Tools of the Trade for a Sustainable Kitchen
Don't you just love Spring? The time of year when a lot of us dream of lush gardens, fresh eggs, vibrant produce, warm sunshine, wild flowers and enjoying the outdoors. I always get serious craving for fresh dandelion blooms this time of year- THE best cure for the winter-time blues if you ask me. Meanwhile in Wyoming...
The wind is HOWLING outside blowing around that fresh snow we have received in the past couple of days into swirls of stinging ice that windburn and whip your skin every time you step outside. Lovely, isn’t it?!
Well, Spring will be here at some point- if not yet. The best we can do right now is to prepare for the bounty that is to come. One of the most amazing things about Wyoming is the short, yet jam-packed growing season we have. The animals and plants here know they have to get down to business as soon as they can when we get those growing-degree days so as we speak there are plants blooming and growing under the snow. Even though it was -4 last night! This makes for veggies, fruit and meat that is just choc-full of nutrients. Livestock producers from all over the country send their animals to graze grass here in Wyoming because the nutrients are so high here during our short growing season. How lucky are we to live in a place like this!? Nature is truly incredible.
Our challenge now is to harvest this nutrient dense, local food while it is available so we can enjoy it year-round. Where does this magic happen? The Kitchen! I wrote up a list of the things we have in our kitchen that help us convert fresh, local food into our year’s supply of nourishment- because now is a pretty good time to get ready to do this. While the plants and animals are hiding out of the wind, waiting for the opportunity to overwhelm us with their swift bounty. We better get after it because before we know it, it will all be over as fast as it started.
Taste of the Wind Tools of the Trade- Sustainable Kitchen Edition
A set of knives and a knife sharpener- When you process your own meat at home (say, break down a whole chicken into legs, wings, breast meat etc.) you need your knives to keep up with the work you expect out of them. Breaking a chicken down requires some skillful cuts and a dull knife can impede the quality and safety of this process. We sharpen our knives on a weekly basis- not because we schedule it this way, but just because they stop performing the way we know they should. You can get those pre-angled ceramic sharpeners, but we prefer the sharpening steel in which you have to hold the angle manually. You get pretty good at this with practice and the steel is easier to use for odd-shaped knives than using those knife sharpeners (which is great for us since Chris enjoys forging his own knives and adding them to our collection for testing). We have found the skinning and boning knives to be the most useful to us. A good serrated bread knife is always handy for cutting up those locally-made fresh loaves.
A Stockpot- If you are really serious about being sustainable you are going to want a stockpot. Personally I prefer the largest stockpot I can find, but pick a size that’s practical for you. This comes with a lifestyle shift- stop buying stock/broth at the store. Don’t even get those dehydrated cubes! You should be saving all your bones, skins, cartilage, and fat from the meat you have prepared and tossing them into this stockpot along with veggie skins, egg shells, that little bit of sauce you made the other night that wasn’t enough to make another meal from etc. You will never want to buy overly-salty and watered-down-store-bought broth again. Good, healthy broth solidifies when you chill it in the fridge. This is because it has collagen along with many other beneficial nutrients in it which are so good for you to eat- not to mention the difference in taste! Broth makes an awesome base for any soup or stew, for seasoned rice, marinades, chicken-pot-pie filling- the list is endless. If you need help making broth go see the how-to on our blog here: https://www.tasteofthewind.com/post/diy-bone-broth-and-lard-tallow
A Scraps Bucket- If you want a truly sustainable kitchen you are probably interested in chasing that zero waste goal that a lot of us are after. For the things you can’t use in your bone broth (fruit scraps, coffee grounds, the stuff that you already used to make bone broth with etc. ) put them in a container separate from your trash. If you have a compost pile you probably already know the drill, but if you don’t compost and you don’t want to, go check out our Facebook Page for the food scrap pick-up program that we started in Laramie here: https://www.facebook.com/Zero-Waste-Warriors-110870857202867/ A Ladle- If you are going to make broth you are going to want a ladle so you can scoop just the liquid out into jars. Speaking of jars….
Jars with the Pop-Up-Self-Sealing Lids- I like the wide-mouth jars because they are easier to clean. I can fit my whole hand inside to scrub the bottom where all the good stuff usually settles. You can reuse the lids too, just always make sure to check your jars for chips or cracks and discard them if you find any (or repurpose them as dry-storage containers, dog food scoops, or planting pots where you can watch the roots grow). Make sure to boil the jars and lids briefly to sanitize them in between uses- or if you have a dishwasher they hold up in dishwashers pretty well too! I use jars like a lot of folks would use Tupperware. Anything you put in hot self-seals and you can store them in the fridge. They are made to sustain temperature fluctuations and you can heat the glass up in a water bath to thaw things out or reheat leftovers in the microwave (without the lid of course)- beats plastic if you ask me.
A Grease/Lard Jar- You are going to want to designate one of these jars for grease/lard. Don’t waste the grease in your pan from that bacon you cook up in the morning, use it to grease baking pans or as an alternative to shortening in recipes. Lard is supposed to make THE BEST pie crusts- I can vouch for this. You can use it as a substitute for butter in certain recipes (that you don’t mind having a slight bacon flavor added to). Don’t mix vegetable based oils with animal-based ones if you can help it, this can be pretty difficult to cook with since both of these fats have different melting and smoking points. A Couple Canning Tools- If you are going to can (and you definitely should if you want to enjoy local produce year-round) you are going to want a couple of things to make it a bit easier. A large pot (the stockpot could double as a canning vessel here, just make sure it’s big enough that your jars will be fully submerged in water the entire time). Some jar grippers for pulling the hot jars out of the hot water bath. There isn’t an alternative for this that I have found. It is a pretty specific tool with an odd shape. You definitely don’t want to slip and drop those hot jars because you are trying to use some other tool that doesn’t grip the jars well so I have found this specific tool is a must. Tongs, for grabbing hot lids and empty jars from the boiling water during your sanitation step- any kind of tongs will work for this. A wide-mouthed funnel so you can ladle hot packed-goods into jars with minimal spillage. A surface to place hot jars on to let them cool and self-seal that can handle the heat. Once you are finished canning you are also going to need some storage space for your canned goods that will stay cool but won’t freeze.
A Source for Recipes- the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving is one of my absolute favorites and it is available at the Albany County Public Library. UW Extension has a lot of great booklets on canning and recipes. When it comes to canning, you need to keep it clean and follow recipes- when you mess up with canning it can cause clostridium botulinum to grow in your canned goods. This is a pretty nasty type of bacteria that isn’t very common because it needs a lack of oxygen to grow. When ingested, this type of bacteria can be fatal, so don’t fudge the canning process or the recipes. Canning recipes from reputable sources are tested, are easy-to-follow, and will keep you and your family safe. For standard every-day recipes, Chris and I like the Fannie Farmer Cookbook by Marion Cunningham and the Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook- especially for cooking techniques we have never tried before. Chris has also recently become fond of the book Flour Water Salt Yeast for bread making. Of course you can check out the internet, but there is something about holding a cookbook covered in little drops of oil and flour in between the pages. I like to write little notes in mine to help myself out the next time I make the recipe. If the cookbook isn’t completely trashed by the time I have children- and they are learning to cook, maybe I can pass some of the things I have learned down to them in those pages. A Mandolin- You know, a little Sarah Jarosz really helps make cooking more enjoyable, but that isn’t the kind of mandolin I’m talking about. A mandolin is a wonderful little slicer that helps you get those thin slices on vegetables and fruits for salads, home-made fries, pickles, sandwich toppings and more. It is an indispensable tool- a time and finger saver. You do have to use the guard though, as Chris has learned the hard way! A Dehydrator- What I’m talking about here is a way to dehydrate things. You don’t actually have to go out and buy an official dehydrator with the trays. You can use your oven or even the sun! If you have the mandolin and sharp knives it will be super easy to cut up fruits and veggies and even meat to dry out and enjoy for a long time. You can use lemon juice, salt, seasonings, and your freezer to make dehydrated items taste great and last even longer. But dehydrating things gives them a longer shelf life in general and makes them store flat (think of an apple vs apple chips) which can be really handy if space is limited in your household. We also like to dehydrate fruits, veggies, and jerky to keep as car, camping, or saddlebag snacks because they are still edible after they get hot or freeze and you can keep them in a jar or other reusable container to keep them from getting wet.
A Mill/Grinder- I love alternative flours. I have made flour out of peas, rice, beans, spelt, einkorn, and even cheatgrass seeds. Just think how unstoppable you could be if you could make flour out of weeds- ain’t nobody going hungry who can do that! The cool thing about hand crank grinders is that you can find them at thrift stores or used online for pretty cheap. They don’t take up a lot of space and you can set them up almost anywhere. We use ours to grind all our meat scraps from animals that we process ourselves. There are different plate attachments so your hand crank meat grinder can also serve as a hand crank mill for making flour, or grinding nuts or even spices. Two amazing tools for the space and price of one, and it’s all powered by elbow grease- what’s not to love!!!!
Cast Iron- We are kind of collectors of cast iron, but the most used pieces we have are a 6” skillet, a 10” skillet, a 12” dutch oven, and a griddle. With these four glorious things we can cook anything we want on a stove, in an oven, over a fire, or on the wood burning stove. Cast iron does not require intense washing- in fact if you want the best results (non-stick and ultimate flavor) just keep adding oil/grease to the skillet and don’t ever wash with soap. Just rinse with water and a quick wipe with a metal scouring pad and voila! Large Bowls- We have several large bowls, some metal and some ceramic. Chris uses these often for making beautiful loaves of bread. We use bowls for everything from mixing salads to marinating steaks. We couldn’t have meals without them! A Freezer- If you want to eat meat sustainably in Wyoming it is wise to buy it when it is most available. Most pastured products are produced during the Late Spring/Summer/Early Fall. That leaves a lot of the year to be without a sustainable source of meat if you don’t have a way to keep a large quantity for an extended period of time. Owning a chest freezer or stand-up freezer can get you to a point of food freedom that grocery stores just can’t offer. Plus you can buy an entire pig, lamb, half a beef, or several chickens that have the same nutrients and quality taste they did the day they came off the pasture- all winter long, minus the preservatives that grocery stores add to maintain color and structure in transit….phew! You can also store lots of veggies and fruits in the freezer for those long dark months when a shot of natural sugars and vitamins from the landscape is just what your guts and morale need. Blanching and freezing veggies is super easy and quick to do. Tomatoes, for example, are actually easier to use in recipes once they are frozen. Just place them in hot water for a few seconds and the skin slides right off! Just keep in mind a lot of veggies can’t be frozen straight from the garden because they will turn to mush once thawed. A quick blanch (dip in hot water) helps preserve nutrient value and keeps this from happening. Different veggies require different blanching times so look it up and give it a go! The kitchen is really where the rubber meets the road when it comes to eating sustainably. Hopefully this list of tools will help you shape your kitchen into a more sustainable force for your family. As always if you have any questions or want any further advice for any of these things I mentioned in this list let me know. Also, if you have other tools you think should be on this list I want to know. We believe there is always a better way to do things and always something to learn and improve upon. I would love to swap sustainability tips- so give us a shout. Happy sustainable cooking, preserving, and eating!
-BJ and the Taste of the Wind Crew