It is a well-known fact among family and friends that I have a slight addiction to kitchen gadgets. I love the idea of making some of the more unsavory cooking tasks more convenient, and I feel like a total boss when I’m surrounded by whirring, blinking gizmos as I hard-boil an egg or something.
Thankfully, I’ve mostly gotten over this particular addiction. It didn’t take long to realize that many of the “time-saving” kitchen tools and appliances are typically more cumbersome than helpful. And don’t believe any infomercial that uses the words “so easy to clean.” It’s a lie. It’s always a lie!
I’ve managed to trim down my counter clutter quite a bit, and now I only have a handful of specialty items that I keep in my kitchen. Most of them get to keep their rockstar status because they make it much easier to make basic staple foods that I would otherwise have to buy or spend hours doing it entirely by hand. If you feel overwhelmed by the prospect of scratch cooking, consider investing in some of the following gadgets and tools to save yourself some time (and money.)
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1. Slow cooker
If you haven’t yet experienced the magic of a slow cooker, you are in for a treat. They are best known for being convenient little appliances that allow you to fill them up before work and come home to a perfectly cooked meal. While that is entirely true (and as wonderful as it sounds,) slow cookers can do so much more than that.
Slow cookers are a great way to save money on meat. Because they slowly cook the meat over several hours, you can get fantastic results with much cheaper, tougher cuts than you can with more conventional cooking methods. They are also great for making a number of pantry staples such as bread, yogurt, condensed milk, and stock. Since you just throw in the ingredients and let them cook, you can have your staples cooking while you clean the house or take a nap. Nifty, right?
2. Bread machine
If your family goes through a lot of bread but you don’t have the time or patience to constantly make the loaves by hand, consider investing in a bread machine. These are wonderful appliances that mix, knead, and bake the loaf for you. All you have to do is pour the ingredients in and push a few buttons. I’ve found that bread-maker bread doesn’t quite compare to the loaves I make by hand, but it’s still a great alternative to the store-bought bread that is packed with preservatives and costs way too much.
3. Pasta roller
Okay, this is easily the most used tool in my kitchen. I love making fresh pasta, and my roller keeps me from killing my hands with rolling out and cutting the dough by hand. If you don’t have one of these magical devices, get one. Fresh pasta costs mere pennies in comparison to its boxed counterparts and it tastes so much better. I’m drooling just thinking about it.
4. Immersion blender
Also known as a stick blender, this is the hero of lazy people everywhere. Hate doing dishes? This bad boy can blend things right where they are. That’s right, you can blend your marinara sauce right in the pan or your smoothie right in your cup. I also use it to make whipped cream, because I’m lazy and it’s super fast to do it this way. I don’t even own a regular blender anymore, because this one does http://amzn.to/2gGU8bqall the same things and takes up a fraction of the cupboard space.
5. Ice cream maker
I know, I know. This is still kind of a novelty item, but nothing beats homemade ice cream straight out of the machine. Nothing. It’s so soft it is practically soft-serve and it is so much cheaper and healthier than buying it from the store. Commercial ice cream is over-priced and contains very little actual cream, so do yourself a favor and make it at home. (An ice cream machine also makes frozen yogurt. Enough said.)
I picked up a nice electric one for $20 during post-Christmas clearance, but you can find one at Amazon anytime for slightly more. The electric variety is truly worth spending a bit more, because you don’t have to worry about filling up the outer bucket with ice and rock salt, but a manual one isn’t terrible if that is all you can afford.
6. Popcorn air popper
I can’t remember the days of bagged microwave popcorn. All I know is that they were dark times indeed. Microwave popcorn is super expensive and so, so bad for you. All I need is a scoop out of my $2 bag of kernels to make a whole bowl of popcorn in my air popper. Seriously, that $2 bag will get you through several movie nights, and air-popped popcorn is low-calorie and delicious. Most poppers have an area to melt butter right on the machine while the popcorn is popping, but one of the greatest things about making your own popcorn is that you aren’t limited to butter. You can drizzle whatever you want on it!
7. Kitchen scale
A kitchen scale is essential to cutting costs on your groceries. I buy most of my meat and poultry in bulk packages, so I have to divide it into smaller portions when I get home. I eyeballed it for a long time before I finally bought an inexpensive digital kitchen scale. Guess what I found out? The packages of ground beef that I estimated to weigh about a pound? They were actually over two pounds. I was using double the amount of meat that most recipes called for and I didn’t even know it! A ten-pound tube of beef lasts us so much longer now that I am using proper portions.
8. Tortilla press
It sort of boggles my mind how expensive tortillas have gotten in the past few years. They have steadily been climbing to the $2 mark for an 8-pack, and when you love tortillas as much as I do, that adds up quickly. Flour and corn tortillas are both a staple in my house, and it is incredibly easy to make both when you have a handy tortilla press. They come out uniform every time and a press is a lot faster and easier than using a rolling pin. Yes, that’s right. I use a press to make flour tortillas too, despite the fact that it is apparently incredibly taboo in the cooking world. Whatever. When you’re churning out tortillas like a boss, I promise you won’t care either.
9. Potato ricer
I don’t know how I lived without a ricer. I really, really don’t. A potato ricer is perfect for making fluffy, delicious mashed potatoes with minimal effort. I also use mine when I’m making gnocchi, which saves me a ton of time (crumbling boiled potatoes with a fork takes forever.) This isn’t a must-have tool necessarily, but potatoes are one of the cheapest foods you can buy, so it’s totally worth it.
10. Waffle iron
Is it possible to live without waffles? I’ve never tried, and it scares me to even contemplate it. Store-bought frozen waffles ain’t got nothin’ on fresh-from-the-iron waffles, and they are way more expensive. Even though pancakes seem to be the breakfast favorite at my house, waffles are nice change of pace once in a while. Load them up with some fresh or frozen fruit and your kids won’t even realize they are eating a healthy breakfast!
11. Iced tea maker
Mr. Sublime is a big fan of iced tea, so this little gem has saved us a fortune over the gallon jugs we used to buy. It works similar to a coffee maker and produces a perfect pitcher of tea every time. I can even make Mr. Sublime’s favorite–lemonade iced tea–with the push of a button!
+Bonus: 12. Deep Fryer
Yes, I know they are unhealthy. I really do. But I love my deep fryer and I refuse to feel bad about it. Okay, so maybe I feel a little bad, but come on! Fried foods are delicious! I usually bake things and eat (relatively) healthy foods, but sometimes I just want some proper french fries or chicken wings or hush puppies. Drool. Plus, if I have a lot of potatoes that are reaching the end of their life, I can cut them up, blanch them in my deep fryer, and freeze them for later consumption. No more potato waste and I’ve just made myself some frugal convenience food. Booyah!
So there you have it–my favorite frugal kitchen tools! Do you have anything you can’t bear to cook without? Let me know in the comments below.