Just in Time for Thanksgiving—Best Inexpensive Kitchen Tools

If today’s topic seems a bit premature because Thanksgiving is still two weeks away, let me remind you of the first time you hosted Thanksgiving dinner. I know that I was a wreck, and for two reasons: time and cooking tools.

I didn’t allow enough time to plan ahead, let alone properly prepare the meal once the day arrived. And I sure didn’t have the right equipment.

 

Thankfully, there’s still enough time to plan, time to prepare, and time to make sure we’re properly equipped to make this Thanksgiving a day of calm, joy, and gratitude. But only if we start now!

I’ve done Thanksgiving Dinner enough times now to know that there are a few pieces of equipment that are absolutely necessary to make sure the process goes smoothly and the dinner is a huge success. The challenge, though, is making sure we’re not loading up on unitaskers—tools we use only one day a year. We want to make sure that items we buy for the kitchen can be used all year long.

Here are our picks for Best Inexpensive Thanksgiving cooking tools that will make your day easier, tools I’m certain you’ll be reaching for throughout the year.

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An Amazing Way to Slash High Heating Bills

Until several years ago, I didn’t know something existed called a heated mattress pad. It makes sense since I’d lived in Southern California for most of my life, where it is mostly warm all year round.

Relocating to Colorado where the seasons are more pronounced, I had a lot to learn about heating a house without going broke. That first winter our heating bills shot to the moon because we were heating the entire house to a comfortable temperature day and night. Trust me—high heating bills can be shocking.

surprised woman gets letter with bad news

Lower the temp

We saw a semi-dramatic reduction in the heating bill when we decided to lower the thermostat to 60 F. at night and use this Bionaire micathermic space heater in our bedroom, but that wasn’t altogether successful. My husband and I have different internal thermostats. He would be cold while I’d be turning the space heater down a notch or two.

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The 3 Vacuums I Use Every Day and Absolutely Swear By

If you have hard flooring, carpet or flat surfaces in your home, which just about covers every possibility—there are three specific vacuum cleaners that deserve your attention: an upright, a cordless stick vac and a cordless handheld. These are the worker bees that I own, love, and do not want to live without.

Once you familiarize yourself with these vacuums and their specific uses, you’ll know why each one gets my designation of for Best Inexpensive™ in its specific category. Because life is uncertain and things can change with a minute’s notice, today I am updating and republishing this post with new and exciting information.

1. Shark Professional Navigator Lift-Away

 

shark navigator pro lift away vacuum

In the decade since I met and fell in love with my first Shark upright vacuum, I’ve purchased, tested, given as gifts, and worked nearly to death (it’s really hard to wear out a Shark) many Shark vacuums because the company comes out with a new model or two about every week, or so it seems. I can say with confidence, there is no better basic corded, upright vacuum cleaner on earth.

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Best Inexpensive Steam Iron (Or Please, Can’t Someone Make a Decent Steam Iron?!)

I just asked Siri*, “How do most people relax?” She rattled off a list of activities including, “nosh on chocolate,” “rub your feet over a golf ball,” “count backward,” “meditate” and “drip cold water on your wrists.”

Siri completely missed my favorite way to relax. I iron (not to be confused with I pump iron, which I do not).

No really. There’s something soothing and instantly gratifying about a good steam iron with a heft of heat and steam gliding back and forth over wrinkled fabric.

steam iron on ironing board unironed shirt

That’s why I was excited to get another request, this time from Marianne, “I need a new iron. I’ve searched the Internet trying to find the best steam iron for the best price and all I get is terribly confused! Any suggestions?”

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How to Clean Cookie Sheet Pans So They Look New!

They come in sizes big and small, rimmed or without sides. We use them to bake just about anything, but mostly cookies. And they can get super grungy with layers of baked- and burnt-on grease resulting in ugly stains and residue build-up.

 

Does anything here look familiar to you? If so, I have good news. Your cookie sheets can be cleaned and restored, even back to the way they looked when new.

What follows is a relatively quick and easy way to get rid of baked-on grease, stubborn food residue, and even rust on any type of cookie and baking sheets—aluminized steel, aluminum, and non-stick—and then to clean and maintain to keep them sparkling clean.

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Best Inexpensive Home Dehumidifiers and How to Choose

Humidity, or the lack thereof, is a popular topic this time of year. Where I live in northern Colorado, it’s dry! We have like no humidity. Well, not exactly, but it averages in the low mid-20 percent during the summer and fall months. We have a humidifier in our home, and it runs 24/7 year-round for health and comfort.

Recently, lots of readers have inquired about how to deal with the opposite—high humidity, which can get pretty miserable. A dehumidifier can be a godsend for those who live in high humidity areas to remove excess moisture from indoor air.

older man hot and sweaty heat of summer

 

What is a dehumidifier?

Think of a dehumidifier as a vacuum that sucks the air from a room, removing the moisture and blowing dry air back into the room again. The condensation drips into a collection tank inside the machine that must be emptied from time to time.

Many people find that a dehumidifier works together with the air conditioning system to keep the rooms in a home comfortable even on the hottest days with super high humidity. Others rely on a dehumidifier in place of an air conditioner.

Dehumidifiers come in a variety of sizes, typically rated according to how many square feet they can dehumidify and how many pints of water they can produce in a day. Most home dehumidifiers are controlled by thermostats and humidity sensors so you can make the room as hot and dry as you wish.

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Ask Me Anything: Silicone Storage, Kitchen Gadget, JCPenney Sheets, Dehumidifier, and More

Today’s the day I reach into the inbox and pull out some of your questions and only because I want you to feel free to ask me anything!

Multi ethnic hands up in the air waiting to ask a question

Dear Mary … I’ve got a question!

 

Here is a quick summary of the questions I’ll answer in today’s post. You can click on one to go straight to it, or just scroll down to read all.

Enjoy!

Contents

1. My silicone food storage bags stink

2. Got a shrimp deveiner?

3. JCP best sheets

4. Looking for home air purifier

5. Help! Overpowering humidity

 

Q1: How can I remove food odors from my reusable silicone food storage bags?

Dear Mary: I stored some left-over smoked salmon in one of my new reusable silicone storage bags. After I’d used up the salmon, I washed the bag as usual in my dishwasher. It still smelled of salmon. I got out my trusty Nok-Out. I soaked the bag in that for a few hours. Still smelled of salmon. Help! Sue

Dear Sue: There’s something that might not have gone right. Tell me exactly how you did it. Did you spray the inside? Pour some Nok-Out in the bag? Did you dunk it in a bowl of Nok-Out? And what did you do at the end of “a few hours?”

There’s a specific way to do this,  and I’m just trying to figure out where things might have gone wrong to help you get it right. xo m
b
Dear Mary: I first sprayed the bag inside and out. When that didn’t do it, I immersed the bag in Nok-Out, weighted it down and left it for about 2 hours. Didn’t do it.Thanks for checking for me. I’m at my wit’s end. Have pretty much gone from disposable zipper bags to these. Sue

Dear Sue: I’m pretty sure I know the problem. Once every bit of the surface has been doused well with Nok-Out, it must be allowed to “oxidize.” This happens when Nok-Out meets air and is allowed to dry fully—no rinsing.

So let’s do it again. Completely spray or submerge the bag in Nok-Out, but do not rinse it. Do not rinse it! Lift it out and prop it open on something; upside down, maybe like the sink faucet. It must be allowed to fully air dry. Don’t be surprised when it gives off a “stinky swimming pool” odor. That’s the oxidation in process. Nok-Out will eliminate the stink by neutralizing it, not covering it up. I understand why this is so important. Reusable isn’t if it creates a stinky problem! xo m
Dear Mary: I did as you directed: I submerged the bag in Nok-Out, then let it air dry (keeping it open). No more salmon smell! Thanks for your help. I can now feel comfortable in using my silicone bags for potentially smelly contents knowing there’s a way to get rid of the odor. Sue
v

Q2: I need a shrimp gadget

Dear Mary: What is the best kitchen gadget to remove the shrimp vein? Winora

Dear Winora: I use either a wood skewer or sharp knife, whichever is most handy, to remove that vein that runs right along the back.
To do this: Insert the tip of the skewer crossways and under the vein about ½-inch down from the head of the shrimp and pull the skewer tip up towards you. This will lift up the vein and you can pull off the vein with the skewer or with your hand. If the vein is broken, then insert again a bit lower towards the tail.
There is a specific inexpensive tool you might want to consider if you prepare a lot of shrimp. This Shrimp Deveiner Knife works well to devein and peel shrimp in one step, simultaneously. It makes cleaning and peeling quick and easy.
v

Q3: JCPenney bedsheets

Dear Mary: Would you repeat your recommendation for Best Inexpensive Sheets. I believe they are 100% cotton from JCPenney. Thank you! Sharon
Dear Sharon: Liz Claiborne 400tc Sateen Sheet Set is my pick for the Best Inexpensive luxury, 100% cotton bedsheets. These sheets have a velvety, soft hand, which helps to make them wrinkle-resistant provided you do not overdry. They are smooth, luxurious; not noisy, rough or any other negative thing on my list of cannot-tolerates.
These bedsheets launder beautifully in hot water and come out of the dryer nearly wrinkle-free. I usually touch them up with the iron, but honestly, I may stop doing that. The fitted sheet in this set has deep pockets without being baggy. These are the kind of sheets I  remember from my childhood. Available in a variety of colors and sizes.

One set in Cal King is list priced at $140. But wait. The JCPenney site regularly offers discount coupons (I’ve been watching this like a hawk and there’s always a coupon), plus these specific sheets are frequently on sale. With my first online order, I didn’t have to search or inquire. At checkout, I simply clicked on “Coupons” which was right next to the checkout button. Immediately, the price dropped to $56.

I have checked many times since to see how that discount holds up and have yet to find a time that I would have had to pay full price. I can’t represent the exact discount you’ll get, but know that these sheets are frequently on sale and discount coupons and codes are readily available.

Q4: Looking for home air purifier

Dear Mary: I am truly grateful for all your suggestions and research you do! They all have helped my family run much smoother. I’m looking for a good home air purifier. Do you have any thoughts you can share? Cheryl   P.S. We LOVE our new Hoover Linx Cordless Stick Vac.

Dear Cheryl: All things considered—up-front cost, maintenance, and cost to operate—I don’t think you can beat the Coway Mighty Home Air Purifier (AP1512HH), my pick for Best Inexpensive Air Purifier. Rated for spaces up to 360 sq. ft., this unit is compact, attractive, and super quiet. And did I mention efficient? Very efficient with its True HEPA filter, deodorization filter, and Vital Ion. Also has a pollution sensor that communicates indoor air quality in real-time. Available in black or white at Walmart and Amazon.

Q5: Extreme interior humidity

Dear Mary: I am puzzled by an ongoing, distressing problem since I moved into a fourth-floor condo. I find that mildew is growing everywhere! On my wood dining table, on cast iron pans, inside cabinets. I am distressed about where I’ll find it next. I use a 50/50 vinegar solution to wipe it off. I keep ceiling fans going and the thermostat at 77 degrees. Windows and doors always closed. I hang Damp Rid in closets. That is getting expensive. Annette

Dear Annette: I must admit to being anything but an expert on living in humid areas, but can help you figure out how to tackle this problem. I live in Colorado where we enjoy very dry conditions—the other extreme to your high humidity. You have my empathy, for sure. I cannot imagine what you are going through.

If I were you I would first consult with the management of your condo association. If this is considered normal—meaning that all of your neighbors are experiencing the same thing—find out how they are dealing with it. Or you may discover that your problem is unique, and related to something that needs to be remedied and quick!

If you discover this is just the way it is in Florida in a fourth-floor condo, I recommend that you research and consider getting a dehumidifier for your home. This is an appliance that actually removes moisture from the air and sends it down the drain. There are many options so you want to find one that meets your specific needs.

Some of the most common indicators that you may need a dehumidifier are wet stains on walls and ceilings, stuffy feeling in a room, rotting wood, condensation on windows, musty smells and allergies. If the air in your home is too moist, it will encourage the growth of bacteria and mold, which are common allergens and not good for your health.

You can read a previous post about room dehumidifiers here, which includes my Best Inexpensive picks. I believe one of them will be just right for your home, should you discover this will be the best remedy.

Hope that helps!

Got a question you’d like me to answer in a future post? You can ask me anything here. Thanks!


In case you missed yesterday:

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9 Surprising Things You Can Clean with a Clothes Steamer

A compact clothes steamer is handy for removing wrinkles and stale odors from fabric, but is that all? Just another single-purpose tool that sits on a shelf gathering dust? Don’t be so sure! I’ve been amazed to discover all the ways to use an ordinary clothes steamer to steam clean, sanitize, renew, and refresh all around the house.

 

Woman releasing wrinkles from a blue polka dot dress with garment steamer

Basics

Before we get started, let’s go over a few steam clean basics.

  • Always use distilled water in a steamer. The minerals in tap water can cause it to clog up and can also leave behind traces of minerals.
  • Never use steam on silk or other delicate fabrics. Always test first in an inconspicuous place for color-bleeding or spotting.
  • Do not use steam on freshly painted surfaces, vintage surfaces, waxed or polished wood or musical instruments.

Loosen carpet stains

A blast of steam can loosen a tough carpet stain that’s been difficult to remove. Hold the steamer a few inches away from the spot for at least 30 seconds, then blot it with a clean white cloth. Repeat until nothing more is transferred to the cloth. If you still see evidence of the spot, it should respond more effectively to a good stain remover like Spot Shot. Just make sure you follow the instructions on the label, which may require rinsing once the stain is gone.

Remove labels and stickers

A blast or two from your trusty clothes steamer can soften and melt the adhesive that keeps a stubborn label or sticker stuck so you can easily remove it. Be cautious if you’re dealing with an unpainted surface.

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