Prepping healthy food with kitchen appliances for the Covid Era

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Let’s face it folks. We’ve spent a helluva lot more time in our kitchens in the last year or so than we ever dreamed possible. We’ve had no choice but to prepare nearly 100% more of our own meals. Not all of those meals were healthy and there are a lot of expanded waistlines to prove it. I’ve tried to use this period to learn how to prepare food that is going to not only be tasty but better for me.

The first device in my healthy kitchen arsenal is the Vitamix Ascent 2500 which occupies the upper mid-range of the company’s product line.

For readers who are serious home chefs, Vitamix is hardly an unknown entity. There’s a near cult-following around the product which was introduced in 1949.

I didn’t really understand the enthusiasm around this blender until I started using it. Now I get it and would have to agree, this is one bad-ass kitchen appliance.

Some have likened the Vitamix to a “Ferrari”. As I’ve written in another article, I would compare it to a Rolls Royce. Not the car but the jet aircraft engine. This came to mind after my “first blend” which is what the instruction manual calls your first cleaning after set it up.  (Naturally you’ll want to clean the container before you use it).

Ascent A2500 black faceplate
The Ascent 2500 control panel is easy to use. There’s a speed for every application and clicking on the icon (on righthand side of dial) will automatically blend smoothies, frozen desserts, spreads and soups.

The instructions direct you to add water and a few drops of soap.  Then the fun begins.

You’re instructed to slowly crank up the rpms for 60 seconds—from 1 to 10 on the dial.  The blades whip the soapy water in a foamy frenzy.

Holy moly! At “full throttle” the 2.2 horsepower motor it screams like a 747 on takeoff. It was impressive and to me, the uninitiated, it was a little scary. I mean my weed wacker probably doesn’t have the ponies that the Ascent 2500 has.

Was this thing going to blow up and scatter shrapnel around my kitchen?

No way.

These are built on the order of “milspec” (military specifications) — like a tank. Maybe more dependable than an Abrams Tank. The warranty is good for ten years!

So, I started making stuff.

First were smoothies from dragon fruit, bananas, papaya—you name it. I’ve got a big garden that’s quite productive this time of year. So, it was smoothie city, throwing in items such as ginger and turmeric. For good measure I added vanilla. Not the stuff you get in the store. One of my neighbors cultivates the real deal. OMG, these smoothies oozed of good health.

Ascent Series Container 64oz
The blender comes with a massive 64 oz container with “self-detect” technology that will read the size of the container (via wi-fi) and adjust blending times and speeds. The nice thing about this item is that it’s really easy to clean.

Then onto humus and soups. Did you know that you can make hummus out of black beans or kidney beans? Experiment, kids!

So this is where the technology offers the home chef a few options. You can either point the dial to an automatic setting for smoothies, frozen desserts, and soups and flip the switch…and walk away. The program knows what to do.

Built into the system is “Self-Detect” technology. That means the blender “reads” the container size (which is communicated via wi-fi) and adjusts blending times and speed.

Or, you can download their “Perfect Mix” app and pair the blender with your smartphone.

Once you have the app on your tablet or phone you find  the hummus recipe. You add the ingredients to the container and point your finger to the “blend” icon on your screen. That brings up a bunch of other icons. For hummus you’ll want to find the “spreads” symbol. Tap that icon and the command is sent to the Vitamix.  

The “Perfect Mix” app comes in very handy. I used it for a hummus recipe.

Now the Vitamix “knows” has its marching orders. Flip the switch and the machine will take care of the rest.

Or, you can operate the 10-speed blender manually.  My white kidney bean, or as we say in Italian (the can was imported) Fagioli Cannellini hummus was creamy smooth and the cumin seeds (which is what the recipe called for) were simply vaporized. It only took sixty seconds.

In the future I may try 30 or 45 second to get a slightly rougher texture using the manual controls.

The engine is so powerful, the Vitamix can grind coffee or make nut “butter”. (For example, you toast walnuts and made walnut butter). It will pulverize anything to the point where the temperature of your mixture will rise if you don’t remove it in time. You can even grind grain and make flour with the Vitamix.

Of course, you can take your soups or dhal or whatever is loaded with vegetables and beat it into creamy submission.

Simply Blending”, a 95-page recipe book comes with the package. There’s something for everyone.

One nice perk that comes with the blender is Simply Blending, a 95-page recipe book. It’s superbly photographed with some wonderful recipes to get you started.

Is this for everyone? At $500 probably not, if you’re just into weekly smoothies.

However, if you are serious about making other dishes and are willing to spend a few more bucks for a machine that’s a “keeper”, you’ll want this device.

A great selling point is that the Vitamix works both as blender and a food processor, so you get a two-fer. You can pack up that old food processer and give it away.

Leave it to the Italians for a wonderful sense of aesthetics. The small footprint of the the DeLonghi Livenza Air Fry Digital Convection Oven will both fit and look good on your counter.

My other kitchen acquisition is the DeLonghi Livenza Air Fry Digital Convection Oven. Essentially, it’s a 9-function digital Air Fry, Convection, Toaster Oven, Grill, Broil, Bake, Roast all-in-one toaster, air fryer, broiler and convection oven. Yes, it has nine presets.—Toast, Pizza, Bake, Broil, Grill, Air Fry, Convection, Cookies, Keep Warm and Pre-Heat.

Why opt for something like this?

Having a multi-functional device saves room and money. I don’t bake a lot of cookies or pizza. My primary use for this machine is to toast my whole wheat bread slices from the Bread Shop on Waialae and use it as an air fryer.

During this Covid era I decided to go primarily plant-based and the Livenza is perfect for air frying tofu (which takes about 25 minutes).  Simple recipe—just cut the firm tofu into cubes, marinate it in shoyu, lime, garlic and a touch of chili. Roll it around in some hemp seeds (the kind from Costco) and put it in the air fryer basket which comes with the unit.

Amazon.com: De'Longhi Livenza 9-in-1 Digital Air Fry Convection Toaster Oven,  Grills, Broils, Bakes, Roasts, Keep Warm, Reheats, 1800-Watts + Cooking  Accessories, Stainless Steel, 14L (.5 cu ft), EO141164M : Everything Else
The air fryer does a wonderful job of making healthy dishes without overdoing on the oil. I like making tofu.

I also started using the air fryer on this device to make “chips” from edible hibiscus or “bele” (which is popular in the South Pacific) and other greens such as kale. Just harvest the leaves, tear them into about 3″ pieces, massage with olive oil and a bit of shoyu and air fry for about 10 minutes at 375 degrees. You can eat them like potato chips but they are much healthier.

At $158 on Amazon, it’s very reasonably priced and has a small footprint on the counter.

If there’s just one or two of you and there’s limited counter space (19 x 17.5 x 12 in) it’s perfect.  

You can cook everything and save energy to boot. Of course, you’re limited by volume. If you’re gong to bake cookies, you won’t have all that much room compared to a standard oven.

Here are the features I really like: The oven’s interior is illuminated when cooking so you can see what in the heck is going on inside. It will beep when its finished.

The control panel of the DeLonghi Livenza Air Fry Digital Convection Oven offers nine options.

The digital display is easy to read. The oven is constructed from stainless steel which is aesthetically pleasing and very robust.

If you plan to cook or toast anything you must experiment and see what will work. Two steps are involved for making anything—set the time and the function. With the toaster you can opt for 2,4 or six slices.  In addition to the air fryer basket you get a bake pan, pizza pan, wire rack, crumb tray and a one year warranty.

To make the walnut butter I described in the Vitamix I first toasted the nuts in the Livenza. It worked perfectly for that, and they provide a pan for this purpose.

The only thing I didn’t like about the design was that the oven door handle will hit the counter before it entirely opens. Thus, you have to keep some weight on the door when you open it or it will pop closed. There is a way around it.  If you slide the front of the oven near the edge of the countertop the door handle will then overlap the edge and stay open by itself.  Not a deal breaker.

You’ll want the Good Grips Easy-Clean Compost Bin on your kitchen counter.

The final item in your high tech kitchen is decidedly low tech but, entirely green in concept.  It answers the age-old question, ‘what do you do with compost without attracting flies or stinking up your kitchen?’ I ditched the coffee can and went to the 1.75 gallon Good Grips Easy-Clean Compost Bin ($29.99). The smooth plastic makes it easy to clean or better yet you recycle a plastic bag you get at the grocery store. It has a “stay-open” lid so you can easily toss the egg shells or watermelon rinds. And yes, the lid is removable for convenient emptying.

Rob Kay, a Honolulu-based writer, covers technology and sustainability for Tech View and is the creator of fijiguide.com. He can be reached at Robertfredkay@gmail.com.

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