Women just about live in their kitchens. Well, at least it seems like most women I know do. It’s our domain. You know what I mean. We know where things are, we know where things go, and we know immediately when something is out of place or missing (which Al sometimes uses as an excuse to let me put away the dishes). Since it is our “woman cave” (whether by choice or necessity), we come to know the parts and pieces of what make life in the cave easier, harder, or just plain manageable.
In this post I decided to share a few of the things from my cave that I absolutely LOVE. These are the things that I either couldn’t live without or just believe in so much that I would be aghast if you weren’t as convinced as I am after reading this post. But more importantly than just the products themselves, I wanted to explain why I love them, how they work for me, and a few tips on what I find essential and not essential in case you decide to add them to your cave too.
(After each explanation is an Amazon link to the product we use – or one very similar – so you can see what it looks like and glean more info from the reviews. Although this blog does get a little kickback if you purchase through our links (so thanks in advance if you do), we encourage you to shop around, check your local thrift store, search Craigslist, and always do your research to find the best deal you can.)
1. Vitamix Blender
Although a Vitamix certainly is not on the cheap end of the appliance spectrum, even us Crumb Savers believe it is worth the consideration. Granted, we received ours as a wedding gift, but I’m pretty sure that even if not we would have been willing to part with a few of our crumbs on one eventually. For the longest time we used a hand-me-down Walmart blender which did its job remarkably well. In fact, back then I wasn’t convinced I really needed a Vitamix since with a few good shakes, stirs, and mashing of the contents around the container, I could usually get a pretty good smoothie and a nice, smooth sweet potato pie filling that even blended up the skins I refuse to peel off.
But I bequeathed that blender to my parents and with a 2 HP Vitamix on the counter, have embarked upon a new era. Enter stress-free, quick-as-a-zip torpedo blending with super-easy cleanup. It’s like a housewife’s dream. Smoothie ice cream comes out nice, thick, and scoopable because those 2 horsepower can blend all the frozen chunks without having to add much liquid. Cashew-based sauces get blended so smooth you’d think they were made of pure cream and not hard nuts. Cleanup consists of squirting some dish soap into the pitcher, filling it halfway with water, and running it full blast for 30 seconds. It’s like it’s own dishwasher! So, after all this, I’ll admit that although the outcome is amazing, the outcome isn’t exponentially better compared to what I used before (since I was still getting fairly good results out of my old Walmart blender). But I will say that the Vitamix user experience is oh so much nicer. Being a crumb saver, I usually welcome with eager arms a bit of suffering and hardship in exchange for saving a few dollars, but since we use the blender so often (especially cooking mainly vegan and from scratch), the few hundred dollars to upgrade to the Rolls Royce of blenders was definitely worth it for us.
A few tips: Make sure and get one with the variable speed dial (I find the control extremely useful) and 64 oz container (some only come with the smaller 48 oz container which to me is too small). The tamper is a must, but feel free to forego the instructional DVD and recipe book. You can find Vitamix at Costco and occasionally discounted reconditioned ones on the Vitamix website and Amazon.
2. Rice Cooker
Being Asian, a rice cooker is about as essential as…..well, food itself! Some people view rice cookers as an unauthentic shortcut, like cooking a potato in the microwave instead of the oven. Says who?! Not to be biased, but Asians are the master rice consumers of the world, and most of us don’t even know how to cook rice on the stove (at least I don’t!). But why would I when cooking rice in a rice cooker is so easy even Mr. Crumb Saver does it with confidence? Put it in, set the timer, and rice is perfect and waiting for you with the jingle of a tune (yup, ours plays Twinkle Twinkle when our rice is ready). No burning, no checking on it, no stirring or fluffing, it’s a no brainer!
We have a Zojirushi that was handed down to us from a family member. It has a hinged, locking lid that seals in the steam and makes it easy to transport (as opposed to the glass lid type I had before that rattled, bubbled and dripped all over, and couldn’t be carried around as easily). It has settings for different types of rice and cooks brown rice perfectly – fluffy and soft, not hard and chewy. But perhaps the best attribute is that it has a very convenient timer that allows you to set the time you want the rice to be done. This is very important because different types of rice can vary in how long they need to cook (brown rice in our rice cooker can take up to 2 hours!). Here’s how it goes for us: I wash the rice at 7am before leaving for work, put it in the rice cooker with the desired amount of water, and set the timer to finish at 5:30pm. The brown rice soaks all day (which helps make it soft and not so chewy), the rice cooker figures out when to start based on the type of rice setting (brown in our case) and amount of rice, and finishes exactly at 5:30pm, right before Al and I get home from work for supper. Pretty sweet, huh?
A few tips: If you work outside the home, the timer is a must! There are rice cookers with all sorts of other fancy functions (i.e. jam, cakes, porridge), but I find that having a basic brown and white rice setting are the most important. If you have to pay extra for the other settings, feel free to forego them since most people don’t use them. Pressure rice cookers are must faster but also much more expensive. We haven’t found it worth the extra expense, but it may be for some people. Below is one similar to ours, but you can also find lots at Asian markets (but be careful, Asian markets may or may not allow returns.)
3. Slow Cooker
Some people get fancy machines that can do all sorts of things at once (pressure cook, slow cook, blend, bake, fold your laundry). Although it’s nice to have an all-in-one, I’ve found that they can be really expensive and a bit too fancy for me to use to their full potential (which essentially means I’m wasting something I paid for). We were given a basic 5 qt slow cooker and it meets all my needs just fine. Plus, to buy a simple one is a lot cheaper than one with all those fancy do-dads. Remember that a slow cooker is just that….slow. So your appliance is going to be tied up for many hours. If you purchased it to do the 4 essential things you need done in your kitchen, remember that you will have to wait until it is done slow cooking your beans before you can pressure cook your rice.
We mainly make beans and soups in our slow cooker. It doesn’t have a timer and just has a warm, low, and high setting. Although a timer would be nice, since it uses such low, slow heat, a timer hasn’t been as critical as on the rice cooker.
A few tips: It seems like slow cookers are a favorite Black Friday sale item, so snag one then if you can. Or they can often be found at thrift stores. Choose one with the minimum electrical bells and whistles necessary for your needs. Since it is an appliance that has to chug a lot of long hard hours, having it as simple as possible reduces the number of things that can break (it’s always so sad when the fancy accessories break making the basic functions unusable).
4. Corelle Dinnerware
Let’s just say that Corelle is one of those products I just really, really believe in. There’s just so much to love about it! If you are using stoneware dishes or china, I’m sorry, because you’re missing out. Let me explain why I believe everyone should use Corelle.
- Super Lightweight – Try to lift a stack of 6 non-Corelle dishes to a high cupboard and your triceps will tremble. Having a buffet meal where guests have to carry their plates around the house or eat on the couch? They might break their wrist with just the weight of the plate, not counting all the food that’s getting piled on! Corelle is the opposite. Super lightweight, even my flaccid muscles can handle stacks of them with no problem. And if you have kids who help set the table or take their dirty plate to the sink, lightweight dinnerware makes it much easier for their little arms.
- Breakproof (almost) – Washing stoneware and china makes me nervous. When I go to friends’ houses and help them clean up, I’m constantly afraid that I’ll chip an edge as I move the fragile plates in and out of the sink, or if I’m not careful I’ll crack a serving dish as I stack them on the shelf, or even that I’ll accidentally drop something and shatter it into a million pieces! Corelle on the other hand is worry-free. It is practically chip-resistent and can get knocked around or dropped with rarely any consequence. In fact, when they make Corelle, they do a 6.5 ft drop test just to make sure (you can watch a video on how Corelle is made here). Being chip- and break-resistant is important for us because we always wash our dishes by hand, usually do it as fast and furious as possible, and plan on having little Miss Crumb Saver help once she is old enough.
- Space Saving – Another HUGE reason to love Corelle is that it will save you tons of space in your cupboards. Because Corelle is much thinner than most other dinnerware, you can stack a bunch of them in a small space. I would guess it only takes up half the space or less of previous stoneware I’ve had. And when they’re so much lighter, stacking 2 dozen Corelle plates is still easy to get in and out.
In a moment of ignorance, I once bought a stoneware dinner set from Kohl’s during Black Friday. After realizing my mistake, I returned it and then scoured Craigslist for a used Corelle set. Found one for $20 and have never regretted it. Believe me, you won’t either!
A few tips: Craigslist and yard sales are great places to get used Corelle dishes. Try to get ones with no designs or very basic designs so you can keep adding to your collection without them looking too mismatched.
5. Spice Turntable
I think I’m in love with these things. We have a thrift store nearby where these show up pretty often, and they are ohhhh so useful. I can’t help but buy every one I see (especially since they’re usually a steal at 50¢)! Whether you have a bunch of spice containers cluttered on a cupboard shelf, a corner cabinet that’s hard to get to, or just knickknacks on your kitchen table, a simple little turntable does magic. My spices/condiments/baking supplies are stacked in a corner cupboard, so I have 3 turntables which suddenly make containers that would have been hidden in the back recesses accessible with a simple twirl. We even have one on our dining table holding the napkins, salt, and vitamins as a miniature lazy susan.
A few tips: Check your local thrift store, but always make sure that the rollers on the bottom are actually present and swivel smoothly.
6. Rubber Spatula
If my kitchen were to have a mascot, it would be the rubber spatula. I always say that a household’s crumb saving proficiency can be measured by how much they utilize one of these amazing tools: peanut butter jars, scraping batter out of mixing bowls, or even just cleaning up a casserole dish after everyone else thinks it’s been emptied (the scrapings are my favorite part!).
I’ve been to people’s homes where it was obvious they didn’t seem to care much about gathering the “crumbs”, and watching all that wasted food go down the drain was a fairly painful experience for me. You’d be surprised how much the “little bit” around the edges adds up! Sometimes enough batter for a small pancake, enough peanut butter to slather a piece of bread, or another serving of casserole. I believe that when we “respect the crumbs”, not only do we learn to respect the bigger things in life, but our “loaves and fishes” are blessed and multiplied as well.
A few tips: I have a white rubber spatula that I’ve used forever, but using it with spaghetti sauce and curry sometimes leaves stains on the rubber. Consider getting a colored one so the stains don’t show.
7. Parchment Paper
This is a fairly new discovery for the Crumb Saver kitchen, and I wished I had discovered its virtues long ago! Parchment paper is like a mobile non-stick surface: you can add it to anything! No more spraying cookie sheets or worrying that the non-stick surface is scratching off. Tear off a piece of parchment paper and nothing sticks….it’s like magic! Of course, the clincher in this becoming a household favorite was finding a HUGE roll of it for super cheap at Costco. We use it for baking cookies, homemade veggie burgers, granola, pizza, and anything else that may go in the oven or toaster oven and needs an easy to remove surface. It also makes cleanup a breeze because you just peel off the parchment paper and the pan underneath is still squeaky clean. You can also use it when freezing cut fruit on cookie sheets before storing them in freezer bags. It makes the frozen chunks easier to remove from the pan.
A few tips: When baking at high heat the parchment paper can start to brown, so keep an eye on it when baking at 400 degrees or higher for longer periods. On the other hand, don’t let it get too wet as it gets a bit soggy. If after one use it still looks clean, reuse it for your next baking job (I reuse mine as many times as I can).
These are just a few of the items I couldn’t live without in my kitchen. But I’m sure you have many you could share about too.
Do you use these at home? Share with us what you love (or don’t love) about them. What do you have in your kitchen that you couldn’t live without? We’d love to learn from you!