Category Archives: Cooking

Stocking a Kitchen: Nice to Have

A while back, I wrote about the things that I found essential to a starter kitchen here.  Those items got me through many years of basic cooking.  However, as my skills (and tastebuds) refined, I began to attempt more complicated methods and recipes.  Naturally, I found that I needed additional equipment. Below is a list of equipment that I find particularly useful in a kitchen, but that are by no means necessary.

Stock pot/Boiler
As a French major, I took a class on Louisiana and got the wild idea that I should try to make a big ‘ole pot of gumbo.  That was the first time I realized that a boiler was useful.  It is much larger than a saucepan and is also useful for chili, large quantities of pasta, or just about every Cajun/Creole dish you can cook. (See where my tastebuds lie?) If you like soups, stews, or large quantities of pasta, I highly recommend a decent boiler.

Blender/Food Processer
The blender and the food processor share many similar functionalities mainly the blending and mixing of food.  For most people, they can be used interchangeably.  However, you should know that the blender is for mixing soft foods or liquids, so if you want to make smoothies, icy beverages, and even blend soups like black bean soup, then a blender is for you.  However, if you want to chop vegetables or blend beans for hummus, then you should go with a food processor.

Coffee Maker
For me, a coffee maker is a necessity, but for others the addiction isn’t strong.  Even if you don’t drink coffee, it is nice to have a coffee maker if you entertain or have parents that enjoy a cup of coffee. A small 5 cup maker is 20 dollars or under, so it’s not a huge investment. You don’t even need to keep coffee filters. I have successfully used a double thickness of paper towels in a pinch.

Toaster/ Toaster Oven
Some people may consider a toaster a necessity, but since you can toast in the oven, I consider this a nice to have item.  I own an awesome toaster/toaster oven combo that lets me toast both sides of my bread before melting cheese on top. Genius!

Chef Knife
At some point in my culinary journey, I was introduced to Anthony Bourdain—chef, writer, tv host. Ever since I read his first book Kitchen Confidential, I was in love.  He also convinced me to learn how to use a chef’s knife with one simple statement, “Please believe me, here’s all you will ever need in the knife department: ONE good chef’s knife, as large as will fit in your hands” (76).  He was right. Once I learned how the knife felt and worked in my hands, I only ever use my chef’s knife and occasionally my pairing knife for EVERYTHING!

Cutting board
I swear by a cutting board that is dishwasher safe.  I really don’t think it matters what material it is made of, even though there are many people that will tell you otherwise.  The only thing I recommend for cutting boards is that you keep one for cutting raw meat and another for everything else to cut down on cross-contamination.

Whisk
Wanna make the fluffiest omelette or scrambled eggs in town? Get a whisk! They are useful for mixing cake batter, brownie mix, jello, etc., but I like to use mine to make eggs that rock!

Hand mixer
You can use a whisk to mix most anything, but when you are beating the lumps out of a cake batter, a hand mixer saves your arms and shoulders a lot of trouble.  Hand mixers are also great for making fluffy mashed potatoes.

Tea kettle
If you are a regular tea drinker (hot or iced), a tea kettle really makes things easier when pouring boiling water into a pitcher or cup.  You can purchase one of the fancy electric models, but the old fashioned stove top models have always served me well.

Corkscrew
Are you a wine drinker? Do you have guests who like to drink wine? You should probably have one of these.

Stemware
Yes, you could drink wine out of the gameday cup collection in your cabinet, but if you are stocking your kitchen with non-necessities, why not go ahead and get something a little classy? A set of four wine glasses are very inexpensive.  If you are worried about breaking the stems then there are stemless models available.

Spice rack
Every cook is going to have differing opinions on what constitutes the basic spices one should have besides salt and pepper. I have found one website that lists a good list of basic spices here and another that lists spices that are necessary to cooking different ethnic cuisines here.  If it were me, I couldn’t live without my sea salt, black peppercorns, oregano, basil, cumin, bay leaves, and paprika.

Electric Skillet-“Controversial” amongst the bloggers
I say controversial amongst the bloggers because Kate uses hers to cook the pre-made pasta dishes that are perfect for a quick meal. In using the electric skillet, she eliminates the need for using the stove. I however use a skillet or wok for anything I would fry.  As with all cooking, it is up to the preferences of the chef!

Crock pot
As many of us are very busy and don’t have time to cook when we arrive home, a crockpot becomes a great way to start something in the morning before we leave and then cook it all day long until we are home.  There are tons of crock pot cookbooks on the web, in the bookstore, or in your mother’s head.  The smaller models are useful for keeping Velveeta cheese dip or little cocktail wienies hot during a party.

 Bag Clips
I have used paper clips and rubber bands in the past, but a good couple of bag clips seems to keep my chips and pretzels that much fresher. If you have a tendency to lose small items, there are clips that have magnets on the back and can live on the fridge when you’re not using them.  Just one caveat, I have gone to get one of my fridge magnet clips, only to discover that they were being used to hang something important on my fridge!

Pizza Cutter
A knife will cut a pizza, but a pizza cutter just does it better.

Hope that inspires you to expand on your kitchen and your culinary repertoire!

 À la prochain,

Kim

Stocking Your First Kitchen

Moving out of my parent’s house was a rude awakening in many ways, the least of which was the lack of Mom’s (and Granny’s) home cooked meals.  Even though they both tried to stock my kitchen with what I would need, they came from the perspective of an established home cook, not a college student on her own for the first time. So, I decided to put together this post with a list of things I found invaluable to my starter kitchen.  Please remember that while I may think I have great advice, I am still writing from my perspective.  There are probably others that think I left something off or added too much.  I just wanted to give you an idea of what worked for me and my roommates.

So, without further ado, the list…

Saucepan
You might know a saucepan as a pot, but if you google “pot” you won’t get many hits for cookware…   Anyways, a good saucepan is invaluable for everything to boiling water for pasta, heating up spaghetti sauce, or cooking beans.  A 2-qt. saucepan is the ideal size for just about any of your cooking needs.

Frying pan/Skillet
I think we all identify a frying pan or skillet, but the trick is to get the right one.  You definitely need to make sure that your pan is non-stick, because scraping your freshly cooked meal off the sides could potentially ruin your appetite.  A good 8 or 12 inch non-stick skillet from Wal-Mart, Target, or TJ-maxx will serve your needs perfectly. If you are going to invest in something for your kitchen, this is the one thing to splurge on.  Also, NEVER, EVER, EVER use metal on your non-stick skillet to cook or clean because you will quickly scratch and ruin your investment.

Spatula/Slotted spoon/Serving spoon
In order to cook, you will need these three basic implements.  The spatula is very important for flipping grilled cheeses or eggs, which is why my family calls it a “flipper”.  The slotted spoon lets you drain liquid, while the regular serving spoon is perfect for dipping spaghetti sauce or a casserole.  If you have the money and/or inclination, you can buy a kit that includes those utensils plus a few others like a pasta spoon and whisk.  While those tools are useful, they are by no means necessary. The important thing to remember is to go ahead and invest in either plastic or wooden tools so that you don’t ruin that nice skillet.

Mixing bowl
A good mixing bowl is invaluable to your kitchen, and it is also the cheapest to acquire. You can buy one at a store, find one at a yard sale, or swipe one from your Mom’s kitchen (with her permission, of course).  Your bowl can be metal, plastic, or glass as long as it is fairly deep.  You can buy them at a reasonable price as a set of three, but really, all you need is one decent-sized, reliable bowl.

 Colander
Again, a colander is something that you can get cheaply and easily. I have found that plastic and metal (like the one pictured) work the best and are easiest to clean.

Tupperware
The important thing to remember about Tupperware, or plastic food storage, is to get a variety of sizes. You don’t have to spend a lot of money, and I would suggest not to if you have a habit of losing tops or whole pieces.  If you eat sandwich meat, some brands come in little containers that work great, and they’re free-ish!  Also, don’t forget that butter, cool-whip, etc. containers work well for food storage.  Getting plastic food storage can be as expensive or as cheap as you want, just make sure you have it!

 One sharp knife
What you get is up to you, but make sure you have at least one decent sharp knife. I would get a paring knife, as it is the most versatile of knifes and will allow you to do the most basic of kitchen cutting. If you don’t know what a paring knife is then please reference the enclosed picture. I have so far refrained from endorsing any particular brand, but I am going to break my rule here.  The picture is of a Kuhn Rikon knife. I got mine at TJ Maxx for about 4 dollars and it’s the best knife I have ever bought. It is dishwasher safe, has a protective covering for travel, and never gets dull. I wholeheartedly recommend it.

Dishtowel/Dishrag
Make sure you have a few good dish towels and rags, especially if you don’t have a dishwasher and have to hand wash everything.  If you have decent towels you can use those instead of a drying rack for hand washing.

Potholder
I prefer the kind that covers my whole hand, but I am also a pansy. The flat ones are nice for keeping  hot plates, pans, etc. from scorching tables and countertops.

 Can opener
The only tip I have about a can opener is to not buy the cheapest one. It will rust and become stiff quickly and cause you much pain and suffering.

Measuring tools
If you want to get fancy and learn the difference between dry and wet measuring cups you can here:  http://www.seriouseats.com/talk/2009/01/measuring-cups-difference-between-wet-and-dry.html .  Honestly, the difference only matters if you want to become a serious baker.  So, you just need to make sure that you have measuring tools for ¼, 1/3, ½ , and 1 cup, plus ¼, ½, 1 teaspoon, ½ , and 1 tablespoon.  As with so much else, you can get them as expensive or cheap as you wish.

Casserole Dish
Many of the first recipes that you will attempt that don’t involve boiling pasta will require a casserole dish.  Fortunately, the best brand is also easily attainable and reasonably priced.  Again, I have tried not to endorse brands in this post, but you absolutely cannot go wrong with Pyrex.  Not only do they cook the best, but also they are virtually unbreakable.  Investing in a good 9×9 or 9×13 casserole dish will reward you with a lifetime of use.

Cookie Sheet
Everyone likes cookies, so getting a good cookie sheet is a good idea.  You can also use it to cook bread or a frozen pizza. Just make sure you get a fairly thick one to avoid burning the bottom of whatever you are baking.

Microwave and Dishwasher Safe Dishes
Think of dishes as being the window treatments of your kitchen set. They can be utterly basic and practical or as fun and trendy as you want them to be.  The important thing to remember is that they need to say microwave and dishwasher safe!

Flatware
Flatware is the technical term for spoons, forks, and knives.  They are usually sold in an 8-piece place setting which means that there are 8 knives, 8 forks, 8 spoons, etc.  You can get them relatively inexpensive at a store, or you could look at yard sales and thrift stores for even cheaper ones.  There is no rule that they have to match.  Just know that you need them unless you want to eat with your hands.

Glasses
Whether you get pretty decorative glasses to match your place setting or collect game day cups after a game at the stadium, make sure you have something to drink from!

Setting up my first kitchen was a lot of fun, and helped me become a pretty decent cook (although my love of eating probably helped more).  Remember there is no right or wrong way of setting up a kitchen, and you should feel free to add to or take away from this list.

 I hope you will discuss in the comments section and make your own suggestions.

 Happy Cooking!

 À la prochain,
Kim