Let’s just be honest with each other here: healthy cooking is frustrating. If it were easy, more people would be jumping on the healthy bandwagon instead of choosing options from the lard-ville express. All of us know we should make better choices using fruits and veggies over starchy carbs, dairy and meats. So why is something that is so good for our bodies so hard to follow through with? Because (and we are being honest again) fruits and veggies don’t clean, peel, dice, mash and flavor themselves. We have to put in the work and most days, the time just isn’t there.
One of the BIGGEST questions I get from friends and coworkers is “How can I make a quick healthy meal/snack?” While I would love to tell them that anyone can do it, anywhere, anytime, anyplace, it is slightly more complicated, yet super simple at the same time. I have a prepped kitchen! Let me be clear: my kitchen is very small, but I made small investments into certain equipment that has made my life soooooooo much easier! These are my tried and true “made it through the testing and have a permanent home in the cabinet” kitchen secrets. They may not even be secrets, but my hope today is that you have one “Ah ha” moment that may help improve your kitchen prep time. Obviously you need to have basic pots and pans, but there are a few other little gadgets that may take that hatred of cooking and turn it into an excitement to try the next healthy recipe. Here are my top must haves that save me from having a kitchen meltdown:
1) Food Processor – funny thing, when people think of a food processor, $$$$$$ signs pop up in the brain. This handy little God-send is available at stores like Walmart for less that $50. In fact, the most expensive thing about it is replacing parts if your disposal eats anything. Always make sure the little white plastic handle doesn’t go down into that dark hole before you turn on the disposal blade…
The best food processor doesn’t really matter. You just want to have one with a decent capacity, and one THAT COMES WITH A SHREDDING/SLICING BLADE! That part is important. When I cook, I prep for several meals at a time and if I am using cheese on anything, the shredding blade does all my work. It is also amazing when cooking with carrots, zucchini, onions, garlic, etc. Anything that needs to be cut into small pieces can be put through the shredder blade before going into a saute pan. Saves TONS of time and fingers…and fingernails! This device is great for so many more things that I can name. It can also go on the top shelf of a dishwasher. There is a reason this one made number 1 on the list
2) Ninja (or other good quality blender) – the Ninja could almost replace the food processor if it wasn’t for that amazing little shredder blade. It typically comes with a large and small container. I use mine mostly for green smoothies in the morning (as shown in the large container). It is incredible at pureeing almost anything you put in there due to it’s double blade system. I swear the smoothies come out as smooth as the professional places. This awesome little gem is also dishwasher safe.
3) Mandoline – this kitchen gadget is probably the most dangerous, yet soooooo helpful if used correctly. Don’t get me wrong, I have hated it. I have sliced off the tip of my finger. And so has my husband. And you probably will too. They you, like us, will use the safety device it comes with like you are supposed to. Go ahead, try it with your hands only. I can tell you I told you so later…
While this is coming across as a complete diss, the mandoline really is amazing. It slices fruits and veggies evenly each time. Great for Herbed Goat Cheese and Tomato Caprese Stacks with a balsamic agave drizzle! You really aren’t going to get that perfect long slice (as in zucchini noodles for lasagna) with the slicer blade on the food processor. And are you really going to manually cut up that many zucchinis? No. You’ll go back to noodles the next time for the simplicity. Get a mandoline and no joke, make sure to use it correctly!
4) Steamer – Ahhhh…one of my favorites! This takes rice and quinoa cooking to a whole ‘nother level. While you are cooking some other portion of your meal, this lovely little lady (mine is a girl) sits there by herself, steaming away. You literally put rice and water in and walk away. It doesn’t get much more fabulous than that. The reason I said “steamer” instead of “rice cooker” is that you can steam veggies too since it is designed to do both. I use this ALL. THE. TIME. It is wonderful for quinoa and you can use alternative liquids, like chicken or veggie broth instead of water to steam into the grains. The handle recently broke and instead of buying another one, I am using a screwdriver to make it work until the motor dies. Thats how important this is in my kitchen. Love love love this one!
5) Hand chopper thingy - I am sure it has a better name than that, but thats the cute little nickname we have between one another. I remember the very first time seeing this gadget when my mother had a Pampered Chef party. Hand chopper thingy became a kitchen favorite afterward (along with the infamous Pampered Chef baking stone…how many of you left a party without one?) It makes mincing a breeze, AND it goes in the dishwasher (eek…makes me smile thinking about it!) I really think it might be on this list because I like to beat the crud out of those poor innocent pieces of garlic while taking out my daily frustration. Just saying. Make sure you put a cutting board under it so your counter doesn’t take a beating. Counters are expensive. This is $7. Probably the cheapest therapy ever.
6) Magic bullet – This gadget is not a “must have” per say…as long as you have a really good blender or food processor. Obviously, I enjoy redundancy, but I do find some pretty good uses for this little bullet. I often make single serve smoothies using this contraption, which ensures freshness and perfect portion on a daily basis. We also use the grinder blade to chop up fresh roasted coffee beans before making an amazing french pressed coffee…#omgitsreallythatgood! I probably could get along without it, but I don’t want to. Its so cute and tiny in my cabinet. I would be sad without it.
7) Crock pot – This guy is awesome! He is a guy…my steamer is a girl…I know, I know. I use him at least once a week to make my life super easy. One of my favorite cheap thrills in life is waking up in the morning to a cooked meal. I can separate it, go to work, and dinner is ready to heat up at the end of the day. I would like to give props to whoever invented this machine because they really deserve a nobel peace prize. Women everywhere are more peaceful after removing the stress of cooking all day from their lives. That really embodies the whole idea of the peace prize so why not give it to the inventor of the crock pot? I’m just being Captain obvious here people.
8) An organized space – this is not a gadget, but is almost as important. One of the reasons I am able to do things so efficiently in my kitchen is because it is organized. Things go where they should so that the flow of cooking does just that, flows. I am annoyed to no end when my husband unloads the dishwasher and randomly puts things away. I am not an ADD person, but I immediately fix my kitchen if it is out of order. If you don’t have much cabinet space, use wall space. You can get affordable storage for small spaces at places like IKEA (that is where mine came from). We all crave some sort or control and organization even if we don’t want to admit it. If your kitchen is a mess, try organizing it to a way that pairs well with your cooking style. Bonus idea: if you hang stuff on the wall, put a meat cleaver up there with the rest of it so it blends in well. It is a great kitchen tool and handy weapon if you ever need one. Plus a home invader will be easier to spot with meat cleaver indentions on their face. Genius!
9) Oils, spices, and vinegars – I often hear people complain about healthy food. Here is an example [insert whiny voice]:
” You are so skinny. I wish I could eat healthier like you do. Nothing healthy tastes good to me. [whiny voice gets more intense] I should just pay you to make food for me, because I also don’t have enough time to cook.”
People, I see what you are doing on facebook. If I have time to cook, blog, work and do all the million other activities I habitually link myself to constantly, so do you. And it will taste just as good I promise.
If you use the right seasoning.
The biggest problem with healthy food, next to picking tasteless produce, is not seasoning it correctly. I am not talking about salt either. Garlic and lemon; cumin, coriander and chili powder; olive oil and rosemary; lime flavored olive oil with coconut balsamic vinegar; the combinations are endless. Cooking and drizzling food with the right oils make the difference in a dish too. It does add fat, but you should not be striving to have a fat free diet. Don’t guzzle the whole bottle in one sitting obviously. Proportion a small amount to help flavor your food. There are soooooo many options out there and I recommend keeping several so that you have different flavors on hand at all times. I love keeping a good stock of oils and vinegars from The Ancient Olive. Another favorite is The Spice and Tea Exchange. They are healthy and pack a flavor punch. I seriously have spices, oils and sauces hidden in every nook and cranny of my kitchen. Invest wisely in this stuff and your food quality will definitely improve. Try making your seasonings and spices instead of buying pre made sauces and herb rubs. The store bought crap is just that: full of crap. I preach label reading over and over again for a reason: pre-packaged foods are filled with hidden things that you don’t want to ingest. Trust me. Read the back of a package of wraps if you don’t believe me. Why are there so many ingredients to make one little tortilla wrap again?? Food for thought.
9) Citrus juicer - have you ever tried to squeeze a lemon into something with your hand? It typically gets all over your fingers before making its way into the dish or drink. If you have any minuscule skin nicks, you are sure to find out very soon. To top it all off, there is still a pretty significant amount of juice left in the fruit, even though the seeds had no problem making their way out (and into your food). You can avoid all of these issues with a *drumroll please* Citrus Juicer (insert clanging symbols)!!! The trick is to roll the lemon or lime until soft, cut off both ends and slice down the middle. This device will get the juice out and stop the seeds (most of them) from going into areas that you can’t ever get them out of once they have leeched on. Those little boogers are slippery. They are like a certain viral infection: once you have them, you are stuck with them right where they land.
10) Pastry blender – this was my very first kitchen gadget obsession as a young teenage cooking apprentice. We have had a long term love affair that will probably never cease to exist. If someone didn’t know what a pastry blender was, I was quick to snap my head around and put them in their place. I have his back and he has mine…the handle is his back just in case you were wondering For those of you that still don’t know what this contraption does, you are very lucky that I am explaining it via internet and not face to face with a necessary stare-down. This little guy cuts up butter into a pie dough like it’s nobody’s business. Forget the old days of using two forks. It also mashes things like eggs, avocados, potatoes, etc. Yes, it takes up an awkward space in any drawer you try to shove it into. Yes it can cut you when washing it. Yes, it may have dried pieces of something in it even after you washed it in your own blood. But, hands down (no pun intended), it is still a necessity in my kitchen.
11) Fine mesh strainer – if you don’t have one of these, go to the store and get one right now. Just do as you are told.
12) Grill – ok, this isn’t technically in the kitchen per say, but is still very important. There is a huge debate about how safe foods are to grill due to the smoke contributing as a possible carcinogen, but I think moderation is key for most things. Grilling gives a flavor like no other. You can literally use very little marinade and still have something delicious after a little grilling sesh on the back porch. I personally like a smaller sized grill that is portable. We like to take ours to the beach and even gave it a name: Baby Grill. My husband thinks it’s funny to call me baby girl sometimes with a super funny draw to it, so when we refer to our grill, it comes out sounding more like “Baaaaaaaby gryylllle.” So go buy a grill and name it. Its fun
13) A decent knife set – did you know that you are more likely to cut yourself with a dull set of knives rather than sharp ones? This may not be the actual statistical case, unless you consider them to be reporting from my kitchen. Sadly, I too did not possess a decent set of kitchen knives until about a year ago. When I did the tutorial on How to Use the Whole Pumpkin, I almost lost an entire hand. AN ENTIRE HAND! I can imagine it now:
“What happened to your hand?”
“I cut it off on using a dull knife.”
Anyhoo, I was very fortunate to realize that pushing something non-sharpened through a large object isn’t going to go anywhere until it does…when it feels like it and you are least expecting it to happen. At least you can predict what a sharp knife will do because it goes in the direction you are sending it. Sharp knives are like well disciplined children…they behave and do what they are told. In addition to saving body appendages, it also saves time and energy. When you have the right set of knives, you are going to be able to prep your food with less effort. It really is worth it. If they are a bit too much to buy for yourself, start hinting now. Christmas is only 11 months away.
There are a few other things that I use, but these are my tried and trues. They will give you something that is priceless: living your life without being chained to the kitchen. I hope you learned something new here today. What are your favorite kitchen gadgets?