Jenny Engel and Heather Goldberg of Spork Foods take cooking to a unique vegan-friendly apogee. As full-time sisters, instructors, consultants and now cookbook authors, their relationship to the lifestyle is dedicated. They drop tips on necessary tools -- in no particular rank, save for the chef's knife -- to jump-start vegan cooking in your kitchen. And check back later for their recipe for pistachio pesto.
8. Coated/wooden tools for coated pans:
The sisters point out that it is important to match coated or wooden tools with the use of coated pans to avoid scraping the lining of the cookware.
"Coated cookware can be safe if it's heated properly, oil is added, and coated tools are used so the surfaces are not scratched. The problem is that a lot of people are not going to be as careful," Engel says, "So when they scratch it, that's when there are problems. That's why [the cookware] gets a bad rep."
7. Porsche of the blender world:
"If you're going to make a huge purchase, the one thing we'd recommend is a Vitamix. We use that every day for different jobs," says Engel. "It can handle everything from a smoothie in the morning to making your own cashew cheese or blending a soup. Making your own pasta sauces. Even juicing. Whereas a juicer filters out the fiber, the Vitamix keeps the fiber in."
"Our mission is to show people that vegan food is just as modern, interesting, delicious, and colorful as any other cuisine. This is a tool that really helps us accomplish that," says Goldberg.
Engel points out the strong motor not only doesn't burn out, but can turn raw ingredients into soup after three minutes due to the heat. "This is like the Porsche of the blender world," says Engel.
6. Heavy pots and pans:
"They may be a bit more annoying to clean, but they balance out the heat. You're not burning something in the middle and not cooking something on the sides," says Goldberg.
To start with, Engel says, "Buy something that can go from your stovetop into your oven. That will give you more uses."
Goldberg adds, "Something with high walls, like a round Dutch oven, has more of a steaming effect than something with lower walls like a skillet." She recommends to consider foods one typically makes and purchase the type of pot or pan from which she could get the most use.
5. Food processor:
"The one that we recommend you get doesn't have to be the largest model. There are these extra blades that higher-quality models come with -- the slicing and grating blades. You want to make sure that it comes with extra bells and whistles. That will help with making everything from coleslaw to salsa," says Engel.
"It will save you so much time with chopping and grating. That's the key, because everyone is really, really busy, including us," says Goldberg, "We made latkes the other day and it made what would have been a two-hour prep job into a couple of minutes." Between the Vitamix and the food processor, they recommend the food processor be the first big purchase, for its versatility.
4. Pastry whisk/biscuit cutter:
"Instead of a regular whisk that has a teardrop shape, this is shaped more like a rainbow. As you mix things together, things don't get stuck as easily. It incorporates your ingredients really fast. Instead of having a stand mixer, this is the same essentially; you do have to get a little of an arm workout in. This is a really great tool we use all the time for cupcakes, biscuits and scones," Engel says.
"When you over-mix a cake or cupcake batter, you're developing the gluten, which will give you a breadlike consistency as opposed to a fluffy and moist consistency. This helps you not mix as much. You mix just until it is uniform," adds Goldberg.
3. Microplane/Fine grater:
Goldberg says, "We often use a microplane or fine grater. We grate fresh nutmeg, ginger and lemon zest. These sort of flavors help to bring the flavors in your dish. Using fresh nutmeg as opposed to the pre-ground spice out of the jar makes a huge difference."
2. "Baby" whisk:
It's not actually called a baby whisk, but the sisters affectionately call their miniature whisks that. They use them to make sauces and salad dressings on a daily basis. "Jenny and I share a giant salad pretty much every day, if I get my way," says Goldberg, "Making your dressings and sauces is really easy as opposed to buying them. I used to buy dressing, but then when I started making my own I realized I never wanted to [buy] ever again. So we keep [the whisks] handy."
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1. A really nice chef's knife:
"It allows you to cut things properly, be comfortable and not waste a lot of time in the kitchen," says Engel, "A flimsy knife causes you to do a lot more work."
"Also a dull knife causes you to cut yourself more often," says Goldberg. "I know that sounds counterintuitive, but that's really what happens. Basically, what you're looking for is that the blade goes through the entire knife, even into the handle. Usually, you can see it on the handle on the other end if it's not one solid piece of steel."