Your bridal registry can include a lot more than pretty china and linens - this is also your chance to trade up to high-quality appliances. Here's what to look for as you add some power to your list:
For your morning quickies (we're talking breakfast here), toast is a good bet, not to mention bagels or frozen waffles. And happily, today's toasters have brought breads browned just the way you like them down to an exact science.
The newest toasters rely on electronic mechanists and computer technology. Smart toasters--imagine that! Manufacturers talk about their "application- specific integrated circuit" or "computer chip brain." But whatever the lingo, the idea is the same: to monitor conditions inside and outside the toaster to that you get perfect toast, slice after slice.
The latest models are now equipped to adjust toasting time accordingly and give you lots of handy features, like these:
Ample slots: You want a toaster with slots wide and long enough to hold an extensive variety of breads, bagels and pastries. If you like your bread sliced nice and thick, be sure the slots are at least an inch and quarter wide.
Adjustability: Because sometimes you'll want to toast thin slices of bread, look for adjustable grids that automatically center the bread for even toasting on both sides.
Lots of options: He likes his toast dark, you like it barely beige. Look for several options in browning as well as ease of selection.
Fancy features: A cancel button which allows you to stop the toasting process midway is a nice feature. So is a reheat button which warms previously toasted bread without making it darker.
Defrost capability: If you're a fan of frozen waffles, look for a toaster that will thaw and then toast frozen items in one process.
Best for bagels: A switch preventing over-toasting of the outside of the bagel should give excellent results every time.
Popper-uppers: The newest toasters have a "high lift" mechanism which pops toast higher so you cam remove it without toasting your fingertips.
Easy cleaning: Look for a removeable crumb tray to make emptying simpler.
Safety: A model that's "cool to the touch" protects you from burning yourself, cord storage keeps things tidy, and an auto safety shut-off cuts the power when a piece of bread becomes lodged in the machine - preventing it from burning up or possibly starting a fire.
Size matters: Consider whether you want a two- or four-slice unit. The larger units are great if you often have guests for breakfast - but they take up more space, use more energy and cost a little more, so unless you often make toast for several people, a four-slice toaster probably isn't necessary.
Are hot water, popcorn and pizza the only edible things that come out of your circa-1980s microwave? Well, that's a shame, because in today's microwaves you can automatically defrost by weight and number of servings, program a keypad to suit the size of a popcorn pouch, and prepare delicate and complicated recipes in a flash of high-tech know-how.
Here's what to consider in a microwave oven, starting with size and power.
If you'll use the microwave infrequently for tasks such as heating frozen dinners, popcorn and beverages, a model with 0.5- to 0.8-cubic-foot capacity and 600 to 700 watts of power (the higher the wattage, the quicker the cooking time at a high power setting) will suffice. For moderate use, such as defrosting and thoroughly cooking large items like casseroles, you'll want one with 1.0- to 1.3-cubic-foot capacity and 800 to 900 watts of power. A large microwave or combination microwave/convection oven with up to 1.6-cubic-foot capacity and 1,000 watts of power will accomplish almost any cooking chore and see you through many years of both quick snacks and full meals.
Once you've determined the size and power of the model you'll need, it's time to peruse the array of automatic, sensor-controlled and timed features available on the newer models. Although three power levels will probably suffice for most recipes, mid-size and larger models usually come with ten. A turntable, preferable easy to remove and dishwasher-safe, greatly contributes to the even heating of foods. If you'll frequently prepare such convenience foods as popcorn and frozen dinners, one-touch cooking settings for these goodies are a must.
Although not a one-touch function on all models, programmed cooking settings have been expanded to cook more substantial foods, such as pasta, rice, shellfish and whole or pieced chicken automatically and accurately. You simply enter the type of food and the weight or number of servings.
And if you're really picky about your popcorn, check out models that have a programmable key for three sizes of popcorn pouches. A multi-step cooking mode allows you to program the appliance to complete several actions (usually two to four) in sequence. For instance, you can set the microwave to automatically defrost, then cook food on medium power for a certain length of time, and finally switch to high power for another length of time.
In addition to convenient cooking controls, you'll appreciate defrost and reheat modes. Although most microwaves allow you to set the amount of time needed to thaw frozen food and warm leftovers manually, more advance models automatically calculate the time and power required for these operations based on the weight of the food, which you enter on a keypad. Many top-of-the-line microwaves can also defrost and reheat according to the type of food (you select from a pre-programmed menu of items) and the number of servings. Add-time cooking and defrost modes continue these functions for 30 to 60 seconds.
As for ease of use, a legible control panel, an interior oven light and a system of interactive prompts (either in a scrolling digital readout or a "pathway" series of lighted buttons) are user-friendly features. If you'll frequently cook large cuts of meat and poultry, consider a model with a temperature probe (an electric thermometer attachment that automatically turns off the oven when the food reaches the right temperature).
And for beautifully browned baked foods, look for a combination microwave/convection oven in which a convection fan circulates hot air. You'll also find models that have an automatic Daylight Savings Time adjustment, programmable controls for U.S. and metric measurements, and your choice of English, Spanish or French readouts.
When it comes to style, today's models come in a variety of finishes to suit your kitchen. Sleek stainless-steel and bright I-Mac hues are currently popular.
There's no question about it: To get the party going, you've gotta get a blender. In addition to mixing up strawberry daiquiris and churning out chocolate smoothies, this essential small appliance can chop and puree all manner of foods (a necessity for homemade soups and many other recipes), and even grind coffee beans and nuts. Although it can't do all the jobs of a top-of-the-line food processor, a blender is a versatile, easy-to-clean and operate machine that's been helping out in American kitchens for more than 70 years.
There are two types of blenders: handheld models, also called immersion blenders, and the standard countertop machines that are much like the ones your mom and grandmother have used for years. The newest models offer more features than ever.
Keep in mind that a model with removable and dishwasher-proof parts will be the easiest to clean. As for the choice of jar materials, glass will generally be more scratch-resistant and will do a better job of maintaining the temperature of your mixture (keeping cold drinks cold, for example) than plastic jars. A glass container, however, is obviously breakable, and heavier to lift.
The design of the base and control panel are also important to consider. Buttons, dials and switches should be accessible, but not easy to turn on accidentally. Blender fact: Splatters and drips happen, so a machine with touch-pad controls may be preferable for its easy-to-wipe-clean surface.
The number and types of blender speeds you need depend on the recipes you plan to prepare. If you'll only mix drinks, a model with just two speeds (low and high) may suffice. You'll find blenders with as many as 14 speeds, but honestly, how many of us know the difference between "liquefy" and "frappe?" The average cook will probably be satisfied with just five speeds (stir, mix, blend, puree and liquefy) and perhaps a "pulse" control, which provides a burst of power when activated. A variable-speed control (usually a slide or dial mechanism) will allow you to make smooth shifts between speeds.
Handheld blenders are small and lightweight, easy to use and can be stowed in a drawer or cabinet. They consist of one or two parts: the grip that houses the motor and displays the controls, and the shaft to which the blade is attached. Some models come with a detachable blade and a variety of chopping and whipping attachments; a dishwasher-safe mixing/storage container is another plus. Although you can't use a handheld blender to crush ice, you can immerse the shaft in a container to whip up a milk shake and chop small amounts of food. You'll want to choose a handheld blender that's easy to grip, operate and clean.
What about looks? Although handheld blenders are usually limited to basic white, many countertop models are available in an array of colors and finishes, including red, cobalt blue, green, black and shiny chrome. If you like the idea of mixing drinks on the beach or while tailgating, check out the new portable "party blenders" that you simply charge up and take on the road.
Have a passion for pesto? Or a craving to churn out chocolate-chip cookie dough on demand? Then make it a point to register for a powerful, time-saving food processor. This nifty appliance has steadily gained popularity among accomplished chefs and everyday home cooks alike since it debuted in the United States 25 years ago. In fact, food processors have become such a kitchen-counter staple that today you can hardly open a cookbook or food magazine without coming across a host of recipes that call for—or would at least be greatly eased by—using one.
What's the appeal? You're probably already aware that a food processor slices, chops, shreds and grates ingredients. Many models also knead dough, puree, blend and whisk concoctions, and some can even crush ice. If a few of those capabilities sound more like those of a blender or mixer, you're right—and amateur cooks can probably get by with more basic appliances for a while. But if you want the quickest and most uniform way to perform a multitude of tasks (like whipping up the smoothest and creamiest hummus)—if you really want the power, that is—you just can't beat a food processor.
Of course, there's no time like registry time to add a food processor to your repertoire of cutting-edge (no pun intended) kitchen equipment. You'll find the latest models in designs and finishes as sleek as a new car—from cool chrome-and-black to kitchen décor-enhancing royal blue.
Most food processors include: a stainless steel, multipurpose S-shaped blade for cutting; slicing and shredding discs (these functions may be combined on opposite sides of the same disc); a see-through work bowl with a handle; a fee tube through which you add ingredients to the work bowl; a food pusher which plunges ingredients through the feed tube; pulse power controls; and an interlocking bowl-and-lid safety system that doesn't allow the machine to function until the work bowl and the lid are secured in place—so no risk of a sauce blowout on your cabinets and walls.
Next, consider the capacity of the work bowl. A model with, say, an 11-cup capacity is suitable if you're looking for an all-around, full-sized high-performance food processor. If you consider yourself a serious cook or baker 14-cup versions are even better. There are also medium-sized versions such as the 6- or 7-cup models which are perfectly fine for most tasks, and will cost less than the larger, loaded-with-every-feature models. If space is at a premium, consider the most basic, 1- to 3-cup capacity mini chopper. It won't slice or shred, but this little wonder makes mincing garlic or chopping onions a cinch—and fits easily inside your kitchen cabinet.
Also, check out the design of the feed tube. The larger it is, the less chopping you'll have to do to make food fit into it. And while you're on the subject of packing that food in, consider a continuous-feed food chute, which channels processed food out into another container. This attachment really comes in handy—especially if you have a smaller-capacity work bowl—so you don't have to stop and empty the work bowl when making up guacamole for a crowd. Other specialty features to consider: a french-fry slicer; an ice-crushing blade; a whisk; a citrus juicer; and additional discs that slice, grate, julienne and shred in a variety of thicknesses. You may also want a dough blade that can handle multiple batches of batter at a time.
Ease of use and quick cleanup should also be taken into account. The blades and discs are extremely sharp, so look for simple assembly and disassembly. Storage caddies and protective covers for the blades and discs will reduce accidents. As for cutting out the mess, some food processors have more dishwasher-proof accessories than others, so it's a good idea to consult the manuals of the machines that you're considering and compare the care requirements. Finally, a smooth design with simple lines and touch-pad controls can be effortlessly wiped clean.
Although some information about a food processor's features may be printed on the outside of its box, the use-and-care manual (packaged with the model) is the most complete source of information on the appliance's capabilities and limitations. A bridal registry consultant should be able to show you a sample model (so that you can assess its size and attachments) and a copy of the product information—so don't "mince" words when comparing one brand against another. You want a new food processor that will live up to your "grate" expectations. Once you own this time-saving device you'll wonder how you survived without it.
You may be one of those people who find the act of vacuuming curiously therapeutic. The rhythmic action, the noise, and the gradual disappearance of all that nasty dirt and grime can be very comforting. Let's face it, though: For most of us, vacuuming is a dreaded task only enjoyable once it's over.
While choosing among mop types (yarn? sponge?) is a matter of taste, buying a vacuum requires a little know-how. Whether you're registering at department stores, bed-and-bath superstores or home-building supply stores—all of which stock vacuum cleaners - take advantage and include a deluxe model in the mix. What should you two be on the lookout for?
First, consider the ideal type of vacuum, cleaner—upright or canister—for the various surfaces you have to clean. That is, are the majority of your floors covered with carpet, mostly bare wood and tile, or a combination of both? If you're carpet people, an upright version is a better bet; the rotating rush in the head is designed specifically to dig ground-in dirt out of carpet pile—and the majority of machines are adjustable to accommodate different carpet thicknesses.
A canister-style vacuum, on the other hand, is most effective at picking up dirt and dust from bare surfaces—and its multiple attachments make it easier to get under furniture and into hard-to-reach areas.
If you've got all kinds of surfaces, don't worry. Most uprights come with a variety of attachments and some even allow you to turn off the rotating brush (which otherwise simply blows the dirt around) so you can tackle your bare floors hassle-free.
While we're on the subject of attachments: A vacuum will likely include a dusting brush (some have a special one to clean radiators), a crevice tool, an upholstery tool, and a small power nozzle for super pick-up in tight areas. For pesky dirt along the baseboards and the edges of carpeting, there's even a model with a special edger tool that attaches to the front of the machine. These helpers (usually stored right on the machine itself) are perfect for removing pet hair from upholstery, cleaning window treatments and dusting corners and moldings. Also good to have are extension wands for reaching high places, and a long, flexible hose. All these nook-and-cranny attachments are particularly important if you're an allergy sufferer. And if you're not… well, do you really enjoy those dust bunnies lurking around your house?
While comparison shopping, seek out a machine that has powerful suction; this is reflected in the number of amps (amount of electrical current a vacuum draws) and a well-designed rotating brush. Also, prep yourself on some recent advancements: For one, not all dirt bags are the same (no, we're not talking about your ex-boyfriends). Some vacuum cleaners feature a handy indicator that lets you know when that wonderful sack of gunk inside is full and hindering the suction. Other new models even contain a transparent dirt compartment so you can actually see the dirt that has been picked up (for your unsavory, yet satisfying viewing pleasure).
To prevent your sheer curtains from being swallowed up by the vacuum's suction, scout out types that offer a way for to adjust the level. Also helpful are vacuums that have a special dirt sensor to electronically scan areas and indicate whether dirt is still traveling into the vacuum or whether the flow of dirt has stopped. That way, you can concentrate on heavily soiled spots while glossing over cleaner areas.
Have you ever experienced that annoying cough of dirt and dust being expelled from the bag (and wondered why you're even bothering to vacuum in the first place)? Today's manufacturers are counteracting this problem with new technology in the way of a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate-arresting) filter. These catch extremely small (down to 1/100th the thickness of a human hair) dust particles, pollen, mites and other allergens and trap them inside the machine with super-fine barriers—before they can be vented in the exhaust.
Other important considerations that you might have overlooked: the weight and maneuverability of the machine, and how much noise it generates. Vacuuming is enough of a workout without having to lug a cumbersome machine all over the house. For two-story dwellers, a lightweight model is a must—so perform a lift-test on prospective machines. To take some of the effort out of the back-and-forth action of sweeping, check out self-propelled models for smooth forward and reverse motion. Another innovation that will have you waltzing through the task (and turning tough corners) effortlessly is a vacuum on swivel casters. If the constant drone of the machine drives you crazy, see if you can plug in the one that interests you at the store to check its noise level - yes, some models are much louder than others. Who wants to wake up the downstairs neighbors when you've got the urge to vacuum and it's 3 am?
You can't have it all in one vac. But if you find a model that best fits the bill for your space, you might just catch yourself whistling while you work. Remember to look for at least a one-year limited warranty for repairs—in case you take your vac on a rampage and it eats up one too many pennies.