I started my food business shortly after I had my first child – which wasn’t that long after I’d started my marriage, actually. Major life changes were happening for me at the very same time, at a really young age, on a super-tight budget. With so much on my plate (pun intended), I quickly learned how to make do with what I had in the kitchen. I used my chef knife to cut everything, a hand masher for homemade baby food, and a fine mesh sieve for simple soups.
In fact, I put all sorts of cooking tools to work in very creative ways. In the absence of a big, shiny stand mixer and colorful counter gadgets, I was quite clever with what I could get on my budget. Three more kids and nine years of business later, my top time-saving tools are still the most affordable ones. With my outside-the-box applications, here’s my list:
1. Pizza Cutter
Once it occurred to me that I could be rolling cut much more than pie, I started slicing up just about anything that would sit still in front of me long enough to do so. For my kids I divvy up lunchmeat and cheese into manageable strips, and long lengths of pasta into bite-sized pieces. But I also use my pizza cutter to chop fresh herbs, portion out homemade dough and even cut up pans of brownies (spray with nonstick spray for professional results). The bonus, then, is that most pizza cutters can go straight into the dishwasher!
2. Muffin Tin
This is my favorite way to individualize portions for family meals and entertaining. From cupcakes to meatloaves to small-bite quiches, I can tailor each well to a different person at the table and reduce the cooking time too. When we sit down, I fill the tin with different toppings – from sprinkles to olives to pickle chips – for each person to use in doctoring up his or her actual portion.
When I’m looking to be the host with the most, I flip my tin to use as a mold to make munchable treats with extra special presentation. Melted cheese tuile bowls make for killer Caesar salad appetizers. Warm, baked cookie cups take an ice cream sundae to a whole other level.
3. Bench Scraper
The magic of the bench scraper really affected me over a childhood of Saturday mornings at the neighborhood bakery. A plastic scraper runs about $2 and easily can be found at most home stores. Just like the professional bakers whom I watched so intently as a kid, I use mine daily for moving chopped ingredients from the cutting board to a pot, for making German dumplings and Italian gnocchi, and then, for cleaning all the tables and surfaces in the kitchen.
This tool has single-handedly saved my wrist muscles. Plus, it’s given me a new reason to bring my older kids into the kitchen. Much safer to use than a grater, it can be held by one hand – big or small – and with a simple swooping motion by the other hand, its sharp blades give me fluffy mounds of citrus zests, hard cheese, fresh spices or rich chocolate in no time.
5. Immersion Blender
This is the only plug-in tool on my list and it’s definitely worth mentioning. An immersion blender has a low price-point, it’s simple to use, and, it very well could take the place of a food processor and a blender. It whips cream, chops nuts, mixes batter, mashes potatoes, spins together fresh pesto and it purees soups too. The best part of the immersion blender is how easily it can be cleaned, still plugged in, with a couple pulses through soapy water.
6. Wine Bottle
Wine is a not-so-secret trick to getting dinner on the table for most moms (wink). But, as it turns out, the bottle from which it is poured is helpful too! I reuse empty wine bottles as rolling pins, as a cookie-cutter form, and even champagne bottles as "clamps" for making homemade raviolis.
As far as I’m concerned, the bits and pieces mentioned above are the tool box that make my kitchen activities much easier. Affordable and uncomplicated, they are my secret weapons in managing mommy-hood on a tight budget of time and dollars.