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Buying Second Best

December 2, 2014

A long long time ago I started collecting Calphalon hard anodized pots and pans. They were fantastic at searing, non-reactive with acidic foods, and built to last a lifetime. At the time they cost a pretty penny, but they were worth every cent.

They just couldn’t go in the dishwasher. And that was okay. For a while.

Not quite that long ago, but still a few years before the move to New York, I got to register for wedding gifts. Most of the registry was modest, except for one item where I shot for the stars. That was the super deluxe Kitchen Aid stand mixer. At the time it was the top of the line. And I felt as someone who enjoyed cooking, it would make my life complete.

Grumpy old men are supposed to tell you to buy durable goods that will last forever. Sure, they’re expensive. But you only have to buy them once. They’ll save you money in the long end, and all that rot. And in some cases that’s true. But it’s not always true, and I’ll tell you why.

Durable construction matters little, if you abandon high end cooking tools after a couple of years.

Looking back, the Calphalon was great. But after we started having kids, the idea of hand-washing pots and pans became unthinkable. If it couldn’t go in the dishwasher, we had no use for it. Even the cast iron hit a long fallow period where it was seldom used. Those were truly the dark days.

My beloved Calphalon was repurposed into a percussion set for Young Mater Fussy until ultimately we gave it away to a good home before the New Jersey sabbatical.

That grand Kitchen Aid stand mixer? Well, I never had much use for a stand mixer before we got it. And as it turned out, just owning one didn’t change the things I wanted to cook on a regular basis. Sure, I used it a small handful of times for making chocolate mousse. The food grinder was a useful attachment. But mostly this powerful tool just stood in the corner taking up valuable counter space and collecting dust.

Why am I telling you all this? Because recently I listed a few kitchen tools that were on my wish list. You can read the original post, but to refresh your memory, they were the:

Botini hand-cranked coffee grinder
Bonmac ceramic coffee cone filter
Kyocera mandoline
Fagor Duo pressure cooker
Preethi Eco food grinder/blender

To which EPT suggested I was shooting too low and recommended the following replacements:

Coffee grinder, get a Braun burr grinder.
A slicer get a Beringer, it’s a sturdy standard.
Pressure cooker, get a Kuhn Rikon, the best.
Blender, get a Waring with a stainless steel jar.

Let’s take these one by one.

I already have a burr grinder at home. It’s not the Braun, but rather the Cuisinart. It’s fine. But it’s crazy loud, makes a mess, creates a ton of dust, and is full of plastic. I’ve got a separate crazy initiative to get as much plastic out of the kitchen as humanly possible. When I’m grinding coffee, it’s usually something special, and I like the idea of having an efficient manual grinder to do the job. If money were no object I’d get the HG-One, because OMG.

The Benriner slicer is a solid slicer. The thing that sets the Kyocera apart is that it only has one blade. Some may see that as a bug, but I see that as a feature. Fewer parts takes up less room. I love tools so kitchen space is at a premium. I want something small that can fit in a drawer, go in the dishwasher and take some abuse. Frankly, I don’t know how much use it will get, so I’m fine to get something basic for starters. If it turns out I love having a slicer, then I might look into something nicer with more pieces. Although I’d lean towards the side of the Swissmar Borner.

Cooks Illustrated would take issue with the claim that Kuhn Rikon makes the best pressure cooker. The magazine had its reservations in terms of cooking, ease of use, and especially evaporation loss. Here were their findings:

This cooker’s small disk bottom caused scorching and forced us to keep flames low, delaying reaching pressure. It is deeper and narrower than we prefer. The pressure indicator was easy to monitor, though the pressure often dipped, forcing us to hover to adjust the temperature. That said, this model produced tender beans and stew.

If I were to going to go for the top of the line pressure cooker, I’d invest in the Fissler Vitaquick 8½-Quart model. But the thing is that it’s three times as much as the Fagor Duo, and I’m just not sure how I’m going to like pressure cooking. But I expect that the less expensive of these two high performance devices will give me a good sense of the technique. My plan is to learn how to walk before I buy running shoes.

As far as blenders go, I’m not sure if this was the Waring that EPT was suggesting, but it’s a pretty decent looking blender. I am, however, still pretty stoked about being able to have an Indian blender. Largely that’s because I’ll be using it for Indian cooking and tackling the challenging tasks of breaking down hard spices, grinding coconut to a pulp, and pulverizing rice and dried beans into a batter. Blade shape plays a role, and the Preethi may not last as long, but I’d love to get my hands on it and see how it’s different from the standard blenders I’ve grown accustomed to in America. Maybe I’ll be disappointed and come back to domestic brands. Or perhaps I’ll love it so much, I’ll just pack up the Fussies and move to Goa.

Most likely, I won’t get any of it during this holiday and birthday season. People don’t give presents, they send money. And the money rarely turns into presents, it kind of just finds its way into the giant money pit. Mostly because I hate to shop. Even for fun things.

In part, that’s why I’ve done this exercise. It gives people a list of things they can buy for me. In theory it also gives me a list of things to buy if someone sends me money. Although I may still struggle to prioritize what I want most, and while I wait to make that decision, the money will sit in the bank.

But I think it’s the pressure cooker. And I’m totally convinced the Fagor is the one for me.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. December 2, 2014 11:54 am

    Reading between the lines, I think you’re saying you want me to take the KitchenAid off your hands. No problem; we use ours so often I’m afraid it’s about to crap out. When do you want me to pick it up? (That was a question.)

  2. December 2, 2014 1:30 pm

    I’ve heard good things about the Fagor, although this here’s a write up criticizing the ATK pressure cooker testing.

    After reading a bunch online, I went with a Kuhn Rikon that has a black pressure gage instead of the small pin that pops up. I probably don’t use the as often as I should, but it is excellent at making small but quick batches of stock.

    • December 2, 2014 1:33 pm

      Typed that on the phone…should have proof read it.

    • albanylandlord permalink
      December 2, 2014 1:57 pm

      Very interesting review of ATK / CI testing. Although I love ATK and depend on them often, their greatest shortcoming is the lack of available feedback / ratings of their stuff. Which of their recipes are the most loved ever? Who knows. Are some of their test flawed? Looks like this one was.

  3. December 2, 2014 9:55 pm

    The best pressure cooker meals I ever tasted did not come from fancy models. I appreciate how much safer they are and I am happy to see they are available in stainless steal (I am not a fan of Teflon). My first one was aluminum, just like the one I watched my mother and other women in Brazil using, but soon replaced that. When I teach the basics of pressure cooking, I often ask people to bring their pots to class and they come with great stories. I got to use the Fagor Duo pressure cooker — good place to start!

  4. December 2, 2014 10:12 pm

    I thought there was a giveaway coming.

  5. EPT permalink
    December 4, 2014 11:27 am

    I have 3 Kuhn Rikon of different sizes, they all have handle locks.

  6. December 4, 2014 4:47 pm

    That HG-One video is NSFW.

    • December 4, 2014 5:57 pm

      Did the beauty of grinding and brewing coffee make you drool all over your keyboard?

  7. EPT permalink
    December 4, 2014 6:36 pm

    The is pretty much the blender I was recommending

    Kyocera is nice, I have a few of their knives but ceramic can delicate.

    Hand grinding coffee, I’m not into and the HG is way to big.

    Good luck with whatever you choose.

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