Monday, April 16, 2012

Quick Cooking: Kitchen Essentials

My kitchen essentials
See this post for the first part of this series.

If you are an inexperienced cook who wants to eat real, whole foods and avoid processed foodlike products, you have your work cut out for you. If you are used to using your can opener more than your cutting board, it is going to take some effort on your part to change those habits and learn new skills to help you cook quickly, efficiently and well.
If you have never really cooked with raw ingredients before, don't let that scare you off. If I move too fast or leave out a step, leave a comment and I'll try to help you out. If you work at it every day, pretty soon you will develop the necessary skills and you'll be so proud of your new abilities. In the even of World War Z, you will have mad zombi chopping knife skills. 

Before you start cooking, you will want to have certain tools. There is nothing fancy or too specialized here. Nearly everything listed I have seen in a thrift shop at some point or another, and half of what I have here (including both my cast-iron pans and all my mixing bowls) were thrifted.

Wooden spoons. Various sizes. I use these workhorses all the time. I have some pretty cheap and flimsy ones, but I keep meaning to look for better ones in the thrift shop.
Sturdy spatula. I like a one-piece construction.
Sharp* chopping knife, any shape you prefer Mine is a LamsonSharp  Rosewood Forged 7" Santoku. Husband gave it to me for Valentine's one year - I'm fairly certain he got it at a steep discount.
Sharp* paring knife I have a few cheap ones that I keep sharp.
Vegetable peeler. A friend gave me the Titan Peeler and I thought she was crazy but I love that thing and use it constantly. Still going strong, 3 years and counting.
Forks and spoons Yes, regular ones from the cutlery drawer. I prefer a fork to a whisk for most beating tasks, and I mostly eyeball measurements with spoons.
Baking dishes, different sizes. Obviously I'm partial to Pyrex, and I often find them at the thrift shop for $3 or less. I have a nice collection of these dishes and I use them for everything, from roasting a chicken to storing leftovers to catching potential drips from thawing food.  You might prefer a ceramic or metal pan.

Saucepans in various sizes. Quality is important. Stainless steel, heavy bottoms, if you can afford them. Keep your eyes peeled in the thrift shop for these - they clean up well but don't stick around long!
Vegetable steamer basket. I use mine all. the. time. It is very easy to toss a bag of frozen peas, green beans, or broccoli (our favorite green veggies).

Medium skillet.  I like cast iron. I would advise you to be wary of special non-stick coatings on metal pans. I'm not going to throw any science at your head, but I would urge you to do a bit of research. I never used them when I was learning to cook, and I don't own any now, so I've never researched the subject.

Griddle.  I have a cast-iron comal that I often use for toasting tortillas and sandwiches, or cooking pancakes. Since I only use it for these applications, it's always clean and ready to quickly do whatever I need it to do.

Mixing bowls. Various sizes. I used to use stainless steel but my Pyrex/thrift shop obsession has taken over. The more the merrier is my attitude towards bowls. I have 4 smalls and 4 larges and you wouldn't believe the number of times I can't find a bowl!
Cutting boards. (not pictured) I like a nice big cutting board, so that I can chop quickly without worrying about pieces skidding off onto the floor or into the sink. If you are tight on space, look for a large wooden one that will span your sink. I prefer wood for most of my chopping (it's easier on the knives), but I use plastic for meat, because it's easily sanitized in the dishwasher.

Oven mitts.  Don't skimp on this! Take good care of all your kitchen equipment, that includes your hands! I love my Pampered Chef oven mitts, I thought they were the best in the whole world, until a friend let me use her Ove-gloves. Wow. She had one brand-name, and one knockoff that she found at Aldi. Both worked really well. They are going on my Christmas list for sure!

Dish towels and dish cloths.  This is essential. Keep our hands and work surface clean to avoid cross-contamination and prevent illness. Unfortunately this photo was taken on laundry day, so you can see my rattiest towel and cloth. I hate damp towels and smelly dishcloths, so I change them at least once a day.

Scrub brush.  (not pictured) I have an aversion to sponges, so for clean up I rely on my scrub brushes. I have several cheap plastic ones with long handles from Ikea, and wash them in the dishwasher after each use.

The "right" tools are a matter of opinion. I've tried to stick to the very basic things that I use every single time I cook. Your essentials list will probably look different from mine. Most important, try to have your essential tools near to hand. The best quality tools are of little use to the busy cook if you can't grab them in 30 seconds or less.

What tools are on your kitchen essentials list?

*A sharp knife is so important. You will have to spend less time and exert less energy when your knife is sharp, and as a bonus, you'll cut yourself less. I have a couple of good knives that I love, and I learned to sharpen them myself with a simple, $10 whetstone from amazon. If you don't want to learn, don't have the time, or don't want to risk ruining a good knife (I practiced on crummy knives first), google your zipcode plus "knife sharpening" or visit your local sewing shop and check near the register. They will normally have flyers about local scissor sharpeners, and those guys will also do your kitchen knives.

This post is shared with Scratch Cookin' 4/17/12  


  1. What a great post! if I could offer just three more things... If you are just starting out, just learning to cook you really need a set of measuring cups for dry ingredients, a pyrex :) measuring cup for wet ingredients, and I am lost without at least two sets of measuring spoons. (all of which I have picked up at thrift shops!)It is important to get familiar with what a cup of something or a teaspoon of something looks like. Then you can confidentally eyeball stuff.

    1. That is very true!! Thank you for mentioning that. My mom taught me to add spices "til it looks/tastes right" so I'm used to guessing. I *do* have a collection of measuring spoons/cups, especially the glass Pyrex ones, to use for new recipes, testing a recipe to put on the blog, and for baking.


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