint aroma is very pleasing.

Coffee and tea go a long way in making a plain meal into something a bit more, with very little effort, especially when you are entertaining family, friends, your date, or just the kids.

6. Espresso Machine

For those real connoisseurs of the coffee bean, espresso machines seem to be all the rage these days. As in food processors you will find an incredibly confusing array of types and models to choose from. What is important is to make sure that it heats and froths the milk, and can reach a decent pressure. This is measured by the "bar" number. The higher that number the greater the pressure, (and of course the price). If you like hot milk or hot cocoa a good espresso machine capable of heating the milk, is a fast foolproof method in creating a steamy, smooth cup of frothing milk or hot cocoa in a few seconds. Do not forget. You will either have to purchase special coffee for the machine or grind the beans yourself.

7. Bread Maker

Some people swear by them others find them useless. They seem to be more of a 'novelty' these days than a full fledged item. The bread they make might be perfect, and you can virtually make any type, from whole wheat raisin to white flower to rye bread, but the mold is small. If you are into waking up to the smell of warm, freshly baked bread, and don't mind the preparation the night before, then this item is for your family. I assume within a couple of years, the mold used to make the bread in most models will take on full proportions and then the possibilities especially when entertaining should be quite interesting.

8. Deep Fryer

Growing up in New York a few centuries ago, as my kids often remind me, when we made French fries, the potatoes were first peeled, the oil was put in the pan and the fries were treated with tender care. (A decent recipe for great fries will appear later in the blog.) Before really trying my hand at actually cooking, I discovered the deep fryer on an Internet site where you bid on appliances. I could not resist it, as it seemed a great way to further the ease of making fries in the house. I was not wrong. The deep fryer has served me for over two years now and has really helped out during rush times in the kitchen.

However, be aware of a few things if you intend to buy one. Too much fried food is unhealthy, fattening, and really bad on the stomach. Deep fryers take around a half gallon of oil (two liters) and no matter how easy the manufacturer tries to make them, they are incredibly hard to clean. Spattered oil, which is impossible to avoid, gets into all the nooks and crannies. Additionally, you cannot let that oil sit in the fryer for days and weeks and then just turn it on for another batch of fries. That would cause severe stomach cramps or a trip to the emergency room.

Look for one that has a metal basket where the food is placed, that can be lifted out of the container. The basket should slowly turn around while it is frying the food, creating an even, golden-brown crisp look. It should have a timer as well. Finally, make sure it has dishwasher-safe parts. Cleaning a deep fryer by hand is a full time job.

9. Juice Extractor

Somewhere in the back of one of my kitchen cabinets sits an old hand metal juice squeezer which we used when I was a child. It still works, does not break, and when I get nostalgic, I pull it out and make some orange or grapefruit juice. Today juicers come in all sorts of models and possibilities. Some only work on citrus (round fruit). Others have attachments to make carrot juice and the like. Like the espresso machine, this is a luxury, and required only if you drink freshly squeezed juice on a regular basis. By the way, many food processors and blenders today have attachments for squeezing juice. I would make sure that it has a safety top, like food processors, so that you cannot run it unless all parts are locked in place.

10. Professional Mixer

The "mamma" of all kitchen appliances. It is amazing how many women who like cooking and baking that I have spoken to, dream about owning this appliance. I remember my mother slaving over her home-made gefillte fish every Thursday afternoon in preparation for the Sabbath. The big mixer would be lugged to the kitchen table and she would slowly feed slices of fresh carp through its grinding attachments.

This is not a cheap investment, so beware. Still, if you do get serious about baking, or making 'challah' or even grinding fresh fish or creating some masterpiece that requires thorough kneading then this incredible appliance is for you.

Since I will not recommend any specific manufacturer or model in this blog, my suggestion would be to just ask around. You will find that most people call this mixer by another name, which is actually a brand name.

A hint for all the single and married males out there. Never buy appliances as a gift for your loved one with one exception. If they do love baking, this is one appliance that will almost always be appreciated as a present and earn you serious brownie points, (and do not forget to purchase all the attachments.)

I am sure that there are quite a few items left out of this list. If you think you need them then by all means, have fun and purchase it. Remember though, kitchens can get to be an expensive hobby, and keep in mind we did not yet discuss food supplies, shopping and all the rest.

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3 Fire Comments - Click To Post A Comment:

B.E. Sanderson said...

I bought myself a food processor for x-mas because all year long I'd been wishing I had one. Now I can't think of a single thing to use it for.

Thanks for the post, Teddy.

Paula and Elwood's Poetic Palace said...

Each year I make one purchase of "Need" for myself. If you try to buy everything at once, you will go broke.

For a long time I could not justify spending a huge sum of money on any one item. After having to replace a burnt out mixer or blender several times, I splurged on a better, more effiecient one. The best thing I ever did was buy the 5 quart electric mixer with all the attchments. Now I can run around the kitchen and this thing operates itself.

The food processor is great if have small children, this allows you to make baby food instead of having to rely on store bought which can be costly.

Nice job on this one Teddy.

Talia said...

Congrats on being a bloggies finalist!!!

You have a fun column here. Fingers crossed you can win the votes.

ps your comment "The more possessions the more anxiety." reminded me of Affluenza, a topic close to my heart