Cheap Life Changers – The Kitchen Saga

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Yesterday, Chris gave us some great suggestions.  Cheap Suggestions, to be exact, on ways that you can make life a little easier – maybe a little more convenient – without shelling out the big bucks.

Today on Living Naturally, we are following that same route, but taking a detour into the kitchen.  There are so many ways that you can easily and frugally revamp some of your kitchen supplies and techniques to make life a little easier, and many times a LOT simpler.  Some of these may incur a bit of a “start-up fee” if you will, but most are well under $40 and the payoff and quality are well worth it and will end up saving you in the end.  (Trust me, someday I’ll do a post about HIGH ticket kitchen items, at which time I will gladly review a free Vitamix Blender or a Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer 🙂 ) [insert subtle hint]

So here we go, in no specific order, my recommended kitchen gadgets and tips that make life (and cooking) a little easier:

  • Corelle dishes | These things are amazing and I have no idea why it took me so long to make the change.  No, that’s a lie.  I DO know why it took me so long.  For some reason, Corelle dishes are “old lady” dishes to me.  Please, if you have Corelle and you’ve been using them for years, I mean no disrespect.  For whatever reason, they have suffered that stigma in my brain, and it finally took 12 chipped dinner plates,  6 chipped salad plates and 4 cracked bowls to push me over the edge (trust me, I’m a hard-sell).  We have a granite sink.  AND we have 3 small children.  AND we used to have nice white ceramic plates.  Corelle dishes are chip and break resistant. Proof: I bought my first set and had them in a plastic grocery bag, sans a box, and I dropped them on the sidewalk as I came into the house. People, these things survived!  They’re not much more expensive than a nice set of ceramic dinnerware, and although the initial cost may be a tad more and are the highest dollar items on this list, they are definitely worth it!
  • The Ball Mason Jar.  Yes, we are that hippy cool that we drink out of Ball Mason jars.  Please refer to the above scenario: granite sink + small children.  We went through 3 set of glasses in 2 years, and I finally realized that it was time to admit defeat.  AND I’M SO GLAD I DID!  They are made from tempered glass, so they can be used for hot or cold beverages, for food storage, and you can even bake individual portions with them!  And of course, you can use them for canning, but that is still an art that I am working on…There are a million uses for Ball Mason jars, and I’m not going to recreate the wheel by elaborating on them – google it sometime and you’ll find some great ideas!
  • Tea towels.  These are a really versatile item and having a few high quality (read: not Dollar Tree) tea towels will last you forever.  They’re great for covering ferments and rising breads, they can be used to strain whey and are useful in yogurt and cheese preparations, and they’re great for packing lunches.  Now a days, you can buy all of these cute (“green”) cloth (expensive) reusable (over-priced) sandwich bags. Don’t get me wrong, I have looked at my share of them on etsy, but nothing beats a good ole tea towel.  It’s large enough to wrap around your sandwich and is great for a place mat while eating.
  • An immersion blender.  This is a great tool to use for thin batters, soups, and whipping,  and its one that I went years without, thinking that it was a waste of money because I had a blender.  Trust me. It’s worth it.  The ease of use and clean up makes it worth every penny of the $15 I paid for it at a large department store.
  • Kefir grains.  Ok, so this isn’t a kitchen gadget, but it’s an incredibly frugal kitchen staple of mine, and it has a regular spot in my kitchen cupboards.  Kefir can be found in most grocery stores, and is most similar in form to yogurt, although it comes from a completely different strain of bacteria and probiotics.  In fact, kefir has as much as 10x the probiotic content of yogurt.  No joke.  It’s slightly tangy, and if it cultures too long can taste quite pungent, yeasty and tart (although it’s still great for you, it’s just the beneficial bacteria consuming all of the sugars in the milk, making it tart).  So all that being said, plan on paying around $3-4 per quart of kefir in the store.  OR, purchase the grains, place them in a jar with some milk (preferably raw) and allow it to set out on your counter and culture.  You can purchase grains here (and yes, if you buy through this link, I do get a small commission )
  • A toaster oven.  Again, I don’t know why, but this was kind of “old lady-ish” to me too, and I would never have actually purchased one for myself, but we received one as a gift several years ago.  You can get a decent toaster oven for $20-40, but they vary in price and can get expensive, so watch out.  It will save you time, energy (like the kind you get billed for monthly) and sweat.  We live in an old house with terrible ventilation, and when I start cooking and baking, the entire kitchen becomes a quaint little dutch oven.  I have a toaster oven large enough to hold a small casserole, a side dish or a small tray of baked goods.  This eliminates the need to run the entire oven, and the food bakes much faster this way.
  • A high quality cutting board.  Admit it.  You’ve bought $2 plastic cutting boards before.  There is proof that someone somewhere makes a cutting board that does not function well as a cutting board.  I’m not sure how you can mess that one up, but it’s possible.  I received a solid wood cutting board for Christmas and I adore it – and have since bought 2 other sizes.  We eat gobs of produce and the majority of our meals are made from scratch, so the cutting board is used daily, and sometime for multiple meals.  For around $20-30 you can get a medium sized board.  TIP: don’t worry about curing it with food grade mineral oil every few washes.  Use coconut oil instead; its anti-microbial, easy to apply with a towel or your fingers, and doesn’t go rancid.

As wives and moms, we spend insane amounts of time in the kitchen, so start investing in items that will make that job a little easier.  And the best part is, you don’t have to go on a complete over-haul.  Start tonight by taking a look around your kitchen and cleaning out that kitchen-gadget-doo-hickey drawer full of citrus peelers and extra blender attachments that you never use.  Pare down to the minimums, and if you haven’t used it in 6 months, chances are, you won’t miss it.  Start adding to your stash slowly as you save up; the extra conveniences and time saving benefits are well worth the patience of saving up for what you’ll really use.

What are your favorite frugal kitchen gadgets?
This post is linked to Traditional Tuesdays at Cooking TF, Welcome Home Link-Up at Raising Arrows, Fat Tuesdays at Real Food Forager,  Real Food Wednesdays at Kelly The Kitchen Kop, WLWW Link Up at Women Living Well, Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways at Frugally Sustainable, Simple Lives Thursday at GNOWFGLINS, Your Green Resource at The Green Backs Gal, Frugal Fridays at Life As Mom, Monday Mania at The Healthy Home Economist, The Welcome Home Link-up at Raising Arrows, The Homesteader Blog Carnival at The Morris Tribe, Sunday School Blog Carnival at Butter Believer, Seasonal Celebrations at Natural Mother’s Network, The Barn Hop at Homestead Revival
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16 Responses to “Cheap Life Changers – The Kitchen Saga”
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  1. I never thought I’d use a toaster oven, but my grandma sent me one for Christmas last year. I was thinking “great, this will look so nice next to the ice cream maker I still haven’t broken in”, and then my husband got so excited I thought he was running fever or something that was causing delusions. Little did I know this would become a staple of our kitchen. How did we go so long without it? Only draw back? Blondie once left it on all day and it melted everything within 3 feet…

  2. I too love my mason jars, immersion blender, cutting board and tea towels. I’d also add in my grandmother’s handed down 30 year old food processor, the ice cream maker I bought at Goodwill for $5 and my husband (he’s my best kitchen appliance – he cooks better than I do!)

  3. Great tip I just learned today about mason jars…. you can screw your blender attachment to the jar aned use it as a food processor! Jar goes on upside down so you need to put ingredients in first..but how great to whiz up some nuts or homemade dressing without making a huge mess..and the leftovers are in a storage jar already!! How cool is that!

  4. Love, love , love glass jars of all kinds but especially the mason jar. I have loads of them, and could still use more – drinks, freezer storage, fridge storage, pantry storage and the blender trick mentioned above!
    My cutting boards! Ugh, yes I have 2 of those cheap plastic ones that I used maybe twice. I am still looking for a good one. I love the bamboo one I have, but can’t seem to find another one like it with some sort of rubber feet so it doesn’t slide around.
    Oh and my immersion blender! This IS the greatest thing ever. My mom gave me one as a gift almost 20 years ago. I am still using that Braun immersion blender.
    Great post!

  5. I love Corelle dishes! My parents still have some of the same ones they had when I was a kid (it IS possible for them to break eventually) and they’re the main type of dishes I have now.

    A great source of affordable tea towels is Dharma Trading Company. They have several sizes–and a lot of nice affordable clothing, too, if you like white or want to dye it yourself.

  6. Thanks for your suggestions. Okay, I already had an immersion blender and a toaster oven (the latter not because I’m an old lady but because my A/C is window-based, and there are only two units and neither are near the kitchen. Yep, I’m one of those who ends up being surprised in the winter when her coconut oil turns solid!

    My parents didn’t have corelle, will have to check out. They had melamine dishes, and passed those on instead. Sigh.

    Oh, I also have the Ball canning jars, but I’ve to date only used them for … canning.

  7. I use my great-grandmother’s stand mixer 🙂 It was passed down to me years ago, and it still works! I would never trade it for a Kitchen Aid! I think it’s from the 30’s? And it weighs a ton 🙂

  8. Bebe

    Excellent list. I use them all and I’m pretty sure Mason jars are the most addictive single item in the kitchen. You can purchase special lids for them that turn them into big sippy cups for hot or cold drinks (Cuppow is the company that makes these), or simply punch a hole through a regular metal lid big enough for a straw if you only want to use it for cold drinks. Plus they make great storage containers in the fridge or cupboard, especially if you are trying to kick the plastic habit. I saw a cool spice drawer where they had used those tiny 4oz jars for all their spices… very organized! They even make great liquid measuring cups!
    As for the cutting boards, I am very partial to Epicurean boards: http://www.amazon.com/Epicurean-3-Piece-Prep-Series-Natural/dp/B004TJMPWO/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1334629305&sr=8-2
    They are made of wood but can go in the dishwasher! Much easier on your knives than plastic and more durable and convenient than bamboo. Wood is the best for anti-microbial too. They even come with a built in handle/hole so you can hang them up to store.
    Finally, the immersion blender: best tool ever for making homemade mayonnaise. No need to dribble the oil in slowly. Just put all ingredients, except oil, into a wide mouth *Mason jar*. Pour oil on top. Put stick blender in jar, all the way to the bottom and pulse three or four times to stir together all the bottom ingredients, then just turn it on and watch the magic happen. You will be amazed.

  9. I JUST got my cuppow lid in the mail and I already LOVE it! It’s GREAT and we have so many Mason jars, there’s no reason for us to buy more travel mugs!! And I will definitely have to give the mayo a whirl with the immersion blender – great idea! Thanks for stopping by! – kelsi

  10. ah I’m jealous! A stand mixer is on my wish list and how awesome that yours is also a family heirloom – and amazing that it still works! wow! thanks for stopping by! – kelsi

  11. I agree- I love my hand blender- cost very little but I don’t know what i’d do without it! Thanks for sharing this at Natural Mother’s Seasonal Celebration Sunday! x

  12. Diana Smith

    Don’t know Melmine. They are making great mixing bowls out of it these days. My bright yellow 5 qt one can handle just about anything I make ‘cept bread. Got it at http://www.UrbanHomemaker.com. A set of plain white Corelle dishes have taken me thru 45 years of marriage and 4 boys…only one plate missing. They really do bounce! If you don’t want to use canning jars for drinks look for a resturant supply store. You can buy the heavy tumblers you get when eating out and they,too, last forever. Love my bamboo cutting boards and please find you a silicone spatula or two…threw my other stiff ones away. Plus they don’t melt in frying pans

  13. I want a toaster oven so badly. My husband and I have agreed to get one at some point, but at this point we live in a very small studio apartment and there is no room for a toaster oven right now. Someday when we move, my dreams will come true lol.

  14. when we made the move into a house from an apartment, one of the best parts was being able to “stock” my kitchen and to finally have room for more gadgets! 🙂 -kelsi

  15. Just want you to know how much I’m enjoying your blog. We have been making a conversion from eating out about 75% of the time through processed convenience foods and finally to eating out of our garden and trying to get out of the processed habit. Funny, I have everything on your list except the Kefir. I admit I’m still very befuddled by it. I don’t quite understand what it is or what to do with it. Do you have a Kefir 101 post?