Category Archives: Food

Must Have Kitchen Tools

Stainless steel skillet on a cutting board with a cooked egg

Don’t we all have those favorite things in our kitchen? Those must have kitchen tools that we always want to use? Sometimes, using them even makes you happy! Typically they make your life easier or work so much better than most.

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In my last post I shared my list of kitchen essentials. These are the things that are pretty much a necessity, even if you kitchen is tiny. I also tackled my favorite kitchen appliances here.

Today I’m filling you in on my favorite must have kitchen tools! Most of them are all essentials and some of them are brand dependent. I use these items week in and week out and often times day in and day out. (Be sure to check out the list of small kitchen appliances to know what else I use often!)

Good Pots and Pans

Several years ago we upgraded our pans to a stainless steel Calphalon set from Bed Bath and Beyond. I love them. They can also go in the oven (with the lids) up to 450 degrees. My set has 8 pans and pots plus lids. So much better than the really old, falling apart set we were using. 🙂

If you don’t cook a lot or are limited on space, I’d recommend an 8 and 10 inch skillet, 1.5 quart sauce pan, 3 quart sauté pan, and a 6 or 8 quart stockpot depending on your family size or if you’ll be cooking for groups. You can always add more later, but if you have limited cabinet space, these are the essentials. If you get a non stick pan, get an 8 or 10 inch skillet.

I recommend buying good quality cookware. You are going to have these things for a long time so you want to love them. Cheaper pans tend to warp and not cook evenly. When we were shopping, our top brands we considered were the higher tiered Calphalon products and All Clad. They are expensive so that did mean it took us a few years to purchase them.

Rubber Spatula

I have the classic scraper from Pampered Chef and love them. Would recommend having two. (Don’t tell anyone, but I actually have three and there are times when they are all dirty at once!) Don’t buy the cheap ones. They will fall apart way easier and not work nearly as well. I use them for cooking, baking, and scraping.

Kitchen Tongs

Buy the ones that lock (by pulling up the head not with the sliding ring)! These are great for flipping meat on the skillet, serving salad, removing corn on the cob from hot water and so much more. I have this one from OXO.

Kitchen Shears

I love using kitchen shears. They are perfect for snipping fresh herbs, green onions, or chives. They are also used weekly to cut my daughter’s pizza into bite sized pieces. You can use a pair for cutting meat into chunks and another for slicing your homemade cinnamon rolls to put in a pan.

Mini Cutting Board

This gets used all the time in our home. It’s perfect for a small job – cutting an apple or grapefruit in half, rough chopping a small amount of veggies, mincing just a clove or two of garlic. I love how little space it takes up. Great size to put in the cooler or slide under a car seat to take on a road trip.

wooden spoon and whisks on a counter

Cheese Plane

The cheese planes for hard and semi hard cheeses are awesome! You can slice cheese in a perfect thickness. No more overly thick slices of cheese for sandwiches, grilled cheese, or crackers. A block of cheese will go much further. This gadget might just save you money.

Flat Risotto Spoon/Saute Paddle

This wooden spoon is perfect for sauteing, browning meat,  and stirring anything you are cooking. The flat edge helps scrape the bottom of the pan much more effectively than a spoon.

Good Knives

You don’t need a block of knives. Instead get fewer but better quality knives. This is something I’d do over again if I could. We registered for a knife block when we got married and they are all very dull. We started replacing our knives with the Wusthof brand. Next I need to get a good sharpener. I would buy 2 Chef’s knives, a paring knife, and a bread knife to start. Do you have a favorite knife brand to share?

Mini Serving Spatula

These are the perfect size to serve any dessert made in a pan. We use it all the time for sweets and main dishes. When mine broke a few years ago it was something that I immediately replaced.

Pancake Turner Spatula

This gets used for pancakes, quesadillas, grilled cheese and other such items in our house. Whether you get stainless steel or silicone or nylon will depend on if you use non stick surfaces to cook your pancakes on.

Pizza Stone

If you make homemade pizza, this is a must have! I have two and they make the best pizza crusts. Well worth the investment. I have the large round stone from Pampered Chef but you can find them many places.

Salad Spinner

This in an item I’d say depends on your salad eating habits. If you make large quantities of salad, you are going to want this. Getting your lettuce dry is so much simpler and it lasts longer. I prepare a large quantity of lettuce for us to use for salads during the week every Sunday and this makes it a breeze. My spinner is one of the push knob kinds.

Microplane

Use this to add garlic, ginger, or nutmeg to a dish. It’s also perfect for zesting citrus fruit. If you don’t do a lot of cooking with fresh garlic or nutmeg you can skip tool and simply mince it with a knife and cutting board, but the microplane is amazing. 😉

USA Pans

I only discovered these a few years ago but I am obsessed! They use a silicone coating and are nonstick. I first made egg muffins in these and was amazed when the eggs popped right and I hadn’t treated the pan at all. They are more expensive that your basics pans, so I have been building my stash slowly. I have the mini muffin tin, regular muffin pan, mini loaf pan set, and one larger loaf pan.

What are your go to, must have kitchen tools? I have one I’m wanting to try and honestly, I hope I get to update this list with it.

Between this list, the kitchen essentials and favorite kitchen appliances, you’ll have a pretty stocked kitchen that you’ll want to spend time in!

Sharp knife on a wooden cutting board

My Favorite Kitchen Tools! You will want to make sure you have these in your kitchen: cheese plane, rubber spatula, good pots and pans and more! Great ideas for my kitchen or a wedding registry.

Originally published April 3, 2014. Updated August 29, 2019.

Easy Meal Plan

This week was a simple week when it comes to meals. Most of my shopping was done at Aldi. We grabbed lettuce at Wal-Mart and bell peppers that were on sale at another local store. We are eating almost the same thing Monday-Thursday. I’m okay with keeping things easy because our days always seem to go by quickly and it’s going to keep getting busier until the end of the year! 

If you haven’t done much in the way of meal planning, be sure to check out this post on 7 different methods you can try!

This week there weren’t any spectacular finds in the grocery ads and I didn’t find any markdowns I wanted to buy. A little sad but it makes me appreciate the weeks I do even more. 🙂

Easy Meal Plan

Saturday
Chocolate Chip Pancakes (The kids were so excited! We haven’t made pancakes for a while)
Taco Salad

Sunday
Nachos
Pizza

Weeknight Suppers:
Roasted Veggies, raw bell peppers, and Chicken Drumsticks x 2
Roasted Veggies, raw bell peppers, and Sausage
Chicken Drumsticks, fresh veggies, and chips
Homemade Pizza

Breakfasts: Bagels (marked down and put in the freezer – I told them they need used up this week!)

Weekday Lunches: Salads for Shaun and myself (with assorted veggies and some meat), PB sandwiches/butter toast/ x 3, leftover pizza, mac and cheese on Friday with veggies and fruit for the kids

Snack Options: Grapes, pretzels, homemade banana bread, homemade yogurt, carrots, celery

What’s on your menu this week?

Easy Meal Plan

chalkboard on whitewashed boards with the word meal

Happy weekend! For me, that always means meal planning and grocery shopping. The menu is made and the grocery shopping is partly done. A torrential downpour sometimes makes you cut your shopping trip short after the first store. 🙂 (The rain actually first hit when I was a still a mile from home on my run this morning. I was SOAKED! We then got soaked running to and from the car at Aldi a couple hours later.)

Meal planning is pretty simple in my house. It keeps me sane and helps things be manageable. If you missed my post on 7 different ways to menu plan, be sure to check it out here!

I always hit up Aldi, a couple local grocery stores depending on their sales, and sometimes get one or two things from Wal-Mart. Even with all the stops I can be done shopping within an hour. Yay for smallish town living, I suppose!

This Week’s Deals

Some weeks the ads are great and some weeks I find loads of markdowns and others none. Here is a brief summary of what I found:

I was excited to see spaghetti squash on sale this week! Our favorite spaghetti squash recipe is making an appearance on the menu this week. Seriously, it’s so good! It’s a great introduction to adding spaghetti squash to your diet.

I found a few packages of bagels half off. I bought some to have in the freezer for easy breakfasts for the kids.

There was also a rack of baby back ribs marked half off. I bought those and put in the freezer to use later this month.

Easy Meal Plan

Saturday
Community Event
Chicken Thighs

Sunday
Breakfast for lunch (eggs and bacon)
Pizza (we used up leftovers this past Friday instead of making pizza)

Weeknight Suppers:
Homemade Pizza
Spaghetti Squash Chow Mein x 2
VBS
Baked Chicken Thighs

Sides: Roasted veggies, fresh veggies, fruit

Breakfasts: Oatmeal, bagels (marked down and put in the freezer), eggs

Weekday Lunches: Salads for Shaun and myself (with assorted veggies and some meat), PB sandwiches/butter toast (or whatever they are feeling that day) with veggies and fruit for the kids

Snack Options: Grapes, pretzels, homemade banana bread, homemade yogurt, carrots, celery

What’s on your menu this week?

7 Ways to Meal Plan

This topic is one of my favorite things!!! If you haven’t jumped on the meal planning train yet, give it a try!!! There are so many options that one of these ways to meal plan will work for your family.

blue dinner plate with fork and knife and an overlay saying ways to meal plan

Do you struggle with going out to eat or picking up take out more often than you’d like?

Do you find yourself making frequent trips to the grocery store?

Does food frequently go bad in your fridge?

Does your family eat more junk food than you’d prefer?

Are you so busy you don’t want to think about meal times?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, I think making a meal plan just might be the answer for you.

I might be strange, but meal planning makes me excited! I’m not stressed figuring out what I’m going to feed my family each night and it also helps me spend less. Our budget is tight enough that frequent trips for even fast food would prevent us from meeting our financial goals.

If you’ve had a failed experience with menu planning, don’t give up! Try again. Maybe attempt another method and keep tweaking until you have it figured out.

Today, I’m going to share a few different methods of meal planning that you can try!

[For some great tips on spending less on groceries, check out this post!]

7 Ways to Meal Plan

filled out printable meal planner on a kitchen counter with words ways to meal plan

Themed Meal Planning

Come up with a theme for all 7 suppers and each week you simply select a recipe for each night that fits with the theme.

Some theme ideas are:

  • Pasta
  • Soup or Salad
  • Grilling
  • Breakfast
  • International
  • New Recipe
  • Slow Cooker
  • Freezer Meal

A pro of this method is that you don’t have to do as much thinking. You already know what kind of recipe you need for each day.

Seasonal Meal Planning

With this option, you come up with an entire month’s worth of meals for Summer, Winter, and Spring/Fall. You then repeat the same menu each month of that season.

The nice thing about this is that you do the work once and don’t have to think about it. On the downside, there’s not a lot of flexibility and you can’t use the grocery sales as effectively.

Freezer Meal Planning

Have all of your meals be freezer meals. You can do once a month cooking or try doing it twice a month. The bulk of your time in the kitchen will be over and done with all at once. Check out The Family Freezer for a ton of (healthy) recipe ideas!

Monthly Meal Planning

Sit down with your calendar and make a plan for the entire month. Leave a few days blank for leftovers or other plans that come up. You can do the bulk of your grocery shopping at once and just make some extra trips for produce during the month.

Bi-Weekly Meal Planning

Exactly the same as above, except you do it for 2 weeks at a time. I did this method for a while. It seemed more feasible for me than monthly meal planning. After a few years I made the switch to the next meal planning method.

Weekly Meal Planning

Each week sit down with the grocery ads and take inventory of what you already have and make a meal plan! It’s easier to take into account what the upcoming week is going to be like when you do one week at a time. This is what’s worked best for me in this season of life.

Meal Planning Service

There are a myriad of meal planning services out there. They send you a list of the recipes you will be making each week (and often a shopping list as well). I have not had a need to use this type of service, but if you do, here are some to check out!

If you are interested in a meal planning service, be sure to take advantage of free trials to see if it is something that will actually work for your family. Also, research and see what sales these companies have done in the past! It might be beneficial to wait to sign up until one starts.

Let’s get going!

Pick a method to try or even combine 2 methods (maybe themed nights with weekly meal planning, for example). Commit to sit down and make a menu plan for next week and then stick with it. Tweak it the following week and keep adjusting until you find what will work.

If you get the hang of meal planning, you should find yourself saving money, eating better, and maybe even being less stressed!

What’s your meal planning method?

brown handled fork and knife on a blue plate with words way to meal plan

The Best Healthy Chicken Spaghetti

A glass pan with healthy chicken spaghetti in it

Healthy chicken spaghetti? Is it even possible? If you grew up eating the classic version of this dish, you might find yourself wondering.

Honestly, it wasn’t until a few years ago that I first ate this dish. My siblings were in town visiting and a friend had us over for supper. My brother loved the chicken spaghetti they made. Of course we got the recipe. Her recipe (and I discovered all the typical chicken spaghetti recipes) contains Velveeta and cream of chicken soup.

Cream soups were something my mom never had in the house growing up. In fact, the only time I remember her using cream soup was for beef stroganoff. Velveeta cheese my mom bought once a year to make cheese dip. So neither ingredient have ever been a part of my pantry either.

I decided to try and make this Mexican Spaghetti using ingredients I keep on hand while keeping the recipe almost as simple as the original.

The experiment was a success! This is my recipe for healthy chicken spaghetti without using any velveeta or canned cream soup. Score.

Such a easy meal and it makes a ton – perfect for eating again a day or two later. This would also be a great dish to bring to a church potluck. Serve with salad or veggies of your choice. The most recent time we had it with sauteed zucchini and carrot & celery sticks.

close up of a glass pan filled with baked healthy chicken spaghetti

A couple of comments:

  • Use whatever type of noodles you like – spelt, wheat, brown rice, or gluten free. (These pictures are with brown rice pasta)
  • If you don’t have access to Rotel (a can of diced tomatoes and green chilis), you can make your own! I’ve done it a couple of times. The Humbled Homemaker has instructions here. I like to use some jalapenos and to roast and peel the peppers before I chop them. (I also de-seed the jalapenos)
  • If you or someone in your house doesn’t care for cream cheese, you can’t even tell it’s in the recipe. It just adds a little extra creaminess and depth of flavor. My husband doesn’t like cream cheese and he doesn’t even know it’s in this dish. So be sure to add it!
  • If you don’t have half and half or cream, you can use milk. In these pictures I used 2 cups of whole milk and decreased the stock to 1 cup.
  • Arrowroot. If that’s something that you don’t have on hand, you can substitute cornstarch or try using flour. I’ve even made this with tapioca flour (I used 2 1/2 tablespoons).

Horizontal picture of a pan of baked healthy chicken spaghetti

Healthy Chicken Spaghetti

5.0 from 2 reviews
Chicken Spaghetti (without Velveeta and Canned Soup)
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 8-10
 
Ingredients
  • 16 ounces noodles
  • 1-2 cups diced onion (I used two)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can Rotel or 1 cup homemade (regular or mild)
  • 2 cup chicken broth
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1 cup cream or half and half
  • 1 Tablespoon arrowroot powder
  • 2 ounces cream cheese
  • 2 cup diced cooked chicken
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar (can use more)
  • salt and pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Bring a pot of water to a boil and cook noodles to al dente. Drain.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large skillet or a soup pot, saute the onions. Add garlic and cook until tender.
  3. Add Rotel, chicken broth, and salt and bring to a simmer.
  4. Mix the arrowroot powder in the cream and stir into mixture in the pan.
  5. Add the cream cheese and gently heat the mixture and stir to melt the cream cheese and let the arrowroot powder thicken.
  6. After thickened, stir in 1 cup of shredded cheese and the chicken.
  7. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.
  8. Add the cooked noodles to the pot and stir to combine.
  9. Pour into a 9x13 pan (it will be full) and top with the remainder of the cheese.
  10. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

This recipe was originally published May 15, 2014. Updated comments and pictures May 2, 2019.

 

A spoon of healthy chicken spaghetti being taking from the baking dishtwo pictures are healthy chicken spaghetti in a 9x13 panscoop of mexican spaghetti being taken from the baking dishChicken Spaghetti without Velveeta or cream of chicken soup! Yay! We love this and the leftovers are awesome.