Gifts for Foodies

Need gift ideas for the foodie in your life? Here’s a comprehensive gift guide for food lovers to make gift giving easy this year!

The post Gifts for Foodies appeared first on Budget Bytes.

I don’t know how we got here, but gifting season is upon us once again! I did a lot of “research” this past year buying fun food-related stuff on the internet, so I’ve compiled a list of my favorite new finds and some tried and true favorite gift ideas for foodies into one comprehensive gift guide for foodies. Hopefully this list serves you well this holiday season and beyond!

This post contains affiliate links and I may earn a commission from any products purchased through the links provided in this post. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. 
Collage of gift ideas with title text in the center

I’ve linked online versions of these gift ideas below, but even if that particular item or vendor isn’t a good fit for you, hopefully it will get those gift ideas churning in your head and inspire some really great gifts this season!

Gifts Under $10

International Snacks – It is so much fun trying snacks from other countries. New flavors, new colors, new textures, it’s just such an adventure. Gather together a few fun and exciting snacks, place them in a stocking, gift bag, or gift box, and you’ve got an easy gift that anyone will love. You can find international snacks at your local international grocery store, or if you have a World Market nearby, they tons of fun foods from all around the world (all snacks in the photo above are from World Market).

Cute Mugs – A cut mug makes your daily coffee or tea ritual so much more special. The mug alone is a great gift, or you can stuff it with a couple of packets of hot cocoa, a few tea bags, or maybe a tea strainer or swizzle stick. (mugs picture above: mushroom mug, good vibes only mug, line art mug, blue glazed mug-not available online).

Homemade Treats – Homemade treats don’t cost a lot but they have big value because they’re made with your time and lovey. Here are some ideas for homemade treats that can be packaged and gifted:

Specialty Herbs and Spices – This gift can be as inexpensive or as expensive as you want to make it. To buy herbs and spices on a budget, go to international markets or markets where you can buy spices in bulk, which will allow you to purchase just a tablespoon or two of a variety of spices.

Gifts Under $25

Bacon Bin – This cute little gadget is perfect for the bacon lover in your life! It’s a silicone container that allows you to easily and safely catch and strain your bacon grease. Once cool, you can store the grease in the container for use in other recipes, or easily scoop/squeeze to discard (but please don’t discard because it’s SO delicious).

Tea Press – This beautifully simple tea press is great for people who appreciate a minimal aesthetic. I love watching the tea leaves swirl around in the glass carafe as they brew! Make it a set by including a package of your favorite loose leaf tea.

Pour Over Coffee Cup – I’m loving this single-serving glass mug with metal mesh pour-over filter. Not only is it really pretty, but it makes a great cup of coffee and is super easy to clean. This one is great for anyone who loves a good cup of coffee, but doesn’t need to brew a whole pot!

Cheese Board Set – Charcuterie boards and cheese boards are all the rage right now, so give the cheese lover in your life this cute little cheese set complete with cutting board and three cheese knives. It’s the perfect size for an everyday cheese board. You know, those nights when you want to treat yourself to something ✨special✨ and you just have cheese and bread for dinner? I know that’s not just me…

Ramp Up Mini Collection – I’m obsessed with vinegar, so when this set crossed my feed I immediately bought it. The set contains four raw and unfiltered flavored vinegars that taste good on everything. It’s a set of four small 2oz. bottles, but you only need a splash on your food to really brighten things up. (P.S. the bottles in the photo are not all full because I’ve been using them. 😅)

Jubilee (Recipes from Two Centuries of African American Cooking) by Toni Tipton-Martin – This cookbook is so much more than just a cookbook. It’s a history lesson, a culinary journey through time and geography, a visual masterpiece, and a compilation of some of the most delicious food you’ll ever eat. It’s beautiful enough to be on a coffee table, useful enough to be kept in the kitchen, and important enough to read cover to cover. Get this book for the food, culture, and history lover in your life!

101 Asian Dishes you Need to Cook Before You Die by Jet Tila – If you’ve been interested in learning to cook classic Asian dishes, but are intimidated, get this book! I love how simple, straightforward, and approachable all the recipes are. I’m really looking forward to working my way through this book.

A New Take on Cake by Anne Byrn – You might know Anne from her best-selling Cake Mix Doctor cookbooks, or from my previous recommendations for her books Skillet Love and American Cake. Her most recent book, A New Take on Cake, takes a fresh modern look at all the amazing things you can make with a box of cake mix (175 of them, to be exact). Her creativity is inspiring and the photos in this book will make you want to spend your Saturdays in the kitchen! It’s perfect for your family member or friend with a sweet tooth! …or if you just want to convince someone to bake for you. ;)

The Well Plated Cookbook: Fast, Healthy Recipes You’ll Want to Eat by Erin Clarke – Erin is a friend and fellow food blogger over at, so I know how much heart and hard work she puts into the food she creates. After receiving my copy of this book, I immediately thought of about five people I wanted to gift a copy to. The recipes are simple, fresh, and absolutely fabulous!

Sweet Potato Soul: 100 Easy Vegan Recipes for the Southern Flavors of Smoke, Sugar, Spice, and Soul by Jenné Claiborne – The name says it all! I’ve been following Jenne on Instagram for a while (@sweetpotatosoul), so I was so excited to see her publish a cookbook. If you’ve got a vegan foodie on your list, get them this book!

Gifts Under $50

Fly by Jing Triple Threat Set – I’ve recently become obsessed with chili crisp, a Chinese condiment that is spicy, savory, and absolutely delicious on everything. So when I started to see ads for this chili crisp made by Fly By Jing, you know I ordered it on the spot. Not only did I try their Sichuan Chili Crisp, but I went ahead and ordered their Triple Threat Set, which also comes with their Zhong Sauce and Mala Spice Mix. Yep, I’m addicted to all three (Mala spice on popcorn is 💯). This set would make the perfect gift for anyone you know that loves spicy food!

Orchids and Sweet Tea: Plant-Forward Recipes with Jamaican Flavor & Southern Charm by Shanika Graham-White – Shanika is another one of my favorite accounts to follow on Instagram (@orchidsnsweettea_) because I love her flavor combinations and her photography gives me all the feels. 🥰 I bought her book as soon as it went on pre-order last spring, and was not disappointed! This is a great gift for someone who loves traditional comfort foods but also appreciates incorporating a few extra plants into their meals.

Caldo Linen Apron – I didn’t think I was one to wear an apron until my sister gave me one for Christmas a few years back. Now I wear it all. the. time. This linen apron from Caldo is wonderfully lightweight, which is nice when working in a hot kitchen, and has that luxurious linen feel. With plenty of pockets to hold cell phones, pens, and thermometers, this gift will get tons of use!

Anyday Starter Set – This incredibly well-made and versatile cookware is microwave safe (yes, even with the metal rim), dishwasher safe, oven safe (up to 500ºF for the bowl, 400ºF for the lid), and freezer safe. It’s basically the epitome of cook-serve-store cookware. I love this as a gift for anyone who doesn’t have access to a full kitchen (college dorms, RVs, long hotel stays) because it really opens up your cooking options when all you have is a microwave. Their website has tons of microwave recipes ideas, plus a lot of educational material to get you started, so it’s perfect for the new cook. You can get 10% for new email subscribers, which will make the starter set under $50, or use the code BF20 to get 20% off store-wide from 11/26-11/29.

Bushwick Kitchen Threes Knees Spicy Trio – I actually included this trio in my gift guide from 2015, but I’m including it again because I still love it! The gift set includes spicy honey, spicy maple syrup, and gochujang sriracha. It’s basically a spicy lover’s dream!

Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven – This is probably my favorite piece of cookware that I own. It makes a great gift because this is one of those pieces of cookware that will literally last a lifetime (and maybe even be passed down to your offspring). It can go from the stovetop to the oven, and the shape makes it versatile enough to use for soups and stews to pasta and rice dishes. You can use it for everything.

The Couplet Honey Set – I fell in love with Brightland’s olive oil and stayed for their honey. If you have a friend or family member who loves experiencing the subtleties of flavor in things like wine, olive oil, or honey, they’re going to love this honey from Hawaii and California. Sometimes it’s little luxuries like this that turn your everyday life, like your morning peanut butter toast or afternoon tea, into a special occasion.

Bubble Tea Kit – This bubble tea kit makes a great gift for teenagers or anyone who loves bubble tea, really. I know that *I* had a lot of fun using it to make bubble tea when I was photographing the items for this gift guide, and I already can’t wait to make more and try different flavors! If you want to make your own kit, you can source the ingredients at your local Asian grocery store and follow a recipe online, like this recipe from Healthy Nibbles and Bits.

Gifts Under $100

The Duo by Brightland*My top pick* This is probably my favorite pandemic internet purchase and will probably be my gift to just about everyone I know this year. If you’ve only ever had inexpensive grocery store olive oil, this will blow. your. mind. This olive oil is so good that I literally want to just drink it by the spoonful (I may or may not actually do this on a regular basis…). And their vinegars are just as great. These little spouts are super helpful to prevent drips, too.

Hedley & Bennett Kitchen Apron – Hedley & Bennet aprons are like the Cadillac of kitchen aprons. They’re made with heavy-duty canvas material, they’re extremely well made, and offer a lifetime guarantee. I bought the “egg yolk” version of their classic Carryall style apron because it matches the Budget Bytes branding, but they have so many cute colors and designs to choose from! Definitely get this apron for anyone who likes to feel like a professional chef in their own kitchen. They’re currently offering 20% off for first-time email subscribers, and they always have a lot in their sale section, as well.

Bushwick Kitchen Trees Knees Maple Set – As if maple syrup couldn’t get any better, Bushwick Kitchen went and infused their maple syrup with flavor (coffee, spicy, or cinnamon). Drizzling a little bit of this maple syrup into your coffee, onto some breakfast sausage, a bowl of vanilla ice cream, or on a freshly made biscuit is just *heaven*.

Vintage Collection Enamelware – If you know someone who loves the white enamelware bakeware and dishes that I use in my recipe photographs, this is where you can get it! Pieces range in price $9 on up, so you can buy individual pieces or build a custom gift set. Some of my favorite pieces are the enamelware mugs, roasting pan, and dinner plates.

Charitable Giving

Picking out cool gifts for our friends and family members is fun, but there is no gift as important as helping someone in need. For that reason, I always include charitable giving in my list of holiday to-dos. And remember, giving doesn’t always have to be a monetary or a physical donation, sometimes donating your time through volunteering is more valuable than anything. Here are some of my favorite food-related charities that can help make someone’s holiday season a little brighter:

If you have a great gift idea for the food lover in your life, share in the comments below!

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30+ Game Changing Cooking Tips and Tricks from the Budget Bytes Community

30 of the best cooking tips that will “change the game” in your kitchen, according to the Budget Bytes community.

The post 30+ Game Changing Cooking Tips and Tricks from the Budget Bytes Community appeared first on Budget Bytes.

A couple of weeks ago I asked the Budget Bytes Facebook community to share their favorite game-changing cooking tips, and boy did you guys deliver! The thread was so alive with great tips and people swapping ideas with each other that I just had to share the top tips here for everyone to enjoy. The thread is still going strong and more tips and comments are being added every day, so you can check it out here to see the latest!

Overhead view of kitchen equipment with title text in the center

Here were the top tips, as of a week or so ago, according to the number of comments and interactions (in no particular order). I hope you enjoy and feel free to discuss in the comments below or hop on over to Facebook to join the conversation!

Top Cooking Tips

1. Make Measuring a Breeze

Coating a measuring spoon or cup in oil to make ingredients like honey or peanut butter come right out.


2. Take Your Grilled Cheese Up a Notch

Mayo on bread versus butter for a grilled cheese.

Shawna Cotton Beidler

3. Most Loved Kitchen Gadget

Less a trick, but splurging for an immersion blender was an amazing investment!

Gina Zaneri

4. Add Flavor to Soups, Stews, and More

A jar of vegetable flavored Better Than Bouillon

Using Better Than Bouillon in soups, sauces and gravy for some extra depth of flavor.

Jennifer Keefer

5. Improve the Texture of Tofu

Freeze and defrost tofu. I learned it from you!

Julia Anker

For context, freezing tofu changes the texture of the tofu, which is perfect for recipes where you want more texture and less softness. :)

6. Perfect Steak Every Time

When cooking steak on a stovetop use two pans. Put one on high and one on low. Use the hot pan to first sear the edges of the steak before cooking it on low/med. Searing the edges locks in the fluids and gives you a juicer steak.

Kyle Hudson

7. Rethink Boiled Eggs

Eggs in a pot with water

Steam eggs rather than boil.

Lois Thurstan

See our guide on how to Steam Eggs Here.

8. Add Extra Umami to Your Recipes

Adding a bit of anchovies (or miso) to tomato sauce and adding butter at the end. Makes it super umami tasty and creamy.


9. Quick and Easy Corn on the Cob

Wrapping fresh corn on the cob (in the shucks) with a paper towel, running under water to wet the towel, and steaming in the microwave for 5 minutes. Comes out perfect every time.

Donna Woodliff

10. Make Cleanup Easy

Using parchment paper when baking rolls and cookies so you don’t have to scrape the pan


11. Pressure Cooker Eggs

Hard boiled eggs in the instant pot!


12. Swap Your Skillet for the Oven

Several strips of bacon on a paper towel covered plate, viewed from the side

Making bacon in the oven.


See our tutorial on How to Make Bacon in the Oven for more details!

13. Frozen Vegetables for Convenience

I learned this from you- but using frozen vegetables. I always bought fresh and I would dread washing and cutting and then I would waste a lot because it goes bad so fast. I still use fresh vegetables some but I keep frozen vegetables to roast for easy dinners too!

Paige Wright

14. Easy Grease Cleanup

I just learned this recently from watching the Julia Pacheco cooking show. After frying up meats like ground meat or sausage , take a paper towel and with tongs or spoon or whatever move it around in the pan to remove the grease. Then just toss the paper towel. Saves from having to wash a greasy colander too!


15. Perfect Sautéed Mushrooms

Cooking mushrooms in a pan with 1/4 cup water and once the water is evaporated and the mushrooms are soft finishing them with butter for taste and shine. They don’t get nearly so greasy as when you cook just in oil or butter. Tip learned from this video.


16. Portion and Freeze

Portioned Tomato Paste
Freeze Tomato Paste

Freezing tomato paste in ice cube sized portions – now I buy a large can when I need tomato paste & freeze what I don’t use. Recipes I used usually called for 1 tablespoon so I always had left over paste.


17. Recipes are Memories

Acceptance- i can’t make certain recipes as well or even close as some family members. So cherish the recipe for safe keeping holds special meaning since I can’t taste it.

Heather Miker

Yesssss! 👏 🙌 Recipes can hold so many lovely recipes. They can be as nostalgic as a photo album.

18. Bulk Cook Beef

I made a bunch of ground beef for a taco night at church last week. Made it in the crock pot. I don’t think I’ll ever make it in a skillet again if I don’t have to! Soooo good! I cooked 5 pounds and it was perfect. So 5 pounds in the crock pot and divided up for future meals. Easy peasy.

Kim Scott

20. Stay On Top of the Mess

CLEAN AS YOU GO so much easier that way.

Sofia K.

21. Bright Your Food with Acid

1. Clean as you go!

2. Better Than Bouillon is the best broth base.

3. Add lemon juice or vinegar if your food is tasting a bit bland – the acid gives it a kick!

Elise Durand

22. Salt is Everything

Salt is your friend! Samin Nosrat taught me that when food is properly salted it will have a “ZING” when you taste it. My cooking has improved exponentially since I have been following her advice.

Also- taste the water in which you boil pasta, potatoes or vegetables. It should taste pleasantly salty like the ocean. Your mashed potatoes will need much less butter and milk!

Kristin Bergamini

Check out Samin Nosrat’s book, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking.

23. Mashed Bananas

brown bananas

Squishing a banana before peeling for muffins.


24. Colanders Are Multipurpose

Super silly but … using the holes in a colander to pull through herbs like rosemary, lavender, cilantro.

Capi Zabala

25. Lump-free Soup and Gravy

My friend showed how she takes a Mason jar, puts flour in it with milk and shakes it to make a slurry for gravy or thickening soups. It never gets lumpy doing it like that. Like a 1/4 flour to 1 cup milk.

Erin Bosco

26. Easy Creamy Sauces

cream cheese chunks added to the skillet

Cream cheese makes just about any sauce creamier, more stable, and more rich. It’s like magic. Cream cheese in spaghetti sauce makes it super rich and creamy and cuts down on the acid content. We always called it “Better Spaghetti”.


27. Sheet Pans For The Win

Sheet pan pancakes in the oven.

Samantha Johns

28. Parmesan for Umami

Adding some parmesan rind to a soup or sauce adds flavor/umami. Yum!

Laurie Gannon

29. Mise En Place

One Pot Lemon Artichoke Chicken and Rice Ingredients

Not a trick exactly, but the best thing I learned was mise en place, or putting everything in order before you begin, and reading through the full recipe before I start to cook. It makes all the difference in getting a good result, eliminating mistakes, and ease of cooking anything.

Marion M.

Solid advice!! If you want more tips on how to execute a recipe, check out our 10 Tips for Recipe Success.

30. Use Technology to Your Advantage

Let a machine cook the rice for you. Because I certainly can’t.


There’s no shame in getting a little help from technology! :)

31. Perfect Poached Eggs

Poaching eggs in a frying pan instead of a pot. Water is shallow and more room for poaching multiple eggs! (I don’t know why I never thought of it!)


32. Cook Tomato Paste

Browning your tomato paste first before adding. The flavor is soo much better. Brown in butter or a little olive oil until it turns a dark brick red.

Samantha Kelly

33. No More Tears

Use clear swim googles to cut onions. It looks hilarious, but I don’t cry anymore when I chop onions!


So what do you think? Did you learn any new cooking tips? Share a cooking tip or trick that was a total game changer for you in the comments below!

The post 30+ Game Changing Cooking Tips and Tricks from the Budget Bytes Community appeared first on Budget Bytes.

How to Make the Ultimate Veggie Sandwich

Use what you have on hand to build an ultimate veggie sandwich packed with color, flavor, and texture. Eat the rainbow!

The post How to Make the Ultimate Veggie Sandwich appeared first on Budget Bytes.

I love a good veggie sandwich. There are so many colors, textures, and flavors in every bite that it’s just beyond satisfying. And, because they’re super flexible, you can build an ultimate veggie sandwich using odds and ends of things you may already have in your fridge. And that is one of the most valuable characteristics of a recipe or meal when it comes to eating on a budget.

An ultimate veggie sandwich cut in half and stacked, cut sides facing the camera

This is going to be more of a how-to than a recipe because it’s so extremely flexible and it’s unlikely that you’ll end up using the exact same mix of ingredients as I did. For that reason, and because some of these ingredients are nearly impossible to accurately measure let alone calculate the cost of, I didn’t do a cost breakdown this time. But I’m willing to bet that it cost me less than shelling out $8 for a veggie sandwich at a deli!

I will put a recipe card with my exact sandwich ingredients below for anyone who is interested in trying to duplicate the exact sandwich pictured.

Step 1: Choose Your Bread

I suggest a good, hearty bread for veggie sandwiches, like wheat bread, sourdough, focaccia, or ciabatta. You need something that can hold up to the hefty texture of the vegetables without ripping and something that will provide a little weight in your stomach next to all those lightweight veggies. If you want to make your own bread, no-knead bread or focaccia would be awesome.

You could also make your veggie sandwich into a wrap using an extra-large tortilla. A pita pocket might work too, but it might be difficult to squeeze all those veggies in without it ripping.

The sandwich in the photos was made using Dave’s Killer Bread, Good Seed flavor. It was my first time trying this bread and while it was strong enough for the sandwich, it was a little softer than I’d prefer and the flavor was a bit too sweet for my liking.

Step 3: Choose Your Spread

Using some sort of sandwich spread adds moisture, flavor, and a little fat, which gives the sandwich a more satisfying mouthfeel.

I whipped up a quick scallion cream cheese that was basically a scaled-back version of my Scallion Herb Cream Cheese Spread. I just mixed together 2oz. cream cheese with one sliced green onion, ½ tsp lemon juice, ⅛ tsp garlic powder, ⅛ tsp dried dill, and a pinch of salt.

Other good sandwich spread options include:

  • Hummus
  • Guacamole
  • Pesto
  • Mayo (or a pesto-mayo mix)
  • Thick salad dressings, like ranch or green goddess
  • Boursin
  • Marinara
A veggie sandwich being built, ingredients all around.

Step 4: Add Cheese (Optional)

Since my spread was technically a cheese, I didn’t add any extra cheese. A little cheese can go a long way toward making a veggie sandwich very filling. Here are some good cheese options for veggie sandwiches:

  • White cheddar
  • Feta
  • Goat cheese (chevre)
  • Havarti
  • Swiss
  • Fresh mozzarella

Step 5: Pile On the Veggies!

And here’s where you can start to get really creative! I pulled a lonely carrot out of my produce drawer, grabbed a handful of leftover fresh spinach, sliced up a cucumber and tomato, and used the leftover half of a red bell pepper that I had from the day before. Oh, and I added some alfalfa sprouts because I love the texture they bring to the sandwich! Here are some other vegetables you can add:

  • Sliced button mushrooms or grilled portobello
  • Avocado
  • Coleslaw (this would act like a veggie-spread combo ingredient)
  • Pickles
  • Red onion
  • Roasted red peppers
  • Fresh or grilled zucchini
  • Roasted beets (sliced thin)
  • Sauer kraut
  • Jalapeño
  • Fresh herbs like parsley or cilantro
  • Broccoli (chopped fine)

You’ll want to slice most of your vegetables thinly, which helps keep everything packed together tightly. For hard vegetables, like the carrot I used, it’s helpful to chop or shred them into very small pieces. I used a cheese grater to grate my carrot, but something like broccoli I would just chop finely.

Step 6: Top with Extras

With so many veggies piled onto one sandwich, a little extra ✨spice✨ is never a bad idea. I always like to add some salt and freshly cracked pepper to my tomato layer, but you can also add things like Italian herbs, sunflower seeds, everything bagel seasoning, crushed red pepper, furikake, or nutritional yeast.

A hand holding both halves of a cut open ultimate veggie sandwich

Veggie Sandwich Ideas

Before we get into exactly what was on the sandwich pictured above, here are a few other fun veggie sandwich combo ideas:

  • The Green Goddess: Green goddess dressing, spinach, sprouts, cucumber, avocado, feta on any bread.
  • The Roasted Veggie: Hummus, roasted red peppers, roasted portobellos, roasted zucchini, feta, everything bagel seasoning, on any bread.
  • The “Pizza”: Marinara, grilled or roasted eggplant or portobello, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper, black olives, red onion, fresh mozzarella, on ciabatta bread.
  • Coleslaw Sandwich: Creamy coleslaw, tomato, Swiss or havarti, salt and pepper, on sourdough.
A hand holding both halves of a cut open ultimate veggie sandwich

The Ultimate Veggie Sandwich

Use what you have on hand to build an ultimate veggie sandwich packed with color, flavor, and texture. Eat the rainbow!
Prep Time 10 minutes
Total Time 10 minutes
Servings 1
Calories 411kcal
Author Beth – Budget Bytes


Scallion Cream Cheese

  • 2 oz. cream cheese
  • 1 green onion, sliced
  • 1/2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1/8 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/8 tsp dried dill
  • 1 pinch salt


  • 2 slices hearty bread
  • 6 slices cucumber
  • 2 slices tomato
  • 1 handful spinach
  • 1 carrot, shredded
  • 1/2 red bell pepper
  • 1 handful alfalfa sprouts
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 pinch pepper


  • Whip the ingredients for the scallion cream cheese together in a small bowl (I used a fork).
  • Lightly toast the bread. Spread the cream cheese over one side of each pieces of bread.
  • Pile the vegetables onto the bread, then close. Slice in half and enjoy.


Serving: 1sandwich | Calories: 411kcal | Carbohydrates: 41g | Protein: 15g | Fat: 22g | Sodium: 560mg | Fiber: 9g
Side view of a closed veggie sandwich, uncut

Got Leftover Ingredients?

If you did happen to buy ingredients specifically for making a veggie sandwich, here are some really flexible recipes that you can make to use up any leftovers:

The post How to Make the Ultimate Veggie Sandwich appeared first on Budget Bytes.

How to Make a Simple Side Salad and Why You Should Make One with Dinner Tonight

Use this easy formula to make simple side salads that will add color, texture, and flavor to your dinners.

The post How to Make a Simple Side Salad and Why You Should Make One with Dinner Tonight appeared first on Budget Bytes.

I’m sure we’ve all seen the memes about buying a package of spring mix just so we can throw it away at the end of the week, completely untouched. And I’m sure we’ve all been able to relate. But I hate wasting food, so I wanted to share my formula for making a simple side salad and why you should make one with dinner tonight (and most nights). Because side salads are very underrated and often over complicated. So let’s break it down.

Overhead view of a simple side salad with artichokes in a white bowl

Why Simple Side Salads Are Awesome

Simple side salads have become one of my favorite quick side dishes to make with dinner because…

  • The light texture and zingy flavor of the dressing can really lighten up a heavy meal (like pasta or casseroles)
  • They take five minutes to assemble
  • They’re a great way to use up leftover vegetables in your fridge
  • They add so much color, texture, and flavor to your plate
  • They instantly make your meal feel “put together”
  • It’s an extra dose of vegetables!

My Formula for the Perfect Side Salad

I think the biggest mistake when making side salads is overthinking them. Keep it simple, use as few ingredients as possible, and don’t spend more than five minutes on it. Because if you do, you’ll probably just end up avoiding making the salad altogether, and that’s when your spring mix ends up in the trash without ever making it to your plate.

So, to prevent over thinking your salad, use this formula:

Greens + one vegetable + dressing + topper

That’s it. That’s all you need. Now let’s go into more detail on each of those elements.

A fork taking a piece of Baked Pizza Chicken from the plate with chicken, garlic bread, and salad.

1. The Best Greens for Side Salads

There are a lot of options for salad greens out there, but for simple side salads I like to go with a green that is light, delicate, and that has a lot of color and texture. So that means that my favorite is spring mix or baby greens. Of course you could use anything from kale to spinach, or even finely shredded cabbage.

Just don’t use iceberg because while it does have texture, it’s totally lacking in the flavor and color department. It’s better suited for situations where it is utilized solely for its texture.

Spring mix in a bowl

How Much Salad Greens to Use

Remember, this is a simple side salad that will be served as an accent to your dinner, so you don’t need a lot. You’ll only need one large handful, or about one ounce, of greens for each serving.

How to Keep Leftover Greens

Since you’re only eating a little bit at a time, you’ll want to keep the rest of your greens fresh so you can make side salads for the next few days. But since that’s a subject large enough for its own article, I’m going to just give you a link to someone who’s already done the research. This article from The Kitchn compares three methods for keeping greens fresh, and they got great results!

2. Add A Vegetable (or Two)

This is the part of the formula where it’s easy to get out of control, but I’m here to tell you that you only need ONE vegetable to make the salad really good. Sure, if you have some leftover vegetables in your fridge that need to be used up, add them in there! But plan for one and call it a day. Here are some vegetable ideas for your side salad:

  • Tomatoes
  • Cucumber
  • Red Onion
  • Bell Pepper
  • Zucchini or Yellow Squash
  • Carrot
  • Sweet Corn
  • Radish
  • Mushrooms
  • Artichoke hearts
  • Olives
tomatoes added to the salad greens

You can also add fruit to your side salad. Here are some fruits that are awesome in salads:

  • Avocado
  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Peaches
  • Nectarines
  • Strawberries
  • Blueberries
  • Raspberries
  • Blackberries
  • Mangoes

3. The Best Dressing for Side Salads

As with the salad greens and vegetables, you can technically use any salad dressing for your side salad, but my dressing of choice is a simple vinaigrette.

You want the dressing to just lightly coat or “kiss” the salad greens in your side salad, so a thicker or heavier dressing like ranch or blue cheese would be too heavy and overpower the salad. The acidic nature of vinaigrettes also provides that “light” element to your plate, which is really important when balancing heavier main dishes.

Bottled vs. Homemade Dressing

Side salads are one of the few occasions where I prefer a bottled dressing to homemade. Bottled dressing lasts longer in the fridge than homemade, so it’s nice to just have a bottle on hand that you can use a tablespoon or two of at a time without having leftovers go to waste. Look for a red wine vinaigrette, champagne vinaigrette, an Italian dressing, or a non-creamy Caesar dressing.

If you do want to use a homemade dressing for your side salad, check out my Homemade Balsamic Vinaigrette, Tomato Basil Vinaigrette, or a classic like the Homemade Italian Dressing used in this Pizza Pasta Salad.

Dressing being poured over the side salad

How Much Dressing to Use

The goal for the side salad is to have your greens just kissed with the lightest hint of dressing. This keeps the salad light and fresh, and doesn’t overpower the flavor of the greens, or steal the show from your main dish.

Drizzle only about ½ Tbsp dressing for each serving and toss the salad until everything is lightly coated. Make sure to wait to dress the salad until just before serving so the greens don’t go limp.

Salad Toppers

This is the fun part. I like to add one final topper to the salad that will add just a touch more texture and flavor. You just want to add a little pinch of your topper to each serving after tossing with the dressing. The dressing will help your topper “stick.” Here are some ideas for salad toppers:

  • Freshly cracked pepper
  • Flakey salt (like Maldon)
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Feta cheese
  • Toasted breadcrumbs
  • French fried onions
  • Nuts or seeds (walnuts, pepitas, sunflower seeds, etc.)

Here are the side salad combos pictured above:

  • Spring mix + tomatoes + vinaigrette + freshly cracked pepper
  • Spring mix + artichoke hearts + vinaigrette + Parmesan
  • Spring mix + cucumber + vinaigrette + flakey salt
  • Spring mix + red onion + vinaigrette + feta

What is Your Favorite Side Salad?

Let’s crowdsource some more easy side salad ideas! Leave a comment below with your favorite side salad ingredient or combination so we can all have new side salads to try every night of the week!

The post How to Make a Simple Side Salad and Why You Should Make One with Dinner Tonight appeared first on Budget Bytes.

How to Make Riced Cauliflower

Homemade riced cauliflower is quick, freezable, and less expensive than buying it pre-made from the freezer aisle. Storage, uses, and more.

The post How to Make Riced Cauliflower appeared first on Budget Bytes.

Riced cauliflower, or “cauliflower rice,” has become so popular over the past five or six years. So popular, in fact, that it’s become a staple in the freezer aisle of most major grocery stores in the U.S. While it is convenient to buy frozen bags of pre-made cauliflower rice, it’s also really easy to make at home from fresh cauliflower, so I want to show you this quick technique. It can help you shave a few dollars off your weekly food budget, especially when cauliflower is on sale!

Overhead view of a bowl of riced cauliflower with a red spatula in the side

What is Riced Cauliflower?

Riced cauliflower, also known as cauliflower rice, is simply cauliflower that has been chopped into tiny rice-sized pieces. Many people use this as a low-carb alternative to rice, but it’s so versatile that it can be used many other ways as well.

How to Use Cauliflower Rice

The most basic preparation of cauliflower rice is to just sauté it in a skillet with oil or butter, then add the seasonings of your choice. It’s really that simple. But riced cauliflower also makes a great bed for bowl meals, you can stir it into rice pilafs to up your vegetable intake, you can add it to stews, stir it into casseroles (it almost disappears!), stir it into your morning oats, or even blend it into a smoothie (recipe for that coming next week).

It’s one of those ingredients that once you start adding it to things you begin to see all the other millions of ways it can be used.

Freeze Some for Later

The best part about making your own riced cauliflower rice is that you can freeze it for later and just use a little here and there as needed. I’ll include instructions for how I freeze cauliflower rice in the step by step photos below. I usually use riced cauliflower straight from the freezer. It thaws and cooks through in a skillet in just a matter of minutes!

Do I Have to Use a Food Processor?

There are several methods for making riced cauliflower (knife, box grater, etc.), but I find using a food processor the fastest, easiest, and least messy. I’m limiting this tutorial to just showing the food processor method because the other methods either require a lot more work or a lot more cleanup, making them not quite worth doing yourself (in my opinion, anyway). If you want to see some of the other methods, check out my friend Jessica’s post about How to Make Cauliflower Rice 4 Ways.

How to Make Riced Cauliflower – Step by Step Photos

Stem and leaves removed from cauliflower head

Step 1 – Clean the Cauliflower

Remove the leaves and stem from the cauliflower. Make sure to rinse the cauliflower well and then let as much water drain off as possible. The less wet the cauliflower rice is the easier it will be to freeze without it making large clumps.

Cauliflower chopped on a cutting board

Step 2 – Chop Cauliflower

Chop the cauliflower into one to two-inch pieces. This helps the cauliflower move around more easily in the food processor, which will result in a more even texture of your cauliflower rice. If you have a smaller food processor you’ll want your pieces to also be smaller.

Cauliflower in the food processor

Step 3 – Fill the Food Processor

Add the cauliflower chunks to a food processor, only filling it about halfway, working in two batches if needed. Again, you want the cauliflower to be able to move freely within the food processor, or else you’ll end up with finely minced cauliflower on the bottom and large, unprocessed pieces at the top.

close up of minced cauliflower in the food processor

Step 4 – Pulse the Cauliflower

Pulse the cauliflower in the food processor until the cauliflower is minced to your desired size. Stop occasionally to scrape down the sides if you need to. When deciding how small you want your riced cauliflower, keep in mind that smaller pieces cook a little faster but also disappear into recipes more. If you plan to use it like rice you may want slightly larger pieces than what is shown in the photo above. I like to use mine in smoothies, so smaller pieces work a little better.

How to Store Riced Cauliflower

cauliflower rice in a freezer bag

You can refrigerate the riced cauliflower for one to two days, but keep in mind that it does let off gas like any cruciferous vegetable, so it can get stinky quick. I prefer to freeze mine. To freeze, simply scoop it into a freezer bag, spread it out flat, and then place it in the freezer. The flatter the better because it’s easier to break it up into pieces if it’s frozen in a thin layer.

Frozen cauliflower rice in a freezer bag

Here is what it looks like after it’s been frozen (and I’ve used some of it). You can see that some of it does freeze in larger chunks, but it’s fairly easy to break up into crumbles. Again, the less water on the cauliflower the easier it is to break apart when frozen.

You can keep the riced cauliflower in the freezer for one to two months.

Cauliflower rice in a skillet with a spatula

And then I just use it straight from the freezer into my recipe (in most cases). It thaws and cooks through in a matter of minutes! (shown here being prepped for Southwest Cauliflower Rice)

Cauliflower Rice in a measuring cup

How Much Rice Cauliflower Does it Make?

The volume yield for making your own cauliflower rice will obviously depend on the size of your head of cauliflower, but I got about six cups out of one medium head of cauliflower. And just to compare prices, one head of cauliflower is $2.49 at Kroger right now (or $0.42 per cup), but frozen riced cauliflower is $3.49 per bag (or $0.93 per cup).

So is it worth it to DIY your cauliflower rice? That’s up to you. But at least now you know how and can make the choice!

The post How to Make Riced Cauliflower appeared first on Budget Bytes.

How to Freeze Kale

Learn how to freeze kale (or spinach) to reduce food waste and always have prepped kale on hand to add to your favorite recipes.

The post How to Freeze Kale appeared first on Budget Bytes.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever let a bag of greens go bad in the back of your fridge. 👋😬 I know I’ve been guilty of that. But guess what? You can freeze kale (and bagged spinach), so you can keep it on hand without it getting all gross and stinky in the back of your refrigerator. It’s incredibly simple to do, but if you’re new to freezing vegetables make sure keep reading to understand how to make the best use of your frozen kale (or spinach).

A freezer bag of kale spilling out onto a marble surface

Why Freeze Kale?

As I mentioned above, freezing kale is a great way to reduce your food waste because it can be hard to eat an entire bunch or bag of kale before it starts to get slimy. A lot of times I’ll freeze half my kale as soon as I get home from the store, just to make sure I don’t forget later and to make sure I freeze it while it’s the most fresh!

And since you’ll need to prep your kale before freezing it, it’s a great way to consolidate your kitchen work and make cooking faster and easier later. Once the kale is prepped and frozen, it’s ready to toss into any number of recipes later without any further work.

How to Use Frozen Kale

The most important part about freezing kale is understanding what recipes you can use it in later. Frozen vegetables generally get a little softer after freezing and thawing, so I don’t suggest using the frozen kale in a salad or any recipe where you want it to have the same texture as fresh kale. Frozen kale also tends to be quite delicate when frozen, so it can break into small pieces easily, which also makes it less ideal for salads. For this reason, I also wouldn’t recommend it for kale chips, where you’d want large pieces.

Frozen kale is great to use in any recipe where the kale will be sautéed or added to a hot liquid, like a soup or stew. And because it thaws so quickly in the hot pan, you don’t need to thaw before adding it to your recipe. Here are some great examples of recipes where you could use frozen kale:

Frozen Kale is also great for adding to smoothies! Just go ahead and toss a handful into your blender with the rest of your fruits and vegetables!

How Long Does Frozen Kale Last?

Frozen kale will slowly dry out in the freezer over time, causing the flavor and texture quality to decline. For best flavor and texture, I suggest trying to use your frozen kale within a few months.

How to Freeze Kale:

Okay, this is kind of a no-brainer, but I’m going to offer a few helpful tid bits with each step…

1. Prep Your Kale

Make sure you fully wash and chop your kale before freezing, so it’s ready to go straight into your recipe from the freezer. I buy bags of pre-chopped kale, but I always give it another wash and pick out any larger pieces of stem. If you’re buying a bunch of kale, remove the stems, chop it to your desired size, then give it a good rinse.

Chopped kale in a colander

2. Pack the Kale

After rinsing, make sure to let the kale drain well, then just place it in any air-tight freezer safe container. I prefer freezer bags because they lay flat and don’t take up a lot of space in the freezer. Avoid packing or squishing the kale too tightly in the container so you can easily grab a handful or two at a time later, instead of having a large solid block of greens that you can’t break apart.

kale in a freezer bag that is labeled and dated

And, as always, make sure to label and date your container! This will help you use frozen goods in a timely manner and will help prevent those mystery containers in the bottom of the freezer.

3. Cook the Kale

When you’re ready to use your frozen kale, it can go straight from the freezer into your recipe. Because the kale is so thin, it thaws almost instantly when added to a hot pan or soup. So easy!

Sautéed Kale in a skillet

And that’s it! So easy, but so easy to overlook. So I hope this simple tutorial inspires you to freeze some of your next batch of kale, and saves you some dollars!

Want More Freezer Tips?

Check out these other ingredients that I like to save in the freezer:

The post How to Freeze Kale appeared first on Budget Bytes.

Top 20 Recipes of 2020

It’s that time again! The time of year where I round up the top 20 recipes from the past year. Instead of picking the most viral or most visited recipes of the year (because algorithms can be deceiving), I’m rounding up the recipes that I found to be the most delicious. These are the recipes […]

The post Top 20 Recipes of 2020 appeared first on Budget Bytes.

It’s that time again! The time of year where I round up the top 20 recipes from the past year. Instead of picking the most viral or most visited recipes of the year (because algorithms can be deceiving), I’m rounding up the recipes that I found to be the most delicious. These are the recipes that I don’t want you to miss! So if you haven’t tried one of these 20 recipes yet, make sure to put it on your list!

Let’s go!

Top 20 Recipes of 2020

Overhead view of a pasta salad with title text in the center

A bowl full of Roasted Broccoli Pasta with lemon and feta and a black fork on the left side

Roasted Broccoli Pasta with Lemon and Feta

Roasted Broccoli Pasta with Lemon and Feta is an incredibly simple pasta dish with big flavors. An easy, fast, and delicious weeknight dinner!
Go to the recipe >>>

Roasted Broccoli Pasta with Lemon and Feta – This dish is simplicity at its best. You only need a few ingredients to make this pasta, but the flavor totally pops. 

Three glass meal prep containers with rice and Smoky Roasted Sausage and Vegetables

Smoky Roasted Sausage and Vegetables

These Smoky Roasted Sausage and Vegetables are an easy sheet pan meal with a smoky homemade vinaigrette that gives an extra blast of flavor.
Go to the recipe >>>

Smoky Roasted Sausage with Vegetables – I was all about the sheet pan meals this year. This one boasts a super delish smoky vinaigrette to drizzle over top of the roasted vegetables and sausage, which totally takes it to the next level. Serve it over rice to soak up every last drop of that delicious drizzle.

Close up overhead view of a roasted cauliflower taco bowl topped with cilantro lime ranch and a black fork in the middle

Roasted Cauliflower Taco Bowls with Cilantro Lime Ranch

These light and flavorful Roasted Cauliflower Taco Bowls have tons of color, flavor, and texture to keep you coming back for more! Great for meal prep!
Go to the recipe >>>

Roasted Cauliflower Taco Bowls – There’s something about super colorful meals that make them even more delicious, and these cauliflower taco bowls are a great example. So much color, texture, AND flavor in one bowl. 

Two bowls of chunky ham and bean soup with chunks of bread on the side

Chunky Ham and Bean Soup

This incredibly easy and deliciously chunky Ham and Bean Soup features a medley of colorful vegetables, browned ham, and plenty of hearty white beans.
Go to the recipe >>>

Chunky Ham and Bean Soup – Bean soups usually require hours of soaking and simmering, but this super hearty ham and bean soup gives you all the cozy-comfy vibes in way less time. Stock your freezer with this one so you can reheat a bowl of comfort any time! 

A plate full of Salisbury Steak with Mushroom Gravy, mashed potatoes, and green peas.

Salisbury Steak with Mushroom Gravy

Homemade Salisbury Steak with a rich mushroom gravy is a quick, simple, and hearty weeknight dinner that will fill even the biggest of appetites!
Go to the recipe >>>

Salisbury Steak with Mushroom Gravy – Try not to think about TV dinners from the 80’s when you make this because I promise this Salisbury Steak is soooooo good! That gravy is everything.

Close up side view of chicken Parmesan meatballs on a pile of spaghetti with sauce

Chicken Parmesan Meatballs

This simple recipe for Chicken Parmesan Meatballs is an easy weeknight dinner win! Swap out any ground meat you have for a quick and delicious dinner.
Go to the recipe >>>

Chicken Parmesan Meatballs – These actually made me like ground chicken. That says a lot. ;)

Close up side view of a bowl of Broccoli Cheddar Chicken Salad

Broccoli Cheddar Chicken Salad

This chunky chopped Broccoli Cheddar Chicken Salad is a great fresh salad that can be eaten on its own or turned into several different easy lunch ideas!
Go to the recipe >>>

Broccoli Cheddar Chicken Salad – This simple salad was the runaway hit from 2020. It’s like, “I can’t stop eating this” good and the best part is that it holds up well in the fridge so you can keep eating it for days. 

One slice of chocolate depression cake or "crazy cake" viewed from the side, a glass of milk in the background

Chocolate Depression Cake (No Eggs, Butter, or Milk)

This unique Chocolate Cake recipe, popularized during the great depression, is rich and chocolatey without the using any eggs, butter, or milk!
Go to the recipe >>>

Chocolate Depression Cake – This type of eggless, dairy-free cake has been around since the Great Depression and it proved to be just as useful in 2020, while we once again experienced grocery shortages. But honestly, it’s easy and delicious at any time!

A loaf of yogurt banana bread on a wooden cutting board, a few slices scattered, one smeared with butter

Yogurt Banana Bread

This super moist banana bread recipe uses plain yogurt to keep the bread soft and tender with less butter or oil. Add walnuts or even chocolate!
Go to the recipe >>>

Yogurt Banana Bread – Banana bread is great and all, but yogurt banana bread is like 💯. The rich and creamy yogurt really takes it to the next level. 

Close up of broccoli being dipped into comeback sauce

Comeback Sauce

This creamy, tangy, sweet, and savory Comeback Sauce is great for dipping, drizzling, smearing, and smothering all of your favorite foods. 
Go to the recipe >>>

Comeback Sauce – I lost count of how many times I made this incredible sauce this year. It’s so good on EVERYTHING. Fries, roasted vegetables, sandwiches, chips, and more. 

Blackened salmon with zucchini on a plate with a black fork on the side

Blackened Salmon with Zucchini

Blackened salmon coated in Cajun spices, cooked to perfection in butter, and paired with simple sautéed zucchini makes a simple but delicious dinner!
Go to the recipe >>>

Blackened Salmon with Zucchini – Blackening seasoning is magic. That is all. 

Close up of a bowl of Summer Sweet Corn Salad with a wooden spoon in the middle

Summer Sweet Corn Salad

Colorful summer vegetables, creamy avocado, pasta shells, and a homemade lemon vinaigrette make this light and fresh Summer Sweet Corn Salad.
Go to the recipe >>>

Summer Sweet Corn Salad – This one is my new favorite way to eat fresh summer sweet corn! Those fresh little kernels give you a pop of sweetness in every bite. If we ever get back to having potlucks in 2021, make sure you have this salad bookmarked! 

Overhead view of a bowl of broccoli cheddar soup with saltine crackers

Broccoli Cheddar Soup

This super easy Broccoli Cheddar Soup is chock full of colorful, chunky vegetables in a rich and cheesy broth for a totally meal-worthy soup.
Go to the recipe >>>

Easy Broccoli Cheddar Soup – CHEESE LOVERS PAY ATTENTION. This soup is so thick, lush, and cheesy! And it has just enough vegetable action to balance that cheesy goodness. I’ve been making this one on repeat and I don’t get to do that with many because of how many new recipes I have to test and photograph. 

Side view of a skillet full of Cajun Sausage and Rice

Cajun Sausage and Rice Skillet

This easy Cajun Sausage and Rice Skillet is the perfect easy and filling weeknight dinner, packed with plenty of smoky-spicy flavor!
Go to the recipe >>>

Cajun Sausage and Rice Skillet – This recipe like a quickie jambalaya for people who don’t have time to do it the traditional way. Rice cooked with a whole heap of herbs and spices, plus smoked sausage to make everything super flavorful and rich. I just love everything about this recipe. <3

Sheet pan roasted kielbasa potatoes and green beans with a spatula

Sheet Pan Kielbasa Potatoes and Green Beans

Sheet pan meals don't get any easier or more delicious than this Sheet Pan Kielbasa Potatoes and Green Beans dinner.
Go to the recipe >>>

Sheet Pan Kielbasa Green Beans and Potatoes – As I mentioned above, I was very into sheet pan meals this year. This sheet pan meal is the EASIEST of all sheet pan meals. Even with just SIX simple ingredients, this meal has tons of flavor. LOVE IT.

Overhead view of one bowl of french onion soup with a spoon and fresh thyme on the side

French Onion Soup

French Onion Soup requires time and patience, but the incredible soul-warming flavor and low cost make it a meal that is worth the wait!
Go to the recipe >>>

French Onion Soup – While I love quick and easy recipes, some recipes really do require you to take your time and go slow. French Onion Soup is one of those, but it is so worth every minute. I would eat this soup on a weekly basis if I could. 

wild rice stuffed acorn squash close up from above

Wild Rice Stuffed Acorn Squash

Wild Rice Stuffed Acorn Squash makes a great vegetarian (or vegan) Thanksgiving main dish, or a delicious dinner for any chilly fall evening!
Go to the recipe >>>

Wild Rice Stuffed Acorn Squash – I originally developed this recipe to be a vegetarian main dish option for Thanksgiving, but it’s really so good that I would eat it any day of the week. Bonus: the filling for the squash is incredible on its own and would make a great side dish to any dinner.

Sheet Pan Cranberry Chicken Dinner on a plate, viewed from the side

Sheet Pan Cranberry Chicken Dinner

This Sheet Pan Cranberry Chicken Dinner is an easy and flavorful weeknight dinner that requires very little prep and cleanup!
Go to the recipe >>>

Sheet Pan Cranberry Chicken Dinner – Sheet pans for the win again! The cranberry balsamic glaze is what makes this meal. It has only three ingredients but is so rich and vibrant. You might start making it to drizzle over all of your other meals!

Overhead view of marinated cauliflower salad in a white serving bowl

Marinated Cauliflower Salad

Marinated cauliflower salad is full of crunchy and colorful vegetables marinated in a homemade Italian dressing. Perfect for meal prep!
Go to the recipe >>>

Marinated Cauliflower Salad – Colorful, fresh, flavorful. I LOVE this crunchy vegetable salad. It’s another “refrigerator salad” that you can keep on hand for lunches or snacks throughout the week. 

A bowl of tomato lentil sup with bread on the side

Tomato Lentil Soup

This tomato lentil soup is full of vegetables and herbs for a simple, flavorful, and warming winter soup. Makes great leftovers!
Go to the recipe >>>

Tomato Lentil Soup – You can’t go wrong with a soup that is this tasty, this inexpensive, and is freezer-friendly. This is what Budget Bytes is all about!

So what do you think? Do you agree that these are the best 20 recipes from the year? Is there one that was a home run for you? Share your favorites in the comments below!


The post Top 20 Recipes of 2020 appeared first on Budget Bytes.

5 Kitchen Tools I Can’t Live Without

The five most versatile, most used kitchen tools that I can’t live without, plus tips for using and buying.

The post 5 Kitchen Tools I Can’t Live Without appeared first on Budget Bytes.

It’s always been my philosophy to keep my kitchen equipment basic, with as few single-purpose tools and appliances as possible. But there are a few kitchen tools that go above and beyond. They’re multi-purpose items that are absolutely invaluable in my kitchen, and they get used almost every day. I want to share this short list of essential items with you because they’re a great place to start when you’re a beginner cook, and if you’re an experienced cook with tons of kitchen tools and gadgets, maybe this will help you simplify. ;)

If you want to read the full post about all of my kitchen equipment, check out Kitchen Basics – Tools and Equipment for a Well Equipped Kitchen

This post contains affiliate links to products I use and love. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Thumbnails of kitchen tools with article title overlay

P.S. I saved the best for last, so don’t skip the end! And make sure to share your most used, can’t-live-without kitchen tools in the comments below. Are you ready? Let’s dive right in!

1. Dutch Oven

Why I Love It

I was a little late to get on the Dutch Oven bus, but once on board I don’t know how I ever cooked without one! A Dutch Oven is a heavy duty pot with a tight fitting lid that can be used both on the stove top and in the oven. The thick walls, usually made with cast iron, make the vessel durable and provides super even heating for your food. Buy one Dutch Oven and you’ll have it for life!

How I Use It

Because this piece of cookware can be used both on the stove top and in the oven, it is probably one of my most widely used pieces of cookware. On the stove top it’s great as an all-purpose soup pot, but the super even heating it provides also makes it ideal for one-pot style meals. No more cooked rice in the center and crunchy rice around the outside! The superbly even heating also makes this pot a great choice for deep frying, where keeping a consistent oil temperature is key.

Dutch ovens are also great to use in the oven because of their size and, again, the amazingly even heat. They’re great to use for roasting and braising meat, like pot roasts or roasted chickens. The thick walls of the Dutch oven also mimic the thick crock of a slow cooker, so many slow cooker recipes can be converted to the oven by using a Dutch oven (here is a conversion chart). Dutch ovens also make the perfect steam-filled environment for baking fresh no-knead bread. You’ve got to try it!

Buying Tips

Dutch ovens are usually constructed of cast iron, but many are also coated in enamel for easy cleanup and care. While some fancier Dutch ovens can cost hundreds of dollars, there are definitely budget-friendly models available. I have this Amazon Basics Enameled Dutch Oven, which cost less than $50, and I love it so much that I bought a second one! Lodge also makes a really affordable non-enameled cast-iron Dutch oven that is very affordable, but the bare cast iron surface will require a little more care.

All three (!!) of my Dutch ovens are 6-quart size, which has worked out perfectly for the types of recipes I make—big batches of soup, beans, large roasts, and whole loafs of bread. Smaller Dutch ovens are available, but you can usually use the larger ovens for smaller recipes just as well.

2. Sheet Pans

Why I Love Them

Because roasting vegetables is my life! Haha, just kidding, sort of. Without sheet pans I wouldn’t be able to make at least half of the recipes that I cook. Baking things in the oven on a sheet pan is one of the easiest ways to cook, and even after you become a very experienced cook, you’ll return to your trusty sheet pan time and time again for its simplicity.

How I Use Them

Sheet pans, or baking sheets, are great for baking cookies, roasting vegetables, making entire “sheet pan dinners“, baking pizzas, freezing ingredients without clumping, baking fries or chicken nuggets, cooking bacon, making granola, baking bread, and the list only goes on from there. I’d seriously be lost with a set of sheet pans!

Buying Tips

Sheet pans can be made with several types of material, and it’s important to know the difference between them when buying.

  • Aluminum: aluminum baking sheets are lightweight and durable, but aluminum can react with some acidic ingredients, like tomatoes, so you’ll want to always be sure to use parchment paper or a silicone mat.
  • Stainless steel: stainless steel baking sheets are prized for their durability, non-toxic, and non-reactive material, but they are slow to heat and cool, and can weigh a bit more. This surface is also not non-stick, so again, make sure to use parchment paper or a silicone mat.
  • Non-stick: non-stick baking sheets are quite common for non-commercial use. The non-stick coating can scratch, so make sure to avoid using metal utensils with these baking sheets. The darker color of the non-stick coating also tends to brown the bottoms of cookies and other baked goods faster, so keep that in mind.
  • Enamel coated: enamel coated baking sheets have a glossy enamel coating, which is naturally non-stick. They’re lightweight, easy to clean, and can be visually appealing, but the enamel coating can scratch and crack if you tend to be rough with your bakeware.

Sheet pans also come in a variety of sizes. Commercial baking sheets are often listed as full (26″x18″), half (18″x13″), or quarter (13″x9″). A commercial half sheet pan would be considered a large sheet pan for home cooking. Sheet pans sold for home cooks often just have the dimensions listed alone. I highly suggest buying a set of three sizes when just starting out, so you can have a sheet pan for every need.

3. Cheese Grater

Why I Love It

Oh the humble cheese grater. So unassuming, but oh so very useful! I love this simple tool because it’s so versatile, yet so simple, so there are no complex mechanical parts to break. It saves me time with chopping and helps me sneak more vegetables into my meals.

How I Use It

I suppose I should stop calling it a “cheese” grater because I use it for so many more things than just cheese! Instead of finely chopping vegetables, just run the vegetables across the surface of your “cheese” grater to get an almost minced texture. I most often grate carrots, zucchini, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and beets. Fine-holed graters are great for garlic and ginger. I also use my graters to zest citrus fruits, and grate frozen butter when making biscuits and other flakey baked goods.

Buying Tips

Graters come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, but I suggest getting at least two sizes: large and small holes. You can either buy these as separate hand-held graters, or as one box grater than has multiple surfaces. I tend to like the single graters because I find them easier to clean, and if one is in the dishwasher, the other may still be clean and ready to use.

4. Small Blender

Why I Love It

My small, single-serving blender is a surprise winner in my kitchen. I originally bought my little single-serving blender for making smoothies, but over the years have pulled it out of my cabinet for so much more. It’s small, so it doesn’t take up a lot of cabinet or countertop space, it’s easy to clean (mine can go in the dishwasher), and it’s inexpensive.

While my small blender was a cheap-o $15 dollar model that definitely didn’t last forever, I love it so much and find it so useful that each time it wore out, I repurchased it (two times over about 8 years).

Funny story: one day I convinced myself that I needed a “real” blender so I went and bought a fancy and expensive Ninja. I used that thing maybe two times and then kept going back for my little $15 wonder. :)

How I Use It

My little mighty blender does just fine for smoothies, but don’t expect Blendtec or Vitamix level results. In addition to smoothies, I use my little blender for whipping up homemade salad dressings, dips (although it’s not great for super thick dips like hummus), sauces, and puréeing other ingredients, like beans. It’s just perfect for small jobs where you don’t want to deal with or clean a giant 9 cup blender with scary sharp blades.

Buying Tips

I can only vouch for the Hamilton Beach model that I have owned, which also doesn’t seem to be available on Amazon for its normal $15-$20 price. You can get this model at Target, Walmart, or probably any other major home goods store.

As an alternative to a small single-serving blender, an immersion blender will probably accomplish many of the same small tasks and can boast a few more uses (like blending soups right in the pot), but they do tend to be about double the price.

5. Chef’s Knife

Why I Love It

I saved the best for last! My chef’s knife is like an extension of my arm. It’s a general purpose kitchen utility knife that I use almost exclusively when cooking. In fact, I probably will never buy a full set of kitchen knives because this is practically the only knife I use (aside from a bread knife and the occasional paring knife). Chef’s knife are big and sturdy enough for large jobs, but small enough to be nimble and allow for a working at a quick pace. I absolutely, without a doubt, would not be able to function in my kitchen without it.

How I Use It

The long, broad, slightly tapered blade of a chef’s knife is great for slicing, chopping, mincing, julienning, carving, and more. If you’re not sure what type of knife to use for your task, a chef’s knife is a safe bet. Avoid chef’s knives for small jobs, like peeling or scoring, boning, or fileting.

Always make sure your chef’s knife is clean and sharp to avoid slips and injuries. Always wash by hand and avoid the dishwasher, where it can get dinged up and dulled. Keep your chef’s knife in some sort of knife holder or magnetic strip, again to avoid rubbing on other items and unintentionally damaging the blade.

Buying Tips

Much like Dutch ovens, chef’s knives can range in price from very cheap to very expensive. I’ve used the cheapest of the cheap chef’s knives up to some very pricey “fancy” knives, and I will say that they all get the job done. My favorite chef’s knife that is the perfect balance between budget and quality is the Victorinox Fibrox 8-inch Chef’s Knife, and this is what I am currently using daily in my kitchen. I also own a Shun 8-inch Chef’s Knife that I won in a raffle, and while it is very pretty and has superb craftsmanship, I don’t find that it performs any better than my Victorinox. In fact, I prefer the weight balance of my Victorinox.

Chef’s knives come in several different lengths, materials, and weights. It’s important to choose a length that is appropriate for your hand size. With my petite hands, an 8-inch knife is perfect and allows for great control and agility. If you have larger hands, you may prefer a 10 or even 12-inch chef’s knife. If you’re serious about your knives, I suggest visiting a cutlery store where you can pick up and feel the knives in your hand and choose one that feels comfortable and natural to you.

So that’s it! Those are the five most used items in my kitchen! What are yours? Share your favorite kitchen tools and gadgets, plus how you use them, in the comments below!

The post 5 Kitchen Tools I Can’t Live Without appeared first on Budget Bytes.

The Bagel Lunch Box

Here’s another quick lunch box idea (or meal prep breakfast idea) for you! While this one isn’t completely no-cook because it contains a hard boiled egg, it is still a super easy no-reheat lunch box that you can take to work, school, or on the road. This Bagel Lunch Box includes a mini bagel, some […]

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Here’s another quick lunch box idea (or meal prep breakfast idea) for you! While this one isn’t completely no-cook because it contains a hard boiled egg, it is still a super easy no-reheat lunch box that you can take to work, school, or on the road. This Bagel Lunch Box includes a mini bagel, some of my favorite Scallion Herb Cream Cheese, a handful of vegetables that go oh so well with the flavored cream cheese, and a simple hard boiled egg. It’s super simple to put together, but it makes life so much easier when your mornings are busy. Just grab a lunch box and go!

Three glass meal prep containers in a diagonal line filled with the bagel lunch box items

About that Cream Cheese…

I included my Scallion Herb Cream Cheese in this bagel lunch box because it has so much flavor and really adds a nice element of interest to the meal. If you don’t want to make this cream cheese you can use plain cream cheese or use a store-bought flavored cream cheese. Another nice option is to use plain cream cheese, but then bring some Everything Bagel Seasoning with you to add some extra flavor.

Other Lunch Box Add-In Ideas

If you want to substitute any of the ingredients or add to this lunch box, here are some good ideas of things that would also match well:

  • Smoked salmon
  • Carrot sticks
  • An orange, tangerine, or cutie
  • Grapes
  • Deli ham
  • Alfalfa sprouts

Where Did You Get Those Containers?

The divided glass meal prep containers and the small metal cups were both purchased on Amazon (links in the bottom of the recipe card below). 

Three bagel lunch boxes lined up in a row

Three bagel lunch boxes lined up in a row

The Bagel Lunch Box

This Bagel Lunch Box is an easy and affordable grab and go breakfast or lunch idea, perfect for work or school.
Total Cost $5.32 recipe / $1.33 serving
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Servings 4
Calories 307.18kcal
Author Beth - Budget Bytes


Scallion Herb Cream Cheese

  • 4 oz. cream cheese $0.60
  • 1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley $0.06
  • 1 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro $0.04
  • 1 green onion, sliced $0.11
  • 1/16 tsp garlic powder $0.01
  • 1/16 tsp salt $0.01
  • 1/2 Tbsp lemon juice $0.02

Lunch Box Ingredients

  • 4 mini bagels $1.52
  • 4 large eggs $0.92
  • 1 cucumber, sliced $1.29
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes $0.75


  • To hard boil the eggs, place the eggs in a sauce pot and add water until the eggs are covered by one inch. Place the pot over high heat and allow the water to come up to a full boil. When it reaches a full boil, turn off the heat, place a lid on the pot, and let the eggs sit in the hot water for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, transfer the eggs to a bowl of ice water to cool.
  • To make the scallion herb cream cheese, combine the cream cheese, parsley, cilantro, green onion, garlic powder, salt, and lemon juice in a bowl. Stir together until evenly combined.
  • Place one bagel in each lunch box along with ¼ of the cucumber slices, ¼ of the grape tomatoes, ¼ of the cream cheese (1 oz.), and one hard boiled egg. Refrigerate up to five days.


Serving: 1lunch box | Calories: 307.18kcal | Carbohydrates: 30.6g | Protein: 12.98g | Fat: 15.1g | Sodium: 420.95mg | Fiber: 420.95g

How to Make the Bagel Lunch Box – Step by Step Photos

Place Eggs in Ice Bath

To hard boil the eggs, add the eggs to a sauce pot and add enough water to cover them by one inch. Place the pot over high heat and allow the water to come up to a full boil. Once boiling, turn off the heat, cover the pot, and let the eggs sit in the hot water for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, transfer the eggs to an ice water bath to cool.

Scallion Herb Cream Cheese Spread mixed

To make the scallion herb cream cheese, combine 4 oz. cream cheese, 1 Tbsp chopped parsley, 1 Tbsp chopped cilantro, one sliced green onion, 1/16 tsp (or one pinch) garlic powder, 1/16 tsp (one pinch) salt, and ½ Tbsp lemon juice in a bowl. Stir until everything is evenly combined.

One bagel lunch box in a glass meal prep container

Place one bagel, one hard boiled egg, ¼ of the sliced cucumbers, ¼ of the tomatoes, and ¼ of the cream cheese (1 oz.) in each lunch box. Refrigerate up to five days.

The post The Bagel Lunch Box appeared first on Budget Bytes.

How to Freeze Bananas

I was freezing some of our brown bananas the other day and decided to take a few snapshots of the process and do a quick little “How to Freeze Bananas” tutorial. Why? Because while a lot of people know you can make banana bread with brown bananas instead of letting them go to waste, you […]

The post How to Freeze Bananas appeared first on Budget Bytes.

I was freezing some of our brown bananas the other day and decided to take a few snapshots of the process and do a quick little “How to Freeze Bananas” tutorial. Why? Because while a lot of people know you can make banana bread with brown bananas instead of letting them go to waste, you don’t always have time to make banana bread right when the bananas are ready, and sometimes you don’t have enough bananas all at one time. Freezing your overripe bananas will help you reduce your food waste even further, and makes sure you have ripe bananas on hand all the time for things like banana bread, smoothies, and more.

Two brown bananas on a marble surface with title text at the top

Can I Freeze the Bananas Whole?

You may be asking yourself, “Can I just toss the banana in the freezer, peel and all?” and the answer is yes, but that’s not the best way to do it, IMHO. While you can freeze a whole banana with the peel, the banana becomes very soft after thawing, making it very difficult to peel without making a mess. Just go ahead and peel it first and thank yourself later.

I also prefer to slice my bananas before freezing, instead of freezing the whole peeled banana, because it makes them easier to measure (thaw only what you need), faster to thaw, and easier to blend into a smoothie.

How Long do Frozen Bananas Last?

Frozen bananas will continue to brown in the freezer, just at a much slower rate than on the counter top. I find that they’re best when used within 3 months of freezing, but your milage may vary. To make sure you’ve got plenty of ways to use those frozen bananas before they get too brown and shriveled, I’ve got several recipe ideas for you listed below.

What Kind of Container Should I Use?

I like to use zip top freezer bags because they can hold a varying amount, I can remove as much air as possible, and it’s easy to write the contents and date on the front. If you prefer to not use plastic, you can freeze your bananas in glass meal prep containers or glass jars and simply add some freezer tape or a freezer label for writing the contents and date. Always write the contents and date on your frozen goods! :)

Frozen banana slices in a labeled freezer bag

How to Keep Frozen Bananas from Turning Brown

Bananas continue to turn brown in the freezer, just like they do at room temperature, but at a much slower rate. To slow the browning almost to a halt, you can dip the frozen banana slices into lemon juice before freezing, but that’s just waaaaay too much work, IMHO. Instead, I freeze the banana slices as-is, and just make sure to use them within a few months. Nothing lasts forever and you’re already extending their life a lot by freezing them.

How to Thaw Frozen Bananas

You can use the frozen bananas in recipes while still frozen (see list below) or thaw and mash them before adding to a recipe. To thaw the frozen bananas, simply leave them out at room temperature for about 30 minutes. Or, if you froze them in a freezer bag, you can drop the freezer bag (still tightly closed) in a bowl of warm water for about 10 minutes. 

Thawed frozen bananas will let off some liquid. You’ll want to stir this liquid into the bananas as you mash them. Mashed bananas are often used in recipes to add moisture, so you don’t want to lose that liquid that seeps from the bananas as they thaw.

What Can You Make with Frozen Bananas?

You can make so many yummy things with your frozen bananas! Here are some ideas:

Uses for frozen bananas (not thawed):

Uses for frozen bananas (thawed and mashed)


How to Freeze Bananas

A simple, step by step tutorial on how to freeze bananas for user later in banana bread, smoothies, muffins, and more.
Prep Time 10 minutes
Freeze Time 2 hours
Total Time 2 hours 10 minutes
Author Beth - Budget Bytes


  • 1 brown banana or more
  • parchment paper
  • baking sheet
  • freezer safe containers


  • Peel the banana(s) and cut them into ½-inch thick slices.
  • Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lay the banana slices on the lined baking sheet in a single layer. Freezing the bananas individually first helps prevent them from sticking together in one large clump when frozen.
  • Freeze the bananas for 1-2 hours, or until solid, then transfer to an air-tight, freezer-safe container, like a freezer bag, glass meal prep container, or glass jar. Label the container with the contents and date.
  • For best results, use within three months.

How to Freeze Bananas – Step by Step Photos

Sliced bananas on a cutting board next to banana peels

Peel your banana(s) and slice into ½-inch thick slices.

banana slices on a parchment lined baking sheet

Line a baking sheet with parchment, then lay the banana slices on the lined baking sheet in a single layer. Freezing them individually like this first prevents them from sticking together in one large clump in your container later. Transfer the banana slices to the freezer and freeze for 1-2 hours, or until the slices are solid.

Frozen banana slices in a labeled freezer bag

Once solid, transfer the banana slices from the baking sheet to an air-tight, freezer-safe container, like a freezer bag, glass meal prep container, or glass jar. Keep frozen up to 3 months for the best quality.

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