7 Appliances that Make Cooking More Fun

This list actually comprises appliances I own, not appliances I would buy if I won the next lottery (funny thing about lotteries, you actually have to buy a ticket to win them, which I never do). Maybe I'll write up that list another day. No, these are all appliances I own and use all the time. Why? Because they make cooking (and baking) more fun!

Good small appliances can help you save time and energy as you create your culinary masterpieces (or just throw dinner together at the last minute). So read on for the appliances that I couldn't live without.

1. A Rice Cooker

If you've checked out many of my recipes, this one will come as no surprise to you. Many years ago, when I first started cooking, I didn't use a rice cooker to make rice. I probably had a lot more time on my hands. These days, anything that saves time and takes some of the guesswork out of cooking is welcome in my kitchen.

I just got a new rice cooker that has a steaming function, but what is more exciting: it has a delay function. That means I could put rice and water into it in the morning, set the delay timer, and have rice all cooked and ready at night. I haven't tried this function yet--I'm still stuck in the mindset of my old rice cooker, which was a bit more simple. Either way, rice cookers are nice to have. The trick is to learn how much water you need to get perfect rice, and whether it's brown rice or white rice makes a big difference. In my experience, 1 cup of white rice needs 1.25 cups of water, while 1 cup of brown rice needs 2.25 cups of water. You can also cook quinoa in a rice cooker. I use the same ratio as with brown rice.

I wouldn't buy a rice cooker that doubles as a slow cooker. My philosophy is, the more functions one appliance has, the more problems will come with it. I even hesitated to get my current rice cooker because of the steaming function for that reason, but almost all rice cookers have the steaming function now, it seems. So no rice cooker/slow cookers. Which brings me to my next appliance:

2. A Slow Cooker

Slow cookers are a working parent's best friend. You add the ingredients for dinner to it in the morning, set the timer, and voila, when you get home, a warm meal awaits. They can cook a tough, cheap piece of meat to mouth-watering tenderness. Plus, the recipes for slow cookers are usually very straight-forward (there are exceptions to every rule, of course), so if you're not very confident in the kitchen, slow-cooker recipes are a great place to start learning to cook. There are thousands of excellent slow cooker recipes out there, but let me recommend Alton Brown's Tapioca Pudding. If, like me, you love rich desserts that aren't too sweet, you'll love this one.

3. A Food Processor

Photo by *clairity*
Due to Christmas gifts and the like, I actually had five of these until I recently gave one away. I still have four, because they are all different sizes. I use the smallest one for chopping onions and whatnot for things like salsas, and the largest for my roasted vegetable spaghetti sauce (stay tuned for a recipe for that one someday soon).

A food processor is not the same thing as a blender. In fact, I have no use for a standing blender. Instead, when I need to blend something like a soup to a smooth consistency, I use:

4. A Hand Blender

Photo by gothick_matt
In case you've never seen one of these, it's like someone took the motor from a blender and put it at the end of a handle. You do have to be careful not to make a mess, so when you use a hand blender, make sure it's well submerged when you run it. It also helps to have your ingredients in a deep pot. But there's really nothing easy for blending soups, sauces, and toppings to a creamy consistency. You could try pouring your cooked ingredients in a regular blender, but I find that often you still end up with chunks at the end, and besides, you end up with one more thing to wash when you're done. A hand blender works better and is easy to clean.

Another handheld device I need for many, many recipes is:

5. A Sturdy Hand Mixer

Photo by Terwilliger911
Note that I said "sturdy." Long did I suffer with a series of crappy hand mixers that just couldn't manage cookie batter or other thick mixtures. For a while, I was actually using one with the wrong attachments--I'd kept attachments from other mixers over the years and lost the ones that came with that mixer, and let me tell you, the result was not pretty. So I finally had enough of the headaches and tossed that one out (and all those old attachments with it), treating myself to a nice, sturdy hand mixer. Oh, what a difference it makes. If you like cooking, don't tell yourself you don't need proper tools that function correctly. How many whisks have I owned in the past that came apart and yet I still tried to make them work? Why do this to yourself? No. Get a nice hand mixer. It may cost $20 more, but every time I use mine, I know it's worth it.

Try my recipe for soft chocolate chip cookies here--and use a hand mixer for the cookie dough!

6. A Waffle Maker

Photo by Kanko*
I know this seems like the kind of novelty item you buy and then leave buried in a cupboard (like my crepe-maker, which I've used once), but I actually use my waffle maker every week, either on Saturday or Sunday morning. I love waffles, especially the soft kind I developed a recipe for here. It's such a nice, easy way to make a special brunch--easier than pancakes, because you don't have to hover over the pan, hoping your stupid electric stove with a mind of its own doesn't decide to burn them (I'm not bitter).

All this yummy cooking leads to the last and possibly most important appliance of them all:

7. A Countertop Dishwasher

Photo by UggBoy♥UggGirl
What's the worst part of cooking? The clean up. And for a family of two and half (the bug doesn't really count yet as he's only dining from bottles still) we accumulate a ridiculous amount of dishes every freaking day.

Do you live in a rental without a dishwasher? Sick of washing dishes by hand? Amen, my friend. That was the story of my life for longer than I care to consider. I hate doing dishes. HATE. IT. So when someone suggested I get a portable dishwasher one day, I said, "They make PORTABLE ONES???" Yes, they do. When we realized we were going to have a baby, the need for a dishwasher became all the more pertinent. So I looked into it, and low and behold, for less than $250 I could buy a counter top dishwasher. Worth. Every. Penny. I would spend $250 a year if it meant never having to hand wash silverware again.