Nearly everyone at Chatelaine spent more hours in the kitchen than they planned to this year—giving us extra time to obsess over all the things that would make our cooking lives a little easier. Welcome to our inaugural gear guide: a look at what the latest releases in home cooking can do, and which ones are worth the buy.
While they’ve been on the market since at least 2010, air fryers have skyrocketed in popularity in the past two years, promising crisp, deep-fried textures with a fraction of the oil—and the mess.
All three of these did at least as good a job as my regular convection oven in terms of results. But the Cuisinart is my favourite of the bunch, in that it cooks a big batch of fries in an efficient manner and is also a really versatile little oven. — Eshun Mott, Contributor
Dash Compact Air Fryer
This basket-style air fryer comes in a few retro colours (I’m partial to the turquoise), and using it is incredibly straightforward: Put the food in the basket and turn the dials for time and temperature. The Dash did an impressive job of cooking frozen French fries to a perfect crisp in 20 minutes. The one annoyance? You can’t just tip the fryer basket on to your plate to remove the food, as it has a false bottom that collects excess cooking oil as it fries. Be sure to scoop out any food from the basket once it’s finished cooking. $79, tsc.ca
Ever thought about graduating from pods but worried the traditional espresso machine’s learning curve was too steep? Semi-automatics (the kind you grind, load and tamp the coffee into yourself) are more user-friendly than ever these days. We’ve found a trio that ring in at $399 or less, all outfitted with milk steamers.
If you’re a regular at coffee shops and a drinker of espresso-based beverages, these appliances are for you. An espresso machine at home means you don’t need to brave the winter weather for your caffeine fix. In my opinion, the biggest advantage to owning one is for making steamed or foamed milk beverages. (I tested these machines using barista-style oat milk to make lattes, and they all worked like a dream.) — Irene Ngo, Food Content Director
De’Longhi ECP 3630, MANUAL ESPRESSO
This no-frills manual dial machine features some nice touches for beginners. It has a portafilter that creates artificial pressure, helping it extract the coffee better and produce that lovely top foam (crema), even if your coffee isn’t perfectly ground or tamped. De’Longhi’s signature adjustable steam wand also allows you to select whether to steam or froth milk for espresso-based drinks, and the body of the machine features a hidden compartment for filter basket storage. $230, delonghi.com.
The latest generation of multi-function blenders can churn smoothies, nut milks, soft-serve ice creams—even heat up and purée chopped ingredients for quick, creamy soups.
To be honest, I had never heard of a cooking blender until I took these three options for a spin. I’m very happy with my Vitamix, and I don’t make puréed soups all that often. But if I did, I would definitely consider the Pampered Chef model out of the three I tried: It was the easiest to use and gave me the best results. — Maureen Halushak, Editor-In-Chief
Instant Pot Ace Blender
A decent cooking blender, but I found the controls slightly less user-friendly than the other two options, and the instruction manual didn’t include recipes. (You have to download an app or look online for that—but it was hard to find anything but recipes for the original Instant Pot on the official website.) $149, canadiantire.ca
Staring down a mountain of onions, peppers and other produce for your favourite chili or stew recipe? A good food processor can handle that for you in a snap—no knife skills required.
Even as someone comfortable with a knife—I’ve made peace with handling large amounts of onions and garlic—chopping produce has always been a time suck for me. I chose vegetable-heavy recipes to test these food processors and sailed through prep work every time. — Chantal Braganza, Senior Editor
The Cuisinart easily motored through a mountain of raw potatoes for a batch of chips, though it didn’t fare so well with mincing large amounts of greens. One thing to watch out for: The locking mechanism is tricky to snap into place, and the processor won’t work when unlocked. Use more force than you think you need. $139, lowes.ca
The original Instant Pot may be the first tool to prove pressure cookers can peacefully coexist with slow cookers, rice cookers, sauté functions and more, but so many quality options have followed in its footsteps with their own spin on pots that do more than pressure cook. Here are three of our recent faves.
It’s stew season, exactly the time that slow and pressure cookers prove their worth. If your menu tends to include plenty of beans, grains, last-minute meats or lots of long simmering, then any one of these will be worth it—but my vote’s for the Instant Pot. It performs almost all the same functions as the rest of the group, at a better price. — Denise Balkissoon, Executive Editor
Breville Fast Slow Pro
Breville makes tidy appliances, and this combination pressure and slow cooker is compact and handsome—a bonus for small kitchens. Pre-programming helps newbie multi-cooker users figure out the best setting for common dishes: Both risotto and overnight bone-in oxtail turned out tasty and texturally pleasing. But it’s a bit annoying to do any sautéeing before setting the stew in to settle. A high-pitched alert will sound unless the lid stays open at just the right angle. Also, this model doesn’t include an air fryer. $369, breville.com/ca
With the right attachments—whisks, mini processing jars, even smoothie cups—the biggest kitchen space-saver can also be among the most multi-functional.
Blending, whisking, chopping, slicing—these hand blenders can do it all. I don’t like clutter, so I’d rather have one device with a few attachments than a drawerful of bulky tools. I made smoothies using the immersion blender, marinades and sauces with the chopping blade, and I look forward to using the whisk to make desserts. — Radiyah Chowdhury, Assistant Editor
Cuisinart Smart Stick
This blender has two power settings, and at 300 watts it’s quite powerful. It can be finicky—you have to press an unlock button while pressing the motor button, which can be confusing—but unlike the others, its chopping blade is dual-use, with one side for slicing and one for mixing. $89, thebay.com
Stews, roasts, bread, casseroles, stovetop and oven cooking: the Dutch oven is a kitchen workhorse for a reason. We’ve found three quality options that won’t break the bank.
I used Marcella Hazan’s classic roast chicken recipe to test the pots, which involves flipping the chicken halfway to create a self-basting bird. In the end, each Dutch oven distributed heat evenly, cleaned up easily and produced a stellar roast chicken. This experiment proved it’s hardly necessary to pay upwards of $400 for a perfectly capable enamel Dutch oven—but I have to give top marks to the Ikea oven for its attractiveness and neat surface. — Isabel Slone, Contributor
Ikea Vardagen Casserole
Updated from its previous Senior version, Ikea’s take on the Dutch oven features a new handle and pot design, making it more stovetop-friendly. While it cooks as well as its counterparts, its exposed cast-iron interior means it needs to be treated with a little extra care when washing and storing. $60, ikea.com/ca