The Makings of a Healthful Kitchen (Part 2)

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What did you think of my entry last week? For those of you who don’t do a lot of cooking, did it get you thinking at all about maybe spending some more time in the kitchen — maybe figuring out how to use your oven? OK, I’m kidding a little bit (and I’m hoping you DO know how to use your oven). Cooking can be pretty easy as long as you have the right tools. You don’t have to become a gourmet chef or whip up elaborate creations. But knowing how to cook some simple, basic, yet healthful meals is worth the investment of a little time and effort.

What kinds of cooking tools do you have on hand? Do you have a good set of pans and knives, for example? How about a slow cooker or immersion blender? Let’s take a closer look at some helpful tools that you might consider as part of your “healthful kitchen.”

Pots and Pans
I received a set of All-Clad pots and pans as a wedding gift, and I have to say, I truly love them. Yes, they cost more than some other brands, but these are well made and durable (plus, a lot of chefs use them, so I figure they have to be good!). I’m convinced that having a good set of cookware can make cooking more enjoyable.

Cost aside, though, some people choose their cookware based on how safe it is both for the environment and for health. Here are some of the most common types of cookware:

  • Aluminum. Whether cast or sheet aluminum, more than half of the cookware on the market is made from this material because it conducts heat well (second only to copper), doesn’t rust, is lightweight, and is relatively inexpensive. The downside of aluminum cookware is that it can react with acidic foods, such as tomato sauce and citrus fruits, and salt, thereby changing how the food tastes. It can also scratch fairly easily. Another concern that people have regarding aluminum cookware has to do with claims linking aluminum with Alzheimer disease. Aluminum has been found in the brains of people who have Alzheimer; however, there is no evidence that using aluminum pans or aluminum foil increases the risk for Alzheimer. (You actually get more aluminum from taking an antacid tablet than you do from cooking in an aluminum pan.)

    Recommendation. If you use aluminum cookware, use it only if it’s in good condition (scrap that aluminum skillet from 1959). Good quality aluminum cookware is either anodized (a chemical process that hardens the aluminum, gives it a protective coating, and prevents it from reacting with acidic foods) or has an aluminum interior sandwiched between two layers of other metals, such as stainless steel. Try to avoid cooking acidic foods in your aluminum pans (unless they’re anodized) and never store acidic foods in them (or aluminum foil), either.

  • Copper. If you’re serious about cooking and don’t mind shelling out some cash, copper cookware may be the choice for you. Many professional chefs cook with copper cookware because it’s the best conductor of heat, particularly for top-of-range cooking where more precise temperatures are needed. Copper is also fairly lightweight, and it’s attractive, too. The downside of copper (besides the price) is that it’s a reactive metal, so any copper pot or pan that you use should be lined with tin or stainless steel. Tin linings wear out over time and need to be replaced, so stainless steels liners are a better choice. Also, be prepared to keep your pots and pans polished to prevent corrosion. You also have to wash them by hand and hand-dry them to prevent spotting. Finally, if you have a ceramic cooktop, don’t use copper cookware because it can melt on the cooktop.

    Recommendation. Unless you’re aiming to be the next Mario Batali and don’t mind putting a little elbow grease into keeping up your copper pots and pans, copper cookware isn’t exactly a practical choice for most people.

  • Cast iron. Here’s where you can thank your grandmother for those iron skillets you probably have somewhere in your kitchen (or hanging out on a basement shelf). Cast iron will pretty much last forever and it’s an excellent heat conductor, making it well suited for frying, browning, and baking. However, it too can react with food and it can rust; you can prevent this by seasoning the pan regularly. You also need to be gentle when cleaning iron cookware. Another downside? Cast iron cookware is heavy! But a lot of people swear by it. Also, you can put cast iron into your oven.

    Recommendation. While you might not want all of your cookware to be cast iron, consider having at least an iron skillet. Don’t forget to season it regularly to prevent rusting and to help make it “nonstick.”

More on cookware next week!

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