Even though I cook almost every night, I never really used my dishwasher much until my son Olin came along. Now, it's among the top five appliances I use regularly, along with my food processor, juicer, mandoline, and propane grill. I find that whether I'm throwing something together at the last minute or taking as much time and care with preparing a meal as a professional chef might, the right tools not only result in better food, they make the job easier for me. Here, a look at the kitchen tools and staple foods that are indispensable to Circle of Moms members.
1. Good Knives, Food Processors, and Choppers
Circle of Moms member Desiree R. would be nowhere without her food processor and a small manual chopping machine, both of which allow her to do messy jobs, like chopping onions, quickly and easily. And don't forget quality knives, says Toni M., who likes to keep it simple (She uses no kitchen appliances other than a dishwasher).
2. Durable Pots and Pans
A good set of pots and pans is basic, and Circle of Moms members recommend WearEver, Revere Cookware, SaladMaster, and Cooks, all of which are said to be both affordable and durable. But I'm with Jonna C., who says cast iron pans are best. They last forever with very minimal care are even good for most non-stick needs as long as you keep them well-seasoned.
3. A Slow Cooker or Crock Pot
Lisa M. swears by her slow cooker, which is perfect for one-pot meals that cook while she's at work. Krista E. says that with a slow cooker you can "Just throw in a pork roast or some cuts of beef or some chicken thighs, [add] in some veggies like carrots, peas, sweet potato, parsnip, or whatever you've got, and some potatoes, and off you go."
The gas grill was also something I never thought about much before my son Olin came along; I often preferred lighting a charcoal grill. But I quickly became a convert to gas when I realized how easy it is to set up, use, and clean. Leslie B.'s family grills "about 3-4 nights a week," cooking up steaks and chicken that she then uses all week to make salads and to add to salads. And Krista E. says indoor grills like the ones sold by George Foreman are equally handy for chicken, pork chops, and even veggies. (Related: BBQ 101: Grilling Made Easy)
5. Staple Foods
Many moms find that keeping certain go-to items in the pantry will allow you to whip up last-minute dishes when you're pinched for time or don't have a lot of fresh groceries around. Cathy S. is a tomato-holic, and keeps endless stores of canned tomatoes, pasta sauce and chilli sauce in her pantry, not to mention ketchup, which her kids love and put on lots of different foods. Dyan B. needs chicken stock, butter, whole wheat flour, powdered sugar, vanilla, and other baking ingredients to be at her fingertips at all times. And Jenn H. likes to have agave syrup around for sweetening tea and pouring over pancakes.
My own list? It's long, but the top items are: Parmesan cheese, sriracha, crushed red peppers, dried pasta, canned tomatoes, fish sauce, soy sauce, and lemons. These ingredients let me whip up both European (especially Italian) and Asian dishes, in a flash. (Related: 3 Last-Minute Meals That Use Only Pantry Staples)
What are your go-to kitchen tools and staples, and why?
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