Oh food, how I love eating thee.
Oh food, how I loathe cooking thee.
This year I've been making a very deliberate effort to cook at home. I mean, people do it all the time – I wasn't doing it out of pure laziness. Instead of whipping up a quick lunch (easy enough since I work out of my house, right?), I'd go to the local food cooperative where they have a hot bar of nice foods that are gluten-free and tasty. Problem with that? Taking the 40 minutes round-trip to get there and the $15 minimum I'd end up spending. Because eating organic prepared food charged the pound is expensive. Same with dinner: I'd go get a salad and a baked sweet potato from a local diner instead of making something. It was all part of my routine.
Doing Whole30 in January meant I prepared all but 2 of my meals for the entire month. Along the same time, I also went through a kitchen purge. I cleaned my pantry of 5 year old whole wheat pancake mix, miscellaneous old spices, and lots of cans. I also got a bug up my bum to reduce the amount of cookware and kitchen electrics that I had. You know how you look in your cabinets and automatically disregard 4 of the pots that you haven't used in years because they're the wrong size, don't heat evenly, or are hard to clean? And that old coffee maker you haven't used in 3 years because you don't like the way it brews? Also those gross, stained plastic containers – some of which you inherited from your mom who went wild at a Tupperware party in the 1980s? That super dull apple chopper thing that your ex bought? Bye Felicia.
If I was going to start embracing cooking, I needed tools that didn't make me frustrated. Knives that were sharp enough to chop with, pans that had even heat, and appliances that would actually get used instead of sitting on my countertop collecting olive oil residue from the air. I also didn't want to fill my cabinets back up again. No more digging for things I needed.
This dedication for cooking at home also meant lots of meal planning (download my planner). I spent time looking for recipes and making the shopping lists. Then came figuring out which stores (besides my standard Trader Joe's) had what I needed, and if I was truly having problems (dried porcini mushrooms, anyone?) – ordering from Amazon.
I also went to Kohl's and picked up the tools needed to complete my healthy-cooking kitchen arsenal. It's been almost 2 months since I got these items, and I use at least one of them every single day, sometimes for 2 meals.
Four Favorite Kitchen Essentials, in detail:
- Cuisinart Food Processor: I debated buying a food processor for a least 3 years now. My hatred of small kitchen appliances always made me steer clear, but seeing as I thew out no fewer than 3 old appliances meant I could justify replacing one. This has been a game-changer. My knife skills are shoddy, and some of my favorite recipes require a good amount of time-consuming chopping. When I was at Kohl's looking for a food processor, I met a guy who was buying one as a wedding gift. He told me this was the one to get because it's big enough to handle a large amount of food but not too big that it's unruly or has 500 attachments you need to store. He was totally right, and totally not into me. Oh well: you win some, you lose some!
- Favorite uses: Chopping all the veg for Asian Meatballs; chopping sweet potatoes and onions for a paleo breakfast hash (just add bacon!)
- Usage frequency: At least 3 times per week. It maintains permanent residence on my precious countertop space
- T-Fal Non Stick Skillet: Why are pans so complicated?! This one is no fuss, and gets the job done. I wanted pot that could be used for 99% of my purposes. It needed to be deep enough to hold some liquid if I wanted to steam it, and big enough to cook multiple salmon fillets in (I make ahead for leftovers). I wanted something non-stick, and with a lid to prevent splatters and also accomplish the aforementioned steaming. It's also dishwasher safe, though it's such a quick clean up that I usually just wash it right after I use it. Bonus I never thought I'd use? Oven safe to 350 degrees. Came in handy for some pork chops last week.
- Favorite uses: Pan searing salmon fillets or any other protein, cooking eggs (the surface is perfect for omlettes)
- Usage frequency: At least once per day. It's the only pot/skillet I've used since I bought it.
- Crock-Pot 7 Quart Slow Cooker: I learned the value of a good slow cooker several years ago, but my old one had a broken handle on the top and a melted knob. It still worked, so I continued to use it, but it was becoming problematic to get the lid off. I replaced it with this 7 quart one – same size as I had before. No fancy digital displays, just a good old-fashioned standard. And it's perfect. Plus, a lot prettier than my old one, which had a 70's inspired scene of vegetables printed on it.
- T-Fal Air Bake Cookie Sheet: Here's my deal with cookie sheets – so many are too big to go in the dishwasher. Seeing as I don't even bake, I don't need a sheet that can hold 24 cookies. This one is 12X14, and it's perfect for roasting veggies. It also doesn't have any cold zones, which was a problem with my old, twisted cookie sheets.
- Favorite uses: Roasted Brussels sprouts. Chop sprouts in half, chop a few cloves of garlic, mix in bowl with fat of choice (coconut oil, olive oil, or bacon/pork fat), add sea salt and pepper, spread evenly on cookie sheet, bake at 450 for 20 minutes until crisped as desired. A note: olive oil isn't stable at this high of a heat and starts to break down. I still use it occasionally, but I think some cooking purists would say it's a no-no.
- Usage frequency: At least 3 times per week
In the month of February, I had 8 meals outside of the house, and they were all with friends (no carryout!) So it's more than the 2 in January, but WAY less than the 20+ I was having before. So far in March, I'm at 3 meals outside the house. Looks like this cooking thing might finally be clicking.
What are your must-have kitchen tools?
This post is sponsored by FitFluential on behalf of Kohl's.