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Shopping for the Cheapskate Chef


Everybody in my family knows that I love to cook (cheapskate-style, of course).  So for holiday gifts, people often give me kitchen utensils or small cooking appliances. 

Now, I love my family dearly and appreciate the thoughtfulness behind their gifts, but I like to keep things simple in my kitchen. I'm not big fan of novelty kitchen gadgets that just take up space.  Do I really need a special tool to remove olive pits, AND another one to remove cherry pits?

But if you have an aspiring cheapskate chef on your shopping list this holiday season, there are two essential appliances for the cheapskate kitchen. Both are well worth not only their relatively modest cost, but also the precious space they'll occupy in your already crowded kitchen cupboards.

The first, of course, is a Crockpot (aka "slow cooker").  I've written here before about the budget-friendly-taste-bud-tempting marvels of slow cooking, and no cheapskate kitchen is complete without one. In fact, I surveyed cheapskates for my most recent book and found that on average they owned nearly three Crockpots per household! 

Yep, if cheapskates were a tribe, the crockpot would be our totem. Starting at less than $30 (new) and using literally pennies in electricity to cook an entire meal, what better way to turn inexpensive ingredients into delicious, homemade dishes -- ready, hot and waiting for you when you get home?

The second must-have appliance for the cheapskate kitchen is less well known, but perhaps even more valuable. Real cheapskates love their electric food dehydrators.  In fact, one of my Miser Adviser's told me that her trusty food dehydrator is her "favorite thing in life." Well, that might be taking things too far, but you get the idea.

By removing the water contained in foods, dehydrating preserves the nutrients and concentrates the flavors in a wide range of foods, allowing them to last up to two years or even longer with airtight storage. And we're not just talking about dehydrating fruits and veggies, but meats, fish, herbs, nuts, grains and even some dairy products. Many can be eaten or used in recipes as-is, or reconstituted by adding water before using.

The frugal-beauty of a food dehydrator is that you can buy produce and other foods in bulk and on sale, and then dehydrate them to use as you need them. A good food dehydrator will cost about $100, but it will last many years and save you mega-times that amount if you use it regularly. Plus it's kind of a cool process to watch.

Happy holidays and bon appe-cheap!

Photo by  Vilseskogen.

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Frugal followers of Jeff can vote for him as one of the top financial gurus of 2011.

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