Category: Wholefood Kitchen
IT’S CALLED A SALAD, WITH A DRESSING
Once upon a time, when by all accounts and my life experiences, people were healthier and happier than they are now, food and life was a lot simpler. I’m talking about my parents generation – those in their 90’s, many still living independently – though now needing help – and vibrant lives, those that lived simpler and less complicated lives. We hear often, that the young generation today is the first generation in a very long time considered to have a shorter life span than current generations, and that we are sicker and unhappier than ever. Somehow my mum, and those of her generation managed it all without the green smoothie or green smoothies with chia seeds. Now those of you that are familiar with my work, know that I tend to be interested in fundamentals – you can read more about those here (you will also find a fabulous rustic tart of greens recipe there, perfect for this time of the year). You will know that after 25 odd years in the ‘healthy’ food industry – which I prefer to call the ‘whole and natural foods’ industry – I am alarmed by the rapid escalation of fractionalisation that seems to be happening in the past few years. The green smoothie is a case in point. Honestly, I didn’t take much notice of it when it first appeared a few years ago, it just seemed silly and made no sense what so ever. But somehow, it’s become the poster child for ‘healthy’ eating, or ‘real, natural or whole food’. I’ve decided I’d like to weigh in on the discussion.
As always, I like to find the original source from whence things come – where did this belief that throwing lots of greens into a blender is a leading edge healthful thing to do? As it happens, from a book called Green For Life by Victoria Butenko. Now before I go on, I would like to point out that I believe we all have a path to follow and none of us have the right to question another’s path. I understand and respect this, but given this book is a treatise on the green smoothie, I think it’s worth noting a few things. The gist of it is this: the author and her family came to the US from Russia, where food was scarce and limited to mostly grains, dairy and some fruit. On settling in the United States, they were amazed at the variety and availability of food, they especially loved the convenience food and used a microwave often. Within 3 years, all of them were extremely unwell, doctors told them there were no cures for their diabetes, asthma, allergies, heart issues etcetera. So they looked elsewhere, and turned to raw food. Now I’m not going to go to deeply into this issue, but you cannot discuss the green smoothie without discussing raw food, but it would seem obvious to me that they could also have simply stopped eating highly processed food / junk food / and frequenting the microwave. However, a vegan, raw food (most likely because it was at least real) diet turned things around but after several years, they began to have problems such as a heavy feeling in the stomach, grey hair and simply no longer desiring some of the allowed foods. So, the author searched for what was missing (I’m assuming in the vegetable world only) and discovered that greens was the food group that offered everything humans needed, and they weren’t having enough. But how much did a human need to eat? For this answer, she looked for an animal that was close genetically to a human – with an approx.99.4% genetic match, enter the chimpanzee.
The author observed that humans had lost their natural way of eating – but rather than recognising the blindingly obvious problems with refined, processed and junk foods – instead considered that “it is logical to hypothesise that our diets are supposed to be 99.4% similar” (to the chimpanzee) and that understanding the chimpanzee eating habits may help us to better understand the human dietary needs? Seriously? The only thing that I can keep thinking is that we might share a lot of genetic material with a chimpanzee, yet in that difference we are most definitely not a chimpanzee. Given that the main argument here is that this is the ‘natural’ way to eat, we absolutely have to consider another blindingly obvious point – the fact that man climbed down from the trees, stood erect on two legs and developed a bigger brain. Biological anthropologist Richard Wrangham (Catching Fire) (this is the guy that Michael Pollan talks about in his new book Cooked) holds the belief it was the discovery of fire, whereby cooked food enabled more and easier access to nutrient density, thus facilitating the evolution from a large to smaller gut and from a smaller to bigger brain. Others share the belief it was access to nutrient dense animal foods – notably the softer and nutrient dense bone marrow and brain that did the trick. Neither considered that it was an abundance of uncooked greens. Whilst we might share that large amount of DNA with the chimpanzee, we are yet, quite obviously not the same, and to say it is logical to hypothesise our diets should be 99.4% the same beggars belief.
At the very least, chimp and orangs have a larger colon to gut ratio, strong jaws and large teeth –perfect to chew and digest the large amount of fibrous fruits and tough high cellulose leaves (with stems) which along with fermentation in the colon, provides enough calories to support the animal. Humans have the opposite – a smaller colon to gut ratio, with a weaker jaw and smaller teeth – perfect for cooked foods, which require less energy to digest and softens the strong cellulose fiber. It was because of this absolute fact, that the greens had to be blended, otherwise they simply could not be broken down (and then because they were having so many green smoothies and not chewing – which is essential for our bone and jaw health, the author devised a rubber chewing device which you can buy from their website). Whilst certainly heat (fermentation, cooking) does destroy enzymes, denature protein and can destroy vitamin C and some heat sensitive minerals such as thiamine, it remains that cooking food provides incredible nutrient density and energy that is easily accessible – lightly cooked meat for example, makes it more easily digestible – it starts breaking down the protein molecules. Eating cooked foods has also been quite obviously, simply spectacularly successful – we did climb down from the trees and are now the leading animal (I know, we’re not looking that good right now, neither are the cultures that we’ve built, but that is another discussion). But cooking can also make some big differences to vegetables – it can soften and break down that fibrous cellulose, it helps to improve the digestibility of complex carbohydrate (especially the starch – cooked potato or sweet potato is more digestible cooked than raw) and it can break down some problematic aspects of raw foods – oxalic acid and goitrogens for example. Whilst I believe there is some hysteria around the internet in regards to oxalic acid, it does remain that it is problematic, especially if you have a less than optimal gut ecology.
I’d like to talk a bit more about that gut ecology. If you have a ‘delicate’ or troublesome digestive system (bloating, intolerance to gluten and dairy etcetera) you will most likely have a less than healthy gut ecology. This means you don’t have enough beneficial bacteria to do the many, many jobs they actually do – including most importantly, their intimate involvement in digesting food – in particular the full and proper digestion of gluten and dairy proteins, and oxalic acid. But, what those good bacteria can’t do however, no matter how much you will it (or blend it) is to be able to fully and appropriately digest some of those more complex carbohydrates (more than 1 or 2 sugars) that include cellulose, fibre and those known as FODMAPS. This is why, even when blended some of those carbohydrates are still tricky to digest. Unless a kale leaf is very, very young it is going to be difficult to digest, even when blended – it is far easier to digest when cooked, which is how the cultures that have most experience with it (such as the Italians) generally use it.
In the end, this seems to me a discussion on eating a balanced diet. All healthy human groups include raw food (where appropriate to the food) and understand the value of that life force. However, no healthy human groups solely eat raw food – this is the findings of many, including that same Richard Wrangham who postulated the theory that cooked food is responsible for our evolution from the apes, and as a biological anthropologist found no human group eats all their food raw, as did Weston Price many years before. Nowhere is this issue of balance more evident than in a discussion on cooked versus raw. I have always (as my parents generation before me) consumed raw foods – including the goitrogenic cabbage in my mum’s favourite coleslaw and we called it a salad – indeed we had a salad generally around 3 times a week, more in summer. We consumed raw, fresh seasonal fruits and called it an apple or pear, not a ‘raw food’, but we also ate all of those same foods we ate as salads and fresh fruit, cooked. We also consumed raw animal products meats (steak tartare), raw milk and raw eggs in raw milk (mum’s egg flip) but we also had them cooked. But perhaps of most importance, is that what and how we ate was all in the context of those fundamentals I spoke of earlier, that you can find here.
There is also much more to the issue of the green smoothie – promoted by the author as a time saving way to include these greens in your diet, and their nutritional value. I’d simply like to say that in regards to the issue of nutritional value, as much as you would like to think that you are getting all those minerals in that kale or dark leafy green, if you don’t have some fat soluble vitamins with it, you won’t and those minerals can’t do what you want them to do. Those fat soluble vitamins are A, D, K and E. And, if you think that the kale or dark leafy greens (or the chia seeds) are giving you Omega 3 EFA’s, well yes they are but in the form of Alpha Linolenic Acid, which has to go through many conversions to become the derivatives that really are essential – Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) and especially Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA). There are some foods that just happen to be especially rich in both ALL the fat soluble vitamins and those longer chain essential fatty acid derivatives EPA and DHA – they are ALL animal foods and are : all animal fats eg butter (ghee), egg yolks, offal (especially liver) and fish (including their eggs). This is why we consistently see raw vegetable and green salads traditionally paired with dressings such as mayonnaise based, or topped with soft cooked eggs, presented with lovely crunchy fatty bacon bits or strips of barely cooked liver. You might immediately recognise these pairings as classic, traditional and delicious French, Italian or European pairings. Yes, some land sources such as extra virgin olive oil do have vitamin E, but they don’t have the others.
When choosing vegetables to eat raw, it pays to bear in mind that nature tends to provide season appropriate foods – lighter, less carbohydrate dense and higher water content vegetables and fruits in summer. These all require less cooking – they are easy to eat and digest raw – and blended if that’s how you would like them. Yet, it gives us the almost opposite in the cooler months – these denser and more complex carbohydrate root vegetables, thicker and more cellulose dense leaves (cabbage, kale and collards) and fruits (apples, quince, pears ) provide us with more fuel to keep us warm, but will need cooking to make that goodness fully available. Yes you could blend those leaves up and break down the cellulose, but that is often not enough for some and I would also ask why? I simply don’t agree, because this is what I have seen, that is offers more (better) nutrition than when cooked. And, in regards to healing, there are many paths to the one door and I’ve seen a cooked food diet do the same thing – but this is a deeply complex area, with many other co factors and one for another day.
I think it is an incredibly admirable thing to be advocating eating greens, but extreme and unbalanced to believe the best way to do so is to blend them, raw, into a smoothie (mostly with lots of fruit). They have been eaten by all healthy cultures for generations, and they called it a salad. They knew which greens needed cooking to make them optimally digestible, and what to serve with them to make all their greeny goodness and mineral bounty more bio available. The tragedy of our time is that this traditional knowledge, which served it’s people well, has been undervalued and lost. There are some beautiful greens around right now and so many delicious ways to include them in your day – uncooked as salads, and cooked (that tart I suggested earlier is delicious). This was my morning tea yesterday…..
Autumn is a great time for the easily digested family of lettuce – here I’ve used one of my favourites, Buttercrunch. I’ve added microgreens from the garden, celery heart, pink lady apples and toasted walnuts for a bit more density. Can I say, microgreens are ridiculously easy to grow, nutrient rich with little carbohydrate development at such a young stage – kale is great in this format. To make the dressing I used equal amounts of mayonnaise and yoghurt (thus supplying some beneficial bacteria), lemon or lime juice to taste, a touch of honey to taste and a touch of a nice curry powder, with lots of fresh (and easily digestible) herbs – coriander which is now in season. This dressing will keep in the fridge for at least a week, and gives me the ability to put a salad together quickly. It would be delicious with lentils tossed through it also.
BUILD A GOOD FOUNDATION
So, what fundamentally is wholefood? What makes food healthy? Is it the latest superfood (the must have goji berries or cacao), the latest dietary paradigm (currently raw or paleo) or is it more than that?These are the questions (and so many more) that I ask of the students in the Whole and Natural Foods Chef Training Program, and that I base my entire work around. My answers to these questions reflect the understandings I now have of food over my 20 + years in the “healthy” food industry and many influences over 58 odd years of living.
First of these influences was growing up in an inner suburban life in the late 50’s and early 60’s – fruit was eaten in season and was limited to what grew locally, nuts were from the almond tree in the backyard, as were figs (we survived without imported Brazil nuts). Stocks, Soups, Stews, Meat, eggs and simple seasonal vegetables were on the menu as was wheat. Chicken was rare. Everything was cooked from scratch, as there was no other option, fish and seafood were plentiful from the ocean and river. We ate a lot of cooked foods, with salads the year around. We had white sugar and white flour cakes and desserts. We grew up happy and healthy as did the previous generation. We played and adventured outside, we had BBQ in summer and picnics in winter, we ate as a family and often extended family. My mum is an exceptional cook.
My second influence was Macrobiotics, as most people of my age that have been in this industry as long as I have started here – there was no other place to start. From Macrobiotics I have been gifted my love of traditionally brewed soy sauces, rice wines such as mirin, sea vegetables and an understanding of balancing the energetic properties of food (and the universe). Later Ayurveda entered my life – this is the ancient 5000 year old wisdoms of a whole and healthy life from the Sanskrit and much of Chinese Medicine, Five Phase/Element Theory (and ultimately Macrobiotics) is taken from this. Finally, the work of Weston A Price, the American dentist who documented happy, healthy cultures thriving on a wide range of foods. There have been many other dalliances, but it is these that have influenced me most and formed my views on food that I now hold, and see working.
And, what I see is this – that humans thrive eating a wide range of foods (and I don’t mean daily) generally that the environment in which they live provides. Certainly Weston A Price documented happy, healthy cultures thriving on blood, offal and milk, whilst others thrived on the rye grains and spring butter, whilst others on fish and seafood. Many thrived without 3 fruit and 5 veg a day. They thrived without following a raw food or paleo diet and they ate what they had available. They didn’t call it a traditional diet – they called it food; they didn’t freak out eating grain in the places that it grew – but rather understood and respected it (whole and appropriately prepared) and gave thanks for it. That we are all individuals, and what might work for one may not suit another – a basic principle of Ayurveda – which is the paradigm I see working more consistently than just about anything else.
So, to the answers:
- Wholefood is that which is closest to it’s natural state with as little that is edible removed and as little that is inedible (additives etc) added to it. It is an understanding that the whole is always far, far greater than simply the sum of nutrient parts.
- That it is good enough to eat: that is, synthetic pesticides, fungicides, herbicides are not compatible with any part of a human system, but are designed to interrupt and kill living systems. You are a living system.
- That it should be real: that is the human body is evolved to eat a real strawberry, not a strawberry flavour made from chemicals. The body is a real thing and it does not compute with fake things.
- That it should match you – not your naturopath, dr or someone else: This is a fundamental Ayurvedic premise. Some will be fine with cold, raw food in winter others will suffer. Some do best with cooked vegetables, some with grain, some with no grain.
- That it should be delicious. Deliciousness, in ways i do not understand but absolutely know exist, allows food to be taken in and properly digested, absorbed and utilised by the body. Deliciousness is a nutrient in it’s own right. Deliciousness also includes not being so stressed out (from a too busy life), that you are unable to experience deliciousness in other walks of life.
- That the food you choose should be prepared appropriately to ensure compatibility with the human body: that is low fat milk, pasteurised milk, refined oils, fractionalised foods are not understood by the body. Some foods (such as beans or grains) require special preparation methods to ensure they are understood (digestible).
- That the human body requires fuel – the nutrients found in the food nature provides. On the whole you might get away with a little white flour and white sugar (also in it’s other guises – pasta, etc) – if you have enough of the other good stuff. But, better to have less refined (more whole) flours and sweeteners.
- That sweetness is not a dirty word: that is, a bit of wholesome sweetness, cake or dessert in a whole and balanced diet is not going to kill you. Eating a lot of shallow, nutrient deficient, refined, additive laden food will.
This is how you create your wholefood kitchen. To build a good foundation we have started in WNCTP with ghee and chicken (or animal bone) stock, but a vegetarian stock is still a powerful thing. Ghee is considered to be the most ‘satvic’ food by Ayurveda – the holiest in the sense that it “delivers enlightenment to the soul”. We can understand this knowledge now in it’s more scientific speak, as it is the fat that ensures all the vitamins and minerals are delivered and able to be utilised by the cell. Ghee will make anything taste better and add huge nourishment. In that butterfat lies the valuable fat soluble vitamins A, D and the X factor (now thought to be vitamin K2) – Weston A Price referred to these vitamins as activators because without them, minerals (no matter how many may be in those leafy green vegetables from the 5 vegetables serves a day) cannot be used by the body. I could write a whole lot here about your bones, teeth, nervous system, reproductive health, but it’s simple really – you need minerals for just about everything your body does – they are a part of the complex, miraculous thing that is your body. If you have not made ghee, please give it a try – you will love it.
Ghee is pure butterfat, with all the milk protein removed. Many people that find they cannot tolerate milk solids, are fine with ghee – this is a far more nourishing option than a margarine (which is not a food and has no place in your cupboard or fridge – even if it sounds lovely and has pictures of sunflower and other seeds all over it). All butter has a percentage of water and milk solids – when making ghee, you are evaporating off the water, and removing the milk solids, leaving pure butterfat.
There are many ways to make it, and I’ve been lucky enough this week for Rupinder to show me how she does hers – she does not skim the milk solids off as she goes, but leaves them to dry out on top until the end. Ghee will keep very well at room temperature – it is a saturated (thus stable to light, heat and oxygen) fat.
250 gm butter – I prefer unsalted
Stage 1: Melt the butter in a small saucepan over a low heat – you will clearly see what I describe as a ‘river’ of white flowing through the yellow fat. This is the water and milk solids.
Stage 2: Once melted, increase the heat to a gentle simmer. As the water evaporates, it will gurgle and spit a bit, and the top will be covered with a white foam. Take care not to have the heat too high. After some time you will notice that the water has evaporated off – it now looks more like yellow fat, with bits in it – these are the milk solids and they are also in the foam that gathers at the top of the butterfat. The time it takes for the water to evaporate off will be different – generally, commercial butters have a lot more water in them than organic ones. I skim the foam off the top as I go, but Rupinder showed me to just move it gently so you see how it’s going underneath the foam and leave it on top. As the water evaporates, the foam will look more dry.
Stage 3: Once I see the foam on top reducing and I have removed most of it (or it’s becoming more dry as in Rupinders method), check to see if any milk solids in the pot remain – some will have dropped to the bottom of the pan and be lightly browned. Remove from the top of stove and leave to cool. Skim off any remaining foam (if you haven’t already) and pour through muslin into a clean jar.
TAKE CARE TO DO THIS OVER A SLOW, GENTLE HEAT – IT SHOULD SMELL OF CARAMEL (which is really simply butter, sugar and cream) AND NOT TOO NUTTY.
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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