Ironically, the kitchen itself seems to be the antidote to fat. America’s obsession with pre-packaged food has made 26.7% of us obese, according to the Center for Disease Control. Experts across the board agree – if you want to lose weight, you have to get into the kitchen and prepare your own food.
For many, the convenience of prepared food points to a problem – people don’t have time to cook. Why? Long days at work are a factor, but according to bestselling author and TV host Christina Pirello, “Most people’s kitchens are highly inefficient, particularly the big ones.” Awkward layouts, poor organization and substandard kitchen tools make hard work of cooking.
Pirello said, “Of course, what you cook is the biggest part of it. But, if you have a kitchen you love, and it doesn’t have to be expensive, but it’s clean and orderly and the utensils work and your stove works, you’ll feel inclined to cook more, as opposed to just grabbing a takeout container or a dinner from a bag that your throw in the oven.”
“If you’ve got a kitchen – a sink, a cook top, maybe a microwave, and an oven, it doesn’t matter what quality it is, you can make your kitchen skinnier,” said professional foodie-gone-low-fat-guru Nancy Fox, of the Web site Skinny Kitchen.
The layout of the kitchen is key for efficiency. “I like to have my sink to my left, and a work station where my cutting board is and my stove to my right so that I’m not getting a workout before I even start cooking,” said Pirello. “My refrigerator is no more than 3 steps away. My island is used for seating and people hanging out. I don’t actually do any prep on it. My prep is done on the side in a galley style. It’s a straight shot from the fridge to the sink to the stove,” she said.
Fox keeps her KitchenAid mixer and a blender on the counter for easy access. “Even if you have the smallest kitchen, if you’re going to use cooking utensils that are large, you’re more apt to actually use them if they’re readily available,” she said.
Pirello stores her pots and pans in cabinets with shelves that slide in and out. “I know exactly where they are,” she said. “I don’t like pots hanging out over my stove. They get dusty. I have two cabinets: stainless steel in one place, and cast iron and clay in another one, within steps of each other.” For food storage, she has a tall cabinet with sliding shelves where she stores all of her bulk dry foods, like grains and beans, in matching Mason jars. She said, “The reason I think that works so well is you’re not always hunting around for something, which is frustrating no matter what your cooking style.”
Ditto for the fridge. Pirello’s fridge is meticulously organized by type of vegetable. One of her tricks is storing delicate ingredients, like fresh herbs, in the long thin cold-cuts drawer in her refrigerator, and keeping lesser-used items on the refrigerator door. “Try not to stick stuff that you know you should be eating all the way in the back,” she said. “Try to keep things visible, and clean your fridge. Don’t let science experiments happen.”
Fox and Pirello differ on what kind of pots a healthy, skinny kitchen should have. Fox is a fan of non-stick pans for fat reduction, while Pirello prefers stainless steel, copper bottom pans, clay pots and cast iron. They agree, though, that every kitchen should contain a great knife. Fox said, “You could spend a lot of money and have the full gourmet set, but I think everybody needs just one good-quality knife. It should be large, like a chef’s knife.” Pirello swears by her Kyocera ceramic chef’s knife. “It’s light; it’s incredibly sharp; it can do the finest work and the hardest work,” she said.
“If you go with stainless steel knives,” said Pirello, “get one that has a good balance between the blade and the handle. Go to a kitchen store where you can hold it in your hand. You’ll know the one that you love. If it’s a carbon or stainless steel, you’ll also need to buy a steel to go with it. Every day when you cook, do a few hits on the steel just to keep your edge on your knife. Once a month, take it someplace to be sharpened. If you don’t cook a lot, you could probably do it twice a year.”
Pirello suggested buying “a huge, thick wooden cutting board. You want to have room to get all your stuff done, and a thick one isn’t going to crack or warp. I recommend either straight wood or bamboo… go for the biggest one that you can find. You don’t want to be chopping your onions on a little tiny cheese board. You need some room to spread out.”
Fox and Pirello both have common, but often overlooked, secret weapons in their kitchens. Fox suggests buying a plain wire colander for draining the fat from cooked ground meat. She also uses a non-stick George Foreman-type grill to cut the fat from grilled sandwiches. Fox calls her microwave oven her “kitchen helper.” She said, “My favorite way to do sautéed onions is to chop an onion and put it on a microwave-safe plate. Then I pop it in my microwave. In 4 to 5 minutes, I’ve got the most beautiful cooked translucent ‘sautéed’ onions, and I didn’t have to add any butter, margarine or oil.”
Pirello favors fewer “electronic gadgets and more hand gadgets. People find them to be more primitive, but if you puree a soup in a blender or puree a soup in a food mill, you find two very different textures.” Thus, she suggests buying a food mill and a ricer. “I find that a food mill purees soups cleaner and smoother and with a more velvety texture than any blender that I could use. I use a ricer a lot if I’m making pasta from scratch or any kind of pureed vegetable dish,” she said.
When Pirello does use a blender, she uses a Vita Mix, which doubles as a fiber-preserving juicer. She concedes that the price of Vita Mix blenders could be prohibitive for some, but a cheaper blender and juicer would be sufficient for any healthy cook. Although Fox swears by her KitchenAid mixer, she said that a $12 electric hand mixer is a fine substitution.
Pirello also suggests buying beautiful wooden spoons. She said, “Beautiful utensils, like spoons and sieves, help you to be in the kitchen more.”
When it comes time for serving, Fox recommends smaller plates. She said, “Americans have gotten way out of hand with oversized dinner plates. The reality is, I want to have a full plate of food. So don’t go for that oversized 12 or 15 inch plate. A lot of times I serve in a salad plate or a small soup bowl, because I want the food to cover the plate. You’re not only eating with your mouth, you’re eating with your eyes.”
Fox keeps a variety of custard cups and ramekins on her kitchen shelves for measuring out calorie-conscious portions of snack foods. “Custard cups are clear glass and they come in a variety of sizes. They come in 2 ounce, 3 ounce, 4 ounce, and I have several different sizes of either the ramekin or the glass bowl. I don’t even have to measure anymore,” she said. “Count out what the serving size is, put it into a little cup, and before you even sit down to eat that treat, you put the big bag back into the cupboard. Then sit down like a lady or gentleman and enjoy that treat. When it’s done, you’re done.”