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How can I get the most out of my kitchen appliances?

The owner's manual can be a surprising read. Check out our home design pictures!
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When I unwrapped the multi-function food processor, which was as sleek as a thoroughbred and as stalwart as a Clydesdale, I caught a glimpse of my culinary future. Stationed at the kitchen island, I could simply push the processor's buttons to turn pecans into paste and potatoes into puree. I would never again attempt to chop hazelnuts, only to have them leap out of harm's way, just outside the reach of my blade. I had moved up in the world, like a child graduating to pointy scissors.

And then I opened the box. I recognized the food processor base, but there were multiple attachments, scads of steely blades and tortuous looking disc-shaped inserts -- none of which I could manage to lock into position. I couldn't even get the blades attached without rereading the owner's manual. Even then, I was worried about lopping off a finger with their razor-sharp edges. It was the first time I'd been outwitted by a kitchen appliance. By the next day, the processor was back in the box -- and I was back to the cutting board.

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Despite their occasional intimidation factor, my appetite for kitchen gadgetry remains as strong as ever, and I'm just one of the many consumers continuing to fuel household appliance sales.

Consider the toaster. Americans spent $276 million on toasters in 2006 alone (the most recent year for which statistics are available), and a toaster is one of the least expensive appliances you can buy [source: Journal Sentinel]. As you might expect, when you add espresso machines, microwave ovens, stand-alone mixers and bread makers to the list, kitchen aids are one of the largest household expenses you'll encounter-- and are sure to be part of your family's food routine for years.

There's one simple way to tell whether you're using kitchen appliances to the best of their abilities. Do you use the appliance for more than one thing? If you don't, then it's time to branch out.

Make sure to read your owner's manual when you get a new appliance.
Make sure to read your owner's manual when you get a new appliance.
Dennis Hallinan/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Getting the most out of your kitchen appliances can boost your budget. The average fast casual meal costs $8 to $15, but you can use household gadgets to whip up something delectable at only a fraction of the cost [source: Franchise Help]. First, though, you'll need to think outside the toaster oven.

A toaster oven can brown breads and bagels like a toaster, but because of its wide horizontal opening, it can heat other foods, too. Think of it as a mini-oven, one that can bake potatoes, pizza and cookies, as well as defrost or reheat meals, roast chicken legs or warm serving plates. You can even use it as a broiler to melt cheese on garlic bread or nacho chips [source: Gillingham-Ryan].

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These and other uses for common kitchen helpers are usually spelled out in the owner's manuals. For example, after fully scouring the handbook for my bread-making machine, I was surprised to learn I could make jam and meatloaf with it. Clearly, I wasn't getting the most out of it by focusing solely on dough.

Even if the owner's manual doesn't spell it out, you can usually convert kitchen appliances into multiuse appliances on your own. A rice cooker, for example, can be used to cook batches of quinoa steel-cut oats or, surprisingly, egg-heavy frittatas and veggie-rich carrot cakes [source: Hall]. And you can soft-boil an egg in a coffee pot. Simply add a freshly washed raw egg (still in the shell) to the pot. As the coffee-infused hot water drips into the pot, it will cook the egg. Or you could turn an ordinary waffle-maker into one that makes brownies, sweet breads or crispy hash browns. You may wonder why you didn't try it sooner [source: Chow, Page].

Don't limit your kitchen appliances to food alone. To disinfect sponges, soak one in a lemon juice and water mixture, and then heat it in the microwave for about a minute. You can do the same with a plastic cutting board by rubbing it with lemon rind before heating it in the microwave [source: Clark]. Use a food dehydrator to preserve leaves or flowers for craft projects, or use a toaster oven to solder craft parts. When you start using your kitchen appliances as essential ingredients in home decorating, you know you're getting the most out of them.

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Sources

  • Chow. "Common Appliances, Uncommon Uses." May 7, 2008. (May 30, 2012) http://www.chow.com/food-news/54485/common-appliances-uncommon-uses/?page=1
  • Clark, Melissa. "14 Who Knew? Uses for Your Microwave." (May 30, 2012) Real Simple. http://www.realsimple.com/food-recipes/tools-products/14-surprising-uses-for-your-microwave-10000001035388/index.html
  • Franchise Help. "Fast Casual Industry Analysis 2012: Cost and Trends." (May 30, 2012) http://www.franchisehelp.com/industry-reports/fast-casual-industry-report
  • Gillingham-Ryan, Sara Kate. "10 Best Uses for Your Toaster Oven." The Kitchn. Oct. 12, 2009. (May 30, 2012) http://www.thekitchn.com/10-great-uses-the-your-toaster-98292
  • Hall, Laura. "Single-Use Kitchen Appliances: Awesome or Awful?" Apartment Therapy. April. 11, 2011. (May 30, 2012) http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/singleuse-kitchen-kitchen-appl-143869
  • Journal Sentinel. "15 Million Toasters, but How Many Loaves of Bread? That's a lot of Toast." May 6, 2007. (May 30, 2012) http://www.jsonline.com/features/food/29274579.html
  • Page, Melinda. "Repurpose Rarely Used Appliances." Real Simple. (May 30, 2012) http://www.realsimple.com/food-recipes/new-uses-for-old-things/repurpose-rarely-used-appliances-10000001087135/page3.html

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