Create A System For Home Cooking With These Simple Tools

Instant Pot Kitchari from Melinda Staehling Instagram

I use two kitchen appliances more than any others.

Before my life changed with a chronic illness, and way before I quit drinking, I had a very whatever/whenever approach to home cooking. I had no dietary restrictions. I made recipes from cookbooks. I threw together breakfast burritos when I was hungover. At the other end of that spectrum, I made pasta from scratch, creating a disaster in the kitchen for a few bites of food that, in retrospect, were not very nourishing.

Mostly, I ate out. I worked long hours in a restaurant and was out of the house all the time. I had friends working in other restaurants all over Los Angeles and Las Vegas. I wanted to see them, and simultaneously try every hand-stretched pasta and glass of Nebbiolo. Cooking at home was for entertaining and emergency meals.

I woke up for work in the Fall of 2010 so dizzy that I could hardly make it across the room. What I thought was vertigo persisted for months, and slowly, after failed Dr.’s visits and lab work, I pieced together that I had a gluten sensitivity. I tried my best at a gluten-free diet, ordering quinoa and rice bowls for the first time. Even with a lifetime of cooking experience, I had no idea how I would feed myself.

Quitting gluten cleared up some of the wreckage, but I needed an entirely new way to eat. Attempting gluten-free with my old strategy wasn’t working. My health was in a fragile state; I still had brain fog all the time. I was the general manager of a pizzeria, and flour was everywhere. I needed a new system.

My friend James became a lifeline. He had more experience with special diets and alternative medicine. He showed me paleo blogs and macrobiotic cooking books. We looked up recipes from gluten-free bloggers and tried out GF focaccia and potato starch fried chicken to recreate the way I was used to eating. It was fun and familiar, and it was also shockingly complicated. There was a constant stream of buying new ingredients, failed processes, and resultant baked goods with no flake or puff.

A decade later, I’ve learned how to be a real home cook. Not the kind that makes complex multi-step recipes for cocktail parties and GF versions of Bake Off treats, but one that feeds herself and her husband most of our meals, most of the time. While the rabbit hold of restrictive dieting has left its mark, I’ve also learned many tools to make my life easier. No matter what you’re healing from, home cooking will positively impact your life.

I rely heavily on a few kitchen gadgets that have changed the way I cook. Moreso than the complicated supplement protocols, the Instant Pot pressure cooker and a quality toaster oven have been at the forefront of my healing journey.

I’ve used the Instant Pot as the primary appliance in my kitchen for years. To me, the benefits — a self-contained system, easy cleanup, and shuts-off-by-itself, far outweigh the fact that everything gets, well, steamed to some extent. I hear “real” cooks dog on it sometimes. They want the crisp of the broiler. But for simplicity, time, and utility, this is where I’m putting my energy.

Taking a hodgepodge of veggies, a protein, and some good seasoning, toss them together in the IP, and you have a soup or stew with flavors that blend beautifully. Learn to make a double portion of that and save some in the freezer for when you don’t have the energy to cook or even get takeout. You’ll thank your past self.

You can make rice or other grains, soups, and vegetable purees. Just puree the veggies with a hand blender when the cooking is complete. Reinventing leftovers takes only a few minutes. I can put a dish in the IP to cook, leave it, and go about my day. Take a shower. Work on the computer. It’s a pressure cooker, but don’t be scared. I’ve been using the same one regularly since 2013, and it’s still going strong. No blowups yet.

The Instant Pot doesn’t know the difference between fresh and frozen veggies and protein, and once it’s cooked, neither will you.

I feel the same way about the toaster oven. (Not the oven oven.) The toaster oven pre-heats in minutes and doesn’t make the entire kitchen roast during the summer. It shuts off on a timer. Find the oven-safe dishes that will fit into your toaster oven — a baking dish, a roasting tray, a meatloaf pan. Make proteins, chicken thighs with lots of seasoning, roasted potatoes, and veggies.

Those two appliances have made cooking at home so much easier. They have helped me so much on this health journey, especially so in the times when I don’t have a lot of energy. Of course I use the stove and oven. But focusing my work on those two appliances makes everything more streamlined, and more hands-off.

To put it all together, I recommend committing to a system for some time to see if it works for you. I don’t love a colossal batch cooking session, but some people swear by it. I do cooking projects in bits and pieces (especially now, when we are home so much) throughout the day. I’ve adapted my system with these tools to how I like to cook.

Try using the Instant Pot and the toaster oven a bit more in your cooking, and see if you can’t get a few more meals at home this week. Get used to eating the same thing over and over. Spice it up with different seasoning and try new flavors, but keep the bases simple. Home cooking does not have to be complicated, and it will change your outlook on health.

Nutritious Alcohol-Free. Health Coach & Writer. Work with me in private coaching to drink less — www.melindastaehling.com IG: @melindastaehling