I LOVE to cook! Preparing healthy, fresh food at home for myself and my family is one of my favourite things to do.  Food quality and taste are extremely important to me.  Also, because of my training, having the right foods ready at the right times is essential. This does require some planning ahead so, setting time aside each morning and on the weekends to cook is a non-negotiable part of my routine. I also find cooking relaxing and almost meditative. Taking time each day to prepare food at home while listening to music or a podcast is part of maintaining balance in my life, given my busy schedule.

Part of preparing food quickly and efficiently is having the right tools for the job. I’ve come up with my Top 5 Kitchen Essentials – just the basic tools I use almost daily to help make healthy meals happen. If you don’t already have them, I suggest you go out and get ’em!

1)  Slow Cooker:  As many of you know, I end my days around 9pm so having supper ready when I get home is a must. I bought my slow-cooker 15 years ago at Canadian Tire for $20; it has 2 settings, low & high, and it still does a great job, so no need to go out and get a fancy one. Slow-cookers get a bad rep for turning out bland, mushy foods but I disagree! As long as you take the time to prep & season your food appropriately and use the right cuts of meat (whole chicken for example, or tougher cuts of meat, etc)  you’ll be rewarded with some delicious meals. I also use mine to cook soup – I’ll throw (yes, throw!) root veggies, stock, and spices in my slow cooker and leave it on low for the day. When I come home all I have to do is blend it up and voila! Which brings me to….

2) Immersion Blender: A simple hand-held blender works great for blending soups and shakes. Mine came with a mini-food processor attachment which also gets a lot of use (chopping nuts, making guacamole, etc). In the same category, I have to mention my Vitamix blender. Yes, they’re expensive but nothing will out-perform this workhorse to turn out the smoothest of smooth soups, shakes, home-made nut butters, and even frozen fruit ‘ice cream’. For quick jobs, the immersion blender rules. If you want to blend a raw carrot, apple or kale into your shake, the Vitamix is top-dog. Both live on my kitchen counter and get daily use.

3) Good Knives: It’s worth spending a bit of money on a few good knives. I chop A LOT of veggies, fruit, and meat so high-quality, sharp knives are a no-brainer. A chef’s knife, a small pairing knife, and a serrated knife are the 3 that I use daily.  Make sure to get one-piece construction, don’t stick them in the dishwasher, and use a cutting board. If you’re not ready to invest, Ikea actually has some pretty decent knives that are inexpensive and easy to pick up. Warning: just don’t go to Ikea on a Sunday at 3pm. It’s horrible.

4) Vegetable Brush: Don’t be gross – wash your food. Again, we go through tons of veggies & fruits in my household and I keep a simple veggie-brush next to the sink at all times. Even if your produce is organic, you should still wash your food before eating or cooking with it. I opted for a soft, natural bristle brush but any basic synthetic one would also be fine. Just make sure your spouse doesn’t also use it to clean out his/her protein shaker bottle. Ahem.

5) Cast-Iron Skillet: A well-seasoned cast-iron pan is a no-brainer. I use mine every morning to cook eggs & veggies for breakfast, to sear meat before putting it in the slow-cooker, to cook ground beef or sausages, etc. Nothing beats it. I have several but the one I use everyday is a medium sized (8-9″) Le Creuset that I bought at a garage sale for $5 when I moved out in 1999. Score! I don’t use soap on it – just a good scrub with a stiff brush (NOT the aforementioned veggie-brush…) under hot water is enough, and every once in a while I’ll re-season it.

And there you have it – my Top 5 Kitchen Essentials for preparing simple, healthy, flavourful meals at home. I hope this helps or inspires you to pick up the ones you don’t have and get cooking!

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