Changing the way you cook, or even cooking from scratch for the first time can be a challenge. When I changed my diet and reduced the amount of processed food I ate, it meant my cooking and some of the tools I used changed too. I also started to think more about what containers I used for food storage and what pans I used for cooking. The aim being to improve my health and the environment.
Here is a list of the cooking essentials I use.
Pots and Pans
I no longer use non-stick pans1. My experience is they all lose their coating and once the coating has gone, the pan is no longer useful and goes to land fill. Some coatings have associated health issues1, so make sure you know what you are using. For me, when it comes to pots and pans, I keep to the best quality I can afford:
- Stainless steel;
- Enamel coated cast iron (need to look after the surface on these);
- Wrought iron;
My two favourite pans come from an Australian company called SOLIDteknics2. These are at the high end of the market, and the quality of the wrought iron pans (AUS-ION) and no nickel stainless-steel (nöni) is excellent. These pans have a multi-century warranty (when used as directed) – I am saving for my next.
Whatever pan you choose, I recommend you have at least one small pot, one medium pot, one large pot, and one frypan.
I have moved away from plastic containers due to the leaching of chemicals into the food they store. For storage I use:
- Glass jars. I re-use food jars; I sometimes buy a slightly more expensive jar of food if the jar is a size, shape or has a seal that I particularly like. The seals of jars can be important too.3
- Stainless steel boxes and containers. These are light and useful. I have two lunch boxes, two 1 cup containers with a silicon seal and four ¼ cup size containers.
- I have three Pyrex containers with plastic lids. The glass can go in the oven or the microwave4. I am careful not to put the plastic3 lids over hot food and not in contact with the contents and would not put plastic food containers in a microwave3,4.
- I use silicone pouches for storage, make sure you use top quality.5, 5, 6
I use my oven mostly for roasting, dehydrating activated nuts, baking seed crackers, date and nut slice, almond meal cakes and savoury loaves.
- Trays. The trays I have are aluminium1 and due to some health concerns around leaching I do not like to have food in direct contact, so when I use the trays, I cover them with a silicone sheet. Note, look for LFGB standard in silicone food products. LFGB5, 6 testing is the most stringent and as a result, silicone products within this category are more expensive.
- SOLIDteknics2 also make a seasoned wrought iron (AUS-ION) baking sheet and a no-nickel stainless steel (nöni) baking sheet, they look great – again, investment pieces.
- I use a Pyrex roasting pan, it is also good for oven baked savoury dishes.
- For cakes I use a silicone5, 6 12 cup mini loaf tray. I also use this for my mini meat loaves and savoury loaves. Having individual serving sizes helps with serving portions and as you do not need to slice the mini loafs, there are no crumbs thus less food waste.
- Other useful pans for cakes – a silicone5, 6 cake pan and a silicone loaf pan.
- Kettle. I recommend a stainless-steel kettle or a glass kettle – check inside to ensure there is no plastic in contact with the water2.
- Food Processor. Mine has a plastic4 bowl and lid, so I make a point of not using it for hot food. If I am blending a soup, I let it cool first, or transfer it to a glass bowl and use the stick mixer. Watch out for the splash!
- Stick mixer.
- Blender. I have a Biochef and my daughter has a Vitamix, both are excellent. Again, I don’t use it for hot liquids.
- Slow cooker. These can be a challenge – I no longer use mine, as I had some concerns over the coating1 on the ceramic. I have now converted to my Instant Pot, and find it suits me better.
- Pressure cooker. The modern-day pressure cooker is much safer than the old stove top version my grandmother had, but following the safety instructions remains important. I bought my Instant Pot less than a year ago, and love it. It has a stainless-steel pot and lid, compared to other brands that have non-stick or plastic inside. The Instant Pot makes bone broth in only a couple of hours and very quick stews, curries and casseroles.
- Air-fryer. This is an appliance I do not own, but two of my children do, and they love theirs. Great for fast cooking and crunchy foods, they rave about the broccoli chips – I’ve tried them and they are great. Again, steer clear of the non-stick surfaces1, and look for a stainless-steel lined air-fryer.
- Thermomix. Many of the above appliances can be replaced by a Thermomix. I do not have one, but you may find it worthwhile checking them out. I believe the main bowl is stainless steel, but the lid is not and many of the attachments are not. Still if you are replacing your food processor and blender, those bowls tend to be plastic, so it may be the better option. If you are going to cook with it, make sure you are comfortable with the internal surfaces.
For my utensils I aim at using stainless steel, silicone, wood and/or bamboo. For my enamel and stainless-steel pots; wood, silicone and bamboo will protect the surface from scratching. My wrought iron pans can easily manage metal utensils. For knives, purchase the best quality you can afford, they are an investment piece, keep them sharp. It is worthwhile having them professionally sharpened every one to two years, and sharpening them yourself every couple of months.
Here is a list of my basic utensils:
- Set of knives – utility knife, paring knife, carving knife, a serrated knife and kitchen scissors (try to find scissors that come apart for cleaning)
- Knife sharpener
- Whisk – silicone coated
- Tongs – stainless-steel and/or silicone tipped
- Slotted turner – one silicone, one stainless-steel
- Stainless-steel colander
- Sieve, stainless steel
- Silicone serving spoon
- Silicone ladle
- Silicone spatula
- Wooden or bamboo mixing spoon (check the quality – glues used may not be ideal)
- A set of stainless-steel measuring spoons
- Vegetable peeler
- Box grater
- Pyrex measuring jug (500ml)
- Set of kitchen scales
- Couple of wooden or bamboo cutting boards (check the quality – glues used may not be ideal)
- Nest of mixing bowls (stainless-steel, glass or ceramic)
- Potato masher (stainless-steel or silicone, depends on the surface of the pot you are using)
- Mortar and pestle (mine is about ¾ cup or 200 ml)
- Six tea-towels (I prefer natural fibre tea towels)
- Set of oven mitts