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Monday
Oct152012

the well stocked kitchen

My dreamy boyfriend recently asked me what my absolute minimum requirements were for a well stocked kitchen. Though I do have a lot of kitchen wares, there are some I definitely don't use, some I personally like to have doubles or triples of (because I like to multitask!), some I thought were a good idea at the time but now feel indifferent about, and some I would not be caught on a desert island without.

Some of these things are probably a little overkill for a beginning cook, but if you make dinner at home more than a couple of nights a week, here's my list of beloved essentials.

 

1. Cast iron frying pan. I'd get a 10-12" one. The bigger ones can certainly get heavy, but you can do a million things in these (even roast a chicken, or bake any number of things) and there's no better way to get a good sear or make a delicious Dutch Baby. It's a classic for a reason.

2. Dutch oven. This is not 100% essential, but really nice to have. You don't have to go for the Le Creuset, any enameled cast iron will perform exactly the same for probably a quarter of the price. The one I have is a Martha Stewart number from Macy's that I got on sale for $40.

3. Stockpot. I have this one from IKEA. It was under $30, and is great for soups or boiling pasta, or you can set a metal bowl or pyrex container over it if you need a double boiler.

4. A small nonstick frying pan is a great supplement to your big cast iron one, especially if you ever cook eggs. I like to get one with a lip that's not too deep or straight so I can just flip things with a flick of the wrist rather than actually stirring them. One less spatula to wash really appeals to my lazy side. I like to invest in good stuff usually, but I've found that expensive nonstick pans get shitty just as quickly as cheap ones, so I pick these up at Ross or any other discount store for under $10.

5. A set of three melamine mixing bowls with a handle and spout is priceless. I got a set of these as a housewarming present eight years ago (thanks Kate!) and can't imagine my life without them. There is the right size for everything here and they are sturdy, nonslip, and dishwasher safe. *note: I actually broke one of these last night and almost cried. Stupid ceramic tile floors...

6. Pyrex liquid measuring cups - get the 2 cup AND the 4 cup. Great for measuring liquids or even larger quantities of dry ingredients. You can microwave these, use them as a double boiler, even mix small amounts of things in them. Best of all, they nest inside each other and fit into the melamine bowls! Space saver!

7. 3 quart saucepan. I actually have a 2 quart and a 3 quart, but 3 quarts is enough to boil pasta for two or three, or rice for six. Get a heavy bottomed one with a handle that's comfortable - I like this Revere Ware one that I got at the outlet mall. I think it was about $15. A lot of the fancier ones have weird handles that are hard to grip when you're trying to pour something sideways out of the pan. Watch out for this.

8. 9x13 Pyrex baking dish. Why don't you have one of these already? You can roast a big old turkey in it, make any kind of casserole, bake a birthday cake, use it as a water bath for your cheesecake or pots de creme. Indispensable. Again, get it at the outlet mall for half price.

9. Half sheet jelly roll pan - 13x18, twice as big as the Pyrex. This heavy aluminum pan is pro-grade and will last forever. Don't put it in the dishwasher or it will discolor; for extra long life line it with parchment paper. You can get two-packs at Costco for a reasonable price, or pick one or two up at a restaurant supply store that's open to the public.

10 & 11. Measuring cups and spoons - I like the metal ones with sturdy handles for scooping things, and love the round bowls on the measuring spoons. You don't have to go crazy, but definitely make sure you get something that's quality as these are probably the ones you'll have forever.

 

1. The CLASSIC vegetable peeler. Don't bother with something "ergonomic" or whatever. This is the classic, the standby, The. One. for a reason. It's $5. Get it.

2. Swing-A-Way can openers - also cheap, also The Classic, also for a reason.

3. Cutting boards. I prefer plastic as they go in the dishwasher and don't warp. They're $2 at IKEA. I have some bamboo ones too but the IKEA ones are definitely used most in my kitchen.

4. Whisk. I got a big-ass whisk from my dad's best friend as a high school graduation present. It's glorious and I use it on a weekly basis. I like the wood handle, though it's definitely looking worn from its many trips through the dishwasher; it is just nicer to hold onto. I don't bother with a smaller whisk; that's what forks are for.

5. Microplane. I suppose you could have a box grater but why? The microplane gets ALL OF THE ZEST from anything, grates your nutmeg like a dream, you could even shave truffles with it if you're into that sort of thing. Just watch for the skin on your fingers, because this will slice it all off like so much zest. I'd totally get this over a box grater, and just buy your cheese pre-shredded.

6. Rubber spatulae. Quality matters - I have several different varieties but like my Williams-Sonoma ones the best. They have a nice rounded wooden handle and, most importantly, an edge on the spatula that is thin enough to really get down to the edge of the bowl or whatever you're scraping. Also since it's silicone you can stir really hot stuff like caramels without worrying about it.

7. Chef's knife. Nothing is more important in the kitchen than a good sharp knife. Sharp knives are safer than dull ones, and make any kitchen task faster and more pleasurable. The Shun 8" chef knife is the best I have ever used. It has a great handle, great weight, is light enough to handle for a while, and is gorgeous. At $170 it's not cheap but is an excellent investment. They have them at Bed Bath and Beyond, so save those annoying 20% off coupons and get you one.

8. Bread knife. I have a $15 one from Fred Meyer. This is not a place where you need to go all out, just get something that's heavy and serrated and it will last a long time. This is another good candidate for outlet mall shopping.

9. Paring knife. This rounds out my trifecta of necessary kitchen knives. The 3.5" Victorinox was first discovered by our family on a 1997 trip to Switzerland and we immediately bought half a dozen and keep giving them as wedding and housewarming gifts, because they're cheap and perfect for every small knife job. I even use them as steak knives in a pinch!

10. Metal spatula. This is great for your cast iron pan or dutch oven - the flat blade can scrape things off the bottom of your pan. The one I have is a super cheapie deal with slots but this one would be great too.

11. Nylon spatula. This is the only one that can go in your nonstick pan. Great for flipping eggs or pancakes, and nonstick safe.

12. Kitchen tongs. The locking handle mechanism is nice but not essential - but why wouldn't you? These are great for anything you have to turn without poking a fork into, or is too unwieldy for a spatula. (I'm looking at you, delicious steaks)

13. Wooden spoons. Great for soups, or stirring batters. I have a bunch of bamboo ones because I find the cheap wood ones get kind of torn up in the dishwasher, but if you go for a hardwood that would probably work really well. I would say get two and you can use them as salad servers!

You don't have to spend a ton of money (except on the knife. invest in the knife.) to get nice things, and this is a pretty pared-down kitchen tool list. I have a few things I would add if I had a bunch of room in this hypothetical kitchen: an electric kettle (can't boil over when you forget about it), a hand mixer (it sucks creaming butter and sugar by hand), a food processor, cake and/or loaf pans for more baking - but that's totally subjective and up to the individual cook.

I hope this is helpful! Happy cooking :)

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