· By Anya Kaats
Essential Kitchen Tools for a Healthy Lifestyle
Before I jump into my favorite kitchen tools, I will start with a confession. I didn’t start cooking until I was almost out of college. And even then, I only started because I was forced to. I was living abroad in Amsterdam without any sort of “meal plan” option from school and for the first time in my life, I was faced with the daunting task of grocery shopping and preparing myself meals on a daily basis (not to mention doing all of this for the first time in a foreign country).
I specifically remember how horrified I was when I threw that first chicken breast into the pan. Sure I had made myself omelets, baked some muffins and threw together a salad but I had certainly never cooked a piece of meat. Thankfully, that sautéed chicken breast tasted delicious and as the weeks went by, I started to get more and more comfortable in the kitchen. It wasn’t until about two years later when I started viewing cooking as something I loved, not just something I “had” to do.
I became extremely passionate about whole, unprocessed foods & noticed a huge change in my mood, energy level, strength, weight, etc. This journey eventually lead me to enroll in the Institute for Integrative nutrition and become a Certified Holistic Health Coach.
The reason I am telling you all of this is because I know, both as a Health Coach and first hand, how vital it is to have the right tools in the kitchen. Once I was able to acquire the tools I needed to make healthy & delicious food, any and all fears I once had about cooking dissipated. I no longer had to skip past recipes simply because I didn’t have the right knife, food processor or blender. I know that sometimes it’s difficult to wrap your mind around investing in kitchen tools, especially when you are new to cooking, but I can assure you that it is well worth it. Cooking will become easier, less intimidating and most of all, tons of fun. Think of it as an investment in your health!
I am sure you’re all familiar with those wooden knife racks that hold 6-8 different knives. I remember having one of those in my house growing up. But I also remember that it sat unused, collecting dust. The real truth is that to prepare about 98% of recipes out there, you really only need one knife. Before you do anything else in the kitchen, if you don’t have a high-quality chef knife I recommend you purchase one as soon as possible. I cannot put into words how much of a difference a sharp, high-quality knife makes. Not only does it prevent injury & provide accuracy, it can also cut your prep/cooking time by 75%. High-quality chef knives can last an entire lifetime so it’s definitely worth spending a little extra money on this one.
Make sure you look for a blade made of carbon or stainless steel and one that is forged, not stamped. Forged knives are made from one solid piece of metal (as opposed to lots of little pieces welded together) and makes for an extremely strong and sturdy cut. Forged knives also last much longer than stamped varieties. I would highly recommend purchasing your knife in person. It’s valuable to work with someone in a store who is highly trained and can help you pick the best knife for your budget and needs. You can try out several different types and see what feels best. If you don’t have time to purchase one in person, I recommend Henckels International, Messermeister, or Wusthof. After you’ve bought your knife, I recommend taking a simple knife skills course or simply watching this Youtube video. You’d be surprised at how many of us actually hold a knife incorrectly. Simply moving your hand into the right position can work wonders! (Not to mention help prevent injury).
If I had room to leave my food processor on the top of my counter, I would. I use it that frequently. I use my food processor to make pesto, doughs & batters (for breads, pizza crusts, muffins, cookies, cakes, pancakes), burgers, mashed cauliflower (my fave alternative to mashed potatoes), just to name a few. I actually own two food processors – one large and one small. The small one helps when I need to whip something up very quickly and want to cut down on cleaning time or if I am taking it on the go. However, you definitely don’t need two. A larger food processor is definitely ideal because it has a MUCH stronger motor, it will last longer and you can make large and small batches in it. The small one, while convenient & very cheap, gets overheated very quickly and cannot handle the quantity of ingredients that appear in most recipes. I highly recommend the Cuisinart Prep 9-Cup Food Processor. If you really, really cannot afford that one or like me, want the convenient option of a second smaller version, I would recommend the Cuisinart DLC-4CHB Mini-Prep.
Personally, I choose not to eat grains or processed carbohydrates for digestive reasons and therefore, 99.9% of traditional pastas are out of the question. However, I still love all the stuff you put ON pasta, so finding a pasta alternative was a must for me. Enter the spiralizer. I use my spiralizer to make zucchini & other “pastas” and top it with all my faves – tomato sauce, pesto, etc. It is super easy to use and the results are fantastic! The spiralizer I have is made by Paderno and comes with three blades – 1/8th inch spacing which gives you the same size strands as traditional spaghetti, a 1/4th inch spacing which gives you thicker (but still thin) strands great for salads and finally, a straight blade. The straight blade works very similarly to a Mandoline, which gives you very thin slices of whatever veggie you are using. I use this blade with zucchini as well to create an alternative to lasagna noodles so that I can make zucchini lasagna!
I don’t know about you but after countless melted, wilted rubber spatulas and wooden spoons that seemed impossible to keep clean, I was ready for an upgrade. GIR spatulas to the rescue! These spatulas are heat-resistant (so they wont melt), nonstick and food-safe. They are also perfect for using in all types of pots and pans as they wont scratch the surface. Their unique shape makes them perfect for all types of kitchen tasks – scraping the rim of a pan or bowl, mixing ingredients in a stir-fry, even flipping an egg. The best part about these spatulas OTHER than their hundreds of uses? They come in amazing bright & fun colors! Nothing like a neon blue spatula to make cooking just a little bit more fun. J
I live off green smoothies, homemade almond milk, homemade soups, dressings, sauces etc. For these, a high-powered blender is often necessary. Yes, these blenders are expensive. But they are expensive for a reason. Most of them last a lifetime and have very long & comprehensive warranties. These blenders are used in commercial kitchens, smoothie shops, cafes, etc. so they are built to last and withstand high usage. Their motors are extremely powerful. Personally, I own a Vitamix, but Blendtec is another great option. I recommend purchasing one with variable speed, not two-speed. You can purchase a Refurbished Vitamix, which can save you a couple hundred dollars. This is what I have and its worked wonderfully for years!
Stainless Steel Steamer
I have never owned a microwave and I hope to never own one in the future. Not only do they negatively affect the composition and nutrients of food, but they often leave food tasting rubbery, burnt or unevenly heated. Have you ever tried microwaving a perfectly tender piece of meat and had it come out totally rubbery and impossible to chew? Thankfully, there is a MUCH better option for reheating all sorts of food and it costs under $10! Simply place a stainless steel steamer in a relatively deep pan or regular sized pot and pour about 1 inch of water on top of it, which will drip through the holes and sit below the steamer. Place your favorite foods on top – leftover veggies, fish, burgers, smoked meat, even eggs. Turn your stove to medium heat, cover the pan/pot and let sit for 5-10 minutes, depending on how much food you’ve put it in. Make sure to check it regularly until it looks done. Leave the food in there for too long? Not to worry! It’s really difficult to overheat something when steaming like you can easily do in an oven, microwave or when you are sautéing. Steaming keeps your food the same texture it was to begin with by using steam to heat it through instead of dry heat (ovens) or radiation (microwaves) which can affect it’s tenderness and water content. Unfortunately, not everything can be heated using a steamer. Soups are one great example – they would go right through the steamer’s holes. For reheating liquids, I highly recommend reheating in a pot or pan over the stove as opposed to a microwave, for the same reasons listed above. Of course I am only talking about reheating here, because that is what I most often use my steamer for BUT this can also obviously be used to steam cook raw foods, such as veggies. Simply follow the same instructions I list above but leave the food in there just a little longer so that it cooks through. This steamer is perfect for your everyday steaming needs! Cheers, Anya Kaats & Suja Juice