The right tools can help you to save a lot of money in the kitchen. Sarah Sysum recommends her top 10 gadgets for pinching pennies.
1. Slow cooker
Possibly the most talked about cost-saving gadget, the slow cooker gets rave reviews because it uses a small amount of energy over a long period of time and therefore much less electricity than a traditional oven. But it saves money in other ways too. Slow cooking means you can use cheaper cuts of meat (which become meltingly tender after a full day of cooking at a low temperature) and you'll relinquish that takeaway as you have a lovely home-cooked meal waiting when you arrive home.
There are lots of models available and you can get a simple no frills machine for £15. My choice is ideal for a family of four; it heats up quickly and has three settings, ranging from all-day cooking to just a few hours. The inner pot can also go under the grill making it is easy to add a crispy finish to hotpots.
Judge 3.5 litre slow cooker, £29.99, Taskers Homestore
2. Mini chopper
You might be surprised when I suggest that a mini chopper is also a great thrifty buy. But it allows you to grind your own spice mixes (so much cheaper and nicer than anything bought) and whizz up the ends of bread to make crumbs to freeze. Mini choppers are great for making pastes too. You could say that buying all the ingredients is more expensive, but if you're anything like me you'll have six different half-used jars of ready-made pastes at the back of the fridge at any one time. This model is robust, easy to clean and amazingly fast.
Kenwood Compact CH108A mini chopper, £19.99, Homebase
3. Silicone cake cases
Do you bake a lot of cupcakes or muffins? Then consider buying a set of silicone baking cups. Since they can be washed and reused again and again, it'll do away with the need for paper liners. I've tried lots over the years and this set is a real bargain. The silicone is thick enough so you get a sturdy case; you get even heat retention (a problem with some I've tested) and when your bake is done, turn the case upside down and the muffins will just drop out.
Wilko 12 muffin cases silicone, £2, wilko.com
4. Coffee maker
If you drink two cups a day of chain shop coffee, you'll spend around £110 a month. For that amount you can buy yourself a decent machine. I'm not going to pretend this is the cheap option (if you want a bargain model I recommend Curry's Logik Coffee Maker, £9.99) but it's without doubt the best machine I've ever used. It even has the bean-to-cup option you get with really expensive machines. I also like how it keeps the coffee warm (but not stewed) for a good hour so you get enough to have an early morning cup plus plenty for your takeaway flask.
Cuisinart Grind & Brew Automatic, £99.99, Lakeland
I know it's better to make it entirely from scratch, but if you don't have time to bake bread by hand, it can save a lot of hassle. There have been plenty of studies on how much it actually costs to make a loaf in a machine. Generally it works out at around 40p for a 10-slice loaf. It takes no time at all to pop the ingredients in and push the button. You just have to plan for it. For such a cheap model this has a lot of great features with 12 settings, including more unusual sweet dough, and unlike so many models it was easy to get the bread out! Use its delay option to have a nice hot loaf waiting when you get home, then plan a meal around it.
Cookworks breadmaker, £37.99, Argos
6. Handheld blender
Soups are a brilliant way of using up all those bendy carrots and past it potatoes. But, if you're anything like me the thought of having to wash up the food processor as well as everything else might put you off. Hence why a handheld blender is a good option (relatively little washing up and you can stand over the pan and do it, which saves time too). At £5, this doesn't have any fancy features but it proved to be good at basic blending tasks. It's fast but noisy and has no speed settings, though at the same price as two cartons of fresh soup who is complaining?
Value HB07 hand blender, £5, Tesco
7. Food dehydrator
Like dried fruits or jerky? Then buy a food dehydrator and you can make your own bargain-priced fruits and meats. It may take hours to dry, but it only takes a few minutes of hands-on time to get a batch going. This is the gadget to go for if you grow your own and have a glut. So far I've made 'freeze' dried strawberries (great to grind up and use to flavour butter icing), 'sundried' tomatoes, dried herbs and candied peel. It's a little bit trial and error to begin with on what to dry and for how long but once you get going you'll be completely hooked on 'drying out' various creations!
My Kitchen food dehydrator, £49.99, Lakeland
Energy saving is key to frugal cooking. Wasted heat means wasted energy, which is why cheap stainless steel pans aren't my first choice, as they don't conduct heat as well as copper or aluminum. However both of these options are really expensive. A good compromise is to go for stainless steel, sandwiched with an aluminum layer, like these Elegant Living ones from Asda. In my opinion you get the best of both worlds, a pan that retains heat quickly and evenly, and it's easy to clean too.
Elegant Living stainless steel saucepan set, 3-piece £40, Asda
9. Spaghetti measurer
If you're anything like me you consistently cook too much pasta. Not only is this wasteful but, if you eat a lot of the stuff, you suddenly realise how much money in non-eaten pasta you're throwing away too. You can buy cheaper measurers (Tesco's do a wooden one for £3) but this is so fun! Shaped like a kid's book each leaf with a mouth-sized hole represents a number of portions from 1-4, cheery but also very accurate.
Spaghetti measure book, £8.99, The Oak Room
10. Plastic containers
They're more economical than tin foil and cling film, and if you're not fussed about looks they can work out really cheap too. I like this little set that is big enough to store leftover roast meat (or even a portion or two of mash) but is also dishwasher, microwave and freezer proof.
Value 1.75l storage containers, set of 4 £5, John Lewis
What's your favourite money-saving piece of kitchen kit? Share your thoughts with us below...