There's nothing we love more than some dedicated one-on-one time in our kitchen. There's something meditative about cooking our favorite meal, whipping up a baked treat on a cold day, or experimenting with new seasonal ingredients. Of course, the joy of eating the food once it's prepared ranks much higher on the happiness scale, but that's why we do it. Eating good food is definitely one of our favorite hobbies. Just because we enjoy cooking, though, doesn't mean we're good at it. In fact, with our busy lives, finding the time is the challenging part.
If you're a self-professed foodie like we are, then you're always on the hunt for new and improved tools and gadgets that will make your life easier in the kitchen, not to mention simple recipe ideas to take the stress out of weeknight prep. To help with all the above, we tapped Danny Seo, America's leading green lifestyle guru and the founder and editor in chief of Naturally, Danny Seo, basis for the cookbook, magazine, and now popular TV show on NBC. (Have you tried his healthy snack recipes?) Ahead, Seo shares the three kitchen staples we all need by age 30 (and the one we should toss), cooking advice for young professionals, and his favorite quick and healthy weeknight meal anyone can make.
MYDOMAINE: If you had one piece of cooking advice for busy young professionals who have no time to cook, what would it be?
DANNY SEO: The microwave is not your best friend. Frozen dinners and heating up leftovers is just fueling bad food into your system. If you're busy, just take some good staples and create a meal. Thinly slice sweet potatoes and toss them in the toaster oven to heat up in 15 minutes; pan-fry some protein (chicken or tofu) and make a quick tossed salad with a simple vinaigrette of olive oil, balsamic, and something fun like honey or orange zest. Then pop open a good bottle of wine.
MD: What is the one kitchen staple we all should toss before age 30?
DS: You don't need those giant "all-in-one" kits you see at the stores. The ones with 10 pots and 10 lids or 50 gadgets and 20 knives. It's clutter, not a bargain.
MD: What's your advice for people who don't know how to cook and feel intimidated by the kitchen?
DS: Try baking first. Cookbooks on the topic are very precise with step-by-step instructions, so there is little room for misinterpretation. Just don't confuse salt for sugar! Once you know you can follow instructions, cooking meals will feel a lot less intimidating.
MD: What's a good meal to start with?
DS: I love a slow-cooker! It's really simple. Just dump it all in and forget about it. Then you've got a home-cooked meal. There are even smartphone enabled slow-cookers now, so you can adjust the temperature or turn it on and off from your phone. So convenient. We have tons of slow-cooker recipes in my cookbook, Naturally, Delicious.
Set It and Forget It
MD: What are the ingredients you need to invest in or keep stocked in the pantry or fridge that provide the foundation of a healthy meal?
DS: I keep good oils and vinegars in a dark, cool place. They make a big difference in adding flavor to simple greens and veggies. Light and heat can ruin these staples, so keep them away from the stove top. In my fridge, I keep blocks of Organic Valley raw cheeses. They use pasture-raised cows for their milk, and it makes a big difference. These fresh cheeses last about four months, but they taste like buttery, expensive versions.
I also keep albacore tuna fillets packed in extra virgin Spanish olive oil. I love the one from Wild Planet, and yes, they do sustainable, good-for-you, good-for-the-planet fishing. The quality of their tuna is beyond. I literally open a jar of this tuna and pan-fry it in the oil already in the jar. It's dinner in seconds.
For the pantry, I like to keep cans of organic cannellini beans on hand. The active ingredient in white kidney beans acts as a natural carb blocker, so it's nice to purée this with some herbs and spread it on toast. I like the Eden Foods brand because the cans are BPA-free.
MD: What is your favorite fuss-free recipe to make on a busy weeknight when you have zero time or energy to cook?
DS: My 20-minute chili. Dump and done. The secret is fire-roasted tomatoes in a can. This simple hack makes it taste like you've been making chili for hours.
MD: What are some simple hacks to make cooking fun?
DS: Honestly, I don't have a lot of fun cooking. It can be more of a chore for me, but I love eating good food, so I'm willing to do it. And because there's nothing worse than spending tons of time and money on a recipe and ending up with something unappetizing and disappointing, don't try for something "out there" when cooking as a beginner or when you're pressed for time.
You know that scene in the movie Julie & Julia when she's trying to make Julia Child's aspic recipe using a cow's hoof for gelatin? That's what I'm talking about. You know your odds of success are low. Don't set yourself up for failure. Instead, buy good, expensive ingredients and go for things like incredible cheeses, herbs, or even truffles. Because even buttered noodles with shaved truffles can't be screwed up.
MD: Any final words for new cooks?
DS: My background is in sustainable living, so believe me when I say that the automatic dishwasher is not only a time-saver but it's also the greenest way to do the dishes when you're done. And don't even bother pre-rinsing. Modern dishwashers need grease and grime to work their best. So yeah, after you've cooked a good meal, it's okay to be lazy when if comes to the cleanup afterward.
Kitchen Tools to Own By Age 30
Now that we know to steer clear of the all-in-one pot sets, what are the essential kitchen tools we should buy instead? According to Seo, there are four main everyday staples you need (or as he refers to them "workhorses") to get you started. "With my 40th birthday around the corner, I think I've had 10 years to really figure this out," he said. Read on to find out.
"Invest in a large eight-inch chef knife. This can do everything for you."
"A large cast-iron pan. Get an unseasoned or raw cast-iron pan. When you see a 'pre-seasoned' pan at the store, you're not saving time; you're just getting a pan that has questionable fats sprayed on top of the cast-iron coating. It's a cinch to season a cast-iron pan yourself, and you know exactly what kind of fats/oils were used too, which is particularly important for our vegetarian readers."
"Invest in reusable nylon produce bags. They're a great alternative to plastic bags. I get mine from a website called ReUseIt.com. These bags are see-through, so you can use them at the grocery store and breeze through the checkout. Then at home, you can rinse everything right through the bag. Obsessed."
"Lastly, if you're ready to make a big investment, look into an induction cooktop. This is the future of cooking. It not only speeds up the cooking process but it also delivers incredible, professional results. I used a Bosch induction cooktop on my TV show, Naturally, Danny Seo, and it really was like night and day in terms of cooking. Water came to a boil in no time flat, and I could cook multiple pans at different temperatures all over the single flat surface."
Do you agree? What are you must-have kitchen utensils that make cooking easier?