9 Must-Have Countertop Appliances
From blenders to espresso machines, these small appliances add big convenience to your kitchen
When it comes to choosing small appliances for your kitchen, think about how the device will fit with your kitchen needs and lifestyle. Refer to your completed "Day in the Life of Your Kitchen Questionnaire". A bread maker may not be the best investment, for example, if you don't eat a lot of bread. Consider these convenient countertop appliances:
Blenders. "If you're a smoothie person, you have to have a blender in your kitchen," says Kelly Messman, Director of Customer Service at Bed, Bath & Beyond. Not just for frozen margaritas, these high-powered machines reduce whole fruits into delicious smoothies, whole veggies into nutritious soup, and can crush ice into fluffy snow for sweet, syrupy cones.
Slow Cookers. "Slow cookers solve a lot of problems," says Messman. "When you are going to be gone all day and want to come home to a hot meal, just throw all your ingredients in there, set it and leave for the day." Great for stews, one-pot meals and potluck dinners, the trusty crockpot still is as valuable as ever. Look for models with removable stoneware inserts that can go from appliance to backyard barbecue to dishwasher.
Stand Mixers. "Every home needs a stand mixer whether they know it or not," Messman says. "A new homeowner may not have used one before but there will come a time when they are going to wish they had a stand mixer." Baking cupcakes for a crowd? Preparing bread dough from scratch? Everything is easier with a stand mixer. And unlike a hand mixer, a sturdy stand mixer gives the home cook the freedom to multitask.
Coffee Makers. "Coffee makers are really lifestyle dependent," Messman says. "If you drink a large amount of coffee on a regular basis, it makes sense to go with a drip maker." For quality and ease of use, this programmable model is tough to beat. Set it at night and wake to freshly ground, brewed and stored drip coffee. The thermal carafe keeps coffee hot for hours without the need for a hotplate, which tends to scorch the brew.
Espresso Machines. "If you want coffeehouse-quality espresso at home then you have to go with a high-quality machine that focuses on espresso," Messman says. Gone are the days of hissing steam, replaced by fully automatic machines that grind, tamp and brew for you. Plus, unlike some machines that make only one cup at a time, this model brews a continuous stream. "This machine demystifies the espresso process while making a consistently good cup with minimal effort."
Food Processors. Indispensible for all matter of kitchen tasks, the food processor makes quick work of slicing, chopping, blending, pureeing and kneading. "If you don't do a lot of these things," Messman says, "you may not need it." But for the rest of us, we're sold.
Toaster Ovens. If your kitchen has the countertop space to spare, Messman says, a good convection-powered toaster oven is more than a luxury. "It offers so much flexibility beyond simply reheating food and making toast," she says. Fully preheated in about five minutes, the oven can bake cookies, cakes, pizza and pies without heating up the entire kitchen. "And it provides extra cooking space for when you're entertaining."
Wine Coolers. "This is one of those fun, gadgety, wine-connoisseur things that certainly isn't for everybody," Messman says. But for true oenophiles, a great wine preservation system is much more than a gadget. You can maintain proper temps for separate bottles as well as dispense and preserve wine, allowing an open bottle to stay fresh for over a week.
Soda Makers. "If your lifestyle is 'green' and you're trying to reduce sugar and sodium, then a home soda maker is a must-have appliance," Messman says. These units fit the bill, turning out fresh-made flavored sodas with far less additives than mass-marketed products. The non-electric appliance uses refillable carbon dioxide canisters that make 60 liters of fizzy beverage. "Just fill, fizz and flavor," Messman says.