Saturday, March 8, 2008

Every kitchen requires some basic equipment in order to function. The list from the previous post may not be the ‘ideal’ beginners list, however it is very close. In the next series of posts, I’ll explain why I feel these items are “essential” to any kitchen, beginner or not.

My first item was the Kitchen Aid stand mixer. Until recently, Kitchen Aid was pretty much it when it came to stand mixers. Some very nice, higher end stand mixers have emerged. Viking and Cuisinart, in particular, have high-powered, heavy-duty stand mixers, however they are quite pricey. By no means do I recommend running out and buying one of these right out of the gate! On the other hand, there are several budget priced ‘stand mixers’ out there that look like they are from the 1970’s. These function well as mixers, but based on my experience with them growing up, they don’t deal with breads or the other handy tasks the Kitchen Aid can handle, just bite the bullet and get the Kitchen Aid.

The basic Kitchen Aid costs $299 retail. Shop around, you may be able to find better pricing due to sales or on the internet. The ability to walk away and continue with other tasks in the kitchen while things are mixing or kneading is absolutely priceless. I considered bringing only my hand mixer, giving my Kitchen Aid to a well deserving friend. I discovered that this was one of the few kitchen items that would be difficult to identify ‘free shipping’ to Alaska for due to its weight and size. That sealed the deal – it was going, the hand mixer was staying.

My husband bought me my beloved stand mixer back in 2002 just after we bought our house. I have a Kitchen Aid Classic 300W bowl lift model that came with the meat grinder/pasta maker attachment. It wasn’t the model I wanted (the 500W Professional anodized aluminum one J) but my husband made a deal with me. He said if I could burn out the motor beyond basic repair (he’s an engineer) from normal use – he’d upgrade me with no argument to whatever model I wanted. Kitchen Aid has two styles of stand mixers - tilting head and bowl lift. The price referenced above refers to the tilting head. I would suggest spending the extra money and buying a bowl lift model - I believe you can find them for around $30 dollars more.

Here we are 6 years and 4,000 miles later and I still haven’t managed to burn out the motor in mine. I have logged thousands of hours of use, nearly killed it once making rolled fondant from scratch, and the thing still works as well as the first day out of the box. Though I do still enviously look at the new Kitchen Aid models at the store or online, I have no REAL reason to upgrade until I have worked this one into the ground!

While the hands free mixing a Kitchen Aid offers is an amazing benefit, the accessories available really put it into the "essential" category. They are somewhat costly, but most of them are time savers. I’ll discuss the pros/cons of the more popular ones below:

Food Grinder – There is a combo set that also includes a pasta maker. Don’t buy that one, the pasta maker plastic plates really suck. We’ll talk more about the pasta accessories in a little bit. I use the coarse grind plate for meaty sauces or for grinding up meat that is not widely available in the store – veal, chicken, turkey, and fish. Back in Ohio, we were members of Sam’s Club, so I would buy a case of whole sirloins at deep discount and cut my own roasts and make my own hamburger to put in my stand freezer with just a little time investment. I am somewhat industrious and like to be a ‘hands on’ consumer, so I don’t expect everyone to find doing this a must.

The plastic plate pasta maker set extrudes the dough to the pasta form you want. It is very difficult to get the dough to a consistency that works with these plates, and when you find that magic place, the pasta doesn’t cook well or have the right mouth feel. For the time that it takes to get this set up to work, a box of Barilla is cheaper, faster and has predictable results. I gave this accessory several chances and never did find it useful.

The metal pasta roller/cutters are an entirely different story and come in a variety of options. Unless you plan on hand cutting pasta, I would recommend getting one of the roller/cutter sets instead of just the roller alone. I prefer wide noodles myself, so I went with the roller/fettucine set. There’s a fettucine, linguini, and spaghetti (normal sized) cutter. The roller/cutter combos are pricey ($129) but if you are looking to make specialty flavored pasta (carrot, red pepper, spinach, to name a few), this beats hauling out the hand roller (if you have one) or going out and buying one. There’s also a ravioli maker accessory. I haven’t ever used it, but it is intriguing. If price isn’t a problem – go for broke and get the pasta excellence kit – you’ll get the roller and all of the different pasta cutters, INCLUDING the ravioli maker. This is on my wish list – someday I will get it!

Grain Mill – I don’t have this. As a baker I could see where it would be useful. Right now my mortal & pestle handle the volume of spices, grains, and nuts I need to grind/crack. Plus I get a work out using them! Unless you need to crush 50 pounds of flax seed for some reason, this particular accessory isn’t a ‘must buy.’

The fruit/vegetable strainer/grinder attachment is useful if you have a big garden and make your own vegetable sauces. I wished we had one of these growing up, though manning the food mill during tomato season is a rite of passage in the tomato sauce learning process! Not a ‘must buy’ for any other reason.

Roto slicer/shredder – If you have a mandoline or box grater, this accessory is worth it. I don’t know how many times I almost lost a finger to my mandoline or my knuckles to the box grater. I would buy this accessory if I didn’t already have the comparable blade attachments for my food processor.

There are many other accessories – sausage stuffer, citrus juicer, ice cream maker, that are novel, but unless you really like sausage links (patty person myself) or want to consolidate some other small appliances to make room, there really is no reason why you’d need these for the rare occasion you might need one.

MUST BUY ITEMS for you stand mixer include:

An extra mixing bowl – I still don’t have one of these, and I kick myself for not ordering one every time I make my tiramisu, marble cake or need more than one type of icing for something. I manage, and I suppose you could too, but the extra bowl would make things SO much easier!

Extra paddle and whip attachment. I make lots of bread and don’t feel a second dough hook is necessary. The other two, however, would be convenient, and are worth the money. If you have them, you will use them.

Since arriving in Alaska, I have used my stand mixer several times a week to make bread and other goodies. It was worth it to move here, even though it does take up valuable counter space.

No comments: