My husband once gave me an industrial-strength hand mixer, and I loved it. Potatoes, turnips, even dough succumbed to its powerful little motor in mere minutes. When it finally died just before Thanksgiving one year, he replaced it with a regular version. Even the children, tasked with whipping cream, noticed its shortcomings. We'd driven the high-performance model, and there was no going back.
These days, Americans are staying in, cooking and entertaining more. Food channels run 24 hours. And retailers and manufacturers are offering many new products that straddle professional and home kitchens: things like multifunction cooktops and ovens, and thoughtfully designed gadgets.
Kitchenaid, one of the first to offer a commercial grade stand mixer, has launched the Commercial Series appliance line, which includes a cooktop with dual flames for searing or simmering, an easy-clean chrome griddle, and a "steam-assist" oven.
Serious cooks would appreciate that last feature - it eliminates the need to spritz, baste, even use a bain-marie. If none of those terms are familiar, you probably don't need one. But for frequent bread bakers, roasting aficionados and dessert makers, the feature's a welcome addition.
This year, Jenn-Air introduced a new wall oven designed with the help of professional chefs. Billed as "the industry's most powerful convection system," it features an interactive "culinary center" - basically an onboard computer. The user-friendly control panel provides detailed visuals and interactive guidance.
As for smaller tools, many culinary experts like a good pair of shears for various kitchen tasks. Specialty shears for seafood and poultry are available. A food mill turns cooked soup ingredients, baby food and boiled potatoes into smooth heaven. And a microplane is the grater of choice; Williams Sonoma carries a box version that's highly rated.
Rollo McDonald, a Canadian culinary arts teacher for 30 years and a longtime foodie, recommends "rectangular stainless steel pans. Most chefs agree that a set of these is invaluable. You can cook, freeze and reheat in them, they're durable, and they stack and store more efficiently than round pans."
A high quality chef's knife is like an artist's paintbrush. Japanese makers Global and Sun, and American maker Mac all have super sharp, well-balanced tools used by celebrity and pro chefs; Victorinox and Wusthof are also well-known.
Test the heft and grip of your knife in the store before you buy. You don't want something too heavy or large.
Restaurateur and chef Raymond Blanc once dismissed microwave cookery as "an act of hate." Pros generally aren't big fans, though some like the microwave for reheating small quantities, drying herbs or melting chocolate.
Homeowners, however, love them. What was a gimmicky fringe appliance 30 years ago is now a central player in the home kitchen, surveys consistently show. Choose a model that's substantial enough to hold a large glass pan.
As for dishwashers, go for big, energy-efficient and quiet. Or, if you really want to work like a pro, take your lead from French chef Jacques Pepin. Once, when asked who did the dishes in his house, he answered, "I have no idea!"