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When To Splurge

September 25, 2011

I’ve already written an article on kitchen tools and gadgets you can save money on.  However, there are a few things that warrant a bigger investment, and it is worth to buy something nicer and more expensive (or at least not the very cheapest).  I’m not going to include the “really large” purchases like stoves or refrigerators – they are a whole different category altogether.  These are all items where you could go with something way cheaper, but on the long run, these babies are worth the investment.  So let’s see what made it to the list.

1. A stand mixer

Stand Mixer

A vintage stand mixer

Instead of: a $5 hand mixer.  (I have experienced them blowing up in my hand from a heavier batter.  Never again.)

Why:  Because humans usually only have two hands.  Minus one if you have kids or if you’re on the phone.  This way you can just leave your batters mixing whilst you answer the phone, pick up the dropped toys, add ingredients or take pictures for your blog.  Some stand mixers even have a detachable top, so they can double-duty as hand mixers as well!

What to look for:  Depends on what features you think you will need.  I personally find the kneader attachments to be a crime against the dough, but if you really have a hard time with kneading, they may be a salvation.  They usually come with kneader (also called dough hook) and whip/beat attachments (beat attachent shown above), sometimes the latter two separate: a wire whisk-like one for whipping eggs or cream and a beater or blade-like one for mixing things.  Of course, only your fantasy can show limits to what they may do from meat grinder to citrus juicer.  Other than the limitless attachments, check the size of the bowl and whether it accepts other bowls as well.

Price range:  A somewhat decent stand mixer will run you at least $60; the really fancy ones, especially by big names will be around the $300 range.

(I lucked out on this one by getting this gorgeous vintage piece that once belonged to my grandmother-in-law as a Christmas gift…  Judging from the style, it’s probably a 50’s or 60’s piece, and it still works just perfectly!)


2.  A pressure cooker

Pressure Cooker

Pressure Cooker


Instead of: nothing.  A pressure cooker is an investment on its own.

Why:  It saves more time than words can describe.  Beans in an hour?  Hocks falling off the bone in 20 minutes?  Yes, please!  It basically traps all of the boiling water and liquids under an airtight seal.  This causes the pressure to go up, and the boiling points to go down – so your food cooks faster and with less energy invested.

What to look for:  A heavy construction with thick walls in cast aluminum or stainless steel.  If you have an induction stovetop, be sure it IS stainless steel, as aluminum is not ferromagnetic (doesn’t attract magnets), hence generates no heat on an induction stove.  If you can inspect the ware closely, make sure the sealing rubber or silicone ring in the lid is nice and tight – this goes for a tighter seal and faster pressure build-up.  Once owning one, be sure to keep the pressure regulator (the big knob in the middle of the lid) clean – that’s where superfluous pressure escapes so your pot won’t blow up.  Of course, size matters here: if you cook for only a few people, 3-4 quarts will do just fine, but a 6-quart or so size may be necessary for a bigger family.

Price range:  The lowest I found on sale was around $25, the most expensive in my quick research was right around $200.  The one shown above is a $25 one – works just perfect for me, however, it’s only about 3.5 quarts: enough for my 2-person household, but not quite the one to make stew for the whole big family.


3. A marble slab or large kneading board

Instead of: the dollar store plastic cutting board.

Why: because good baking needs space.  Unless you have a seamless countertop (granite, faux granite or stainless steel), you will need a place to knead, roll, cut and decorate.

Why marble:  Because it looks stylish, and keeps your dough cool, which is especially important with things like puff pastry, pie crusts or rolled fondant.  It can also do double duty as a serving platter for a cheese and cracker tray on a party.  It’s also very easy to clean.  However, marble can chip or crack from hot dishes placed on it, and can make Pyrex-type glassware break – never use it as a hot pad!

Why wood:  Because wood can look just as stylish, especially ones with an intricate wood pattern or multiple color tints.  They tend to be a little cheaper, and are a lot less heavy – this can become a factor if you need to move your board around often.  It’s a little bit more tedious to keep a wooden kneading board in a great shape, but it has no problems about hot stuff.  The only big enemy of a wooden kneading board is direct sunlight, which may make the board warp.  Don’t leave it out in direct, unfiltered sunlight for extended periods of time; if the warp already happened, try sunning the other side of the board.  This will “unwarp” the wood (or to be exact, warp it in the opposite direction), and is a successful cure in most cases.

What to look for:  Should you go with the marble option, the only thing you need to watch for is the size.  Something along the lines of 36″ by 20″ or bigger should do the trick.  If you opt for wood, make sure the seams are tight and the wood is not warped anywhere.  Choose a heavy-duty wood like oak, alder or redwood.  I personally prefer non-lacquered ones, as they don’t have a chance for the coating to chip and flake up, getting it all into my pastries.

Price range:  Nicer wooden boards start around the $50 range, marble ones can sometimes be found around $70 – most probably though, this is a hundred-dollar buy.  This is also a bit of an investment though – I grew up using my great-grandmother’s kneading board that was getting close to its 100th birthday, and still going strong with only one minor warp.  Choose wisely, and your kids will still bake their grandkids’ sugar cookies on it.


4.  A good set of knives


Knife block

Instead of: dull, useless knives and trying to carve a roast with a butter knife.

Why, what to look for, price range:  I wrote a lengthy article on knives and their uses, which covers most of these topics.  What I didn’t mention there, is that full-tang knives (the ones where the blade runs all the way down in the handles) are far superior in durability – but they are also pricier.  If you have the financial option, by all means, spring for them.  As for a whole-set price range, a good set of knives that are not full-tang can be obtained for about $50; full-tang blades will probably be closer to $75-$100.  Again, see this as an investment: a good block of knives will serve you for a lifetime.


5.   A slow-cooker

Slow cooker


Instead of: staying up all night with cooking; starting off dinner at 4pm.

Why:  Again, it saves you time, albeit in a different way.  Instead of cutting down on the cooking time, it slows the process to where you can just add everything to the pot, start up the program and leave it alone.  You can go about everything else that needs done, even leave the house, and the cooking does itself.  Most of these pots switch to a keep-warm mode after the cooking time is over, so even if you’re late from work or the movies, dinner remains just on the perfect temperature.  They can also be used as a buffet server for warm appetizers, nacho cheese, warm drinks and a plethora of other things with the same keep-warm feature.

What to look for:  Size.  If you can, size up, as you can always cook a smaller meal in a bigger pot – but when you have friends or family over, the 1.5 quart piece that feeds you and maybe one more suddenly becomes really tiny.  This one pictured is 6.5 quarts – enough for a whole chicken to roast.  Look into the functions as well: it’s best to have a pre-set keep-warm function; and make sure it has the time range you desire, preferably up to 10-12 hours.

Price range:  You can find one of the larger ones for $50-$75 at both big-box stores and online retailers.


6.  Vacuum Sealer

Food sealer

Food sealer

Instead of: freezer-burnt pieces of meat in zipper bags.

Why:  Buying in bulk (especially at wholesale stores) can save a tremendous amount on your grocery bills every month.  However, all those goods need to be kept safe from spoiling.  Vacuum sealing is appropriate for most goods, and can double shelf life.  With a cool little attachment (the round gray port on the right side of my machine), you can even suck out air from vacuum-able storage containers, keeping things like cheese, lunch meats or dry goods like flour fresh and still easily accessible.  The only downside is the price of vacuum bags, and in case of the containers, the need to overhaul your existing collection.

What to look for:  The accessory port is useful even if you don’t make immediate use of it – you can always get the boxes for it later.  It can also be a good thing if the machine is able to just seal without sucking out the air; this way you can pack a homemade loaf of bread airtight for the freezer, but without squishing out all the air from it.

Price range:  A full-size sealer will set you back at least $60, but using it to get more out of your monthly grocery bill will bring the price right back into your pocket.




These are the six items I found most important to mention as a possible bigger investment.  I know the prices can be discouraging, but saving up can really go a long way here.  Also, if you have a bigger celebration coming up – a “big” birthday, graduation, housewarming or wedding – you can always drop a hint that you would appreciate these as a group gift from multiple givers.  This way your friends and family can pitch in as much as they can or want to without being obliged to spend the full price, and you get your hands on the tool you wanted – win-win situation.

Once you do own one of these beauties, don’t forget their maintenance.  Keeping them in top-notch form at all times will ensure that you can enjoy them for a long time, and with the really good quality ones, you’ll know what the cuisine-minded members of the next generation will fight over to inherit!

Enjoy your kitchen tools as much as you enjoy your meal!

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