6 essential tools for your kitchen
Cooking from scratch is one of the big hurdles for people making the local food shift. When I did my 10-mile diet in 2010, I was faced with cooking from scratch morning noon and night. It took a while to understand the qualities of each vegetable to see what size chunks and what cooking process produced what results. While I wasn’t aiming for a Luddite experience, it turns out the most of these tools didn’t have cords.
A convection oven
Cooking for one, this counter-top oven is more than enough. Don’t think toaster over with tin can walls and no room to cook anything larger than… toast. This is sturdy, has two 10×12 shelves, is big enough to roast a chicken and has several special features. First, the convection part. That’s a fan that moves the hot air around the food so the heat is even. It shortens cooking time and avoids any burned on the bottom and raw on the top outcome. It also has a dehydrate feature and a set of racks so I can turn zucchini and kale into chips.
A chef’s knife
Mine is 40 years old, bought to last a lifetime. Using a steel you can keep the blade tomato-slicing sharp. The blade is curved, wide enough on the bottom so you can hold it in your fist without hitting your knuckles on the counter, curved to a point so you can slice with a rocking movement rather than a sawing one. For me it’s faster than a food processor.
A pressure cooker/canner
Again, mine is 40 years old and looks like something you’d find on a submarine with knobs and dials. Using a pressure cooker takes some skill and attention – and an instruction book to know what pressure and how long for what foods or combo of foods – but it’s worth it. it cuts cooking time exponentially which if you want to make fast food out of whole food is really important. You can cook dry beans, for example, in less than half an hour and make a quick pot roast.
The canner part is crucial for storing food for the winter. Water-bath canning for acid fruits and chutneys is easy, as is using pressure to can meats and vegetables. If you don’t have a big freezer, canning can help you last the winter – as it did for many years.
A mandoline slicer
In unskilled hands this is dangerous to knuckles, but it’s indispensable for me now. It has a flat platform and a variety of blades, from thick and thin slices to french fries to long thin strands. If all that chopping drives you crazy and away from cooking, using a mandoline can rescue you.
I have a magic bullet with a powerful motor and extra-large jar. You can turn steamed or roasted veggies into creamed soups, and turn fruit into smoothies or cooked apples into sauce. You can stew tomatoes in chunks and make them into tomato sauce. You can add herbs and sautéed garlic and onions, cook it all down a bit more and make spaghetti sauce that you can (see above) for the winter or freeze.
My chest freezer is only… 25 years old. It’s small and I now share it with friends. A freezer allows you to buy in bulk and store for the winter. For example, I can buy a quarter of an animal (steer or pig) in partnership with 4 friends and have meat for the winter that’s guaranteed grass-fed and compassionately butchered and fresh and less expensive than buying same in the store. I buy a box of flash-frozen-on-the-boat salmon and have it for the winter. I can buy freshly slaughtered chickens and freeze them. I buy flats of fruit in peak season, spread them out on trays to freeze without sticking together and bag them. I harvest basil, make pesto, freeze in ice-cube trays for the winter. And, though it’s not local, i buy discounted banana and freeze slices for smoothies all winter.
All these together with your standard frying pans and pots (with steamers) and peelers and such and you are prepared to turn a counter full of produce into fast and yummy and varied food.
Oh, and some cooking skills which i will cover in another post.