The right tools can help you to save a lot of money in the kitchen. BBC Good recommends top 10 gadgets for the budget-conscious cook.
1. Slow cooker
Possibly the most talked about cost-saving gadget of all, 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.
Read our review of slow cookers
2. Mini chopper
You might be surprised when we 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. We like this model from Kenwood as it's robust, easy to clean and amazingly fast.
Kenwood Compact CH108A mini chopper, £19.99, John Lewis
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 gadgets
If you drink two cups of chain shop coffee each day, you'll spend around £110 a month. For that amount you can kit yourself out with some serious coffee apparel. You can buy a coffee machine for as little as £17.99 (namely Curry's Logik coffee maker) or as much as £500, but there are lots of options in between, including cafetières, stovetop pots, drippers, grinders and much more.
We concede it's better to make it entirely from scratch, but if you don't have time to bake bread by hand, a machine can save a lot of hassle. There have been studies on how much it actually costs to make a loaf in a machine and 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. It'll be an upfront cost of around £60, but if you use it regularly you'll soon see the benefits.
Read our review of the best bread machines
6. Handheld blender
Soups are a brilliant way of using up all those bendy carrots and past-it potatoes. But sometimes 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 as it involves relatively little washing up and you can stand over the pan and do it, which saves time too.
Read our review of hand blenders
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. You can use them to create things like '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!
8. Spaghetti measurer
It's easy to cook too much pasta, but not only is it wasteful, 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 we like the version from Roo's Beach that's shaped as a little booklet.
Spaghetti measure book, £9, Roo's Beach
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.
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
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