Cooking & Baking Supplies
Cooking and baking free of gluten, food allergens, or other restricted foods usually means spending more time in the kitchen to prepare more foods from their natural state. The upside–beyond improved health from avoiding your offending food(s)–is that it is much easier to control the overall content of your food when you are cooking and baking from scratch. Whether you’re a seasoned foodie or a kitchen newbie, when you’re facing food restrictions, there’s a variety of kitchen items that will make your time in the kitchen easier. I would encourage you to purchase at least a few high-quality, basic items to make your cooking easier. It is an investment in yourself and your health.
Good Kitchen Knives
I forget sometimes how painful it was when I used to use inexpensive, dull knives when I was working in the kitchen. At a cooking class years ago, I found carrots amazingly easy to chop using one of my instructor’s knives. I was sold on the idea of good kitchen knives, and I’ve never looked back. I even travel on vacation with at least my chef’s knife and paring knife (as long as I’m driving or checking a bag, that is!), because using cheap knives is so much more painful and time-consuming. If you’re on a tight budget, I would recommend that you get these first two knives now and get the other two as soon as you can. If you have a bit more room for purchasing, I would recommend that you purchase all four of these. Each one has cut my prep time and reduced the effort cooking and baking take me.
If you want to read an in-depth discussion and testing of chef knives, Cooking for Engineers has a good one here (with interesting comments, as well). When I dated a chef for several years, he generally preferred Henkel ‘twin’ (I call them double-man) knives. (The Henckel knives with a stamp of a single man are of much lower quality.) Thus, that’s what I started using, and I’ve never looked back. I’ve had three of my knives for about six years, and, with occasional professional sharpening, they perform as well as they did when I got them. When I purchased the fourth knife this year, I went with the same brand.
(One note: these do NOT go in the dishwasher. Carefully handwash them to save your blades!)
Here are the knives I prefer:
This is the knife you’ll use for most chopping, slicing, dicing, etc. It’s extremely handy. Speaking of hands, if you have small ones like I do, you’ll probably want to hold the knife closer to the blade than the handle, like this:
You get better control that way.
If you come to one of my classes or retreats or get coaching, we’ll work on your knife skills there. But there are also handy instruction videos online if you search for them.
This is the knife you’ll use when you want to do work on smaller food items or with greater precision than your big chef’s knife will allow. For example, I most recently used my paring knife to slice the pith and peel off a tangerine and then slice the peel into tiny slivers. (It was going into a chocolate spice cake.)
If you have many food restrictions, it’s likely you’re going to want to prepare your own baked goods and bread. I can’t even tell you how handy a bread knife is if you’ve never used a good one. It makes all the difference between mangling baked goods (bread, cake, etc.) and getting clean, even slices of them. Simply because I no longer base my life around bread like I used to, I don’t use my bread knife as often as my chef’s knife or paring knife, but when I do need my bread knife, I’m extremely grateful for it.
Honestly, I got this knife because we moved out to California and I thought I’d be filleting fish way more often than I actually am. But this sucker is so skinny and precise that it’s amazing for keeping all of the parts of a cut of meat that I want while letting me slice off the bits that I don’t–with as little waste as possible. I most recently used it to slice 1/8″ pieces of grass-fed beef that I then turned into jerky using our dehydrator. If you get a fillet knife, I’d also highly recommend a fillet glove. Fillet knives are super sharp, and you’re often slicing thisclose to your fingers when you use it. Several chefs I know didn’t use a fillet glove until they sliced off the tips of their fingers. I say let’s learn from their mistakes and not let that happen to us.
Many of us who have food restrictions have bodies that aren’t terribly great at absorbing nutrients. We have to work on healing our guts over time (something we cover in retreats!), but we also have to offer our bodies greater volumes of the nutrients that we are missing. One easy way to add a bit of extra iron to our diets is by cooking in cast-iron skillets. Tiny bits of the iron cook into the food as we use them. There are other reasons I love cast-iron, as well:
- Gluten-free and egg-free foods–for example, vegan, gf pancakes–cook better in them.
- They are safe to go from the stove to the oven, which some recipes call for, and which in general is good for keeping food warm.
- They are fairly inexpensive.
- Once they are seasoned well, they are *really* easy to clean.
- They heat evenly and hold heat well, so that foods cook evenly in them.
- They don’t have weird chemicals that make them non-stick. They are just naturally non-stick from treatment.
- You can use whatever spatula, spoon, etc., you want on them–no scratching, no damage.
- They last forever. I know someone who uses her great-grandmother’s cast-iron pot. I feel sure you could pass these things down literally indefinitely, and that’s as environmentally sound as it gets. I don’t know what else I could say that about in the kitchen.
I have two cast-iron skillets and love them both. One is a 10-inch, and I use it for everything from cooking bacon to baking upside-down cakes. The larger one is a 12-inch, and I use it whenever I need greater space in the skillet, like if I’m cooking a large amount of beans for beans & greens. The 12-inch also comes in handy as a pizza pan that bakes up a great gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free crust.
The tricks to using cast-iron skillets are to season them well (‘seasoning’ means developing their non-stick finish; you can read about methods here), to use potholders always when they are hot (the handles get just as hot as the pot), and to clean them with just water and a rag or scrub brush. (I meant it when I said they get non-stick! Soap just eliminates the seasoning. Oh, and cast-iron is naturally antibacterial, especially in combination with the heat you’ll use, so don’t worry about germs.)
If you are allergic to soy, you may want to avoid skillets that are pre-seasoned. They are often pre-seasoned with soy oil. (That said, many people who are allergic to soy can tolerate at least limited exposure to soy oil, as it typically does not contain the soy protein.)
Other than online sources like Amazon, you can find cast-iron skillets at Army Navy surplus stores, at camping supply stores, and even (used) at places like Salvation Army thrift stores. (Scrape off any rust, season well in the oven, and you’re good to go.)
Deep Stock Pot (with a lid)
The very deep pot isn’t as important, perhaps, unless you’re gluten-free. But if you are, let’s talk pasta.
You probably love pasta. You probably want to make the rice- or quinoa-based pasta at home. Here’s the thing: unlike with wheat pasta, you really can’t fudge your cooking process here. You have to use lots of lightly salted water, you have to bring that water to a full boil, and you have to return it to a boil as quickly as you can–by putting the lid back on till it boils once more. (You also generally want to start taste-testing your gluten-free pasta at half the time called for on the package, continuing to check each minute until it’s done . . . unless you like mushy, gooey piles of pasta, in which case do follow the package directions.)
To make gluten-free pasta well, you need a big pot that conducts heat well. That’s why I recommend a nice, big pot.
Little Jars, such as 1/2 Pt. Ball Jars and 4 oz. Ball Jars
You’re probably going to be making your own salad dressings, marinades, etc., at least part of the time. (If that sounds hard and frustrating, it’s actually easy and makes much better dressing than 99% of the store-bought ones.) The easiest way I know how to do that is to have small jars, with lids, on hand for shaking things up and storing them in the fridge. If you want to simply wash out the mustard jar when you’re done using it, you can go that route. (I have.) I also have a few Ball jars I use for these purposes.
Have you wanted an excuse to get a nice food processor? Boy, do you have an excuse now! Did you get a food processor as a gift, but it’s been sitting in your cabinet collecting dust? Well, pull it out!
In the world of food restrictions, I use my food processor regularly–so often that it sits out on my counter all the time. When I want to make a dairy-free alfredo sauce, I use my food processor. When I want to make sugar-free, date-sweetened brownies, I use my food processor. When I want to put together cole slaw in five minutes, I use my food processor. Etc. It comes in handy a lot. In fact, when I pulled together my recipes for what I wanted to make for the first gluten-free, allergen-free cooking class I taught, I realized that I used my food processor for about half the recipes. Is it possible to make lots of good-tasting food, with food restrictions, without a food processor? Well, sure. But is it remarkably easier with a food processor? Yes!
The kind I linked to is the 14-cup Cuisinart, which is what I have. For a slightly lower price, you can get one that deals with a smaller volume of food (such as a 7-cup), but for the greatest versatility, I recommend the 14-cup one.
I use my blender all the time. I make smoothies nearly daily. I make sauces. I puree soups. . . . I daydream about Vitamixes and Blendtecs. I know that they are the best blenders out there. Thus far, they’ve eluded my budget, so when I needed a new blender recently, I started researching the next best thing at a much lower cost. Eventually, I settled on this blender. And it works, y’all. It takes a little longer than a Vitamix or Blendtec to do the same work, but it does a great job at a fraction of the price of those bad boys.
The Baking Items
Unless you want to develop forearms of steel with stirring, you definitely want to have a mixer. Here, you may be able to get off easily and inexpensively: if you find you’re mixing mostly thin batters without mixing them a long time, an average hand mixer may do the trick for you. I do some light mixing, but in the quest for homemade, delicious, safe food, I also spend a decent amount of time mixing up thick, heavy doughs for minutes at a time. (Hello, gluten-free bread!) In situations like that, I would blow out a hand mixer in a short period of time. If you have to choose between getting a food processor or a good stand mixer initially, I would go with the food processor and use a cheap mixer for now. If you can afford a good mixer, too, here’s the kind I absolutely love.
Making good gluten-free and/or allergen-free cookies is kinda like making gluten-free pasta: you have to be more precise about your process than you do with wheat ones. Your oven has to be (at least close to) the right temperature; you have to use decent pans; you have to avoid dough sticking terribly (a hallmark of some gf flour mixes)
These Vollrath cookie sheets are renowned for making great cookies. If they’re in your budget, they are what I would recommend. I was so impressed with reviews of them that I recently ordered a couple of them myself.
If you don’t have quite that budget but want good cookie sheets, this is what I recommend: Go to Ross or TJ Maxx, and look in their baking section. Find a good brand of cookie sheet there—Calphalon or All-Clad or Chicago. (They also have crappy brands at those stores. Beware.) Look for a cookie sheet that’s not very dark—despite the rumor to the contrary, a very dark pans doesn’t indicate quality; it just burns your cookies—and isn’t super shiny. You want it to have a good heft to it. Pick it up and think about that metal conducting the heat into your cookies. Flimsy pans tend to warp and pop in the oven.
Also, I prefer to have at least two of my cookie sheets be jelly roll pans; that is, I want them to have a little edge on each side. That’s because more often than I make cookies, I roast vegetables or use my pans for something else where I don’t want juice or oil dripping over the edges.
When you are baking free of certain foods, especially when you are gluten-free, Silpats are a lifesaver. They are like permanent parchment paper that just gets better at being non-stick over time. When I use Silpats under my gluten-free, allergen-free cookies, they do not stick. Ever. When I am at someone else’s house and have to bake without Silpat mats, I’m often back to wondering how things will turn out. If you want to see their effect, just buy a single Silpat sheet to try out. If you’re like me, you’ll be impressed and end up coming back for another.
Oven temperatures are often not reliable. Many ovens run 25 degrees (or more!) hotter or cooler than they tell you they are. An oven thermometer that hangs from one of your oven racks lets you know with certainty that you’re baking at the right temperature. That precision can make all the difference in the world when you’ve already using a recipe with substitutions for some ingredients. And oven thermometers are cheap, too!
I’ve used rolling pins my whole life. On a whim, at a friend’s Pampered Chef party, I bought one of these single-hand dough rollers. When I started baking gluten-free and allergen-free, I was amazed at how handy these rollers are! They’re easy to use single-handed, they get into edges of pans easily, and they don’t usually stick to the dough. If you’re going to be rolling out pie crusts, cinnamon rolls, or anything of that sort, I highly recommend this dough roller.
You want to make gluten-free or allergen-free bread in heavy-duty bread pans that (again) conduct heat well while helping to keep your bread from sticking to the pan much. There are two kinds I recommend: heavy-duty metal and stoneware.
Bad things can happen if you leave baked goods sitting on or in their pan. Breads, muffins, etc. get overly moist. Cookies can get overbaked. The solution is a cooling rack. I love the kind I have because it folds to take up limited space or expands to hold lots of goodies–but I don’t see that kind on the web now.
For best performance with the use of a dishwasher, you want a stainless steel baker’s rack. However, you can also find a baker’s rack at a yard sale and have it do well for you. The key is simply to have one!