Thursday, October 15, 2009

Cent Dreams, Oh mercy, mercy meeeeee

Did you ever think you could link dollar stores with a better diet?

I really, really like a bargain. While I was teaching myself to cook, I didn't realize that I had a lot of these items already in my home and that using them could lead to healthier eating. If I didn't have the item (the whisk, for example), I could go out a buy one. Healthy eating can be very affordable, you just have to be creative with it.

These are my top ten 99 cent store items.

(This is a long post, if it helps, imagine me as Dave Letterman, but cuter and non-adulterous.)

  1. Vegetable Peeler - Self-explanatory. But, the real bargain here is "ribbons." You can take any tuber, root or oblong vegetable and cut cool patterns around them. Or, even better -- make "noodles". Veggie peelers are awesome at making zucchini ribbons, cucumber noodles, orange curls. This can not only add more veggies to your meal arsenal (spaghetti + veggie shreds), but bulk out your meals, too! More on this in posts to follow.
  2. Grater - I love my microplane, but it took me FOREVER to find it. Now that I have it, I'm actually reluctant to use it. I continue to use my hand grater. I can lay it on top of my mini food processor or a bowl, and grate & zest to my heart's content.
  3. Kitchen Shears - Long before I had my mediocre knife skills, I had my kitchen shears. I can open things, duh, but also rough chop vegetables, and other items so that they're evenly sized. It also reduces the number of knife nicks to my fingers. Yay!
  4. Paring Knife - Good for paring, and also for quickly slicing small items like grape tomatoes or strawberries.
  5. Basting Brush - Get a couple of these. You can use one traditionally, with marinades. You can use another one for egg washes. And, the last one, use together with bonus item to coat your metal pans with minimal oil, but with widespread flavor.
  6. Whisk - Great for whisking together an omelet, or meringue. Incorporating air into certain foods adds not only volume, but cool texture effects. And, the air is free!
  7. Cutting Boards - Acrylic is a must for food safety. Wooden, so you can chop all your fresh items without ruining counter tops. It's your own little workspace.
  8. Plastic bags - These make me a little sad because they aren't eco-friendly. But, they're so cheap and useful. I use them for marinating, porting food, storing food, salad in a bag and portioning out food.
  9. Measuring cups - If you bake, you want to have these. Generally you want a set w/ 1/2, 1/3, 1/4 & 1 cup measures. It's a good way to learn the (volume) of portion sizes. The more you use them, the more use you get from them. I leave a set on the counter for everyday use -- 1/2 c cereal, c of pasta, etc -- I recommend buying 2 sets.
  10. Strainer - That thing that looks like a hairnet. Or a fisherman's net. Anyhow, this is a great bargain. You use it for straining pasta, and what else? I use my strainer to dry my washed produce, and strain out excess liquid from canned goods. How about as a grease guard? The flat ones are often sold that way (splatter covers), and can be used a strainers for small amounts of food. What about as a steamer? A large, metal strainer can actually sit on top of your pot, covered, and effectively steam your food. Just make sure if your using it for cooking or with heat, get a large enough metal one that can sit nicely on top of your pots.
BONUS: Mister/Spray bottle. You can buy in this in the cleaning/plant section. Or, if you use any of those spray salad sprays, save that bottle, wash & rinse completely and load it up with your go-to oil. I keep olive oil in mine. I keep it in a dark place so the oil does not turn rancid. This came to me when I wanted to make a stir-fry, but my wok is all copper, PAM is not that woks friend, and as much as I love PAM, it does leave a residue (lecithin may be the culprit) if not washed from your cookware completely.

So, it was a top 11. I sneaked that last one in there, but you get the idea. These are items I use frequently, and while at first it seems cumbersome, it really becomes a breeze when you decide to improve your food attitude.

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