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Dining In: Kitchen Essentials for the Home

content ballRecently, a friend of mine was musing with me about some of my “frugalista” tendencies such as baking my own bread and grinding my own peanut butter.  While she marveled at these endeavors, she shook her head at the idea of ever being able to accomplish them. I assured her that I’m not really that talented in the kitchen, I just have some tools that make my job easier, and I didn’t even spend a lot of money acquiring my favored gadgets.

As much as I go on and on here about cooking from scratch and the amount of money that can be saved by cooking at home rather than eating out, I’ve decided that it might be time to divulge some of my “not-so-secret” secrets.

It probably goes without saying that no kitchen should be without measuring tools such as cups and spoons, but I have also discovered how handy it is to have a little scale in the kitchen as well.  I picked one of these up rather inexpensively, but if it isn’t in your budget at the moment, keep your eyes open at the second-hand stores or request one as a gift for your birthday or Christmas.  Having a kitchen scale helps ensure that you are not using too much of any ingredient, which is important when you’re trying to save money, and it also helps adhere to the integrity of the recipe you’re following.

One of my most prized kitchen appliances that I picked up at the second-hand store is my bread machine.  I use this wonderful machine not only to bake bread, but also to prepare pizza dough for our traditional Chicago-style pizza nights.  There are several other favorite bread and dough recipes in the User’s Manual, which I found online.

I also could not live without my food processor.  This particular appliance can run a pretty penny, but I managed to find a deal on it and asked for it as a birthday present from my Dad.  I use the food processor for a multitude of tasks including grinding my own peanut butter, whipping up fresh mayonnaise, shredding cheese, slicing a variety of vegetables for soups or stir-fry, and making hummus (a very inexpensive, yet protein-dense dip).  A blender can easily be used for some of these items.

Another small kitchen appliance that I have found to be extremely important for the at-home chef is a slow cooker.  I did not get mine at the second-hand store, but I have seen them by the gazillions there (much like the bread makers, blenders, and coffee makers).  For some reason, people are readily willing to let these gems go, and they’re in great shape.  I have a friend who has a large family, and she probably has at least four of them.  I wouldn’t doubt it if she found them at the second-hand store either.  I use my slow cooker to slow cook dried beans rather than buying them canned (much cheaper to buy them dry), slow-cook chicken with a few seasonings to be used in recipes throughout the week, as well as making large pots of chili, homemade spaghetti sauce, and soups or stews.

There is one item that I don’t have, but really want to bring into my kitchen to round out my collection and that is a stand mixer.  I was never able to justify the expense of this appliance, and it is also quite cumbersome, but as I’ve taken to making things like homemade meatballs, pasta, and tortillas, I think it is something I could definitely put to good use.

As you can see, this is a relatively short list, which can greatly simplify the way you cook at home.  I encourage everyone who is working toward paring down the food budget to consider adding some of these handy tools to your wish list.  By shopping carefully for these items, especially taking advantage of the offerings at the second-hand stores, or on-line sites, these can easily be acquired for the price of going out to dinner two or three times with your family.  Not only will your time in the kitchen be more efficient, you will have the added satisfaction of saving money on so many items for your family and they don’t even need preservatives or funny colors to make them interesting and tasty!

“From the fruit of his words a man has his fill of good things, and the work of his hands comes back to reward him.”—Proverbs 12:14

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