Welcome to a new series of posts, that I’m going to call “Building a Better Kitchen.” I have a feeling that a lot of you out there (the Junta Idiot being just one example) are not quite sure what you should be stocking your kitchen with – in terms of both equipment and ingredients. But it takes just a few items to make cooking a much more approachable and spontaneous venture. If you already have these items in your kitchen, you’ll feel like cooking is no big thang. If you don’t have them, you will feel annoyed, and (if you’re me) will likely give up on the enterprise entirely. By the end of the series, my hope is that you’ll have a kitchen that is well-stocked enough so that you can make a variety of simple meals using the ingredients and equipment you already have, or, if you are making a more elaborate meal, will only need to run out and buy a few key ingredients or an exra piece of specific equipment.
Equipment is the most basic, so we’re going to start there; in the next few weeks, look for posts on various types of ingredients. Equipping a kitchen is really not that hard, nor is it that expensive. It is especially cheap if you live in New York, where there are restaurant supply shops galore on Bowery, selling kitchen supplies for a pittance. I am not yet at a place in life to be investing in kitchen supplies, nor does my little apartment really have the space for them. So I stick with the basics, and the cheap and disposable versions of those basics, at that. And even for me, who cooks on an extremely regular basis, they’ve held up fine.
I would also recommend checking out Mark Bittman’s advice on buying kitchen supplies (complete with video of him in one of the aforementioned Bowery restaurant supply shops). But as minimalist as he is, he’s still not as minimalist as the average twenty-something will want to be. For example, he recommends buying 3 different size sauce pans and 3 different size mixing bowls. You can do with one of each, honestly (I do). If you start to feel the lack of variety is cramping your style, then you can buy another one. That’s not even so much of a price consideration (the bowls were about $2 where he went, and the pans an average of $9) as it a space one, and also just a genuine question of actual need. Also, he says you don’t need a microwave. I don’t know what recent college graduates he is talking to, but I just don’t see how that could possibly be true.
So, without further ado, here are the pieces of equipment that you need, categorized into absolutely necessary, very useful, and my extras (and my fantasies). Let me know if I’ve missed anything, or if you have any questions about what something is or what it does
– Chef’s Knife: You’ll use this for most chopping and slicing, so you want it to be the best quality appropriate for your skill level and finances. That said, I have a $15 one from Bed, Bath & Beyond, and it’s always been fine, if a little wobbly.
– Bread Knife: Eh. At our age, you can buy whatever bread knife you want.
– Paring Knife: You’ll use this for smaller jobs, particularly peeling and coring. Again, mine’s from B, B &B.
– Cutting Board
– Wooden Spoon
– Large Pot: For cooking pasta, making soup, boiling veggie.
– Smaller Pot: For hardboiled eggs, heating up soup, making oatmeal.
– Frying Pan: I use this for everything, basically.
– Mixing Bowl
– Baking Sheet
– 9×13 Baking Pan: For roasting veggies or chicken.
– Measuring Cups (liquid and dry): There really is a difference between the two types of measuring cups. The one for liquid makes allowances for the meniscus the liquid forms; the dry ones allow you to level off their contents with a knife (or your finger). I’ve never had problems interchanging them, but just buy both to be safe.
– Measuring Spoons
– Can Opener
– Aluminum Foil, Plastic Wrap, Parchment Paper, Wax Paper, Ziploc Bags, Tupperwares: Parchment paper is the only one here you might not be familiar with. It is a wonder. Put it down on a baking sheet and nothing will stick to it. Amazing!
– Toaster Oven: NOT a toaster; a toaster OVEN. You can use it for anything you’d want to use the oven for, but on a smaller scale. It works wonders, especially on reheating any number of things that you don’t want to get soggy in the microwave.
– Sieve: For smaller items than the colander. Really, this comes in handy.
– Steamer Basket: One of those neato expanding steamer baskets is almost as good as a full-size steamer, and much easier to store.
– Second 9×13 Baking Pan: Because if you’re roasting one thing, you’re probably roasting another.
– Tongs: You can’t do anything with tongs you couldn’t do with a spatula, but they’re fun to use. I guess they are better than a spatula for serving.
– Whisk: For baking.
– Egg Beater: For baking.
– Vegetable Peeler
– Salad Spinner: I couldn’t live without mine. They seem really expensive (at about $30), but it will change your life. I wash a head of lettuce at the beginning of every week, spin it dry, and keep the clean leaves, in the spinner bowl, in my fridge all week. Makes salad seem a lot less annoying to make at the end of the day.
– Stovetop Espresso Maker: Makes a perfect (very strong) cup, and is a much more satisfying experience than just flipping a switch on a regular coffee maker.
– Tea Pot: I drink a lot of tea.
– Tea Strainer: I like my tea from tea leaves, not tea bags.
– Ice Cream Maker: I eat a lot of ice cream.
– Pie Dish: I make a lot of pie, usually served a la mode.
– Cocktail Shaker: I drink a lot of martinis.
If I had all the money (and space) in the world:
– Mortar and pestle: Just because.
– Food Processor: Dough, sauces, aioli, soup, endless possibilities!
– Blender: Same as food processor, minus dough, plus frozen margaritas!
– The entire line of Le Creuset products