Sara Dickerman’s Kitchen Inventory

Sara DickermanMany people attempt new healthy eating regimes to start the new year. Often this is a short-lived effort, as the meal plans leave food lovers feeling deprived and unfulfilled. Chef and food writer Sara Dickerman attempted to rectify this situation, creating a popular healthy eating plan on the Bon Appétit website. What began as an interactive post-holiday plan that puts an emphasis on home cooking and whole foods, the cleanse has now been expanded for the entire year in the new cookbook Bon Appetit – The Food Lover’s Cleanse. (Enter our contest for your chance to win a copy of the book). Sara Dickerman talked to EYB about her new book:

Cooking your own food at home does take more work than takeout—it’s an undeniable fact. But the benefits are deep: better flavor, better value, and more control over the salt, fat, and sugars you consume. Over the past six years, I’ve created and led Bon Appétit’s wildly popular post-holiday healthy cooking plan, The Food Lover’s Cleanse, an online series or recipes and menus that celebrates big, satisfying flavors while leaving out refined grains, sugars, and processed meats. Now I’m also delighted to have a book that extends the concept through the entire year, with a two-week menu plan for each of the seasons, Bon Appétit: The Food Lover’s Cleanse: 140 Delicious, Nourishing Recipes That Will Tempt You Back into Healthful Eating. By cooking and eating my way through the program for five years now, I’ve learned strategies to make wholesome eating a pleasure rather than a cumbersome chore. Having the right tools helps get you rolling toward a rhythm of great, healthy, home cooked meals.

You do not need many knives, but you do need sharp ones. As you start cooking lots of produce at home, you’ll be doing more mincing, dicing, wedging, and chopping, and a good knife makes these tasks a joy. You do not need a whole quiver of knives, but I do recommend investing in at least one nice steel chef’s knife. Japanese santuko knives are wonderfully versatile, strong, and usually lighter than European models, something to keep in mind if your forearms are not Popeye-strong. Pick up a nice little paring knife for quartering apples and slicing pears and you’re good to go. One last thing: if you cannot sharpen your own knives, get to know a good sharpener near you; often it is the person who sold the knives.

Do not scrimp on your peeler. You need a good vegetable peeler if you’re prepping lots of salads and soups like those in the cookbook, and even a deluxe ceramic one shouldn’t cost more than $10. Choose your favorite, but I prefer the “Y” style peelers to the long straight variety; they can even handle big jobs like peeling a butternut squash. Running a good sharp peeler down the length of asparagus or carrots creates beautiful ribbons that make everyday salads seem special. My kind of healthy cooking is all about layering flavors, such as lemon zest, into simple preparations, and a sharp peeler also lets me remove citrus zest without digging into the bitter pith.

The sheet pan is the distracted cook’s ally. Sheet-pan roasting lets you cook dinner and help your kids with their homework without scorching the Brussels sprouts. Make sure you have at least two heavy-duty aluminum sheet pans, which you can find inexpensively at restaurant supply stores. So many vegetables-beets, broccoli, celery root, squash, sweet potatoes, and onions, to name a few–taste great tossed with a bit of olive oil and salt and roasted in a 425 F oven until mottled brown in places. Make enough to toss with quinoa or black rice one night and have some extra for salads or soups in the days to come.

Storage containers -with matching lids–make life easier. Storage containers might not be the sexiest kitchen equipment, but I find convenience is a great motivator in stocking up for a healthy week of cooking. To make healthy eating more doable, I’ve worked leftovers and big batches of things like beans, beets, and steel-cut oats into the rhythm of the Food Lover’s Cleanse menus. I lean heavily on glass containers with locking plastic lids, and I also use plenty of Mason jars.

Braising is a key technique for the overextended cook. I’m delighted whenever I can craft a meal in a single pan, and a heavyweight braising pan allows me to brown meat and vegetables and then steam-cook them in a medium-hot oven. A braising pan should be about 12 inches wide and sturdy, with a high domed lid.

Bonus round: invest in some versatile gadgets.

I will confess: I have one of those high-speed Vitamix blenders that were spoofed so deservingly on Saturday Night Live; mine is a factory-rebuilt model purchased at a significant discount. It allows me to make the smoothest, creamiest soups and festive, wholesome vegetable dips like the spicy carrot and white bean dips found in the book. Plus, the large-bodied blender is easier to clean, so I don’t think twice about making smoothies for my daughter’s breakfast.

Pressure cookers have a scary reputation, but it’s outdated; I’ve been using mine more and more, because it allows me to make long-cooking grains and legumes in a sliver of the time it normally takes to get them well cooked in a regular pan. Beans do not technically need soaking if you’re cooking them in the pressure cooker, though I tend to do it anyway to ensure more even cooking. Fibrous grains such as farro cook to tenderness under just 12 or 14 minutes of pressure, and if I include herbs, garlic, and other aromatics, they’re more intensely flavored than if cooked in an open pot.

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  • ellabee  on  January 10, 2016

    Why call good cooking a 'cleanse'? It's right back to the kinds of thinking embodied in late 19th-early 20th century food kookery. Can't wait until we're out of the self-purification stage of the food writing year.

  • pikawicca  on  January 10, 2016

    " Food lover" and "cleanse" is an oxymoron

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