This is an edited extract from Less Waste, No Fuss Kitchen by Lindsay Miles published by Hardie Grant Books.
Kitting out your kitchen
Reducing waste – and fuss! – in the kitchen is not just about the food in our pantries and fridges; what we use to prepare that food matters too. Whether you love cooking or simply want the job done as quickly as possible, kitchen equipment that saves resources, time and money is always going to win. It is amazing what a difference it makes to set up your kitchen as thoughtfully as your pantry.
Useful kitchen tools
For a kitchen tool or gadget to be truly useful (and not just taking up space in a cupboard or drawer somewhere) it needs to save us time and do the job at least as well as and preferably better than we’d manage without it. It needs to be easily accessible when we want to use it, easy to use and easy to clean afterwards.
Tools are there to make life easier, not harder. There are so many kitchen gadgets and tools out there, and one person’s ‘essential’ is another person’s ‘waste of money’. As a rule, it is better to have a few tools you use often rather than a lot that rarely get touched, require constant cupboard rearranging and create a cluttered, chaotic kitchen that lends itself to ordering takeaway rather than actually cooking.
I keep things low waste and no fuss with a few key kitchen items. Where possible I’d always choose glass or stainless steel over plastic because these materials don’t stain or scratch as easily, can handle heat and are much easier to clean. Before investing in an item, read reviews of models online and think about what features you need and would actually use. Secondhand gadgets are a great way to save some money and test something out – if you don’t get on with it, it should be easy to sell again.
There is one tool that absolutely every kitchen needs, and that is a good, sharp knife. Think about it. We use a knife every single time we prepare food. Why wouldn’t we invest in the best one we can afford? We think nothing of spending money on food processors, bread machines, ice cream makers and other gadgets that we might use only a few times a month. Yet for the one tool we use most often, we purchase something cheap and then lament our choice two weeks later when we realise that it can’t cut cleanly through an avocado.
A good knife is a buy-it-once purchase (look after it and it will last you your whole life) and worth every penny. I own two kitchen knives: a bread knife with a serrated edge for cutting bread and, for everything else, a Global vegetable knife with a 14-centimetre (5½-inch) blade. It’s the perfect size blade and handle for me, made from one piece of stainless steel, meaning the handle can never fall off, and it can be sharpened with a sharpening stone or taken to a knife sharpener for servicing. I’ve owned that knife for more than fifteen years, and it will last forever.
Are dishwashers eco-friendly?
I don’t think the answer is a simple yes or no. From a water perspective, modern dishwashers are actually more water efﬁcient than washing dishes by hand. From an energy perspective, making a dishwasher from metals and plastic has a higher footprint than the sink we already have in the kitchen. But it’s not just about footprints. If a dishwasher is what you need to maintain order in the kitchen, then embrace it. If you can manage without, embrace your sink. Whichever we choose, we can still be mindful of the resources we use – whether that’s power, water or the detergent we choose.
My kitchen essentials
The most accurate way to measure ingredients is with kitchen scales. When choosing scales you have the option of balance, mechanical or battery-operated. It’s worth considering how much accuracy you need, whether you’d prefer metric or imperial measurements or both, and also the maximum load you’ll want to weigh. I have electric scales that can measure to the nearest gram or 0.1 ounce and take up to 5 kilograms (11 pounds).
A simple way to measure basic ingredients such as flour and sugar. US and Australian recipes often refer to cup measurements rather than weight, and owning a set of these is less fuss than trying to convert a recipe.
Useful for measuring and pouring larger volumes of liquids (such as when adding stock to a saucepan). A measuring jug is great for figuring out the volume of glass jars (for bulk store shopping). I use a glass Pyrex jug that holds 500 ml (1 pint), with metric measurements printed on one side in 50 ml increments, and imperial and cup measurements in ¼ cup increments printed on the other.
Pestle and mortar
Useful for grinding up spices and seeds, and making pastes and dips.
If I had to choose just one gadget, I’d always vote for a high-power food processor or blender. Mine saves me so much time chopping, grinding and blending. I’d recommend choosing one that’s easy to take apart and wash.
I use this all the time. It is perfect for getting every last drop of sauce, batter or leftovers out of a bowl or pan, and silicone is tolerant of high temperatures (unlike plastic).
Rethinking single-use items in the kitchen
There are a number of single-use items we come to rely on in the kitchen. Reusable items are often an ‘investment’ – meaning they cost a lot upfront, but will last and save you money in the long run. That being said, there are definitely options for every budget. Stepping back and looking at our waste can lead us to question whether we actually need these things at all. Could we do without or switch to a reusable alternative?
Just because the manufacturer labels something single use, that doesn’t mean we need to limit it to one use. Aluminium foil can be washed and reused several times, as can ziplock bags and other plastic. Baking paper can often be wiped down and reused a few times before composting.
From placing a plate on a bowl to switching to reusable silicone, there is a reusable solution for every need you might have thought you had for plastic wrap.
Paper towel/kitchen roll
Consider using a dishcloth for wiping spills, or using old tea towels to absorb excess liquids and then washing before reusing. It’s possible to buy purpose-made ‘unpaper towel’: reusable fabric cut to size, often attached to form a roll.
If you still buy food in packaging, could any of that packaging be used as a bin liner? Could you line your bin with old newspaper? Could you do away with a liner altogether?
Baking paper/parchment paper
Some brands of paper have a thin layer of plastic and may be bleached with chlorine. A reusable alternative is silicone baking sheets. If you prefer baking paper, If You Care are a brand making Forest Stewardship Council–certified compostable baking paper. Choose a roll rather than pre-cut sheets to reduce the waste.
If you use foil for wrapping leftovers, consider switching to a reusable alternative. If you use it in cooking, look for a brand that is 100 per cent recycled.
A thorough greasing of baking tins can reduce the need for single-use muffin cases. Alternatively, silicone bakeware is oven safe and reusable. If sticking with single-use, choose unbleached paper and avoid glitter or metallic papers that are not compostable.
Reusable silicone storage bags are much sturdier and long lasting – plus the best ones are oven, microwave and dishwasher safe.
A fun alternative is to use rosemary sprigs: remove the leaves and use the central stem. Metal skewers have the advantage of reducing cooking time (hot metal cooks the inside of the food).
Consider reusable bamboo, glass, stainless steel and coloured metal or silicone options: almost all are dishwasher safe.
–This is an edited extract from Less Waste, No Fuss Kitchen by Lindsay Miles published by Hardie Grant Books $29.99 and is available where all good books are sold.
Copyright illustrations © Madeline Martinez 2020