How to Get the Best Blender for Less

certified-reconditioned-vitamix

If you know me, you know I'm all about budgeting. But this is the one case where I go overboard - like really overboard. So here's my confession: I have a certified reconditioned Standard Vitamix and it cost me $249 and I have no regrets.

A Vitamix is the gold standard of blenders, known for its impressive power and high quality design. And it is so, so worth the price. I've had mine for about 4 months now and have been continually impressed by its strength and power. I use it for EVERYTHING. I make smoothies every day and the texture is perfectly smooth in seconds. This all being said, a brand new Vitamix is uber expensive, so the secret here is Vitamix's certified refurbished program. What does that mean? It's basically blenders that have been returned or were demo models in the store, meaning they were mostly likely never used - or barely used. Mine came wrapped up in plastic like new! Every blender has to pass a 17-point checklist ensured by Vitamix itself. You're getting what is essentially a new, expensive blender for less.

Before I invested a good chunk of change on this machine, I wanted to do more research. What really got me was every certified reconditioned Vitamix comes with a 5 year full warranty. FIVE YEARS. You can even make it an 8 year warranty for an additional $75. Part of the reason I went with Vitamix was the phenomenal customer service they have. Reviews raved about how they stand behind their products and that the warranty process is a breeze. I don't expect my wonderful machine to break anytime soon, but it's comforting knowing that my rather expensive investment is well supported. Plus, this thing is POWERFUL. Horsepower means nothing to me, but know that this machine can literally take a blender full of cold ingredients and turn them into a hot, steaming soup in 6 minutes. Wow.

If you're looking for a quality blender without splurging for the Vitamix, check out some write-ups to decide what model is best for you. Be warned, though. You do get what you pay for. I've owned various models, from $15 blenders to $40 blenders to $100 blenders, and the money I invested in my Vitamix proves the difference in quality a thousand times over. Look at it this way: if you're using a blender frequently, like I do, it can wear out in about a year (or even shorter). My Vitamix is guaranteed to last 5 years under the warranty or they'll give me a new one - that means it's only costing me $50 a year to own (or $41 per year if you extend to the 8 year warranty). If you're replacing a $50 or $40 or $30 blender each year, you might as well invest in the Vitamix for the long term and get a much more superior product that will actually do what you want without having to stick a spoon in there and move things around because the blade keeps getting stuck and hey - does it smell like burning plastic to you? No such worries with the Vitamix.

Wait, back up. Why do I need a blender?

In addition to making actual blended things, like smoothies, milkshakes, margaritas, strawberry daiquiris, piña coladas (see where I'm going here?) and more, a good blender doubles as a versatile kitchen appliance. A blender can do a lot of your food processing work for you if you're not a frequent or fancy chef. I use my blender to blend soups like red lentil soup, to make sauces smooth, for pesto, salsa, whipped cream, muffin mix, pancake mix, homemade hummus, and so much more. Vitamix's are especially impressive at getting tough jobs done - like making homemade nut butters, non-dairy milks like almond milk, and juicing - and these 52 other things. Blenders facilitate eating healthfully and cooking quickly, all on one convenient appliance. And if it's go big or go home, a (certified reconditioned) Vitamix is the answer.


Note: I am not being paid to say this. But hey, @Vitamix, I wouldn't be opposed!


12 Things To Put On Your Holiday Wish List

 
12 Things to Put On Your Holiday Wish List to stock your kitchen. Presents for everyone on your list! | themillennialmenu.com
 

The holidays are the perfect time to stock your kitchen with everything you need to cook and eat delicious food all year long. Whether you're looking for stocking stuffers or big ticket items for under the tree, there are plenty of options ranging from gadgets to appliances to pans and knives. The price range varies so there's something for every budget. Plus, this post is being listed on Black Friday, so now is the time to get the deals (Especially the Instant Pot, which is currently 47% off!)! Whether you're buying something for someone you love or adding things to your own wish list for Santa, the Millennial Menu's Holiday Wish List has anything you could need (and want). Everything on this list is something that I find either immensely helps with my efficiency, budget, or enjoyment in the kitchen. 

Stocking Stuffers

 
A list of essential stocking stuffers to stock your kitchen this holiday season. | themillennialmenu.com
 

1. Kitchen Scissors

I grew up watching my mom chop things up with kitchen scissors all the time, and I now use my own pair daily. They're strong and sturdy. I use them most often for cutting meat (whether I'm trimming chicken breasts or portioning out chicken strips for stir fry) and snipping fresh herbs. These are the most useful reasons to own kitchen scissors - but you'll find yourself reaching for them for so much more. They're great for opening packaging, breaking down bone-in meat and cutting raw bacon, and with bread (think quesadillas or croutons). For less than $15 for a quality pair, you'll be glad you put them on your list.

2. A Quality Travel Mug

You probably know that it's expensive to buy coffee every morning. It's one of my first recommendations of things to cut out of your spending to save money. Plus, I strongly believe that you can make tea & coffee at home that is just as good as what you can buy for $5 at a fancy coffee shop. The secret is actually getting yourself to a point where you prefer to drink what you make at home. The first step to doing that is having a quality travel mug that can go with you as you run out the door to class or work. Go with something that will keep your drink hot (or cold) for hours and is spillproof. Functionality is the move here. Anything from Contigo is a safe bet - like this basic 16 oz. model. It's the first step in saving yourself around $800 a year.

 

3. Garlic Press

This handy gadget saves time and hassle. The press minces garlic with a squeeze of your hand, keeping your hands from reeking of garlic for hours after you've finished dinner. I use it for anything and everything - shrimp scampi, making a sauce, roasting vegetables, and more. I grab this gadget almost every night when I cook dinner and I'm grateful for it every time.

 

 

 

4. Boston Shaker

Making high quality drinks at home is an art - and makes you feel like a real grown up when you do it right. Plus, if you're trying to save money, cutting back on the number of drinks you buy out is one of the quickest ways to reign in your budget. You'll be enjoying whiskey sours, cosmos, and margaritas on your couch in no time. A Boston shaker comes in two pieces and requires a strainer to strain your drink when you're done - but trust me, this model is much better than the 3 piece shaker-strainer contraptions that get stuck and frozen together thanks to the ice cubes. Go for this one, where both pieces are metal (as opposed to the bottom being glass, which can shatter). Wondering where to start? Add The Craft of The Cocktail cocktail book to your list as well. In the meantime, you can also check out Cocktail 101: How to Shake a Cocktail and subscribe to the blog for a post coming soon about how to stock your liquor cabinet.

5. Meat Thermometers 

The best way to cook high quality meat is to avoid over-cooking. But many cooks (including myself) tend to err on the side of caution and overcook food because we're afraid it isn't done yet. A thermometer fixes that problem with one simple purchase - you can cook your meat to a perfect safe temperature (with little effort and absolutely no guessing and crossing your fingers). I was shocked at how quickly meat actually cooks to a safe temperature and realized I'd been overcooking almost everything I ate. Now, I stick the thermometer in, set it to the correct internal temperature (depending on what I'm cooking, safe food temp info is available on the web), set the alarm to beep when it reaches that temp (I LOVE this feature. No need to worry about watching the stove and wondering if it's done!), and walk away. And, it's not just for meat - you can also use it for baked goods like cheesecakes, bread, the temperature of water for poached eggs, or a foray into homemade yogurt (with your Instant Pot). I recommend this model that beeps when your food is at the correct temperature and has a long cord so you can keep things in the oven and the reader on the counter.

6. Tupperware Containers 

Nothing will save you money like not wasting food, bringing your own lunch, and eating leftovers. Those three things are much more appealing when they're properly, cleanly, and safely packaged. My moms swears by the Tupperware brand, and although I have some leftover plastic takeout containers and such, I appreciate tupperware for its sturdiness and reliability. Opening up your lunch to leaked salad dressing everywhere is a major bummer. I tend to use Tupperware to pack my lunch, but I do keep a variety of Glad and Rubbermaid food storage containers in my cabinets for extra leftovers in the fridge. If you're looking to buy some starter Tupperware, get a few different sizes:

  • I love the 6 for $15 2 oz. Mini's set for no-leak salad dressings, peanut butter/almond butter, and ranch dip for veggies.
  • The 4 for $25 Microwave "Cereal Bowl" Set is my go-to for any leftovers - I bring my lunch in these to safely re-heat in the microwave, and even pack sandwiches in them to keep the bread from getting squished!
  • I use the Snack Cups for all of my snacks, from almonds in my purse to goldfish to hummus (4 for only $9.99 on Amazon!). 
  • Last but not least, the $9 Soup Mug makes it super easy to re-heat warm soups, stews, and chilis in the microwave and I don't have to worry about soup getting all over my lunchbox. 

7. Liquid Measuring cup

A liquid measuring cup is something that might not be on your basic kitchen outfitting list, but is actually necessary for accurate liquid measurements (versus the more-common dry goods measuring cups). It's also a useful way to check for reduction if you're making a sauce, whisk up a homemade salad dressing, or melt something in the microwave (like butter for baking). A high quality glass version will withstand many years of use.

 

 

 

Under the Tree

 
12 Things for your kitchen on this holiday wish list! | themillennialmenu.com
 

1. Instant Pot  

I've already written a whole post about why you can't live without the Instant Pot. That post is your perfect resource for in depth information about why you need to buy this appliance and how it will make your life so much easier. In short, you need it because it's a slow cooker (meaning you can walk in the door at the end of a long day at work and dinner is already sitting ready for you) and a pressure cooker (meaning you can walk in the door having forgot to think about dinner and have something delicious on the table in minutes) all in one - and so much more. I LOVE my Instant Pot a little too much, and I can promise you'll be so happy you have it. In my longer post about it, I did agree that sometimes people only need a slow cooker, but if you can get it at a price like today, it's basically the same as a slow cooker and does so much more. The DUO60 model (the newest, average-sized model) is currently on sale for Black Friday for $68.95. That's almost 50% off! Read my post The One Appliance Every Twenty-Something Can't Live Without and buy yours today.


2. FoodSaver

If this appliance is important enough that I wrote a whole post arguing Why Every Millennial Needs a FoodSaver, then you should definitely put a FoodSaver on your list. A FoodSaver is a vacuum sealer that will keep your food fresh for longer. I love it for so many reasons, including sealing fancy cheese, but it's most useful for freezing meat. I buy meat on sale in bulk and freeze all my meat in single portions. It makes my life so much easier and saves me so much money. There are a ton of fancier models, but the one I have that's linked here works just fine and is small enough to fit in your kitchen. This FoodSaver model is only $60 and is simple and intuitive to use.


3. Good Blender

If you know me, you know I'm all about budget but this is the one case where I really go overboard. I have a certified refurbished Standard Vitamix and it cost me $249 and I have no regrets. Vitamix is the gold standard of blenders, known for their impressive power and high quality design. I make smoothies every day and the texture is perfectly smooth in seconds. This all being said, a brand new Vitamix is uber expensive, so I really recommend Vitamix's certified refurbished program. Mine came like new, and it comes with a 5 year full warranty!

In addition to making actual blended things, like smoothies, you can also use it as a food processor. Blenders facilitate eating healthfully and cooking quickly, all on one convenient appliance. Subscribe to the blog for a future post all about my Vitamix and why it's worth your investment!

If you're looking for a quality blender without splurging for the Vitamix, check out some write-ups to decide what model is best for you.


4. Carbon Steel Pan

A good pan will take all of your cooking to the next level, almost easier than learning technique or perfecting a recipe will. You need one quality pan in your kitchen cabinets, and carbon steel is the way to go. It's what's used most in restaurants to cook the food you love paying for so much, replaces heavy and unwieldy cast iron, and is beautifully and naturally non-stick. They also heat evenly, unlike many pre-coated non-stick pans, meaning you can get a wonderful sear on meat or seafood. Carbon steel pans are also oven safe, so they're great for finishing off a dish in the oven. To get the full scoop, check out the trusted Cooks Illustrated review or their demo video testing out the various pans hereSubscribe to the blog to get more info about the Carbon Steel Pan and why I love it in a future post.


5. Good Knives

A good knife makes cooking so much easier. I didn't believe it until I saw it myself - food is actually easier to prepare with a sharper, higher quality knife like this budget-conscious option will meet the majority of your needs. You can buy a cheaper set of different, multi-purpose knives but having a high quality chef's knife is worth it because you'll reach for that knife the most. America's Test Kitchen has consistently rated this knife as the best frugal choice if you'd like a lot of bang for your buck. If you're looking to branch out or splurge a bit, check out this guide from Serious Eats.


Note: This post contains affiliate links for products I recommend. That means if you click on a product link in this post and choose to purchase the product on Amazon, I earn a commission. I only recommend products I use and love organically. This means that if you are going to purchase a product that I recommend, I encourage you to do it through the direct link from the blog so that I (and the blog) benefit. The rest of the products I own and love. I do not earn anything from the items on Vitamix or the Tupperware websites. Read my full affiliate disclosure

Homemade Cranberry Sauce

Homemade Cranberry Sauce. 3 ingredients. 1 Pot. The Easiest thanksgiving dish to Impress your family & Friends!  | themillennialmenu.com

Thanksgiving is just around the corner and if you're currently panicking about what to bring to your family or friend's house for Thanksgiving (or Friendsgiving, maybe), I've got you covered. This recipe for homemade cranberry sauce is one of my favorite parts about Thanksgiving and can add an underrated level of sophistication to the meal. It's also SO easy - so you'll impress everyone with your from-scratch dish but can avoid the sweat and tears of something much more complicated.

Being a good guest (or host - hey, shout out to you on that one) couldn't get any easier. Pick up 3 simple ingredients: a bag of cranberries (or two, if you want to double the recipe), an orange, and sugar. Dump them in a pot on the stove, turn it on low, give it a stir, and watch as chunky, tangy, sweet homemade cranberry sauce magically appears. You can add a little bit of water as you go depending on how thick or think you want your sauce to be. This recipe is WAY better than the canned stuff - it tastes like the real deal, much more tangy, and wholesomely delicious. 

I could eat a bowl of homemade cranberry sauce by the spoonful, but I also recommend you enjoy it with the full spread of turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and whatever else you're enjoying on Thanksgiving day. The day after Thanksgiving, I make post-thanksgiving paninis with turkey, stuffing, mayo, and cranberry spread which I might love more than the Thanksgiving meal itself. Warning: you may want to make a double batch.



Homemade Cranberry Sauce

Makes about 1 cup cranberry sauce
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 - 12 oz. bag fresh cranberries
  • Juice of 1 orange Substitute: 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • Add water as needed

Directions

1. Set aside 1 handful of cranberries for later.
2. Add the rest of the 12 oz. bag of fresh cranberries to a pot.
3. Add juice of one orange or 1/2 cup orange juice.
4. Add 3/4 cup sugar.
5. Stir everything together.
6. Bring the pot to a low simmer. Stir occasionally. Cranberries should begin to burst. 
7. If sauce is too thick (more like a jam), add water by the tablespoon as needed.
8. After about 8 minutes, add the remaining handful of cranberries to the pot. 
9. Stir until the new cranberries burst, about 3-5 minutes. The first batch of cranberries will be broken down and softened by that time, meaning the texture of the cranberry reduction and the burst cranberries will be a perfect mix of chunky and smooth! Note: If you don't like chunky sauce, add all the cranberries to the pot at once.
10. Cool the sauce. Serve chilled.

Yum.


Preparing for Thanksgiving

WHEN TO MAKE - You can make cranberry sauce up to 6 days ahead of time, making it super easy to bring as a dish to Thanksgiving - you can do it the weekend before! Or, if you're hosting yourself, it's one less thing you have to worry about on the big day.

STORING - Store in an airtight container in the fridge. Enjoy within one week.

LEFTOVERS & SERVING SUGGESTIONS - I could eat this stuff plain. Cranberry sauce is best enjoyed with the full Thanksgiving menu - most notably turkey and stuffing. I also love putting it on a post-thanksgiving sandwich of turkey, stuffing, mayo, and cranberry sauce the next day for lunch. You can also use it as jam, stirred into greek yogurt, warmed up and enjoyed over a scoop of vanilla ice cream, or on top of your pancakes.

5-Day Millennial Menu Meal Plan #1

One of the hardest parts about making a home cooked meal is figuring out what to make and going grocery shopping to get everything you need to make it. All of my recipes are pretty easy to pull off - but it's a much more daunting class to make five of them in a week. That's why I created the first Millennial Menu Meal Plan

This Millennial Menu features 5 recipes make sense together. It's how I would go about planning what I'm eating in a week using Paprika (a meal planning app that is my #1 cooking hack) The recipes have overlapping ingredients so you're buying only what you need at the grocery store and can use it all up to avoid wasting food (and money) with rotten leftovers. Plus, it doesn't really matter what night you cook each meal. If you're buying fresh fish, you'll want to enjoy those meals earlier in the week because fresh fish should only sit in the refrigerator for 1-2 days. Other than that, this is a super flexible blueprint for your dinners this week! Even though you're using ingredients that overlap, this menu is still really varied - you go from salmon to pizza to fish tacos to curry to peppers stuffed with ground turkey. It definitely does not taste like you're eating the same thing over and over, that's for sure. Read on below to find out how/why this meal plan is so attainable. I've even included a Master Grocery List to make the whole thing that much easier. 

To access the detailed recipes (including more specific grocery guides for each recipe),
scroll to "Explore the Recipes" and click the photo of the recipe you're looking for!


What's Cookin?

Menu 1: Coconut Lemongrass Salmon

Start with a fresh, flavorful salmon dish. You'll need coconut milk for this recipe, but you can use the rest in my 15 minute Chickpea Chicken Curry Recipe. Whatever green you choose for the salmon will also be used again in the curry.

Menu 2: Naan Pizza

Next, indulge in (healthier) pizza! This recipe is flexible - you choose your toppings, BBQ Chicken or Pesto Caprese. Either way, you're using up the 1 rotisserie chicken you're buying in the deli section for about $5. What a deal! If you really want to overlap on your ingredients, choose the BBQ Chicken pizza. I use shredded Mexican blend cheese when I make my BBQ Chicken pizzas, and you can use the same cheese in both the Five Minute Fish Tacos and the Freezer Friendly Mexican Stuffed Peppers. Same goes for the red onion on the BBQ pizza - you'll use it in the coconut lemongrass bowl.

Menu 3: Five Minute Fish Taco Bowls

Spice things up with one of my favorite ingredients, Trader Joe's Corn and Chile Tomato-less Salsa! Plus, black beans, corn, quinoa, Mexican style shredded cheese and cilantro are also featured in Freezer Friendly Mexican Stuffed Peppers. You could turn this into a chicken taco bowl, too, if you wanted to use rotisserie chicken that you're buying for the curry and the pizzas.

Menu 4: Chickpea Chicken Curry

Cozy up with a big bowl of curry that takes mere minutes to pull together. You're using coconut milk and the rotisserie chicken in this recipe, so these ingredients are doing double duty in the Coconut Lemongrass Salmon and Naan Pizzas. Whatever green you chose to have with your salmon will also be used in this recipe.

Menu 5: Freezer Friendly Mexican Stuffed Peppers

You're already buying black beans, corn, Mexican style shredded cheese, quinoa, and cilantro for the Five Minute Fish Taco Bowls!


Explore the recipes...

click each photo for recipe link,

including a grocery guide!


Master Grocery List

*for one serving of each meal,
except for the peppers, which makes ~4. They're freezer friendly!

Produce

  • 1 small red onion
  • 1 bag greens (such as spinach, kale, bok choy, or swiss chard)
  • 1 handful white or portobello mushrooms
  • 1 avocado
  • 1 lime
  • Lemongrass paste (This paste is one of my secrets to cooking with herbs and spices)
  • 1 bunch cilantro

Del

Meat & Seafood

  • 1 6-oz. portion of salmon
  • 1 piece tilapia
  • 1 lb. ground turkey

Dry Goods

  • 1 standard 15.5 oz. can coconut milk
  • 3/4 cup uncooked quinoa
  • Rice (optional, serving suggestion with the salmon)
  • 1 standard 15.5 oz. can corn
  • Trader Joe's Corn and Chile Tomato-Less Salsa (substitute: additional can of corn)
  • 1 standard 15.5 oz. can black beans
  • 1 standard 15.5 oz. can diced tomatoes
  • 1 standard 15.5 oz. can chickpeas
  • 1 packet fajita/taco seasoning
  • Curry powder

Dairy

  • Smallest container sour cream
  • 1 bag Mexican-style shredded cheese

Wait! For the Naan pizzas...

  • If you chose BBQ Chicken Pizza: add chives (optional) and BBQ Sauce to your list.
  • If you chose Pesto Caprese Pizza: add mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, pesto, and balsamic drizzle to your list.


Tortellini Soup with Spinach & Mushrooms Recipe

Easy Tortellini Soup with Mushrooms and SPinach will warm you right up on a chilly night! | themillennialmenu.com

It's getting chillier and chillier here in Boston, and that means it's the perfect time for my Tortellini Soup with Spinach & Mushrooms recipe. The secret ingredient in this recipe is cream cheese. Call me crazy, but it adds a tangy depth of flavor and creaminess in a short amount of time - you'll love it.

You need only 6 simple ingredients for this recipe: tortellini, tomato sauce, chicken broth, cream cheese, spinach, and mushrooms. This recipe is perfect for making a big batch at the beginning of the week and enjoying throughout. You can even think about mixing it up with different kinds of tortellini - a porcini mushroom tortellini would complement the mushrooms in the broth, or even a pesto tortellini for an added punch of flavor!



Tortellini Soup with Spinach & Mushrooms Recipe

Makes 1 serving
Other Recipes With These Ingredients: Tortellini: Butternut Squash & Sage Tortellini
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
 

Ingredients

  • 1 package tortellini
  • 1 large can (28-32oz.) tomato sauce
  • 1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 8-oz. package of cream cheese
  • 1 bag spinach
  • 1 package white mushrooms, sliced 




Dietary Substitutions:
Dairy Free: You could make this without dairy but it just won't be as creamy - or check out some lactose free cream cheese options. Choose a different pasta that's not tortellini to cut out the cheese
Gluten Free: Try a gluten-free tortellini or any other gluten-free pasta
Vegetarian Friendly
Vegan-Friendly: Follow the dairy free options and use vegetable broth!

 

Directions

1. Boil water for tortellini and cook your one package of tortellini.
2. Meanwhile, heat up 1 large can of tomato sauce and 1 cup of chicken or vegetable broth in a pot. Add 1 - 8oz. package of cream cheese, stirring constantly until it melts in. You can add more chicken or vegetable broth if you'd like a thinner broth.
3. Once the cream cheese has melted, let the broth cool a bit and blend the broth in a blender to smooth it out.
4. Now you need to add your one package of sliced white mushrooms. There are two ways to do this: 1) Just add them right in!  
4. Right at the end, stir in the bag of spinach and let it wilt. Then, spoon into bowls and enjoy!

Yum.


Lunch Tomorrow, Storing, & Extra Ingredients

LUNCH TOMORROW - This soup almost tastes better the next day, once everything has soaked in! 

STORING - Store for 3-5 days in an airtight container in the fridge.

EXTRA INGREDIENTS - Try out my recipe for Butternut Squash & Sage Tortellini with any extra tortellini you have on hand. Make a healthy salad for lunch with extra spinach. Extra tomato sauce can be frozen for almost any recipe in the future - just freeze it in a freezer safe ziplock bag! If you have extra cream cheese, this pepper relish dip is a childhood favorite of mine!