EQUIPPING THE WHOLEFOOD KITCHEN
My kitchen in a cleaner moment, last year. The stainless steel shelf has been replaced by my new bench below. You can see some of my favourite pieces here: the bench made from an old Jarrah desk, and my old white stove – the oven is wonderful. The stainless steel gas stove top and oven is next to it.
This is first in a series on your wholefood kitchen, with a focus on one of the things I am most often asked about – what equipment is best to buy? And, it’s likely not quite what you think. Before we start, I’d like to say that I am not paid by any of these brands to promote their goods – I like to stay independent, but have asked favourite brands to support the Whole and Natural Foods Chef Training Progam with equipment, which they have generously done. So… you do not need to spends thousands to get a good, functional kitchen and I’m not a fan of the glitz and glamour of many a kitchen. You do need to spend money on core ingredients – these will last you a lifetime – and I mean this in all sincerity.
But before we start, a word about Non – Stick.
I never, ever use non-stick, and cannot recommend anything made with them. Newer non-stick cookware is being advertised as a wonderfully healthful option, and whilst the coating is now no longer simply coated over the base, a polymer is mingled with the anodised metal surface. The view of any company making these is that this surface will only off gas noxious fumes, if the temperature is heated to 260c. After much experience with people cooking, I can tell you the common denominator is that most people cook at too high a temperature – especially using a wok (can I say here, this is actually designed for high heat). I also don’t use the silicon bake-ware (and bear in mind it is only FDA approved up to 220c). IF you are going to buy this to bake in, please buy the French high quality silicon ware – it’s going to cost (a lot) but a much better option than the many knock offs now available.
Non-stick is absolutely not necessary. This is a technology developed from an erroneous and poorly formed view that good quality fat is bad for you. I don’t care if the manufacturer says to you it may have a Titanium base – if it is being sold as non-stick, it will have polymers there to make it be non-stick.
Sticking is the main reason cited for buying a non-stick pan (thus making it easy to wash also). If you don’t want food to stick to your pan, make sure it is heated well before you add the ingredients. Not to an extreme, but so that it is hot. Fat should not ripple or smoke. For example pancakes and pikelets, the fat should gently sizzle when the batter hits the pan. Remember also that browning food is an incredibly vital step in developing flavour, meat and non – meat. Sugars caramelise, flavours concentrate and these are then de-glazed (adding a liquid back to the pot) to lift all that delicious flavour into the meal being cooked.
POTS AND PANS
Literally, the nuts and bolts of a kitchen. Sizes range from 14cm (and even less in some cases) to 20cm for saucepans, and above this (22, 26 etc) change in name – stewpan, dutch oven, etc. Stainless steel is a good option for pots up to 20cm, and beyond that, I believe Cast Iron is best. Pots are generally protected from heat transferring to quickly with an extra layer of some sorts on the outside base – in many cases, this is aluminium and this is referred to as an induction base. In many of the newer pots however, technology has replaced the induction base with many layers of different metals bonded together. Materials used are generally a combination, which offers a superior ability to diffuse and disperse heat. The materials used are stainless steel, copper and aluminium – the stainless steel on the inside (and sometimes outside), copper and aluminium on the inside.
Generally with stainless steel, you get what you pay for. With the advent of the global giant manufacturer China, there are hundreds of stainless steel pots and pans on the market. It’s a very easy thing for a designer or celebrity chef to knock out a range – they are generally, but not always, made in China, and not always fabulous pots. You should always look for heavy gauge or surgical grade stainless steel. I am a fan of high quality stainless steel, and there are 2 ranges I really like. The American All Clad (still made in America), and can be bought in Australia (though not the whole range) and the German WMF – Combi Nation range (but not as easy to get in Australia). They are both beautifully designed, transfer heat in a diffused manner, and are a joy to use. All Clad is not cheap, but it is worth every, single cent. Favourite pieces I use every single day include the Saucier (both sizes), butter warmer and 8inch (yes inch) frypan.
In summary, good things to have in Stainless Steel are
• 14 – 20cm pots. Glass lids are best as they let you see what’s happening without removing the lid
• steamer insert (though bamboo ones are great also)
• frypan or skillet (though cast iron -enamel coated or not- is brilliant also)
Never scrub your good stainless steel with a scourer, be gentle. If it’s really burnt, sprinkle it with baking soda and let it sit. Then soak it and let it sit. Also, please, try not to put good saucepans in a dishwasher.
I love beautiful things, and I do love cooking with the Reiss Enamel Ware (I’ve left this for you to google – there are so many places to buy it). Still made in Austria, every pot is shaped from a single piece of steel, spayed in four layers of enamel and baked between coats. The enamelware is non-porous and is a great surface to cook on, inert and non –reactive. I’ve found it to diffuse heat beautifully (not at all like the enamel coated tin you might find in camping stores). Did I say the colours are beautiful – I’m a soft touch for the Rose, White and soft green.
Again, go gently, don’t scrub, please don’t put it in the dishwasher.
Stewpans, Dutch Ovens – no matter what shape, oval or round – 22cm upwards
The clear winner here is cast iron. Plain Jane, camping ovens are perfectly good (but please, no acid) and if you want to go a step further, buy the enamel coated. Here again, you do get what you pay for. There are many cheaper brands bringing out enamel – coated cast iron, Le Creuset is still the leader. There’s a reason other brands are cheaper – enamel coating is not as thick, and chips easily, especially those made in China. This is a product designed to last for your lifetime, and go on into the next generation. Again, no harsh scrubbing, no putting in the dishwasher, just let it soak.
Nothing can compare to cast iron for retaining, diffusing, holding and reflecting heat. Meals cooked in them will taste more delicious and intense. Again, high quality enamel is an inert surface and non-reactive. Le Creuset pots can be re-enamelled.
Roasting dishes, Grill Plates and Wok
For superior roasting, look to enamel coated cast iron (this will provide you with the best roast ever, and the crispiest vegetables) (my favourite is the Le Creuset) or the old enamel coated tin. Grill plates should be cast iron (Le Creuset Reversible Grill) and a wok the good old carbon steel from the Asian store.
TOOLS FOR TURNING PATTIES/FLIPPING EGGS, AND STIRRING
Other than wooden spoons (see below) some good stainless steel large spoons for stirring stocks, stews and soups etc. Use wooden spoons in your lovely enamel coated pots so the bottom is not scratched. Spatulas, turners and the such – do not buy those plastic ones – apart from the fact they’re plastic and the such, they are useless. With a thick edge, it makes it very difficult to ‘cut’ a pattie or pancake off the base of your pan. I definitely prefer stainless steel, and have a range of sizes- larger for fish etc, average and very small ones which are wonderful for small patties. There’s no perfect brand, I look for these kind of things in every kitchen shop I go into with a favourite being the flexible s/s spatula I bought in the U.S for $3.95. I’m in love with it and want to marry it.
You need to spend money on your knife, it is your primary tool, but really you only need 3. Not a whole block, just 3. A Cooks/Chef’s knife, a parer and a bread knife. Maybe a cleaver and kitchen scissors, but really you can survive with just 3. I have definite favourites – you will absolutely get what you pay for with a knife. The brands I love are Mac Knives, Wusthof Trident and certain Global knives.
Cooks/Chefs Knife and Parer
This is your basic all purpose tool, and you could survive with just this, so buy well. 20cm is a good way to go for a woman, a little more for a man. You can go plain, granton edge (which helps the food to not stick to the blade) – a favourite brand is the Mac Knives, they are easy and light to hold (great for women) and are easy to sharpen. But, Wusthof is equally as good, they just take more understanding of sharpening and are heavier. For a parer, an 8cm is a good place to start.
Santoku / East West
I love this version of a Chef’s knife – with a wider blade and heel, it makes cutting much easier – especially on the shoulder – more chop for less work. I like the Mac Santoku 17cm and the Global 18cm Vegetable Knife (I use this all the time).
TOOLS FOR MIXING, STIRRING, SIEVING AND STRAINING
I can’t have enough bowls – I love them, preferably china, and the prettier the better with many found in op shops.
Stand Mixer and Small Hand Held Electric Beaters
I have both, but then I bake a lot. If I had to choose, I’d probably go for the Stand Mixer, it gives you such a great end result and you can walk away while it keeps doing the job. I prefer the Kitchen Aid. Small, hand held electric beaters are so easy to whip out for a small job, but a wooden spoon can easily step in to mix butter into sugar (as our mothers and grandmothers used) and a whisk can quickly beat some egg whites or cream.
Wooden spoons, Spatula’s and Whisks:
Wooden spoons are not created equal, and good ones will be your favourites for years. A good one will be fairly thick, and have a flattish bottom, giving you more surface area of the spoon to contact the bowl or pot. For stirring pastry creams and curds as they come to the boil, you need a wooden spoon with that has no curve – simply straight across the bottom, which again, will give you a large amount of surface contact as you stir. I like the silicone spatula’s that are slightly cupped – they are great for scraping down the sides of a bowl, keeping the mix together and getting it out of the bowl, and I keep a variety of sizes. A whisk is a very personal thing, and it should fit comfortably in your hand. I use stainless steel (never non – stick) whisks and prefer a balloon whisk and one that is less of a balloon and more elongated. I like them slightly flexible, with thinner wires and not too stiff.
You need a range of decent good quality sieves, and I use even for baking. There is nothing wrong with the traditional sifter, it’s just I prefer the simple sieve and use them to sieve flours and strain all sorts of things. Look for high quality stainless steel, in a fine and medium mesh – they will cost more but last forever, and I am a big fan of the Rosle brand here, but it’s incredibly difficult to get in Australia now – again, you get what you pay for. It’s handy to have a medium size for larger bowls, and small for smaller bowls. Another thing I tend to buy when I travel.
TOOLS FOR WEIGHING AND MEASURING
A good set of scales is incredibly important – it is essential to know what some of your ingredients (especially flour) actually weighs. Generally, you will get what you pay for. I prefer scales that have both a metric and imperial option, and a low graduation – that is it weighs in increments of amounts of 1 or 2grams. Mine weighs in 1 gm increments, and is thus close and precise. It should tare easily – that is you can re-set the weight to 0, and weigh more ingredients. Some now convert to measure liquids, I’m not fussed about that, I prefer my liquid measure cups. Good brands include Salter and Teraillon.
Measuring Cups – Dry and Liquid
These are not all equal – a cup measure varies throughout the world, so you need to check the numbers on the cup. You need to know what cup measure you are using, and indeed what the cup (and tablespoon) measure used by the particular book or magazine you are reading, is. An Australian cup measures 250ml, an American Cup 237 ml, and an English cup 285ml. A set generally contains a 1 cup, ½ cup, 1/3 cup and ¼ cup measures, with lines marked inside also.
A liquid measure cup is usually glass, with graduated lines to show measurements in ml and fluid ounces. Its worthwhile to have a 1 and 2 cup, they’re incredibly handy. When measuring a liquid you should have your eye level with the measure – it can be very deceptive looking down on it.
Again, you need to know what tablespoon measure you are dealing with, as an Australian tablespoon is 20 ml (4 teaspoons), English can commonly be 20 or 15 ml and an American is 15ml (3 teaspoons). They are essential for good baking.
FOR GRATING AND ZESTING
Any stainless steel grater will do, but a microplane for zesting will make life much easier, and give you beautiful zest.
FOOD PROCESSORS/BLENDERS AND SUCH
It’s worthwhile remembering that the original processor was a mortar and pestle, or a mouli. I prefer my mortar and pestle to be granite, and very large – mine is 20cm with an 18cm depression. A mouli is invaluable – stainless steel please, and my preference is for the Rosle brand – this link takes you to the brand to see it, but is an English link – they are now very difficult to get in Australia. At the least, it should be stainless steel. Finally, if you are going to buy a food processor or blender and use electricity, you should just cut to the chase and buy a Thermomix – it will do the work of both, plus more and has the superior engine – and when it comes to a food processor, really it’s all about the engine. I love my Thermomix and use it regularly.
Finally, if you can include a grain mill. Both electric or hand, what you buy will depend on your budget. I love the Shnitzer brand, and you can get a good look here (in Australia). I’m in love with the Shnitzer Vario.
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