Sunday, December 1, 2013

A Fancy Kitchen

I’ve been working on todays post for a while. I wanted to take my time and really think about my kitchen appliances. With the holidays around it got me wanting to finish this up, mostly because I do try and score new kitchen items as gifts and I figured others might be doing the same.
When I first peered into the world of raw foods I felt very lacking. Not in my kitchen skills but in my kitchen appliances. How could I ever make flax crackers without a dehydrator? How could I make cashew cheese without a high power blender? There is nothing a little ingenuity and good old-fashioned elbow grease can't cook. I would love to have a fancy kitchen; a stand alone mixer, a dehydrator, a blender that can make soup and ice cream. Hell at this point I'd feel pretty fancy with a cookie sheet (yeah I don't have one of those either). I'm not cooking over a campfire with a clay pot I made myself (all though that kind of sounds delicious), but I do have pretty minimal kitchen accouterments. So here is my guide to a minimalist’s kitchen and what you can and cannot do without.

Non-Essentials (But feel free to splurge!)

Lets start with that shmancy blender. A nice quality one can easily cost you $400 and up. I'm not denying its awesomeness. I’ve had the pleasure of working at an establishment with one for years. It is great for smoothies, quick soups, and grinding seeds or making nut milks. It is also completely unnecessary. You can get by with a small blender or even a Bullet (we joked so much when we got one as a wedding gift but we've actually used it constantly the past couple of years). The trick to having a not high-powered blender is to do your prep work. If you want a carrot in your smoothie then chop it up pretty good first. If you want to grind flax, do it in small batches. When making nut milks soak for a little extra time and do small batches. I have not actually come across anything I can’t do with my tiny blender that I could do with a nice one.
Another high-ticket kitchen item is a stand-alone mixer. I actually made sure I got one of these as a wedding present, however I don’t use it often right now because our kitchen is so small and there is zero counter space. These are great for, well, mixing and kneading dough. I’ve seen some really nice one’s with attachments that make pasta! Again though, I haven’t encountered anything that you have to use this for. I even make homemade marshmallows by just whisking them (I also count this as and upper body workout), the same goes for whipping cream or mixing cakes, and even kneading dough. All can be done by hand provided you have the strength. If you are arthritic or have another ailment that would prevent you from hand whipping something then you should definitely invest in one of these. You don’t have to go for the top brand and often you can find a good one at a second hand shop. If you are up to the challenge then buy yourself a nice sturdy whisk.
Juicer and Dehydrator- If you are following a strict raw diet then you probably want to buy a dehydrator, if not then most dehydrated items can be cooked on low in the oven. Mine goes as low as 170oF. A juicer is a nice luxury (I do have one). If you find yourself buying a lot of fresh juices then it may be worth it (You can find a decent one for around $75) otherwise it just takes up kitchen space.


Can opener- Yes you can cut open a can with a knife but it is very unsafe and time consuming
Wine opener- It doesn't have to be fancy but really, how else will you open your wine?
Wooden cooking spoons- Yes they need to be wood or bamboo. They won’t melt, they wont leach anything weird into your food, they won’t react with any acids, and as long as you clean them with hot soapy water, they are quite sanitary. They are also cheap so you can replace them when they become worn.
Metal Spatula- Go for non-reactive stainless steel with a nice wood or heat resistant handle. A lot of people avoid metal spatulas so they don’t scratch the surface of their non-stick pans, see “stainless steel pot and pan” below.
Oven Mitts – I used a shirt for years and I have the burns to prove it!
Knives- Don’t buy a set, there will be a lot that you don’t use. Instead spend a little extra on a couple of nice ones that will last, and treat them well. I like to have a few small paring knives, two chef’s knives or santoku knives, which are larger and can be used for all general chopping, and a serrated knife which can be used to cut bread, carve meat, and saw open hard squashes.
Cutting Board- There is some debate about the best type. If you do a lot of meat cutting then it is a good idea to get one for meat and one for veggies as most cutting boards are somewhat porous. I prefer a wood composite board over bamboo because it is easier maintenance. I don’t personally use any type of plastic board but they are easier to sanitize. I find a nice rubdown with lemon and occasionally leaving it in the sun keeps my wood composite board fresh.
Stainless steel pot and pan- I know that non-stick pans are much easier to cook with but it has now been shown that the coating on those pans are not safe, and they do get scratched over time and into your food. We switched to stainless steel when I got pregnant. You don’t have to buy a 100% stainless steel, ours have an aluminum core (cheaper) and a copper plate (for even cooking). You don’t want any aluminum on the cooking surface as it is reactive. It can be a pain sometimes because the pans stick if not properly oiled but it is worth it!
Mixing Bowls- For a long time I mixed batters and tossed veggies in oil in my cooking pot because I didn’t have any other large bowls. Make life easier and pick up a non-reactive metal or glass mixing bowl, it’s good to get a small and larger one.
Casserole Dish- The options are endless here. Ceramic, glass, handles, lid, extra deep… I went cheap and functional by buying a glass set that had several different sizes with plastic lids. I don’t know if that is technically a casserole dish, but you sure as hell can cook a casserole in it. You don’t have to have a pretty one with a ceramic lid (foil will suffice) unless you just want to of course.
Baking Sheet – I actually don’t have a traditional cookie sheet. I have a stone jellyroll pan (which looks like a cookie sheet with sides) and a metal round pizza pan. I do make cookies and all sorts of other things on these. If you are limited on money and space, go for a jellyroll pan, stone or metal, because it is more versatile. Also I prefer a non-coated pan and use parchment to prevent sticking.
Strainer/Colander- You can definitely get by without one but it will make life easier and it is not super expensive for space consuming. If you only want to buy one, then get a fine mesh or small holed stainless steel one, as it will be more versatile.

 Nice to Have

Food Processor- If you are thinking of buying any kitchen appliance, go for a food processor. They come in varying sizes; I’ve seen 2 to 14 cup capacity. It is nice to have a small one and a larger one, but a nice in between one will do. These are great for grinding nuts, making nut butters, pureeing soups, quick chopping vegetables and mixing batters. You could easily spend a lot of money but there are great ones for around and under $50. Also look for one that comes with an attachment blade that can shred or slice vegetables.
Slow Cooker (crock-pot)- There is really no comparison (except maybe a dutch oven?) I have only recently acquired one and I really do love it. They come in varying sizes so get one that will fit your families’ needs. Also check the materials since food kind of marinates in these you don’t want anything leaching in. These are great for cooking meat, making chili, and I've even seen them used to make homemade yogurt.
Cast Iron Skillet- A good one will cost you a nice chunk but they are truly all purpose, as you can cook on or in the stove. I’ve also heard it is a good way to add iron to your food. Make sure to take care of it and you’ll be passing it on oneday.
Tea Kettle- A pot works fine but a kettle is divine
Coffee Maker/French Press- This would be under the “essentials” in my house. I recommend the French press because it saves more space.
Other- Generally I try to avoid too many kitchen gadgets but if you bake then of course you need cake or bread pans and a whisk. I like to have a zester and garlic press to make life easier as well.

This is not an exhaustive list but I hope it puts your kitchen into perspective. Remember you don’t need anything fancy to cook a great meal. I’ve had some of the best dinners in a pot over a campfire.

What are your favorite kitchen tools?

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