The Tools to Begin

6 Dec

I recently got married, which means my kitchen was also recently combined with my now-husband’s.   We each already owned a very complete kitchen’s worth of stuff.  So between combining our households and having a wedding shower, we had about 3 sets of everything there is to own in the kitchen.  I love kitchen tools.  And appliances.  And shopping at places like Williams-Sonoma and Crate and Barrel for everything I don’t need.  My family and friends also know this about me, so for the past ~6 years I think almost every present I have received has been kitchen-related.  Despite being a sort of kitchen utensil hoarder, I do realize there are really only a few basic things you NEED to get started cooking. 

… That’s a picture of the already-pared down collection of my kitchen tools after the big move.  Don’t be like me.

Anyway, here are the top 10 kitchen supplies I see as must-haves (in no particular order):

1. Good knives.  They really don’t have to be super expensive.  My first “real” knife was a <$20 Rachael Ray Santoku knife .   The most important thing is that they need to be SHARP.  Sharper knives are actually safer than very dull ones, because dull knives can more easily slip off the food you are trying to cut – I speak from experience (it was an onion).  It’s amazing how effortlessly I can chop foods now with the new Henkel knives I got for my wedding. 

While most would suggest owning about 4 basic knife types (Chef’s/Santoku, paring, utility, bread, etc), I think the most important is one good Chef’s knife or Santoku. I prefer Santoku, I don’t really even know why.  If using a big, sharp knife is scary, buy a smaller one – 5 or 6″.   A bread knife (or serrated knife in general) is also very useful – for cutting things like tomatoes and well, bread.  Cutting a baguette with a bread knife instead of a Santoku the first time was glorious.  Whatever you do, just please don’t be using steak knives as your primary cooking knives (Mom).  You’ll be amazed how much easier cooking is when the prep like chopping is easier!  I literally felt my cooking skills improve 10 fold when I got new, sharp knives.

2. Tongs.  Metal or heat-resistant silicone-coated.  I love tongs.  I never even owned any until a few years ago.  They are magical at picking things up (obviously?).  They come in where spoons and spatulas fail you.  I don’t have much more to say about them.  Get some.

3. Flat-edge wooden spoon.  Another tool I didn’t have until recently (maybe I should rewrite this list in a year and see how much it changes again?!).  I have always loved wooden spoons, but a flat-edged one is just that much better, since it easily scrapes up everything on the bottom of a pan, unlike the rounded edge spoons.   I am especially in love with this “lazy spoon” I bought at an art show last summer.  They are also more gently on non-stick pans than other types of spoons.  Treat them with mineral oil to keep the wood looking like new and not cracked.

4. Mini silicone whisk.  This is probably not on many other people’s lists of must-haves, but I love mine.  It has been so handy in so many situations – making vinaigrettes,  whisking together small amounts of dry ingredients, whatever.  The main reason I love a mini silicone whisk  though is for making pan sauces (i.e. gravies, etc).  Silicone because it won’t scratch your non-stick cookware.  Mini because it’s cuter. 

5. Microplane/Grater.  I love me a microplane (which is a very fine grater) for several reasons.  One: whenever I use lemon (or any citrus) in a recipe, I ALWAYS use both the zest and the juice.  I love lemon, and the essential oils (read: flavor) of the lemon exist in the skin.  Use only the colored part of the skin, not the white pith part, which is bitter.  I also use my microplane for grating fresh parmesan, fresh nutmeg, and fresh garlic cloves.  More on why using freshly grated versions of all these ingredients is important later..

6. Digital meat thermometer.  Hello, my name is Amy, and I am paranoid about food safety.  I wish I could be blissfully ignorant, but alas, I am a food scientist and my middle name is “I know too much about food microbiology to be anything but over-cautious”.   A digital meat thermometer will not only help keep you and your family safe, it will also help you be a better cook!   Growing up, I, and I’m sure many others, ate a lot of dry chicken and dry pork.  I guess I was lucky my mom realized the importance of fully cooking meat; however, a meat thermometer can help you avoid OVER cooking food, as well as under cooking it.  Using a meat thermometer will help take the guess-work out of cooking meat.  Yay.  The magical number for poultry and ground meat it’s 165°F.  For pork and cuts of certain other meats it’s 145°F with a rest time of 3 min.  For more information, click here.  Maybe I will do a whole post about food safety one of these days…

7. Good peeler.  Again, not something that most people probably think is that important.  But now that I have a really good one, life is so much easier!  I bought mine at Crate & Barrel, but they also sell the brand I like on Amazon.  It’s easier to hold in your hand than other styles and makes the job much easier.

8. Pastry blender.  Ah, I also did not own this until very recently, but my life is so much better now.   I can’t believe I ever suffered through making crumb topping without one.  Also very useful for… you guessed it….pastry or biscuit dough :).  So, I guess if you don’t make crumb toppings or biscuits or dough then maybe you can live without one (two knives moved in a criss-cross pattern can also substitute in a bind), but I recommend one anyway. 

9. Cutting boards.  Not an overly exciting addition to the list, but necessary.  I use a large wooden one for most chopping of vegetables, etc.  Key word: large.  Nothing’s worse than all the food your chopping ending up all over the counter and feeling all cramped when you are chopping.  Give yourself room to work.  Other key word: wood.  I like wood because supposedly it doesn’t dull your knives as fast.  Which is important for a lazy person like me who doesn’t feel like sharpening them.   However, you also need to own a plastic cutting board for meat preparation.  Do NOT use the same cutting board to prep meat and vegetables.  Plastic is important for raw meat too because it can be put in the dishwasher. 

10. Heavy pots and pansI included this because I remembered how hard it was to cook things well, without burning them, when I only had crappy, thin pots and pans.  Thin pots and pans heat unevenly, and sometimes too quickly, which will make it easy for soup to burn to the bottom of the pan or meat to cook unevenly.  This is another one of those things where your cooking will improve 10 fold when you have the right pots and pans.  Again, you don’t need to spend hundreds, just don’t buy the cheapest crap at the store.  They should feel heavy.  I also like non-stick cookware as opposed to stainless steel, because you can cook things without needing to add so much fat/oil to the pan.

Of course, this list is not a complete list.  You’ll probably need some spatulas, mixing bowls, measuring cups, etc. etc.  But those things just seemed a little more obvious and pretty self-explanatory to me.

I honestly think you will see how much easier and enjoyable it is to cook when you have the right supplies.  Cooking without these quality and basic tools would be like trying to write a best-seller using a type-writer:  it may be done, but it will take a lot longer and be a lot more frustrating.   So there you have it.   Any questions?

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