All politics aside, the best kitchenware is, without a doubt, made in France (the only exception possibly being knives, which the Japanese know a thing or two about), and the worst, well, take a guess. Now I know it is not necessary, or practical, for most families to purchase premier chefs tools, but there are a few things that just should not be skimped on.
The Stand Mixer- invest in the Kitchen Aid. They vary in models and if you look hard enough you can pick one up for around $200.00 (you can also find them for nearly $600 if thats your thing). However you probably have no need for a commercial grade mixer so don't feel the need to buy up in this category. Having just the base Kitchen Aid is better than any other option out there. Lesser brands (Sunbeam, Hamilton Beach, Emeril Lagasse) are inadequate and inferior and will leave you with the sound of a freight train when you have them on high speed in your kitchen. The motors are extremely loud, and they typically shake on high speed as well. The metal bowl and attachments are cheap and quickly become battered looking. Just go look for yourself... Notice the weight of the Kitchen Aid and how substantial it feels? That is because it is built to last... Invest in one now and you will have it forever. You will also be more inclined to use it over and over because you will be less frustrated with the machine... Happy Cook=More Cooking. Not to mention that they come in lots of fun colors (mine is violet), and looks GREAT out on the kitchen counter!
The Blender- It seems that blenders are like batteries in today's society... They provide power for a brief amount of time, then get tossed and replaced. Not only is this terrible for the environment, but also ends us costing you a lot more cash in the long run. Again it is a matter of motors- the cheap ones (think Oster, Black & Decker, Hamilton Beach) stop working, while the well made/high quality ones (Breville, KitchenAid) don't. The glass pitchers are also made with varying degrees of quality and can be more prone to shatter or chip in cheaper models.
Spatulas- These indispensable tools are a must in any kitchen, and fortunately, are generally inexpensive even for the best. Now, you can purchase a spatula from Target for $3.00 that melt the first time you put it in the dishwasher, or you can purchase one from Williams-Sonoma for $9.00 and have it forever. I would see this as a no brainer, and I hope you do to! The disparity in quality is due to inexpensive ('throw-away') spatulas being made primarily of plastic, which as we all know, will melt in contact with high temperatures (and leach chemicals into your food). The better ones are made of silicone, which is heatproof up to 675 degrees, i.e., hotter than you will ever have anything in a home kitchen. I personally prefer spatulas with metal handles which are super low maintenance and virtually indestructible, as opposed to wood which can get molded if not thoroughly dried.
One Good Knife- Let me say this loud and proud... Just because a knife can cut through a tin can does NOT make it a good knife, no matter what the infomercial says! Nearly any knife can be made dangerously sharp. That is not the point (no pun intended). The type of the metal and the knife's construction is what separates the good from the bad. Carbon Steel can be made very sharp and will hold it's edge well, but is vulnerable to rust and stains. Stainless steel knifes feel substantial and won't discolor, but can not take on quite as sharp and edge, which will mean more work for you when chopping. High Carbon Stainless Steel incorporates both elements and is what most top quality knives are made of. You can, of course, get way out there and purchase a Shun knife, wich is forged like actual Samari sword, and can to be yours for $300. How the metal is adjoined to the handle also makes a difference. The blade and the handle need to be one seamless pice of steel for proper balance, and most downgraded knives are simply adjoined to a plastic handle, which feels flimsy in comparison. That being said, good knives will cost you. The good news, however, is that you do not need to purchase the entire knife block... all you kneed is that one really good workhorse, so please, don't buy a donkey.
Remember, you get what you pay for, so always get the best that you can. Even if there is a slight mark up in price at say, Williams-Sonoma, you are paying for service. Did you know that you can take a product back anytime if it stops working or falls apart?? If you were to attempt that at WalMart I'm sure you would receive blank stares and possibly a police escort out the door.
Happy Shopping Everyone!