I'm going to ignore the actual kitchen itself - I covered the rebuild, trauma and all, in a previous post I think. (I did, didn't I?) It cost us a lot of money. Was it frugal? Well yes, I'm going to argue that it was, for us. We saved every penny of the cost in advance, we now have a far more practical kitchen that it gives us joy to be in, and perhaps more to the point we learned where to compromise to meet a budget, and where to spend money as a long term investment. it also costs less to run as several appliances were updated to more energy-efficient ones, and replacement window, doors and door over the meter cupboard also mean that it suffers from far less heat-loss during the winter. What the full strip out and rebuild also achieved for us was to streamline the things that we use, that we find essential, and which make our lives easier day on day, and that is where I'm going with this post.
It's easy to get pulled along with the latest fads on kitchenware. Check out your local freecycle, freegle or similar site and you'll find countless kitchen gizmos being offered just because people bought them, used them once, found them a faff to use/clean/whatever, and they've gathered dust ever since. I suspect (non scientific basis of "a guess" being used here) that juicers are right up there on this one. Is a juicer a great investment? Well yes, if you regularly buy premium juices and have done for enough years to be confident you're not going to stop any time soon, it may well be. If however your routine buy is a smoothie, then get a blender instead - you can use it for all sorts of other stuff too, and it will be easier to clean. (Tip: if you want to use that blender for hot soups as well then get a glass one OR heavy duty plastic rated for boiling liquid). Second most popular item in the "gathering dust" stakes I'd just bet is a breadmaker. Mmmm...waking up to the smell of home made bread, or the ability to whip up a delicious airy loaf in an hour - amazing, right? Well yes, but it still requires the actual ingredients to be weighed and measured and put in the pan, and that "inside an hour loaf" is likely to be rather more weighty and brick-like than the fluffy cloud-like texture of your dreams. If you eat bread daily and currently buy a couple of loaves, or a loaf and rolls, weekly, then a breadmaker, if you have room for one, might be your new best friend. Ours gets used often twice a week, occasionally more (but almost never on the super-fast programme!), we've used it for bread, rolls, pizza dough, cornbread and it can also make cakes and jam apparently. We're now on our third one - the first didn't last as long as we hoped it might but number 2 did well, and has now morphed into no. 3 which is almost the same model, was snapped up for £5 from a charity shop, was initially butchered for its bread pan when the other one buckled - and since then body of the machine has been swapped into use and the bread pan replaced again by buying online - slightly in the manner of "Trigger's Broom". (Note: bread machine pans DO buckle after a few years use - fact of life). The first two machines cost around £50 each - and each time we make bread (or rolls) we save around 60% or more on purchasing a product of a similar quality in the supermarket. Each of the earlier machines paid for themselves inside a year. For us it's a no-brainer.
Other gadgets we have & use - food processor (the difference, for me, between "being able to make pastry" and not). Blender (came with the FP). Mini chopper/stick blender/electric whisk - all bits of this get used often enough to justify their cupboard space. Microwave (combi oven/micro - the oven setting used to get used a lot but less since we've had the main double oven - if I was replacing now I'd just buy a good quality regular microwave and save the extra cost). Electronic scale (gets used constantly - often several times daily). Slow Cooker - we actually have a large and a small one and both get used regularly through the winter months in particular. Finally a coffee machine - it was a moving in gift from my parents when we bought the flat and is used by MrEH every weekend, pretty much. I occasionally have a mocha using coffee from it. Oh alongside that (neither in the kitchen though) is a coffee grinder which MrEH also uses pretty much every weekend! Other than the standard kettle/toaster/sandwich toaster that's it. Bottom line is we don't have space for any others, if we had them they would be stashed away out of sight and we'd never use them anyway!
In terms of investment - the single best thing I have ever spent money on in the kitchen is my knives. Yep - you read that right - they are indeed "MY" knives - they pre-date the existence of MrEH in my life by some years. They're quality ones scrimped and saved for and bought one at a time - I have a carving knife, a chefs knife, a small veg/general chopping knife and a slightly longer and more flexibly bladed regular knife, and I adore them. The latter three have even been on our Hebrides holidays with us more times than I can count as I just can't be doing with cheap, blunt knives, even for a fortnights holiday! I also have a good steel for sharpening, which means that those knives are as sharp now as the day I bought them. A note on sharpening though - 1) a steel is superb but you do have to know how to use it and have a good technique. Therefore 2) learn how to use your steel - my Dad taught me years ago, but I just bet there are decent tutorials online too. Finally 3) decree that one person is your house is the official knife sharpener and they are the only person to do the task - knives "learn" how they expect to be sharpened, and crazy as it sounds because of the tiny differences in technique, someone different sharpening can take a knife from blunt to "seriously blunt" in a couple of sweeps, and thus seriously shorten the lifespan of the knife. I just had a quick think and I reckon my Sabatiers are around 24 years old now and still very much going strong.
Second best thing we spent money on was good pans. Anolon - hard anodised aluminium, and of a construction that will happily take intense heat and go straight from hob to oven, I've been through countless "standard" non stick frying pans prior to finding these and the coating simply peels off within months - turns out I cook at industrial rather than "home" temperatures - the Anolon ones cope fine though. The original set have now been replaced (after about 12 years I think) with set 2 - and have also been augmented over the years with added small frying pan, medium frying pan, a roasting tin (a huge monster of a thing which is awesome!) and a bun tin (christmas mince pie overspill - soooo easy to clean!) - basically if I see a bit of Anolon cookware at a bargain price, and I know I will use it, it IS going into the basket. I've bartered in shops, and struck a hard deal at food fairs to get the bits I wanted in the past - not an ounce of regret EVER - these pans do require hand washing (but then generally speaking good cookware does) but it's little hardship as they are so easy to clean) but they are a joy to use too. When set 2 are past their best there WILL be a set 3 - guaranteed!
Before spending money on kitchenware it pays to think through your own habits and the sort of thing you cook. As you're performing tasks think what might make that task simpler, or more pleasant, and then plan accordingly. Spend decent money on pans UNLESS you're going to put them through the dishwasher, in which case buy cheap (but heavy for better heat-conduction) and replace as needed. If you can't be bothered to learn to sharpen good knives, then buy cheap but be prepared for frustration. If you're prepared to care for them a good set of knives will repay your investment, but buy in a shop, handle them - a bit like buying a camera, if it's not comfy in your hand you'll never use it, so try before you buy. We use measuring jugs endlessly but always buy cheap plastic ones as they stack together in the cupboard and so are easy to store. The flip side of that is graters - I'm not a fan of the cheap but long-lasting knuckle-grating box graters so have spent more on the "bladed" style flat ones (Microplane is one make, but, showstopper coming up - Lakeland also do their own and they are equally good and sharp, and FAR more resilient than the branded equivalent) instead. I also own a mandoline - just a domestic use plastic one, but it's very good and very sharp (always use with the finger guard - I have the scars that prove why that lesson was learned!) and that makes things like coleslaw, home made oven chips, and sliced root veg for bakes an absolute breeze. That was bought on special offer at the food show. For chopping boards I'm a fan of the heavy gauge plastic "flexi" mats which also go straight through the dishwasher - we pay a few £'s for a set of 2 from IKEA and replace when they get manky, but I also have a big wooden block which I love and would not be without. Mortar & Pestle - mine is a great big lumpy granite one bought on clearance in Boots sale after Christmas one year because I liked it. It's stayed in use because of its weight (something that heavy ain't going anywhere while you're in full crushing mode!) and the fact that its slightly roughened surface makes crushing spices etc a breeze, yet it's still simple as you like to clean. My microwave rice cooker has been kicking around for years, gets used at least once a week, and it's as easy as pour in the rice, cover with boiling water, cook at full power for around 6 - 7 minutes (slightly longer for brown rice) and voila - fluffy rice with no difficult to clean pan.
|The much loved hanging rack.|
In terms of regular utensils I love metal ones that hang on my wall rack (I've talked about this before) and so are easy to grab - but then my cookware is sturdy enough to take it. If you're using standard non-stick then silicon or plastic are probably your best way forwards. Stuff that sits out on the worktop in a utensil tub (next to the knife block!) are my everyday wooden spoons plus a single hand whisk - another utensil pot inside our pull-out unit has spatulas, the tin opener, serving spoons and the odd sort of scoopy spoon thing that's just perfect for stir-frying.
Your "perfect kitchen stuff" may look very different to mine - and that is the whole point. The stuff that adds value to your life should be personal to you, and nobody else, and should be chosen with your own needs and requirements in mind. What one thing would you not want to be without in your own kitchen? And if there anything that you'd really love if only you had space/money/need for it?