Em's Gems: Top 5 Must-Have Kitchen Toys

One of the things I love most about cooking is having the opportunity to use my time-saving kitchen devices which make food prep quicker, easier and more fun. Below are the kitchen appliances I use the most and therefore consider very worthwhile investments. [Note: these have been purchased over the course of several years. No need to buy them all at once if it's not in your budget right now.]

Money-Saving Tips:

  • Take advantage of Macy's One Day Sales when their kitchenware goes for50-80% of the regular price. I got my rice cooker from one of those and it was only $15-$20. These sales happen every few months and you can save big bucks on big name brands. I once bought about $400 worth of quality kitchen goods for $200...Completely restocked my kitchen!
  • Bed Bath and Beyond is another place you can get these items for less. If you get on their mailing list, you'll receive 20% off (per item) coupons just about every 1-2 months.
  • I get most of my kitchen appliances from Amazon.com because their prices are pretty competitive and most orders over $25 qualify for free shipping.

1. Food Processor

One of the most helpful tools in the kitchen, in my opinion, is the food processor. I have the Cuisinart Mini Prep Plus Food Processor and a KitchenAid 7-Cup Food Processor and they're both fantastic. The mini one holds 3 cups and is perfect for making a single serving of homemade "ice cream" or other smaller servings of your favorite foods. The larger one, which I use most often, is perfect for just about everything else, particularly if you're preparing a larger quantity of food.

The bigger one comes with a separate attachment blade which makes shredding and grating vegetables, like zucchini or carrots,  quick and easy. No more wasting time using a hand grater! You can use it to make hummus, raw desserts, nut butters, pesto, cauliflower mashed "potatoes", salad dressingspancakes, and so much more. I highly recommend investing in a food processor, even if you just start out with the smaller one. It'll make cooking so much more fun and cut your prep time in half.

2. Salad Spinner

I firmly believe that if I didn't own a salad spinner, I would not make as much salad as I do now. I rarely buy pre-packaged greens, so the lettuce, kale, and collard greens I buy from the health food store or farmer's market are typically covered in some dirt and always need to be washed. My OXO Salad Spinner makes washing and drying greens super easy. It's also great for the lazy cook or for people with weak fingers or wrists since all you need is one hand to operate. As a kid, one of my favorite things to do was to help my mom in the kitchen making salad. Her salad spinner, which was probably made in the 1970's, was the kind you had to turn in a circular motion, as if churning butter. My arm would get so sore afterward! The beauty of the OXO Salad Spinner is that there's no exhausting physical labor required :-)

3. Blender

I had a $60 Black & Decker blender for about 5 years until I took the leap and upgraded to a Vitamix 5200, the most incredible blender on the market which I'd been eyeing for about 2 years.  [Note: I have also heard rave reviews for its number one competitor, the Blendec, but I've never used it so I can't vouch for it.] I mainly use my blender for smoothies, particularly green smoothies. My old blender worked fine when I made smoothies using certain ingredients, but any smoothie consisting of kale or apples, were not particularly appetizing. I like to drink my smoothies, not chew them. With the Vitamix, every smoothie comes out smooth and delicious. It also holds 64 oz (instead of my 48 oz old blender) so it easily accommodates larger quantities.

I recommend adding your email address to the Vitamix mailing list. That's how I found about a big sale they're having on refurbished Vitamixes. I saved about $100-$150 and still got the 7-year warranty and cookbook/DVD that are included with the brand new Vitamixes. (For an even bigger savings, use coupon code 06-006746 at checkout for free shipping-- a $25 value!)

4. Rice Cooker

I have a tendency to burn most things I cook on the stove.  Sometimes I think that's the reason why I prefer preparing raw food! Cooking grains, such as rice and quinoa, used to be disastrous. The liquid would overflow onto the stove and I would inevitably burn the rice and mess up the pot.

Ever since I got my rice cooker, my grains have come out perfectly every single time. Cooked to perfection and no charred pots to clean. What's also great is that it cooks other grains other than just rice. I have the Black & Decker RC436 16-Cup Rice Cooker and I love it. It's very inexpensive and easy to clean.

5. Juicer

This was my last big kitchen appliance purchase. It was really a product of retail therapy from a break-up, but turned out to be one of the best purchases in my collection :-) This juicer is amazing and I immediately started incorporating fresh juice into my diet as soon as I got it. My favorite combo is kale, cucumber, apple, lemon, celery, and ginger. It's refreshing and the nutrients will make your energy soar instantly.

I have the Breville BJE200XL 700-Watt Compact Juice Fountain and it's wonderful. It's relatively small, inexpensive, not too noisy and easy to clean (a common theme amongst all of these products). I've heard that Breville is one of the best brands of juicers out there...this is just one of their smaller, less expensive ones. My kitchen is fairly small, so I really appreciated the fact that this juicer doesn't take up much space. If you want to watch an entertaining documentary that will convince you of the benefits of juicing, check out Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead. There's also May I be Frank and Simply Raw: Reversing Diabetes in 30 Days which are mostly geared toward the benefits of a raw food diet, but touch upon juicing as well.

If you're a big orange juice or grapefruit juice fan, check out this $15 Black and Decker Citrus Juicer. I had this for a couple years before I got my Breville. Check out the video I made demonstrating how to make fresh squeezed orange juice with the Citrus Juicer.

If you use lemon a lot in your cooking like I do, you will love this hand held lemon squeezer. It squeezes out all of the juice without letting any of the seeds out. I use mine several days a week...it's awesome.

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[Note: I don't get compensated to write these reviews. These are all products that I buy and use myself that I chose to write about because I thought you might be interested in trying them out.]