As 2011 comes to an end, we’re sharing helpful lists to help you save money, stay healthy, get organized, creatively repurpose, frugally gift-give, intentionally celebrate and more in our “11 Things for 2011” series throughout these holiday months.

As I’ve been learning that less is more and working hard to purge and pare down the things that we own, I’ve been reminded of the beauty of having multi-purpose appliances. Today’s post is a feature of the handy, inexpensive little gadget that we know as a coffee grinder.

But, oh. It’s so much more than that.

I bought mine for $4 at a thrift store, about 4 years ago. It is used multiple times most weeks, and the majority of those uses aren’t for grinding coffee.

One thing that I particularly love is the convenience of using a coffee grinder for fast jobs and easy clean up. It is the perfect size to tackle small tasks with efficiency and ease, and with a swish of a cloth, it’s wiped out and ready for the next time I need it.

Here are 11 ways to put your little coffee grinder to very good use: 

1. Coffee

I know, it’s painfully obvious, but it still had to be said. For the freshest, best-tasting pot of coffee, store your coffee beans in sealed bags or containers in the freezer, and grind the beans in small amounts as needed. To save time, I usually grind enough for several days at once, then store it in a container back in the freezer.

2. Spices

Spices are the most flavorful and aromatic when freshly ground. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, a coffee grinder stands in well as a spice grinder. I have used it to make Indian spice mixes, grind cloves or cardamom pods, and peppercorns, among other things.

3. Bread crumbs

Several weeks ago, I gave 11 ideas for using up your stale bread, and bread crumbs are one of my personal favorite uses. I hardly ever pull my big food processor out of the cupboard unless I have a lot of bread to go through.

If you just tear your bread into small pieces, a coffee grinder can handle it easily and it makes crumbs that are as large or as fine as you want them, depending on how long you keep it on. Just don’t overload your little machine and keep the bread amount to about half of its holding capacity.

4. Small amounts of flour

For those who also grind their own grains, have you ever needed just a cup or two of flour and felt that it wasn’t worth it to pull out your grain grinder? That was how I first discovered that, in a pinch, I could grind small amounts of flour without the hassle of the larger appliance.

It’s also perfect for lesser-used grains. I have a pot pie recipe that uses millet flour in the crust, but I hardly ever use millet flour so I never grind it ahead of time to keep on hand. Whenever I make this recipe, my coffee grinder lets me grind exactly the amount that I need, no fuss, no muss.

5. Dry herbs

Whatever herbs I grow in the garden that aren’t used fresh are usually dehydrated and then ground into dry herbs to use in my cooking throughout the winter.

As you can see with my parsley above, the coffee grinder is a winner for this simple job. You can grind it more finely if you desire, and this works for pretty much any dried leafy herb.

6. Herbs for teas

It’s easy to make your own tea blends using dried herbs that you have purchased in bulk, as well dried flowers, spices, fruits, etc. Depending on the size of the ingredients, it can be helpful to grind some things just a little smaller so that all of the yumminess is equally distributed in each pot or mug of tea.

Last week, Mindy shared some simple homemade gift ideas, including homemade tea blends. Definitely worth checking out!

7. Powdered sugar

Although my blender is my preferred appliance for finely grinding unrefined sugars to make my own powdered sugar, the coffee grinder will work in a pinch, when all you need is a little bit.

8. Chopped nuts and seeds

For a quick sprinkle on top of yogurt, a salad or any other place where you enjoy chopped nuts or seeds, the coffee grinder works well. It can grind flax seeds (or any seed, really) into a nice, fine meal.

If it’s chopped nuts you’re looking for, it works very well with softer nuts like walnuts, pecans, pine nuts, peanuts. With soft nuts, don’t grind for too long or you’ll start to get nut butter, which may not be what you’re looking for. For something a little harder like almonds, it will grind them, just not quite as uniformly as you may like. If you want to turn your almonds into more of a flour, then I would recommend using a food processor or high-powdered blender instead.

Image by izik

9. Garnishes

Want little bits of chocolate, coconut, orange or lemon peel, or other small edible bits to use as garnish? The coffee grinder can handle most of them.

Of course, if you’re more of a perfectionist and want lovely little shreds instead of small chunks, you may want to hand grate them instead. For the less-gourmet among us, the grinder does the job well enough.

10. Potpourri

Use your grinder for dried flower or spicy, warm potpourri, if you need somewhat smaller pieces to get an evenly distributed mix,

11. Paper Confetti

Turn recycled white or colored paper into a quick and festive confetti with a few whirls in the coffee grinder!

How do you use your coffee grinder? What other multi-use appliances do you find most handy in your kitchen?

Top image by theogeo