College Cooking Series: Chapter 2 - In the Heat of Battle

There are hundreds of devices and machines to aid in cooking. When you are just starting out, there is no reason to have one of each! Most college cooks have no need for a Sous vide machine, pressure cooker or Panini press. The following is a prioritized list of small appliances from most useful and versatile to those that are nice to have but not necessary.  Please understand that this list is highly subjective and is based on our experiences. Depending on your personal cooking preferences, skill, and need, you may find an appliance at the bottom of our list that is the most overworked appliance in your kitchen! Feel free to share your opinion in the comments section to let us know what you think!

What: Coffee Machine
Why: Buy a machine that you like and will use. Buying coffees at coffee shops really adds up and cuts into your budget. We recommend one with an automatic shut-off timer in the event you head off to class and forget to turn it off. If you go with the old school version that uses grounds and a basket, be sure to keep your grounds in the refrigerator to keep them at their freshest.

What: Microwave Oven 
Why: Most apartments and rentals come equipped with a microwave oven. If yours does not, you should consider purchasing a small one. Look for discounts during August when most stores have their back-to-school sales. Microwave ovens are great for heating prepared or frozen foods, but are also great for cooking for one or two people. Lekue makes some innovative cooking equipment for use in the microwave including a silicone steamer basket that has gotten glowing reviews.

What: Food Processor/Blender
Why: No, not for margaritas! Most college students do not reach the legal drinking age until their Senior year. A food processor can chop, slice, grate, blend, knead dough, puree, emulsify and so much more. You can save lots of time in the kitchen if you use your food processor for everyday tasks, such as grating cheese, chopping onions, slicing vegetables and kneading dough. Food processors are extremely useful for chopping, slicing, and pureeing ingredients for a variety of uses both savory and sweet. A perfect example is hummus. A can of chickpeas, a spoonful of peanut butter, garlic and olive oil blitzed in the food processor makes a fast, healthy and inexpensive snack. While food processors are among the most expensive counter top appliances you can buy, they are by far the most versatile. A blender accomplishes the same tasks but is much harder to clean. However, if you are an extreme fan of smoothies, the blender may be a better choice for you unless you consider an immersion blender.

What: Hand Mixer/Immersion Blender
Why: While you can mix by hand, having an electric mixer makes everything that much easier. A hand mixer is a small, lightweight handheld device that usually has two stainless steel whisks for mixing and folding cream, eggs, cake mixtures, cookie dough and more. We use ours to make perfect mashed potatoes. Inexpensive and very useful. An immersion blender is a good alternative, but is limited by coverage area and seldom has variable speeds. Again, if you are an extreme smoothie fan this may be the best option in lieu of both a food processor or hand mixer.

What: Slow Cooker/Crock Pot 
Why: You probably wouldn't consider taking a crock pot to college, but they are wonderfully useful and versatile. You’d probably be surprised to discover just how many cheap and delicious meals you can prepare using one. Think of how marvelous it would be to come home after a long day of classes and studying (or an epic pick-up basketball game) to a fully-cooked, hearty pot roast or zesty chili. Feeling under the weather or just in need of some comfort food? Try making your own homemade chicken-noodle soup. Perfect for tailgating too!

What: Toaster/Toaster Oven
Why:  While a toaster is quite convenient to have, you can toast your bread under a standard broiler or even bake the bread turning it when each side is nicely browned, or even brown it in a frying pan. A toaster oven is overkill if all you want is toast. There is very little a toaster oven can do better than a regular-sized oven, however, if your apartment or studio does not have a full-sized oven, then a toaster oven moves to the top of the essentials list.

Homework: Try using at least one of the small appliances listed above. Bonus points for using at least one you have never used before. Was is helpful or did you feel that another device would have been easier to use? Was it faster than doing it by hand? Comment below on which appliance will be your first purchase.