When was the last time you made a Bundt cake? How about that egg slicer – used it recently? If you’re like most people, it’s been a while. In fact, if your Bundt pan is housed like mine, you’ll need to move 8 other pans just to see it. Gadgets can be savvy kitchen helpers, but only if you actually use them. Thing is, when you get creative (or desperate), and use your tools for tasks outside their intended purpose, you can streamline meal prep in a flash. Wipe the dust from your lonely equipment and put it to work!
Rice Cooker –Perfect Oatmeal
A standard rice cooker is designed to bring liquid to a boil, reduce the liquid to a simmer, and then lower the heat again to keep the rice hot without overcooking it. That means, because the heat is regulated, it’s an excellent vessel for un-manned oatmeal (no frequent stirring!). How to do it: In the rice cooker, combine 3 parts water to 1 part steel cut oats. Add a pinch or two of salt. Press ON. That’s it! Twenty-five minutes later (after showering perhaps?) you can enjoy creamy oatmeal with your favorite garnishes (a dollop of vanilla yogurt, fresh fruit, dried fruit, honey, agave, cinnamon, cardamom, brown sugar, toasted nuts).
Food Processor – Bread Dough
Want fresh bread or pizza dough in 60 seconds? The food processor might not have a dough hook, but it still whips up incredible dough. How to do it: Assemble your machine (bowl locked into place, blade nestled). Add 3 cups bread flour (all-purpose flour works, but won’t yield the best result), 2 tablespoons sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 packet dry active yeast (1 1/4 tablespoons). Pulse to combine. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil and pulse a few times to combine. Add 1 cup warm/hot water (warm to the touch without burning your fingers). Process until the dough comes together and forms a ball. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl and let rise, in a warm, draft-free place, for 1 hour. Punch the dough down to remove air, transfer to a greased loaf pan, OR shape the dough into a baguette, OR press out until the dough is 1/4-inch thick for pizza. For bread in a loaf pan, bake at 375 degrees for 30-40 minutes, until golden brown. For a baguette, bake 20-30 minutes. For pizza, arrange toppings on dough and bake at 425 degrees for 15-20 minutes.
Popcorn Popper – Toast Nuts
Popcorn poppers are excellent for transforming golden corn kernels into puffed-up perfection. The heat on the bottom and constant spinning/air action also make it ideal for flawlessly toasting nuts. No more shaking a skillet for 5 minutes! How to do it: Place a layer of nuts (pine nuts, almonds, walnuts, pecans) into the bottom of the popper and let ‘er rip. In 1-2 minutes, you’ve got flavorful, golden brown nuts (keep an eye on things – it happens fast).
Waffle Iron – Healthy Hash Browns
I make waffles most Saturday mornings. That means my waffle iron sits alone the other 26+ days of the month. We also love hash browns in the morning, but I rarely feel like standing at the stove for 20 minutes. Waffle iron to the rescue! The hot iron creates a crisp, golden brown exterior while steaming the potatoes until tender – in just 5-10 minutes, with no stirring! How to do it: Preheat the waffle iron. In a large bowl, combine 3-4 shredded Yukon gold potatoes (about 1-1 1/2 pounds) and enough cold water to cover. Let stand for 2-3 minutes (this removes the starch and yields a better result). Drain the potatoes, squeeze out the excess water and then dry them completely on paper towels (important step for crispy hash browns). Transfer the potatoes to a bowl and add a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper. Toss to coat. Spray the waffle iron with cooking spray. Spoon a 1/2-inch layer of the potato mixture onto the waffle iron, close the lid, and cook for 5-10 minutes, until the potatoes are golden brown and tender. Repeat with remaining potato mixture. If you’re like us, serve with ketchup.
Egg Slicer – Slice Strawberries and Cheese
When it comes to slicing hard-boiled eggs, nothing beats an egg slicer. But how often do you need perfectly sliced eggs? Me – I use a fork to mash them into egg salad more than I use an egg slicer to slice them. But strawberries? I slice those every day for breakfast! And mozzarella cheese? Same thing – for my mini breakfast pizzas! How to do it: Place whole strawberries and softer pieces of cheese (mozzarella, gouda, Swiss) in the slicer and press down for perfectly even slices every time.
Knife Sharpener – Meat Mallet
OK, this seems weird, but I discovered this hack out of desperation. I needed to pound uber-thick chicken breasts very thin so I could stuff and roll them. I’ve never owned a meat mallet (I think they pulverize meat) so I tried my rolling pin, a heavy skillet, and even a hammer (don’t try that). Then I tried the flat side of my handheld knife sharpener (the one with two slots for sharpening blades), and voila, skinny chicken! How to do it: Place meat in a freezer bag or between two pieces of plastic wrap and pound to desired thickness.
Pizza Wheel – Chop Herbs
I don’t consider myself lazy, until it’s time to chop herbs. It seems like a messy hassle, but since fresh herbs catapult the flavor of every dish they adorn, I chop them almost every day. And now, thanks to my pizza wheel, the job is easier, cleaner and faster! How to do it: Pile your herbs on a cutting board and roll the wheel back and forth. Switch directions and do it again!
Bundt Pan – Roast Chicken
My cinnamon-swirled Bundt cake is moist, sweet heaven. But I make it just a few times per year and, aside from a handful of Bundt-inspired recipes, my pan gets the shaft. But it’s the shaft that makes it perfect for roasting chicken! A Bundt-roasted chicken has crispy skin on all sides, the meat is moist, and the juices flow to the bottom of the pan, flavoring whatever veggies you’ve assembled down there. How to do it: Cut red potatoes, carrots, celery, and yellow onion into bite-size pieces. Toss with minced garlic and a little olive oil. Arrange the vegetables in the bottom of the Bundt pan. Stuff a 4-pound whole chicken with a halved lemon and then invert the chicken onto the hollow tube of the Bundt pan. Brush the chicken with olive oil and then season all over with salt, black pepper, thyme, and oregano. Place the pan on a baking sheet and bake at 425 degrees for 50-60 minutes, or until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reaches 160 degrees. Let stand 10 minutes before carving.
Coffee Grinder – Spice Grinder
As is the case with coffee, spices yield more flavor when you grind them just before cooking. Of course, if you grind more than you need, spices will keep in a sealed container for 6 months. How to do it: Purchase whole spices and grind them as you would your favorite coffee beans! One caveat, some spices (curry blends for example) can leave lingering residue that can make its way into your ground coffee. To clean the grinder between uses (or between sweet and savory spices), grind bread cubes or white rice and then unplug the grinder and wipe clean with a damp towel.
Muffin Tin – Individual Meatloaves
Everyone loves meatloaf and there’s nothing wrong with baking them in loaf pans. BUT, when you separate the meat into individual loaves, each one becomes its own, unique entrée and dinner is served in half the time. I like to insert little “surprises” in my meatloaf and with mini loaves, each person gets a separate surprise. One gets a chunk of mozzarella cheese, the other a cube of cheddar. Sometimes a few get sundried tomatoes and others get olives. See where I’m going with this? And for you with crazy schedules, you can make the loaves in a few pans and cook just what you need and freeze what you don’t. How to do it: Press prepared meatloaf (beef, turkey, chicken, meat combinations) into muffin pans as you would if you were pressing the meat into a loaf pan. At this point, I like to coat each loaf with a mixture of ketchup and Dijon mustard. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes, until the loaves are cooked through. When freezing extras, wrap the pan in plastic wrap and then foil and freeze for up to 6 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before baking.
Robin Miller has been a TV personality, food writer and nutritionist since 1990 and she is the author of ten books, including Robin Takes 5 for Busy Families, Robin Takes 5, and the bestselling cookbook Quick Fix Meals. Her popular show, “Quick Fix Meals with Robin Miller” aired on Food Network for 5 years and she has multiple weekly blogs, Robin’s Healthy Take, on www.foodnetwork.com/healthyeats. “Quick Fix Meals with Robin Miller” is currently airing on Great American Country Channel. You can view her website at: www.robinmillercooks.com.