Once upon a time, you bought an amazing new labour-saving device that no kitchen should be without.
…and then it sat in your closet for seven years until you had a garage sale.
But if you’re serious about entertaining, feeding your flock, or just love to cook but maybe don’t have all the time in the world to do it, you need to get your hands on a few labour-saving devices that actually DO save you a ton of time and energy in the kitchen. The ability to set and forget is worth the investment.
Of course, like everyone else, we have tools and toys and gadgets that might make it out of the cupboard once or twice a year. How many large roast pans does one family need anyway? Tip: If you don’t already have one, then none. Get a big foil pan from the dollar store for your turkey and save the cupboard space for something better.
Even so, there are several items we have in our small appliance inventory that have made our lives so much easier. Some did take a bit of investment, but at the end of the day we find ourselves asking, “how did we ever get along without this?” These are the heroes in our culinary dream team.
And these are the TOP FIVE:
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We own two slow cookers. They’re fantastic for everything from roasts to soups. In the fall, after we hit the orchards and farmers’ markets to load up on fresh apples and vegetables, the whole house gets scented with cinnamon and onion as Steve does at least one pork roast a week in the cooker. And when it comes to entertaining, a crock pot full of meatballs is just the best!
But then we discovered the Instant Pot. This little number was a Christmas present to ourselves, and honestly it’s become one of the most-used tools in our kitchen. It gets put to work three to four times a week, whether preparing meals, chicken stock, or just hard-boiling some eggs. And we’re just scratching the surface.
The breakout hit of the internet, the Instant Pot combines the best of pressure cooking, slow cooking, steaming, warming, and frying in a single unit. It will fully cook frozen chicken breasts in about 15 minutes. The beauty of this beast is that it has a ton of safety measures (it’s actually impossible to open while it’s under pressure), is easy to clean, and has buttons that take the guesswork out of 90% of your cooking. Just hit “Soup” and your soup will cook for the perfect amount of time. Hit “Poultry” and your chicken will cook for the perfect amount of time.
But of course it’s completely programmable too, so you can adjust pressure and times, temperature for slow cooking, and all the features you’d want just for warming.
If you buy one — and you definitely should — be sure to pick up a crock pot lid (sold separately) and a spare silicone ring. The one common complaint is that the rings pick up spice odours from cooking, so they can get a little stinky over time. Don’t worry: it doesn’t affect the taste of the food. It really just smells like spices. Eventually you’ll want to just replace it, so you might as well get one when you order the pot.
Steve bought Amanda a Vitamix Total Nutrition Center for Christmas a couple of years ago, and she’s never been more excited (maybe if you come over sometime we’ll show you the video). The running joke in our house is that this thing has enough power to liquefy a cinder block in 30 seconds.
But it’s no joke. This is the most powerful blender we’ve ever seen. It’s amazing for creating anything you’d ever want to blend, from soups to purees to smoothies. Steve has used it to turn vegetables into gravy, and it’s our tool of choice for making baby food as well.
Chicken Baby Food
- In the Instant Pot, place one or two frozen chicken breasts, one cup of water, and sprinkle with a little bit of salt.
- Cover. Lock the lid (make sure the vent is sealed), and press “Poultry.”
- Let it run its course. When the timer goes off, use natural release.
- Remove the cooked chicken breasts.
- Cube them, and drop into the Vitamix. Blend until the chicken is chopped up.
- Remove the centre of the lid, and gradually add a spoonful of the cooking liquid at a time, until the mixture becomes smooth.
- Once you have the desired consistency, pour the puree into a small bowl to cool. Portion it into individual freezer cups to thaw and use later.
- One chicken breast usually makes 8-10 servings at about a 6-month size.
Our Vitamix also came with a dry cup, so we can grind our own flour. Making oat flour from gluten-free oats (for our celiac friends) is a breeze. And it does a great job grinding coffee.
Here’s the thing about this blender: on the high speed “turbo” setting, the blade actually spins so fast that the friction produces enough heat to cook your food. You can put raw butternut squash, garlic, onion, and cream in the blender, and flip the switch. The heat from the blender will turn this into a delicious butternut squash soup in about 15 minutes (but FYI, it’s noisy). On the slower speeds, pulsing will let you mix up a perfectly serviceable salsa. And with the dry cup it’s possible to even mix up bread dough, beginning with whole grains or wheat berries.
Get one of these. It’s a game changer.
As people who love to bake, we’ve always stuck with the tried-and-true electric hand mixer. But when Amanda made her breakthrough macarons a couple of years ago, it became readily apparent that we needed to step up a level.
Our Kitchenaid stand mixer is one of the best tools in our kitchen, because it’s a workhorse. We use it for baking applications of course. It does a fantastic job whipping eggs or egg whites, depending on whether we’re making omelettes or meringues. The paddle attachment works wonders for buttercream and frostings. And the dough hook is a wizard when it comes to kneading bread and pizza dough.
Even with two of us working in preparation for the holidays, it’s tough getting things done. The stand mixer gives us an extra set of hands while baking, ensuring things get blended and mixed at the right time. With ten speeds we can get things whipped up as quickly or as smoothly as needed. And the slow start means it doesn’t kick into high gear right away, avoiding splatters.
Our particular model doesn’t flip up. Rather, there’s a lifting mechanism that brings the bowl up into position. It’s a little tricky at first, figuring out how to snap the bowl into place. We are very seriously considering getting a feeding chute and possibly another bowl, as it’s only built to use the bowl that comes with it. We have to empty and clean out the bowl if we want to mix something else for the same recipe. Also, there are tons of cool attachments available; meat grinder, pasta maker, spiralizer, etc.; but these are fairly expensive so you need to know you’re going to use them.
We have other toys for most of those purposes.
Honestly, we never used this until very recently. The shortcut to steaming vegetables (Steve learned in a Chinese kitchen — no idea if it’s a Chinese technique or not) is to lay the veggies in a pan or wok, season them, and cover about half way up with water, then turn up the heat and keep them moving until the water cooks off. This works extremely well with frozen vegetables, as it doesn’t overcook them. But it’s also great for fresh veggies. Unlike regular boil-and-drain methods, none of the nutrients boil and drain out, and it’s faster than most stovetop steaming.
That said, having an actual steamer has turned out to be amazingly useful for; are we surprised?; making baby food. Squash, sweet potato, apple, and pear steam in just 15 minutes. Carrots in about 25. As a result, we’ve developed a newfound love for this device
So glad this didn’t end up in the yard sale.
We never owned a toaster. Weird, right?
Well, when you’re low-carb 80% of the time, the need for an appliance exclusively engineered for the purpose of turning baked goods slightly more baked seems like a waste of valuable real estate on the counter. So it makes sense from that perspective.
Or it did, until we got tired of making toast for Saturday brunches in the oven (did you know you can use the broiler in a pinch? Works like a charm…as long as you pay attention to it!).
Then one fateful day, Amanda’s mom showed up with a toaster oven, and our lives were changed forever.
OK, that may be a bit of an exaggeration. But the toaster oven is one of those must-have, if typically overlooked, pieces of must-have kitchen gear that everyone has but almost no one seems to use with regularity…unless you do. It’s good for toast, of course, but is like an adult-level Easy Bake Oven when it comes to small snacks or even meals for one or two. Ours came with a bitty little baking sheet, so it’s fantastic for chicken strips, frozen things, and even grilled cheese! You could say it’s more oven than toaster the way we use it.
And it’s the least expensive gadget on this list!