For us, 2017 is a year of cutting back and mastering new skills. The goal is to save money, stack paper, and find joy in doing for ourselves. There have been so many times that my husband and I have gone to a restaurant and parted with our hard-earned money only to realize that we could have made a better meal (and/or had stronger cocktails) for SO much less at home. The effort to cook more and spend less began in 2016 but it’s going strong for 2017. If you follow me on Instagram you already know, I’m always sharing my kitchen creations!
Around the holidays, I got some awesome new kitchen tools and appliances that have inspired me anew. I’ve realized there are recipes and general types of cooking that I assumed I couldn’t do or wouldn’t be good at, when in fact cooking well is just like everything else in life – with effort and consistency, you can achieve goals and produce results you never could have dreamed of. And the right gear definitely goes a long way to making those dream dishes possible. Here are some of my new, must-have kitchen tools and favorite items to help step up your game as well.
(Photo via Lodge)
— Cast Iron Cookware.
Seriously, what took me so long? For years I only had regular stainless steel cookware (which served me well, sure). I saw cast iron pots as heavy, clunky and too challenging (I’ll disclose here that I have TOTALLY ruined and rusted out a cast iron pot in my past). Taking the time to learn how to clean them properly and stepping it up to cast iron has been a game changer. It retains heat so well and gives such a perfect sear on meats and veggies. Plus I’m supposed to take an iron supplement daily, and it turns out that “cooking in a cast iron skillet can add significant amounts of iron to your food and into your body.” Ayyyy! Adios, anemia!
There’s cast iron cookware to be had at a variety of price points, but for my cash and for the long history of quality, I gotta recommend Lodge if you’re looking for a brand to try first. The cast iron cookware I use the most is my Lodge cast iron skillet – we have a 12 inch and a 10.25 inch, and we frequently use both of them for one meal. I can use my Lodge cast iron skillet on the stovetop, in the oven, or on the grill. Cast iron cookware can be expensive, but for the amount of use and the price and the legacy of the brand, I definitely would recommend Lodge cast iron pieces. They’re an affordable investment. Truth be told, I also got a great little enameled cast iron pot from World Market that I use all the time. The next piece on my radar is the paella pan by Le Creuset – it isn’t cheap but I hear it’s an essential pot I’ll use for years to come (which is exactly why folks invest in Le Creuset).
— Amazing New Knives. For years we’ve been using what I’ll refer to as “struggle knives.” No-name brands, generic, acceptable but never awesome. Some have been knives we’ve gotten ourselves, others I’ve been sent to try. One set that I was gifted came in a beautiful wooden knife block, but further use and research indicated major issues. Lo and behold one day while using one of these struggle knives, the blade completely split off from the handle. We got lucky to avoid injury that day, and I learned an important lesson – no more struggle knives in my kitchen!
I’ve been hearing great things about the brand Chicago Cutlery for some time – check out their reviews on Amazon if you want to see for yourself, they’ve earned a reputation for quality. Over the holidays I was lucky enough to be sent a set of their new Prime knives, and they are SO sleek and serious. This knife block is a showstopper for my countertop. And the knives themselves are incredible. The Director of Brand Marketing reached out to shed some light on what makes Prime so special and different.
“This state-of-the-art collection is the perfect blend of form and function – featuring a unique ergonomic handle with a Responsive Touch Technology grip that conforms to the user’s hand, resulting in maximum control with a comfortable and effortless experience for any cutting task. This collection is sleek, sharp and comfortable– your hands will thank you!” – Matt McDonnell, Director of Brand Marketing for World Kitchen. Matt is totally right, the grip on these knives is super comfortable.
One caveat if you get these, be CAREFUL! My husband was totally on some “I know what I’m doing, no worries” and immediately nicked off part of a fingertip. These are SHARP! It was almost shocking to me the first time I used the Santoku knife. This thing cuts through sweet potatoes like warm butter. It took a little getting used to, I was so accustomed to struggle knives. The Prime knives are an investment in your kitchen, but I do believe they are worth it. However there are Chicago Cutlery knife blocks starting at $45 with excellent Amazon reviews, so do your research and know there are non-struggle knives to be had at any budget.
— Time-Saving, Money-Saving Appliances. I got my first slow cooker 15 years ago as a wedding present, a big ol’ 7 quart machine. It remained a standard appliance I lugged out of the cabinet on a monthly basis or so, but I didn’t use it with much regularity because it was HUGE and heavy and I only knew how to do a few things in it. Maybe a year or so ago, I received a smaller, lighter and simpler fun purple slow cooker by Black and Decker (they make some stylish models that are great for small apartments or even dorms, anyone who needs a small cooking space). I used it a lot more often and started really getting the swing of the slow cooker thing. And then for Christmas, my husband got me the Instant Pot. I LOVE IT! I used to be scared of using a pressure cooker but this appliance makes it seem so much less daunting and dangerous than pressure cookers of yore. So far we’ve only used it to make beef stew, but my goodness it is a quick and delicious stew. And I just got a copy of Bren Herrera’s Mastering Pressure Cooking, so I feel like I’m well on my way to making the oxtails of my dreams!
Another money-saving appliance we use all the time is the Foodsaver. We first got one as a wedding gift 15 years ago (OMG its been 15 years, we are so very old!) but recently upgraded to a newer model. Almost every night we use it to vacuum seal veggies and leftovers and it really does make things last much longer. So if you make guacamole or use a lot of fresh veggies you want to keep crisp after cutting, it’s a worthwhile investment that lasts a long time.
Those are the kitchen items we use regularly that are making a difference in the quality of our at home cooking! Share your favorite tools and tips with me, I’m always looking for new ways to make cooking easier and more fun!