32 Favorite Tools/Gadgets

Posted by on Apr 20, 2010 | 4 comments

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WATER CARAFES

I use these containers to store [back up] water from our reverse osmosis filter. For those of you who already have an RO filter in your home, you know that the tank holds 2 gallons of water at a time. That means, if you decided to fill up a giant 2 gallon pot with water, for the following several hours, water would just dribble out of the spout until the water reserve was built back up (It takes time for the unit to do this). Sometimes, we do go through water faster than other times, like if we have guests staying with us, or if I need to fill up a big pot of water for cooking, or if we’re just extra thirsty that day…etc. I always have 6 – 12 filled carafes in the pantry for these times. If I have empty carafes sitting around, I’ll just fill up one or two in the early morning, or before bed to be sure I always have a reserve of pure drinking water in the pantry. Of course, they would also come in handy for other drinks such as nut milks, iced tea, juice, wine…etc. My carafes came from the [online] container store. I think they were only 4 or 5 bucks each. Pier 1 also carries carafes (with lids) very similar to these, but I remember making a mental note that they were double the price (of whatever it was I paid at the container store).

On a side note….I just did some research, and found that larger RO tanks are available if the 2 gallon tank does not meet your needs. We had our unit installed many years ago, and at that time, the 2 gallon tank was our only option.  I just came across some that now hold up to 20 gallons on the following website (can easily be added onto your existing unit):

http://www.waterfilters.net/Residential-RO-Tanks.

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MESH UTENSIL HOLDER

I don’t like my utensils sitting in a collection of crumbs! This type of tray is awesome because any crumbs that inadvertently fall into the drawer simply fall through the mesh holes. Last time I visited a family member, & opened up the utensil drawer to get a spoon, I was not shy to suggest this type of mesh utensil holder. She liked the idea so I figured I’d share it here too. You can probably get these anywhere they sell kitchen stuff, but I picked mine up at Bed Bath & Beyond. I don’t know why, but for most of us, cleaning out the utensil drawer seems to be one of those things that’s put off until it’s absolutely disgusting.  This mesh tray helps to eliminate that type of [crummy] problem. And by the way, the one I have is expandable to fit any drawer, but I’ve since noticed not all the mesh ones have that feature. So, if you’re planning on picking up one of these, measure your drawer before shopping to be sure the one you choose will fit, or get the expandable version.

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HAMILTON BEACH MINI FOOD PROCESSOR

This is what I’d consider a special mini food processor because of the (removable) “lamp-shade-like” piece inside the work-bowl. Let’s say you’re putting in 6 cloves of garlic.  Of course, for that small amount of food, the entire work bowl is unnecessary – little garlic pieces would shoot up to the top of the bowl, & you’d have to keep stopping & scraping them down to put them back into the blade area. By using that little “lamp” gadget (only needed when what you’re processing amounts to a very small amount of food), it keeps all the food directly in the blade area the entire time it’s processing, so no need to keep stopping & scraping. This feature is very cool (to me anyway!). I came across this mini processor about 8 months ago when I realized my cuisinart food processors were not BPA free. After researching, I found that Hamilton Beach is the only company that makes BPA free food processors (& in fact, they don’t use BPA at all, in any of their products).  I replaced both my large and small cuisinart processors with Hamilton Beach units, and they work just as well, and in the case of this mini food processor – even better because of the above mentioned, added feature.  There are times when I put hot foods into these machines, and I feel much better doing so with BPA free units.  If looking for this small food processor, I think Hamilton Beach calls it a “Deluxe Food Chopper.”  The larger one is called “Big Mouth Food Processor” (FYI – only the small unit has that “lamp shade” feature).

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ZESTER/GRATER

This is by far the best zester I’ve ever owned. I don’t know what you’d call the kind of zester I used in the past, but regardless, it was ridiculously laborious & annoying to use. I basically went years, consciously or unconsciously, avoiding recipes that called for zest because I really disliked using that tool. I also avoided dealing with fresh ginger & relied primarily on pre-chopped jarred ginger when called for. Once I got the tool pictured above, & tried it on ginger, I couldn’t believe the ease of use. I also inadvertently figured out a little trick to it (grating ginger) which is to store the ginger (whole, unpeeled) in the freezer. It’s so much easier to grate when frozen. Simply wrap a bulb of ginger in a piece of parchment paper, put it in a freezer bag, and pull it out as needed. Peel just the portion you’ll be using (can use a potato peeler or paring knife), grate it, then wrap it back up & put it away. Storing it in the freezer also assures you’ll always have fresh ginger around when you need it.  That was my original intent in keeping it in the freezer.  I used to buy a bulb of it, use a little, and by the time I needed it next, it would be shriveled up & too far gone.  Keeping it in the freezer eliminated that problem. However, I had no idea it would make it so much easier to grate.  Good thing I forgot to thaw it until the last minute, or I might never have known the ease of using frozen ginger (in combination with this neat tool).  Of course, this tool is also great for zesting citrus fruits.  I’ve seen them around, here & there.  I got mine at William Sonoma (not sure if the quality varies from brand to brand, so am mentioning it just in case).

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LIFE FACTORY WATER BOTTLES

Invention of the decade! I received two of these as a gift in August (thanks Wen!) and was instantly enamored (I know, I need to get out more). Water on the go never tasted so good.  As far as taste goes, it used to be a plastic-y problem, next it was a slight metalic-y problem, but now, no problem at all.  In case you can’t tell by the picture, they’re glass jars covered in a silicone sleeve.  I’ve acquired quite a few of these in different sizes since August, and they’ve been put to good use. Worth mentioning, they’ve been dropped on pavement, and one time took a roll down the wooden stairs, but the silicone sleeve protects the glass exceptionally well. I’m sure it could break in some circumstance, but it seems you’d have to be trying to break it. The smaller 9 oz size works great for sending to school w/ the kids. They can go right in the dishwasher (no need to remove the silicone sleeve). The company also makes silicone covered, glass, baby bottles (which are the best baby bottles I’ve ever seen).

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SILICONE BRUSH

I used to have one of those basting brushes (if that’s what it’s called) w/ real bristles. Every now & then I’d find one of the bristle “hairs” in the food (eww). I don’t have to worry about such things since I switched to this type of [non-toxic] silicone brush.  The bristle type was also difficult to clean (always had an oily residue no matter how many times I cleaned it).  I just put this silicone one in the dishwasher & it comes out perfectly clean.

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COOLING RACK (not prone to rusting)

I used to have a set of 3 tiered, stackable cooling racks and absolutely loved them.  It was a great space saver, as it supplied a large amount of surface area using a minimal amount of counter space. However, in no time, they rusted like crazy.  It grossed me out to lay my food on something that was rusty, so would sometimes lay parchment paper on top of the racks before I put the food down.  Other times, I would examine the rack closely as I put each piece of food down, as to try to place them in an area without rust (was difficult!). Either way, it was either a waste of paper, or just plain annoying.  I didn’t think I had a choice, as every rack I’ve ever owned has eventually rusted, but the one pictured above, which I’ve had for about 8 months now is still looking good (& it’s in & out of the dishwasher A LOT).  It’s called the CIA Masters Collection 12×17 Wire Cooling Rack – Chrome Plate Steel (got mine on amazon).

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TO-GO WARE tiered storage containers

Love these containers!! Let me explain what they are for those who don’t know…. They are tiered, stainless steel, storage containers that lock together. One is a two tier system & the other three. I take one or the other with me when we eat out, so we can bring home any leftovers in something other than styrofoam (which is not eco-friendly, and leaches not so nice stuff into food – especially if the food is hot). We get mixed reactions…. Sometimes it’s an “aren’t you clever” kind of look, and other times more like “weirdos at table 3″  =) They also come in handy for packing a lunch. They’re completely airtight, so work well for soups/stews & such. It’s great because you can keep a salad or sandwich in a completely separate compartment, but it’s still just one unit in the end once you snap it together. The lid can even be used as a plate, and the little carrying bags (which are made by and support women in various refugee camps around the world) makes the whole system convenient to use.

I will mention that the smaller “side kicks” & dressing containers (that can be purchases separately from the same company) tend to develop rust spots on the inside after going through the dishwasher. When I had called customer service about the problem, they were extremely nice, and sent out new side kicks right away (without me even having to return the rusty ones). However, the same thing happened to the second set. I have never had this problem with the larger, meal sized containers pictured above (& I’ve had them a long time). I can tell that the quality of the stainless steel isn’t as heavy for the smaller containers & I guess that’s the problem. Keep in mind, it was a long time ago (2 years?) when I encountered this rust problem, so perhaps they have made improvements since then for the smaller sized containers. In any case, I thought it was worth mentioning, as at this point in time, I only recommend the larger meal containers which are of excellent quality and very useful.  You can find them on amazon or purchase directly from the manufacturer’s website.

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“PRESERVE” FOOD CONTAINERS

These are great snack containers for the kid’s lunch box (one is sized right for a sandwich too). Made of safe, non-toxic (bpa free) plastic.  I ended up finding these after the “side kicks” from To-Go Ware didn’t work for us.  Can be purchased on amazon or from the manufacturer’s website.

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GREEN GOURMET GRIDDLE (made by Cuisinart)

This is a great, stove-top, (double burner) non-stick griddle that is not made of dangerous teflon/PFOA.  Our favorite blueberry-oat-pancakes pictured above!

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ODD SIZED MEASURING SPOONS

Some people are measurers, some just sprinkle and toss. Personally, I like consistency and most often measure when adding spices & other condiments to a dish. These spoons come in really handy for me, as I’m often increasing the recipe by 1.5 or 2, or cutting in half, etc… My husband makes fun of that little “pinch” spoon, but I tell ya, every now & then, when I need a pinch of ground cardamom (or something), and I’m almost out of it – not being able to reach my fingers to the bottom of that narrow, little jar – I do pull out that cute little spoon =) I’ve had these so long that I don’t remember where they came from – some cooking catalog. I’m sure you can find them, if interested, through a google search.

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GLASS MASON JARS (of all sizes!)

I use these for just about everything & anything – nuts, seeds, grains, mayo, milks, coconut shreds, flour, sauces, beans, nut butters, & on & on….. They’re indispensable. You can usually pick up the normal sized jars at the grocery store. I found the extra-large ones, and the smaller ones at Target. I really like the plastic, BPA-free lids (which I bought separately on amazon). Most metal lids have a liner that unfortunately contains BPA (probably not that big of a deal unless the jar is holding a liquid you need to shake up before use). But also, they do get rusty & yuckie over time. Back to the jars themselves….They’re also great for the freezer. For instance, when I make bbq-sauce, I split it into 3 portions in the smallest jars, label, freeze, & pull out as needed. And by the way, when labeling jars, I’ve found the typical label stickers are terrible, as it’s so hard to peel them off. Masking tape works much better!  [Keep in mind, the plastic lids come in two sizes - regular & wide mouth, so be sure to know which size you need before ordering.]

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PYREX BAKING DISHES & BOWLS w/ LIDS

I couldn’t live w/o these covered glass containers (well, reading this back, I guess that’s an extreme statement, but you get the idea!). They are so convenient because you can take them directly from the freezer or fridge and place them in the oven (w/o the lid of course!). Glass is the safest, most non-reactive material you can store your food in. After making a big batch of soup, I don’t want to put extra (hot) soup into plastic containers. These glass containers with snap on lids are the perfect solution. It also eliminates the need to cover anything with plastic wrap which saves money. Years ago, these containers replaced all my old tupperware that were discolored, scratched & cracked, potentially leaching plastic-y chemicals into our food.

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STAINLESS STEEL BROILER PAN

Most broiler pans are made of aluminum. I don’t use any aluminum products in my kitchen, so was happy (after a long search) to find a broiler pan (on amazon) made of high quality stainless steel. They come in two sizes (smaller size pictured above). They’re made by Progressive International & called “Stainless Steel Broiler Pan” (or “Petite Stainless Steel Broiler Pan” depending on which size you choose).

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STAINLESS STEEL BAKING TRAYS

Again, I don’t like to use lo-fi, aluminum (& ultimately rusty) baking pans. These are great. I ended up purchasing 2 separate sets from amazon at 2 different times (2 pans per set). The first set I bought was not as thick & sturdy as the second (I inadvertently purchased from 2 different vendors & the grade of stainless steel was different).  FYI – The better set came from “Home Naturals Inc.” (through Amazon).

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TOVOLO and ORKA ICE POP MOLDS

For those who’ve already visited my ice-pop-page, this will be old news, but I thought this page would also be a good place to mention how much we love making homemade ice pops using fun shaped molds. I use 4 different shapes from 2 companies, and have chosen them because they’re made of non-toxic plastic or silicone. Pictured above is banana-cinnamon on the bottom, and mexacin-ice-cream on top. A tasty combination! If interested, scroll down to the bottom of my ice-pop-page for links to the specific molds I use, or do a google search for “TOVOLO” and “ORKA.”

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“REUSEIT RECYCLED PET EARTHTOTE” GROCERY BAG

These bags are the bomb! Made of recycled plastic bottles & containers. I own 4 of them, and would be surprised if they didn’t last me my whole life. They are ridiculously strong and roomy.  I ordered mine from reusablebags.com (which to my knowledge has since changed their website name to “reusit.com”).  I’ve been using my own grocery bags for a long time now, but of course, in the beginning, the hardest part was having them with me when I needed them. It probably took a good 3 months before I didn’t have to try so hard to remember them. The two tricks that worked for me were 1 – as soon as I unloaded the groceries, I put the empty bags by the front door so I always remembered to toss them in the car on my next trip out, and 2 – When I forgot to take them into the grocery store with me, I made myself walk back to the car to get them! Now, it’s like wearing underwear.  I just don’t forget =)

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KWIK-KUT

www.kwik-kut.com

I really love this simple little gadget. I use it to quickly chop things like tomatoes, hardboiled eggs, avocados, chick peas, strawberries, nuts, tempeh, etc. In my opinion, the one with the flat bottom (pictured above) works best. I used to also have the one with the serrated edge, but I gave it away, as it never seemed to accomplish the job at hand. Anyway, this little thing is less than $5. And made in the USA. Nice!

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CUBE TRAY W/ LID

www.freshbaby.com

These cube trays are GREAT! They’re actually made & marketed for baby food and breast milk, but are not limited to such uses. I have a few foods I like to freeze into cubes (yogurt, lemon juice, pesto, & the Italian pepper base for my favorite marinara sauce). The problem I’ve had in the past is that once my foods/liquids were frozen into cubes, I’d have to transfer them to either a freezer bag, or other storage container, in which they’d always end up with freezer burn. Using the “fresh baby” trays, my cubes are completely protected from freezer burn (being that I never have to remove them from the cube tray until I need them. I really love that they’re high quality, food safe plastic: no BP-A, PVC, or phthalate (& made in USA).

LEMON JUICE TIP – Sometimes I don’t have fresh lemons on hand when I need them. On the other hand, if I buy a bottle of lemon juice, I’m inevitably at some point holding half a bottle in my hand, alternating between sniffing & wondering if those floating white “things” are supposed to be there. I’ve found the best thing to do is to buy a whole bunch of organic lemons when I can get a good deal on them, juice them all, and put them into my cube trays in 1 TBSP servings. This way, when I need a tablespoon or 2 of fresh lemon juice, I just pop out a couple of cubes!

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KLEAN KANTEEN W/ LOOP CAP

We had a Reverse Osmosis water filter installed in our home about 10 years ago & have no regrets. I’m sure it’s more than paid for itself over the years. In fact, if I think about it now…. As a family of 4, if we spent $10 a week on bottled water (which I think is a reasonable estimate), 10 years later, that adds up to $5,200. It cost us approx $1,500 for the RO unit (including installation), so we’re ahead of the game for sure (and I believe RO units have since come down in price).  We like using Klean Kanteens when we’re taking off for the day, but the reason for this post is actually to mention a tid bit of info about the klean kanteen caps. There are a few different options & we’ve used all of them. In our experience, the loop cap (shown in photo) is the only one that doesn’t collect water. In other words, when the caps are washed (either in the sink or the dishwasher), there must be some ity-bity seam that allows water to seep in & become trapped within the cap (if you shake the cap you can hear it – but you can’t shake it out). I don’t particularly want old, dirty, dishwater stuck in the caps of my water bottles so, thought I’d mention the loop cap is the way to go if you’d like to avoid that as well. Come to think of it, the sports cap doesn’t collect water either if you like that style cap (we tried the KK sports cap but it didn’t work for us – can’t remember why). And I guess, while we’re on the topic…..

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NEW WAVE ENVIRO STAINLESS STEEL FOOD CONTAINER

www.amazon.com/newwaveenviro

Really like these to pack school lunches. The clasps that hold the lid on are easy enough for the kids to open & close (might be a little difficult for ages 6 & under), & they’re dishwasher safe. You can find them on amazon. Don’t make the mistake of buying “lunchbots.” Had those first, and noticed the paint bubbling & chipping off the lids right from the get-go. Tried to completely pick the paint off of the container that was in the worst shape – thought maybe I could salvage it that way – but couldn’t get it all off. They were great containers otherwise, but I’m not really interested in blue paint chips becoming part of my kids lunch (see photo below)….

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TEA BAG PRESS

When I came home with this cute little thing about 6 months ago, my husband rolled his eyes. Funny thing is, it turns out he uses it no less than 5 times a day =) I think it was about 3 bucks from bed bath & beyond.

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FOOD PROCESSOR

http://www.hamiltonbeach.com/kitchen-appliances-food-processors.html

How else would one shred 8 cups of sweet potato in 60 seconds??? I’m doubtful that I would do what I do without helpful kitchen appliances like a food processor. Admittedly, preparing home-cooked meals takes time. If cooking is important to you, it’s really worthwhile to invest in a few appliances that can help with some of the dirty work & save precious time (as of course, there are other things we like to do too!) =) Be sure to get one with attachment blades for shredding & slicing. Off the top of my head, it comes in so handy for shredding or slicing large amounts of carrots, potatoes, cheese, zucchini, onions, cabbage. With the regular S blade – it’s great for pureeing things like dips, beans, sandwich spreads & pestos, and also for making dough. Mine is a super-large, 14 cup capacity, as I sometimes double or triple recipes & like being able to fit everything in – in one batch. I also have a mini food processor which I LOVE for quickly chopping fresh herbs such as basil, parsley, cilantro, or for mincing several cloves of garlic at once. I’ll also use the mini processor for a small, single batch of hummus or other dip/spread. It’s nice to have the option not to have to dirty the giant food processor for only a small amount of food. A high quality, large capacity food processor isn’t cheap, but well worth it if you spend time in the kitchen.

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SMALL PORTION FREEZER CONTAINERS

www.petitecreations.net/babycubes

These little containers come in really handy for freezing small portions. They’re also made from safe plastic (free of phthalates & BP-A) and are dishwasher safe. Like the cube trays listed above, they’re meant for baby food, but again, I find many other uses for them.

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APPLE SLICER

Love this type of apple slicer. I originally had a cheap one, maybe 4 or 5 bucks from the grocery store. The handles were really uncomfortable though, when pressing down, and the blades were on the dull side. At some point I replaced it with the oxo brand & it does the job perfectly without hurting my hands. Comes in extremely handy when making applesauce!

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JAM FUNNEL

This gadget, called the “jam funnel”, is another one of my favorite kitchen tools. As you can see from the photo, it’s a funnel with a wide opening at the bottom. If you’ve ever tried to transfer sauce into a mason jar, you know what a sloppy mess it can be, with drips down all sides of the container & a mess on the counter. Without this tool, you end up having to use a really small spoon which is frustrating as it takes a long time (& still usually drips down the sides of the jar). I also use it to transfer almonds & other nuts/seeds into jars without worrying about spills. I’ve never actually used it for jam!

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WILLIAMS SONOMA SIFTER

The sifter I had for many years was difficult to use. First, it hurt my hand (it was one of those squeeze sifters). Secondly, small clumps of flour would always become trapped in-between the 3 layers of mesh that the flour was pushed through. I could never get it out no matter what I did. Who wants to think about old clumps of flour at the bottom of their sifter every time they go to use it – gross! Since I got the williams sonoma sifter, a once dreaded deed is completely dreadless (is that a word?). It’s easy to use the rotating handle, and there’s only one layer of mesh at the bottom, so no food particles ever get trapped. Dishwasher safe too.

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PORTABLE SHELVES

These shelves are available in a few different shapes & sizes. They come in so handy for kitchen cabinet organization. When I got them (a few years ago), they were 5 – 10 bucks, depending on what size you want, at BB&B.

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IMMERSION (STICK) BLENDER

I can’t say enough good things about this type of stick blender. They are so reasonably priced (my cuisinart smart stick was about $30), and accomplish so much at the flick of a switch. You just can’t beat them for pureeing soups and sauces – right in the pot. No need to slop things back & forth in batches to the regular blender. Making homemade mayo is also a snap using this tool (see recipe & demo video if interested). I use mine on a weekly basis, but even if you only use it once or twice a year, it’s still worth it – you’ll be happy when that one time comes around! There are at least a half-dozen creamy soups posted in which I use this stick blender. The kids don’t like a lumpy marinara sauce, but you like using lumpy ingredients?? In about 30 seconds, you can go from lumpy to smooth (yay). (For me, this comes in handy w/ my zucchini marinara and penne w/ rosemary & balsamic). When using on the stove top with hot soups/sauces, I recommend wearing oven mitts to avoid a burn, just in case there’s any splattering.

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MIELE DISHWASHER w/ BUILT IN WATER SOFTENER

More than just a gadget I suppose, but a most important tool for anyone who cooks – A GOOD DISHWASHER!!! I struggled for years with an inferior brand/model, especially due to our hard water. We replaced the dishwasher once, early on. Made the wrong choice unfortunately, as it wasn’t long before my “clean” dishes were coming out covered in grit. What was happening was that the hard water was clogging the tiny water jets, and what was spraying out was essentially a combination of water, sediment, & small food particles (gross!). Once it went through the drying cycle, all that grit was almost cemented to my glasses & dishes. So…..I’d have to be sure I was going to be around whenever I started the dishwasher, as I had to stop it before the dry cycle & rinse everything by hand. Quite unpleasant to say the least. I was actually going bonkers, considering I run a full load of dishes twice a day. It probably would have been easier to just wash by hand, but psychologically, that was not a choice! Here’s where Miele comes in, as aside from being top-notch machines, some of their models come with a built-in water softener. We have a house water softener, but apparently that’s not enough. Now, with this back up system, built right into the dishwashing unit, I never have that grit problem. A red light indicates when it’s time to add more salt. It’s an excellent system that cleans well and is very quiet. Down side is that it’s expensive and the wash cycles are rather long. Incidentally, a few things you can try with your existing machine if you have a similar hard water/grit problem……Run the machine empty, but with a bowl of either white vinegar, CLR, or tang (believe it or not), sitting upright on the bottom rack. Try doing that 2 times in a row & then doing a normal wash & see if the situation improves. After several tries of this, if nothing changes, might mean time for a new machine.

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MARTHA STEWART MEASURING CUPS


The reasons I like these particular measuring cups is because 1 – they’re very heavy-duty (like tiny stainless steel pots), and 2 – they actually give you a half way line on the inside of the cup (I’ve never seen any others with this feature). For me, this comes in extremely handy when I’m melting coconut oil (or butter).  If I need 2 TBSP of melted coconut oil, I’ve got an easy way to melt & measure at the same time.  I can put the 1/4 cup measuring cup right on the burner, fill it up half way, & melt over low heat.  Might seem like a trivial thing, but if you’ve looked through my recipes at all, you’ll notice I use coconut oil quite a bit, so these measuring cups are a very highly rated product in my kitchen.  Comes in a set of 4 cups (1/4, 1/3, 1/2 & 1).

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OVER THE SINK COLANDER

This kind of large, over-the-sink colander is great for washing a large amount of produce.  For me, it comes in particularly handy for greens.  The ends pull out as far as necessary to sit right over the sink.

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Will be adding to this page a few gadgets at a time, so check back if interested.


  • Julie

    I just loved this page. I have and love many of the same things, and I can’t wait to go out and get some of the others. Thanks for the link to the Tapped trailer, too.

  • http://dianeschnier.wordpress.com Diane Schnier

    I just couldn’t & wouldn’t w/o my gadgets =) Glad to hear you’ve found a few new ideas you like!

  • Heather

    This is a great page and I’ve found it a very useful resource. Would you please tell me the brand of the BPA mason jar lids you found on Amazon? Or a link to them… Thank you!

    • http://dianeschnier.wordpress.com Diane Schnier

      Hi! I’m glad to know you’ve been finding the website useful =) Here’s a link to the lids. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000SSN3L2 – If you order, be sure to first select the size you want (“regular” or “wide mouth”). My best to you & yours! Diane =)