Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Favorite Things, Part 1: Things You Plug In

This year has been amazing for SO many reasons and while material things certainly don't top the list, James and I had fun selecting stuff for our registry. There wasn't much we "needed," so I took special care to research every possible want and need before adding anything to our lists. We ended up selecting a handful of practical things that we would use regularly.

After a few months of use of some very generous gifts, I'm happy to share reviews of my favorites. Some of the "things" on the lists in this mult-part blog post series (!) weren't gifts, but were things that made their way into my life this year that I wholeheartedly recommend. Use this and the following lists for inspiration this gift-giving season or gift yourself with something you know you'll use every day. I've separated things into fun categories and included images that link to the items on Amazon for your convenience. ;-)

Part 1: Stuff You Plug In

I had my eye on most of these things for a while and I did a ton of research before I knew they were "the ones." I even subscribed to Consumer Reports to read expert reviews on a lot of the products I was eyeing. They also publish these great buyer guides that tell you what to look for when you're shopping for a particular item. Yeah, I'm a dork. What?

VitaClay VM7900-8 Smart Organic Multi-Cooker/Rice Cooker 

$129.99 on Amazon

I have a hand-me-down crock pot that works. But the only functions on it are high and low. There's no option to set a timer and the lightweight plastic lid lets a lot of liquid escape. It's also a bit small for the type of things I like to cook in it - soups! I also have a cheap rice cooker that works well, but is coated with a nonstick surface that probably leeches all kinds of chemicals into our otherwise healthy brown rice, quinoa, and other grains. I've had my eye on this since I saw it reviewed on another blog and well, I knew I wanted it. It's pretty amazing. It works for rice and other grains, roasts, soups, and stews. The clay pot means it gets really hot and actually reduces the time needed to "slow" cook from 6 - 8 hours to 2 - 4. It has a timer that lets you schedule when it starts cooking and it keeps food warm. The lid locks, so liquid is retained. And, the pot is easy to clean even though it's not painted or covered in "nonstick" stuff. If you don't have a slow cooker and/or a rice cooker, this is a no-brainer! Thank you Roseanne!

Breville BOV650XL Compact Smart Oven 1800-Watt Toaster Oven with Element IQ

$179.95 on Amazon

The "oven" on my ancient Black-n-Decker toaster oven died a year or two ago and I swore I wouldn't buy another one. Instead, I'd put best one I could find on our registry and thanks to James' Godmother and her daughters, we now have a brand new top of the line amazing toaster oven that toasts, bakes, and broils. We've toasted english muffins, baked cookies, broiled fish, and even reheated chicken pot pies in this bad boy. And it's been good at all of them. The digital stuff took some more getting used to than I expected, but it counts preheating down and beeps when it's ready. We even got a coordinating cutting board that fits on top perfectly. I love it's small footprint, too. I wasn't looking for an oven to put on the counter, you know? We have an oven... but this thing will certainly help us get a hot dinner on the table in the summer without heating up the rest of the apartment. And, I love Breville. The designs are so sleek. Thank you Aunt Janet, Marie, and Nancy!

Breville BTM800XL One-Touch Tea Maker

$249.95 on Amazon


Splurge alert! If you're like us and make several POTS, not cups, of tea for like five months out of the year, this might be worth it. Otherwise, it's kind of hard to justify unless you've got $250 burning a hole in your pocket. I used a $15 electric kettle that I bought at Wal-mart for over a decade. I love electric kettles, counter footprint aside. They boil water faster than the stove and it's nice to have a device dedicated to only water. When I started "shopping" for a new electric kettle, all I wanted was one with an auto-off feature that I could customize the temperature on (I used to use a digital thermometer to achieve the ideal temperature for steeping green and other delicate teas). The more I researched, the more I wanted one with a detachable base so the kettle could go from counter to kitchen or coffee table without a cord. Things started to get pricey when I combined those features with a kettle that didn't have plastic and I hated the thought that I might be sipping BPA or other endocrine disruptors with my cup of antioxidants. When I saw a kettle with a list price of $300, I thought it was a joke. Until I watched the video and saw the Breville magic. There are pre-set buttons for green, white, black, and herbal teas and for mild, medium, and strong. There's a rather magical basket (that somehow doesn't let loose tea into the water) on a magnet that automatically enters the water at the exact moment the water reaches the perfect temperature and removes the basket from the water once it has steeped according to your preference. And yes, there are custom temperature and steep time settings, a keep warm button, an auto-off feature, and a detachable base. Heavens, you can even program it the night before to make your tea when your alarm goes off in the morning. People... what more do you need in life than the perfect cup of tea?! Thank you CarolMom!

Cuisinart GR-4N 5-in-1 Griddler

$64.99 on Amazon


OK, I full well know that I dissed nonstick surfaces like 2 sentences ago, but you have to pick your battles in life, right? Well, we have lodge cast iron pans and the grill/griddle thing has NOT been working for us. This thing has been life-changing. Eggs. Pancakes. Grilled veggies. Grilled chicken. Burgers. It does it all. But wait, there's more! Because James' one registry request was a waffle iron and well, I didn't want a separate appliance taking up precious space. There are WAFFLE plates for this bad boy! And they work perfectly fine for the (let's be honest here) 5 times a year we'll probably make waffles. ;-) The plates are pretty easy to change and clean up nicely in the dishwasher. Note: Cuisinart makes several versions of the "griddler." I compared and contrasted them all. Read all the reviews. This one won hands down, I promise. Thank you to the Sicuranzas!

In the next week, I'll post one or two more "favorite things" round-ups, but the above captures most of the big ticket items. Have you ever used any of the above products? If so, let us know in the comments!