I got a great email question from a reader this week and decided to answer it on the blog. I think more and more people are wanting to transition from the Standard American Diet and easily available processed food to real, healthy, homemade goodness. The issue of course is that we find ourselves unprepared to cook real food because we are so used to heat and serve style meals. When we want to cook and bake from scratch we need the right tools so that we can stick with his new lifestyle and not decide that it is ultimately too much work. Our health will improve and so will our impact on the planet so it is important that we manage to set up our kitchen to make it easier to eat real food!
Here is what Danielle had to say:
Hello from Wisconsin. I have one daughter and trying for another. I have just recently become more aware of the choices I make for the my family and the impact it has on all of us. I started out by bringing my own bags to the grocery store, making my daughter her own baby food, getting rid of paper towels altogether, and a few other little changes. My goal for the new year is going to be making all our own food from scratch. Whether it’s snacks, dinner, smoothies, ect. With that being said, do you have any suggestions as to cookware and/or kitchen tools to help with doing so?
I have been trying to go back to a lot of your older posts and learning but as you probably know with having a little one I don’t get much time to do so. What are some of the best tips you could give me as to making my family and our house more green? As most of the people these days, we are on a budget. So I am hoping to make changes in small increments.
The following are some of the things I think a real food kitchen needs. As with anything you can start small and add things as you can. Also depending on what you are cooking some of these things may not apply to you but hopefully these ideas give you a place to start. Make sure to comment and add YOUR must have kitchen tool at the bottom of this page.
What You Need for a Real Foods Kitchen
Vita-Mix – My number #1 must have for the kitchen would have to be the Vita-Mix. I use mine literally all the time and have even joked that if the house were burning down I would run back inside to grab my camera and this amazing blender. We use it for making homemade nut butters, almond milk, butter, crackers, baby food (back in the day), popsicles, ice cream, sorbet, smoothies, mixed drinks, salsa, soup, raw cookies and desserts, and so much more. It is one of those gadgets that is always out on the counter because someone in the house will use it… at least 2 or 3 times each day. It is an expensive item but worth every penny and then some. If you have one you may not even need an immersion blender or a food processor plus you can buy a separate dry container for grinding your own flour.
I also have a Blendtec but I like the Vita-mix better.
A Dutch Oven – You can buy many different types of Dutch Ovens from the posh and stylish Le Creuset to the uber affordable Lodge Logic. The latter option works swimmingly so unless looking at that French version will make you super happy you can just go with the cheaper option. I use my cast iron Lodge Logic oven for making soups and stews when I don’t have time for a crock-pot. And as you can see below I also use it to make whole wheat sourdough bread on occasion.
Pressure Cooker – Okay, so you planned things REALLY badly and you need to cook up something really fast but you want that slow cooked for hours taste. You need a pressure cooker. If you’re are a meat eater you can also turn out really tender and juicy dishes using traditionally tough cuts of meat and you can do it 20 minutes instead of 2 hours. Some units can be used as a canner as well. I have no personal experience with these but I hear I am getting one for Christmas!
Crock-pot – These are perfect for meals with long cooking times… think chicken noodle soup, meatloaf, or chili. You can use a dutch oven or pressure cooker to get the job done faster but you may not want to heat your oven (summer) or you may need to cook while away from home. Since crock-pots plug into the wall and don’t require a stove they are perfect for slow cooking meals while you are working. You can also put them on a timer and have them start cooking while you are sleeping… ala overnight oatmeal.
I use my crock-pot more often than my dutch oven simply because I like to do all the food prep while my kids are at school. It can get hectic in the evening to have to chop all the veggies and such. For meals that only need 30 minutes or so, like my Potato Leek Soup, I use the cast iron dutch oven. Can’t wait to see how the pressure cooker works itself into the equation.
Bean Pot – These awesome pots can be used to soak and also cook your beans. I have an antique one that I got as a gift but you can also buy them new.
Dehydrator – I have an Excalibur food dehydrator and it is almost essential if you enjoy raw foods. In mine I have made cookies, crackers, dried fruit, fruit rolls, almond flour from almond pulp, and many other raw food dishes. They are also great for campers and hikers because you can make home cooked meals and then dehydrate instead of buying those freeze dried packets at sporting goods stores. Being able to dry fruit is a great way to preserve foods for winter time consumption.
Rice Cooker – If you eat a lot of rice or quinoa (raising hand) then having one of these saves loads of time and you don’t have to worry about burning. Most of these have non-stick coatings though so I suggest clay or stainless steel. They are pricier than your $30 rice cookers at Walmart but you don’t have to worry about cooking your food in nasty chemicals.
Pizza Stone – In my mind there is no reason to order pizza out. It is super easy to make your own pizza and it is MUCH healthier. My kids eat pizza loaded with fresh basil and spinach and you won’t find that at Pizza Hut. If you do make pizza at home then having a good pizza stone is nice. You can use them in the oven in winter and on the grill in summer. Easy!! You can also use these for things like biscuits and cookies.
Waffle Maker and/or Griddle – If you like waffles ( I recommend sourdough waffles) then you will love a cast iron waffle maker. Don’t buy the conventional ones with a non-stick finish. Same goes for griddles. A cast iron griddle is perfect for cooking eggs, pancakes, and even homemade english muffins.
Cutting Boards – Nourished kitchens see lots of veggie action. As a result of this I seem to have a bit of a bamboo cutting board addiction. I have 2 regular ones, a cutting block style board, and one that has a nifty colander built in for cutting and rinsing over the sink. I also have a plastic one from my non-green days and I keep it around for cutting meat. I won’t let meat touch my wooden boards. I also have a glass cutting board.
Colander – Typical kitchens usually have one but just in case I love the metal ones that are designed to fit over the sink. Love, love, love them! Plus you can use them as baskets when not in use to hold potatoes, fruit, eggs, etc.
Mixers – I have wanted a good mixer with a dough hook for years. I cannot seem to rationalize the cost of a KitchenAid though when we don’t do that much baking or bread making. Maybe someday if we find an awesome deal I will finally get one.
Good Pots and Pans – I wrote an extensive post on healthy and green cookware already so you can refer to that for the ins and outs of cast iron, stainless, aluminum, copper, etc.
Yogurt Maker – You can make yogurt in a crock-pot if you make up large batches and you can even use a jar and a heating pad. I happen to prefer the ease of a yogurt maker and I use the same one today that my mom used when I was a kid. If you decide to get one look for ones that have glass containers, not plastic.
Ramekins – Love these for reasonable portions of things like pudding and ice cream but also for cooking. I love to toss a egg in one and then top with a slice of fresh tomato, a sprinkling of herbs, some bread crumbs, and some cheese. Meat eaters like some crumpled bacon. Cook in the oven until the eggs set and voila, an easy an delicious breakfast for the whole house. Love these colored Rachael Ray ramekins!
Casserole Dishes – Speaking of Rachael Ray I am also loving her Stoneware bake sets that can be used for casseroles. Her cooking gear started out very cheesy (and plastics heavy) but it has taken a turn for the better in recent months. I can see making a veggie casserole or sweet potato casserole in these.
Juicer – I used to have a juicer but decided that I ultimately enjoy drinking the pulp and fiber of a fruit rather than just the juice. But if you are into raw foods or you need the extra healing that fresh juicing can provide, then a good juicer is essential.
Water Purification – We use Brita pitchers for filtering our water and an Alkamate for alkaline water.
Ball Jars – I use Ball jars for tons of things around the kitchen. We use small ones as drink cups for the kids and quart sized ones for protein shakes and green smoothies for adults. I also use them to store flour, grains, quinoa, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, rice, dehydrated fruit, cereal, oats, etc. You can fill them from the bulk bin at your local grocer or you can buy packaged and then transfer it. It keeps things fresh, bug free, and I label the bottom of the jars so that I know what is in them. I put a sprouting lid on them and use them for sprouting seeds. The lid and jar combo can be used for sprinkling powdered cleaners, like my homemade scented scrubs to. I use them to make fermented foods like sourdough and kefir and store things in the fridge. They have a million uses!
Also, any glass jar will do. I just mostly use Ball jars because we don’t buy much food packaged in jars but I do have a couple Bubbies pickle jars in there to.
Below: Potato flakes, quinoa, brown rice, wild rice, coconut flour, quinoa flour, almond flour, flaxseed cereal, flaxseed meal, and some others I am likely forgetting.
Glass Refrigerator Dishes – As I mentioned above, I use Ball Jars for lots of my storage needs but when I have leftovers that won’t fit in jars I use glass refrigerator dishes. I have lots of vintage pyrex for this purpose as well as some Anchor Hocking glass dishes.
Storage Baskets – For food that stays outside the fridge like potatoes, onions, garlic, apples, bananas, lemons, bread, etc, we use baskets for easy storage and they go on a large metal shelving system that sits in our kitchen.
Chef’s Knives – Just like you need good cutting boards for all those fresh veggies you will be chopping, you need some good knives to.
Miscellaneous Stuff – An apple corer, wooden cooking utensils, wood and metal serving bowls, a hand crank mixer, a nut chopper (go vintage if you can!), spiral slicer, nut milk bags and cheesecloth, a kitchen scale, metal spatulas, a Tagine, and a fermenting crock.
Whew! Did I go a little crazy with this run down? What do you have to have in your kitchen?
Wednesday, November 16th, 2011