The Joy of Minimalist Cooking

30 Jun

There was a time in the not so distant past where my staple was not my Yam & Black Bean Tacos, but Spaghetti… least 3-4 times a week.  As I sit in my living room blogging to Styx “Lorelei”, it’s hard to remember that cloudy reality.  My three meals would consist of cereal for breakfast, turkey sandwiches for lunch, and spaghetti marinara for dinner.

Since I took on the challenge of learning how to cook, and then in turn, learning how to cook vegan food, my kitchen has quickly grown and then slowly diminished to its current size.  Over time and countless cooking successes and fiascos, I learned what was great and what sucked, what I need and what I don’t need.  So I thought I would share my essential cooking tools with you based on some serious trial and error.  All of these utensils are absolutely essential for my cooking happiness and, let’s be honest, just make everything easier!  In theory, minimalist cooking could really consist of a pan and wooden spoon, but as a vegan and a lover of food, walking the line between living simply and being a Julia Child wannabe can be hard.  So here are some of my (in a perfect Oprah impression)…….. FAVORITE THINGS!  These five tools have made having a healthy life easier as well as helped me purge tons of my kitchen equipment by their versatility.

1.       Cast Iron Skillet

My Lodge Cast Iron Skillet has become number one on my list of amazing cooking tools. I feel that I waited much too long to experience its glory.  Not only is cast iron great because it evenly distributes the heat, but, after seasoning, it is a natural nonstick cooking surface.  Also, who wants to have an iron deficiency?!  Research has shown that cooking with cast iron can increase the amount of iron in your food and your body.  Take that anemia!  I have since rid myself of all other size skillets in favor of one perfect one.  The more I cook on it, the more nonstick the surface becomes.  I can make anything from homemade spaghetti sauce to yummy baked cornbread in it.  The stove to oven option is essential.  Ironically, I first bought my skillet to cook Eric a nice steak in the winter since grilling was not an option.  This was a true test of love because even though I was not a vegan then, I have always thought steak is gross.  Since that one night, the skillet sat in my cupboard, rusting.  Upon rediscovery, it just took a little love and patience, but it was easily rehabilitated to be one of my kitchen staples.

Lodge sells the pre-seasoned skillets at affordable prices, so that was the brand I decided to go with.  You can find them at most kitchenware stores as well as places like Target where I purchased mine.  If Lodge isn’t your cup of tea, Le Creuset makes some great enameled cast iron skillets that are bright and lovely colors.  Plus, I think “Le Creuset” is just fun to say.  Cast iron skillets can survive from generation to generation, so if you want to be extra green, buy one on Ebay or at an estate sale!  I’m sure the cooking gods will look down favorably on you for passing on good kitchen karma.

Tips:  Make sure and use stainless steel spatulas with the cast iron.  I learned my lesson on this one by burning off part of my plastic spatula into my Blueberry Corn Pancakes.

To Rehabilitate an Old Skillet: Wash with mild soap and water.  Lightly pat dry and place on burner to completely dry the skillet.  While still warm, add small amount of vegetable oil and spread around with a paper towel.  If there is some rust or caked on food, I used a Chore Boy to scrape it down and then repeated the above process over and over until I was satisfied.  Remember, the more you cook on it, the more amazing it becomes!  Just be patient, and it will be shiny and layered with nonstick goodness in no time.

2.       French Press

Anything with the word “French” in it has to be fabulous, right? French fries, French toast, French kissing…I could go on and on!  The French press has been no exception.  Ours was a lovely gift from Eric’s grandmother, or “Grams”.  Eric had mentioned to her that we were thinking about trying out a French press at my persistent urging to get rid of the old crappy coffee maker.  Grams being the sweetie she is, said she had a French Press that she barely used at her home in Kansas City.  We soon procured this device and have been smitten ever since.  See nagging does get you somewhere!

I love our French Press because I can use it to seep tea or coffee.  So there is no need for multiple tea pots or coffee makers.  This baby does it all!  Plus, it is insulated so it keeps our beverages nice and hot, which is great because I tend to get distracted and all of a sudden my drink is cold.  Being an avid tea drinker before, the French Press taught me to love the deep, rich taste of delicious coffee.  It takes up little space in our kitchen, and hell, it’s just way more fun to use then an automatic coffee maker.  And the final product tastes way better!  Try it out.  You won’t be disappointed.

3.       Microplane Grater or Zester

Being Eric’s favorite contraption, I had to add this to the list.  Not only is this kitchen tool small, but it can add amazing flavor with very little effort.  It’s amazing what a little lemon or orange zest can do to brighten up a meal.  Plus, for the minimalist non-vegans in the family, it can also grate parmesan.  The zester is essential to our kitchen, plus even the top of the line ones are super cheap.  There is no excuse.  Go out and get your microplane grater ASAP or at least borrow someone else’s and try it out.  Just be careful not to get too excited and accidentally zest your finger nail.  That may have happened to me.

4.       Salad Spinner

Since the summer I learned to make my own dressing, yummy salads have been an essential part of our meals.  For a while, Eric and I were lazy and bought the extremely expensive pre-washed spinach and lettuce because we loved salad, but didn’t want to wipe each leaf dry with a paper towel.  Since we discovered our salad spinner, time consuming drying has been a thing of the past.  Not only is washing the leaves much more efficient, but I can do large quantities at once and then store them in airtight bags in the fridge.  By doing this it eliminates buying overpriced boxed lettuces by buying in bulk.  We therefore eliminate some plastic waste as well as put a little extra money in our pocket.  Also, it has expanded the type of salads we make because we can easily wash and dry any type of herb or leafy vegetable.  OXO makes a great salad spinner that even has a brake button on it for when you get a little too excited spinning your salads.  Plus, if you ever need a centrifuge at home, you have one!  I’m serious.  It’s been done.

Tips:  To store leaves, line a ziplock baggie with paper towels.  After spinning down leaves, place in between the two layers of towels.  Squeeze all the air out of the baggie and zip closed.  Store in the refrigerator!  Even fragile things like spinach keep really well for at least a week in the refrigerator.  It’s amazing.  The end.

5.       Immersion Blender

A new addition to our kitchen, the Breville immersion blender has quickly become one of my favorite gadgets.   It was a gift from Grams after our blender started smoking when trying to purée some homemade guacamole.  What can I say? Grams is a saint!  At first, the minimalist inside me was hesitant because the lovely immersion blender came with a couple attachment pieces that I was certain would annoy the hell out of me.  The exact opposite has been true.  They are almost all dishwasher safe so cleaning up has been a breeze.  Plus, since they are much smaller than a huge blender, they store more easily in our tiny kitchen.  I love that I can take the immersion blender to the food instead of having to take the food to the blender.  Fresh salsa can be made in a moment’s notice and hummus has been coming out of the woodwork!

The immersion blender is small and perfect for a minimalist kitchen because you are getting the absolute most out of one small tool that is easy to store.  Unless you make dough on a regular basis, I think that there is no need for a large bulky food processor.

I hope some of these essentials have helped you in your simple living goals and shown you many different ideas of how to get the most out of the small amount of tools in your kitchen.  As I am still working towards simplifying, I am sure my ideas and thoughts will mature and grow as the different types of foods I wish to make will change.  I love to cook, and I love doing it with a limited amount of stuff.  A simplified kitchen brings me peace and happiness, and it is a constant learning process to figure out what I need and don’t need.

In Health & Happiness,



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