My top 16 Gadgets for Healthy Cooking
People are always asking me what some of my favorite kitchen appliances/gadgets/tools are to aide in healthy cooking. These are sure to help you make a delicious, nutritious dinner for your family! (Or a brown bag lunch to take to the office!)
1. Spiralizer - I currently own two of these. One is small and handheld, the other is much larger and can do a variety of noodle sizes. I have spiralized everything from daikon radishes to make "pad thai", to carrots, to parsnips, to the most common in my household (especially this time of year!), zucchini and yellow squash. They're so fast and easy to prepare and yet so rewarding. My handheld is the one I reach for first if I'm feeding just my family. If I have people coming over, the larger one is sturdier and gets more yield from each vegetable. Use whichever you prefer and have room for. (A nice benefit to the handheld is you can throw it in your bag and take it to a friend's house for dinner or on vacation!)
2. Box grater - I use this to grate cauliflower or other starchy vegetables for things like "cauliflower rice" or "asparagus risotto". It's dishwasher safe, small to store, and easy to clean. If you own a food processor with a grating attachment, you don't need this (but often it's faster than getting out the big, heavy appliance, using it, cleaning it, drying it, and reassembling it for storage…).
3. Mandolin - I have a large OXO mandolin that I rarely use. It's so large, it takes up a lot of space and requires a lot to clean it. My smaller, $15 variety from A Shaprer Image is much better. Years ago, in culinary school, I carried a $10 one from an Asian grocery store around with me- that was just as effective. Buy yourself a nice thin one that does a variety of slices. (Mine has two widths and a julienne option.) I use this to make raw radish/cucumber/zucchini/turnip/etc salads. When vegetables are fresh and in season, they're just so amazing kept simple! Thinly slice them, toss with a tiny bit of olive oil and fresh lemon or lime juice and sprinkle on some sea salt. Nothing better!
4. Immersion blender (stick blender) - I use this probably more than any kitchen appliance I own. I use it much more than my large food processor these days. My immersion blender can alternate between the mini food processor base and the stick blender base. I use them for everything! You can blend soups, make sauces, mix salad dressings or make your own healthy mayonnaise in them. They're easy to clean, easy to use, and small enough to be stored in the smallest of kitchens.
5. Steamer basket - This is a great way to get healthy vegetables on the table fast. When I'm running late with dinner and need a fast side, I throw some broccoli or asparagus in there. I use it on cauliflower before making cauliflower puree, I use it to steam fish, and I can always throw in brussels sprouts or other vegetables to cook quickly and without any added oil.
6. Zester - zest is a wonderful way to add flavor to a dish without the addition of salt, sugar, or fat. I always have fresh citrus on hand (for eating, adding to water, and zesting/juicing in food). Any recipe that calls for lime juice can be given a flavor boost from the zest as well. Just make sure you zest directly over the food to make sure you capture the oils that escape as well!
7. Pepper mill - Freshly ground pepper makes food taste so much better. Often when you think you may need salt or fat added to a dish, pepper can do the trick. I'm a major pepper lover- I actually have three pepper grinders on hand (black pepper, white pepper, and pink pepper).
8. Baking sheets - These save me time and calories as well as money I'd be spending on a dehydrator. Truth be told, I did have a dehydrator years ago. I believe I used it exactly three times. It was a mess to clean, a pain to store, and ugly to look at. Now, when I want healthy zucchini chips, kale chips, or dried tomatoes, I use my oven. You need a sturdy baking sheet, a silpat or parchment paper, and an oven that will roast at a low temperature (about 200 degrees Farenheit is optimal for most chips) and you're all set! I also use a baking sheet to avoid frying things. Most recipes that call for pan-frying in olive oil can be placed in a hot oven instead. In the summer it is nice to not be over a hot stove, and it's always an added benefit to skip the oil or butter!
9. Vitamix - I know this one is a big expense, but I firmly believe it is worth it. My grandmother has one, my mom has one, and I can't imagine life without mine. I won mine in culinary school (Thanks Kikkoman Tamari!) but I have no doubt I'd have purchased one if I hadn't been so lucky. I jokingly say if my kitchen were burning down, this is what I'd grab first. (Yes, yes, assuming my family and dogs weren't home!) We use our Vitamix a few times a week. I make what my son calls "moothies" (aka smoothies) for him as well as soups, sauces, and my own nut flours in mine. I never like to keep bags of hazelnut or almond flour around, as they can go bad. We never have trouble keeping the whole nuts fresh (we eat so many!) so I just throw some in and voila! Cheaper, fresher nut flour to order!
10. SodaStream - Back in college I had a steady two-a-day Diet Coke addiction. I don't think it was even that good, but I hated water. With the ability to make my own seltzer water at home, my life changed. I don't add the flavors or soda concentrates, I just like my soda water with a squeeze of fresh lime or lemon. I keep an extra cartridge on hand too because I can't stand when I use the end of one and there's not a second here for my immediate water satisfaction. (But maybe that's just me…)
11. Water Infuser - This was right along the lines of the soda water maker for me. I didn't like plain 'ol water, so I started adding cucumber, lime, mint, cilantro - any number of possibilities. This is handy to keep in the fridge for after a workout or anytime you just want flat water. It also feels a little luxurious, like you're at a spa!
12. Coldbrew Coffee Maker - I cannot even begin to add up how much money this has saved me from the Starbucks counter… I started making my own cold brew last summer, and kept at it all through a NYC winter. My husband and I actually prefer the taste to that of hot (and then iced) coffee. It's less bitter so I don't add any sweetener. I prefer mine with an unsweetened coconut-almond milk and a healthy dose of ice cubes. It only takes twelve hours and it's always delicious!
13. Weber Grill - Actually, any grill or barbecue would work just fine here. Even a countertop George Foreman would do the trick. This is such an easy way to cook vegetables and meat or fish. It's been really nice outside lately, and I love any excuse to cook outdoors. A hot grill caramelizes the sugars in grilled vegetables and perfectly crusts most meat and seafood. I can't think of anything better than grilled Copper River Salmon right now with some marinated and grilled fresh farmer's market veggies!
14. Air Popper Popcorn Maker - Everyone in my house seems to be popcorn addicts. I actually prefer mine air-popped (no oil or butter) with a slight dusting of nutritional yeast. My husband and son like to drizzle over a tiny bit of olive oil and flaky sea salt. Any way you go, it's SOOO much better than the microwaved, massive-list-of-ingredients, chemicalized version of this healthy snack.
15. Slow Juicer - These are also called cold-press juicers. The other kind of juicer spins and extracts the juice through hot pressure. That heat can kill the nutrients in your juice. A cold-pressed juice retains more nutritional benefits. I fully understand the argument of "isn't it better to EAT the vegetables than juice them?" Why yes it is! But not everyone does that. And there's days where you can't be at home cooking. I try to juice enough on one day to last for two or three days. After three days, the juices tend to lose their nutritional impact anyway, so it's best kept to a three day maximum. (The hard part, especially during the heat of summer, is not drinking it all throughout the first day!) There's nothing like the convenience of pouring fresh green juice in a coffee cup and walking out the door in the morning.
16. Slow Cooker - This is a great kitchen tool for busy people. (I started to say "and non-busy people", but who's NOT busy these days?) Even on days I'm home with the kids all day, I'd rather be playing with them or headed out to the park than slaving over a hot stove. You can soak beans and pulses (lentils, peas, etc.) overnight in this and then just toss the rest of your ingredients in and press start in the morning. It' a great way to cook tough cuts of meat, and the longer you cook it and the more you skim the fat, the healthier it becomes! Its also a great way to save money. Pork tenderloin can be around $14/pound where I am. The pork shoulder or butt (same cut of meat by the way - all from the shoulder- the actual butt would be a ham…) is about $3/pound. I would gladly eat either the tenderloin or the butt, slow roasted all day. It's also a great way of making stocks and soups to be eaten throughout the week.
I'm sure there are many more healthy eating tricks and tools for the kitchen. What are yours? What have I missed or overlooked?