Around the Christmas season, the variety of small appliances for sale becomes absolutely ludicrous. I always wonder -- what makes a person think that, ooh yeah I really really want a dedicated brownie-cooker! How can anybody's kitchen even store that much STUFF?
Somebody gave my daughter a quesadilla-cooker once. It was huge and took up a lot of space in her cupboard ... and I think she only used it once, when she first got it. She finally let it go in a garage sale.
Being competent at the chores that our great-great-grandmothers (or their kitchen-maids) used to do, as I should be as a living-historian, I know most cooking tasks can be done with nothing but a couple of good knives, pots and pans, and a fire. The number and variety of tools and accessories owned by prosperous households in those days, though, is surprising to a lot of people. Do you think dedicated rice-cookers and egg-poachers are modern inventions? ;-) Nope. Mechanical slicers and graters, ice-shavers, even a "magic milk shake machine" are in the 1895 Montgomery Ward catalogue. In 1897, Sears offered mechanical cherry-stoners and raisin-seeders, a divided sauce-pan so you could cook your entire three-item meal on one burner, ... the wonders go on and on! Alas that the 1886 Bloomingdale's catalogue doesn't include cooking equipment.
The kitchen-toys you "need" depend on the products your kitchen turns out. Make a LOT of quesadillas, and maybe that garage-sale find was your thrill for the day! Broil a lot of chicken breasts and tender vegetables, like my MIL used to in the house where she rarely used the A/C, and you'll love your Foreman Grill as much as she did hers. Me, I have an oven and a 30+-year-old Jenn-Air grill on my stove -- I don't need no stinkin' Foreman. I have knives, baking pans, and saucepans, too.
But I DO have my toys! For the last forty years, the one sine-qua-non of my kitchen (beyond the sheer basics) has been my Cuisinart food processor. Blenders (see previous rant) have come and gone, and have NEVER impressed me, but do come in handy for processes like making hollandaise sauce. My last toaster (and the big coffee urn) has been relegated to the basement, but is kept for entertaining crowds and the mothers ... who still believe in wheat. A toaster-OVEN does live on my countertop -- when Mother moved I leapt to inherit THAT. It's far more effective for toasting the odd-size breads that are made with nut-flours, flax and the oopsie-rolls we still use. Melts cheese onto all kinds of things, too. ;-)
KitchenAid mixer!!! Making oopsie-rolls without THAT is a time-consuming pain in the backside. When J was stationed in N'Orleans I got him a tiny KA processor, too, which also lives in a quiet corner of my countertop -- I beat the softened cream-cheese and eggyolks in that while the mixer does the whites all by itself, then I fold the former into the latter, spoon it into the whoopee-pie-pan I bought for this specific application, and in a half-hour I have sandwich rolls -- particularly convenient for picnics and car-trips. The only need a low-carber has for those is keeping one's hands clean while out of range of washing facilities.
The crockpot also has a secure place in my life -- how else be confident that cookery can go on SAFELY while we're out doing more interesting things? I have two sizes, because for the two of us huge batches of stew are pointless. Large beef-round roasts and pork shoulders, though, should never go to waste, and if you roast them dry in the crockpot, the broth that comes off is the perfect base for gravy.
Then there are the things you CAN'T make without dedicated apparati -- espresso for one! Problem, though, before I learned to like coffee black, I never could make decent steamed milk with the doodad on the side of the machine! WOULD NOT froth for me, even though my favorite barista at the City Diner gave me tips. So when I saw how well it did at a kitchen-toy store a few years ago, I indulged myself with a Nespresso milk-frother -- which REALLY came in handy when I switched to coconut milk! That stuff turns into an oil-spill on your coffee UNLESS you froth it well first....
I LOVE MY COUNTERTOP ICE-CREAM FREEZER! [sheepish grin] When I was a kid we did it the hard way, but which was not the HARDEST WAY (hand-crank).... We had an electric one, but it was a pain in the ass because you had to buy the right kind of salt, a LOT of dairy products, and a shit-TON of ice to do it right ... but it made a couple of gallons of damned good product. When the kind appeared that was "iceless" it sounded good, but didn't freeze that well. During a move, the vessel that one puts in the freezer got damaged, and I was searching for a replacement when my husband gave me a whole new machine for my birthday that was self-sufficient -- it was wonderful! No ice, no tricky vessel, just plug it in and it does all the work. It's a nuisance to clean, but I've learned a shortcut. I am in AWE of that machine. It isn't essential to have special equipment to make ice cream, of course, but it's a wonderful, time-saving thing....
For the hard-core paleo who prefers to grind her own hamburger and make her own sausage, an electric grinder is da bomb. I "learned sausage" with an old-fashioned hand grinder and ... HOW THE HELL DO YOU STUFF A SAUSAGE CASING WITH ONLY TWO HANDS? Oh -- you buy the sausage-gun in the 1890s catalogue (though I've yet to find a good clean one in an antique store). :-) When I had a chance to inherit an electric grinder, I had no idea how convenient it was going to be, but i'm now SOLD.*
There's long been a special baking pan for everything, but now there are special pans for EVERYTHING, made out of all kinds of surprising materials. I'm not a huge fan of silicon YET, but I suppose it could happen -- it's a lot less expensive than the cast-iron animal-shaped cookie plaque I bought when the kids were young. Besides the whoopee-pie pan I mentioned earlier, which is VERY convenient for sandwich buns, I have one for hotdog-rolls which i'm less pleased with -- questionable design! But at least it offers a low-carb base for chilidogs (which I love); my daughter uses baked sweet-potato for the base, and it's good, but it's also more grams than i'd allow myself on any but a re-feed day! J has bought himself three separate braising pans, but I think he finally found one he likes -- I was content with the old footless dutch-oven of iron I inherited.... But that's fine! My husband likes to cook, and i'm delighted to turn the kitchen over to him occasionally; he should have tools that he likes to use, too.
Roasting pans, their lids, and the attendant racks are other things we've collected quite an assortment of (pardon the bad grammar)! Every size of bird needs its own roaster, it seems. [sigh] We have cupboards and drawers full of heat-proof vessels. We finally found the perfect ceramic dishes for shirred eggs -- mmmm. Angel-cake pans that are never greased. Souffle dishes tall enough and with straight sides -- using other kinds of bakers won't do. Somebody handed down a couple of ceramic apple-bakers to me -- now, what the hell do apple-bakers even exist for? There's a wide post in the middle of it, so you have to waste a lot of apple-flesh to make it fit; it also leaves room for NO filling. If I ever bake apples again, it'll be in a pan which holds several, and they'll be stuffed with spices and cheese! I should hand these bakers on down to someone else....
Waffle iron that doubles for wafer-baking. Ebelskiver pan. Cast-iron gem pan. Mini-muffin tins I used to make pecan tarts in, which I liked to serve and give away at Christmas.... Having always loved all kinds of food, and doing a goodly amount of creating it since before my teens, I've collected a LOT of tools for doing it, through the decades! Good thing we have a big house and NO intention of ever moving from it -- it's my kids who will have to deal with the excess someday. The estate sale will probably be something to remember.
* tip for economy shoppers: cheap ground beef sucks -- hell, expensive ground beef can also suck. cheap cuts of beef can be home-ground, and it's GREAT. if you grind it more coarsely than at the store, it holds juice MUCH better in the patty. ;-)