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Essential Kitchen Tools for a Busy Life

Thursday, September 30, 2010

One of the most common themes on the message boards is, "I'm so busy with work/school/kids, and I don't have a lot of money. I don't know how to cook well. How can I make meals at home?"

Many of us still have the image of a home cooked meal from our grandmothers or moms who slaved away in the kitchen all day. They made pasta sauces that slow simmered all day, or a pot roast that slow roasted in the oven.

The modern age has made it difficult for most of us to make the traditional recipes, the traditional way. We replaced home cooked meals with fast food, packaged processed meals, and restaurants. For many of us, this resulted in weight gain and health issues.

Making meals at home can be easy, fast, and delicious. You can even make your grannie's/mom's all day meals without using the stove or oven. You just need a few essential kitchen tools.

Good quality knife
Cutting board
Slow Cooker
Rice Cooker

That's it!

There are fancy slow cookers and rice cookers with timer features and what not, but you don't need them if you're on a budget. A basic rice cooker can be bought for $30. You can probably get one for $10 on craigslist. A basic slow cooker is about the same price. If you're just making food for one or two, get the smallest model you can find. Large models will be more likely to burn food if you put in small quantities.

Here are some of the things you can make with a rice cooker:
Rice of all kinds
Steamed veggies
Anything you can steam

Things you can make in a crockpot:
Spaghetti sauce (slow cooked just like grannie used to make!)
Pot Roast (just like mom!)
Jerk Chicken (I posted this on my blog a few days ago)
Ratatouille (also posted on my blog a few posts down)
Braised Chicken
Chili con carne
Cowboy chili
Slow cooked ribs in BBQ sauce
Anything that uses liquid!

There are all kinds of crockpot cookbooks. It's not just for Sunday church brunch or potlucks. Avoid the ones that use "Cream of xxx soup" as an ingredient, though.

With your knife and cutting board, just chop your ingredients and drop them directly in the pot. Set the crockpot on low, add rice and water to your rice cooker, and turn it on. By the time you come home from work or school, dinner is ready! It really is just that easy.

And cheap. A cup of cooked rice comes out to about $0.20 per cup in my area. A crockpot of veggie stew shouldn't cost more than a dollar per serving, even if you use organic veggies. It only starts getting pricey when you add meats. Cheap cuts of meat like London broil when slow cooked get very juicy and tender. A bag of chicken breasts are always an economical choice.


When using meats in a crockpot, though, make sure to start your crockpot on high and let it full boil until cooked through, before turning on low. Or you can quick saute in a fry pan first. Low setting on a crockpot is usually a slow simmer just below the boiling point, and may not be hot enough to kill food pathogens. Just start it on high when using raw meats, or quick cook first, to be safe.

Don't overfill your crockpot. If you put in too much, it may not get to a safe cooking temperature. Read the instruction booklet, but as a general rule, don't fill more than 2/3 full.
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    It depends on your crockpot. As long as the food temperature reaches the safe internal temperature for the meat, then it's fine. I just start mine from high until it reaches boiling temperature, then switch to low. If you want to test whether your crockpot on low reaches safe temperature, heat a pot of water on low. After 4 hours, if the water temperature is 160F or higher, then it should be fine for all day cooking.
    3806 days ago
    Awesome info! Good to explain about killing the pathogens. Lots of folks think that if you simmer all day it'll be fine. Great clarification.
    3806 days ago
    Great list and great tips!
    3809 days ago
  • DIANE7786
    Good ideas. I love my mandolin because it makes slicing food for even cooking quick and safe.
    3809 days ago
    I love my crockpot.
    3809 days ago
    I've used a wok on a portable electric burner. I gave my brother the BEST electric wok for his birthday one year. Check this out. It's a fabulous wok from Breville. I love their cookware.


    3809 days ago
    Good call on the cast iron skillet and wok! I was just thinking back to my college days when I had a dorm room and no stove. I had a crockpot and a rice cooker to make meals outside of the cafeteria.
    3809 days ago

    Comment edited on: 9/30/2010 9:45:28 AM
    You know, I have an extremely well stocked kitchen. But do you know what I don't have ??? I don't have a crock. Can you believe it ? I do slow cook, but I have a wonderful old pot my mom used to use. It may be older than me. I love it. That's my version of a crock.

    I would also add to your list, a good cast iron skillet of some variety. Cast iron lasts forever. I like my WOK too. WOKs are wonderful things.

    3809 days ago
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