Kitchen Essentials, a Partial List

Apartment Therapy just had a feature on ‘What Appliance Can You Live Without?‘ which reminded me that I had started a post on essential kitchen equipment but never finished it. I find these discussions of what is not necessary more helpful than definitive lists of Things You Must Have because everyone’s tastes, abilities, skills and lifestyles are different, and for a new cook (or someone stocking a kitchen for a first time), knowing when to depart from such a list is difficult. More often than not, at least in my experience, the novice ends up with extraneous equipment that eventually need to be gotten rid of. Starting with just a single saucepan or frying pan is a way around this, but also greatly inhibits the successful composition of meals.

A surprising number of respondents to the AT post said they could (and do) live without toasters. A toaster, specifically a toaster oven, was probably the second item we bought when we moved into Apt. 2 (the first, and absolute never can live without item is a tea kettle; we only rarely drink coffee, and then from a French press, but we have run to the store at all hours of day and night for tea – third essential: a 24-hr grocery store). R and I would probably starve if not for toast, and the toaster oven allows for toasted cheese, reheating pizza (altho we impatiently use the microwave), toasting nuts and roasting veggies in the summer, etc. Many of the commenters said they use their oven for any absolutely necessary toasting, but we have an older gas oven that puts out A LOT of heat. In the winter, we have been known to open all the windows in the kitchen to cool the place down, and in the summer, even with AC, it can be overwhelming. A toaster oven saves time, energy, and comfort.

In no particular order, except as noted elsewhere):

  • tea kettle
  • toaster oven
  • good knives, specifically:
    • a chef’s knife – useful for all things, but especially vegetables. We have a standard chef’s knife and a heavier version with a ‘serrated’ (a word on that in a moment) edge for root vegetables. This second knife spares both the chef’s knife and the bread knife
    • a bread/carving knife
    • a paring knife – I use a bird’s hook parer
    • assorted smaller knives, including steak knives – used almost exclusively for small cutting jobs, a grapefruit knife, and cheese knives, of which we need more. My family swears by these steak knives, which we’ve had for over 10 years) and despite their genuine serrated edge, they are still sharp, as well as dishwasher safe (for those of you who have one)
    • a knife sharpener – we actually don’t have one, because one of the perks of Cutco knives (our chefs’ knives, bread knife (actually the Cutco petite carver) and paring knife) is a representative (if you have one local) will come to your house and sharpen them for you. This is essential for the upkeep of the triple-D edge (the not-actually-serrated-and-far-better-Cutco-invention) and we’ve made do for the straight-edge chef’s knife, by which I mean not at all and I need to suck it up and learn some sharpening skills
    • magnetic knife rack – good knife storage is essential for maintaining a working edge. We don’t have room for a knife block, so we went vertical. The rack also stores the cheese grater and tongs
  • frying pan – we are switching away from Teflon (or whatever) because the coating flakes, and it’s not terribly safe. I am a huge fan of Calphalon commercial pans, and find them to actually be non-stick for the most part (I have burned a few things into them severely, but soaking and a light scrub fixes it)
  • appropriately sized sauce pans (Our pans are mostly Revere Ware that is probably older than we are), including:
    • a large sauce pan with steamer and double boiler (our double boiler is actually a separate item, but that’s what comes of ransacking parents’ kitchens). When I say ‘large’, I mean several quarts – large enough to hold a double portion of pasta, because for the longest time, we didn’t have an actual pot, and now that we do, we still never use it. Additional feature: most vegetables will steam perfectly in the time it takes for the pasta water to come to a boil, and cooking the pasta in the vegetable water adds some additional flavor (since I never salt the water)
    • small sauce pan for heating/reheating soup. The microwave just isn’t as effective
  • Dutch oven – I am fairly certain R will write an ode to the Dutch oven one of these days. Also of note – when I first insisted on buying a Dutch oven, she asked what on earth we would use it for. Ironically, I’ve used the Dutch oven a handful of times, while R kept us well supplied with soups and stews through the winter
  • standing mixer, plus attachments (the standing mixer saves us the need for a hand-held mixer – I don’t mind mixing some things by hand, but I cannot whip eggs or cream to save my life, and I have tried. The immersion blender might have a balloon whisk attachment, but we had the standing mixer first. I also plan to get pasta maker attachments sooner rather than later, and it’s nice to have an additional extra-large bowl with built-in storage)
  • French (or tapered) rolling pin  – I find regular rolling pins to be heavy and horribly awkward (they never seem to roll correctly  –  does anyone else have this problem?). The taper helps even the pressure across the entire surface to be rolled
  • ice cube trays – our freezer does not have an ice maker, and ice is essential for good cocktails, even thought we keep the gin and vodka in the freezer anyway. Additionally, we make flavored ices (lavender ice being the favorite) and freeze herbs for cocktails and sauces
  • clear storage containers – prior to my recent organizational rampages, we often ended up with either multiples of an ingredient, or none at all, because packages, sometimes empty, piled up. Clear storage containers, and lots of them, have cut down on the overlap, made it easier to see when we need to stock up, and are visually appealing
  • food dehydrator – I was the one who questioned the purchase of the food dehydrator, and now use it more than R does. I have dried: peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, corn kernels, herbs and clementines
  • giant mulling ball – essential for making flavored syrups
  • mini fridge – effectively doubles our alcohol storage
  • mandoline – good for: apple chips, vegetable slices for pizza, clementines (for drying), removing pesky finger tips
  • French press – the only way to make coffee
  • immersion blender – much easier than using a regular blender or food processor for blending soups
  • spice grinder
  • assorted baking trays and cooling racks
  • mini loaf pans – the absolute best for baked goods to be gifted
  • muffin tins – used nearly exclusively for cupcakes, but apparently also good for freezing stock, should we ever get around to making our own
  • left-over storage – mostly used take-out containers, altho we are slowly switching to Pyrex
  • magnetic spice storage
  • regular blender – R uses it to make smoothies and hangover pancakes
  • food processor – for when chopping large amounts of vegetables just isn’t worth it. Some baking recipes call for blending butter and flour in a food processor, but I prefer to do it by hand – less to clean and I have a better sense of the mix

If I don’t stop now, I may never finish.There are undoubtedly other essential items not covered here (serving dishes! spatulas!) but those are more standard, and for us, more interchangeable. Does it do the job? If yes, excellent (altho I did spend a decent amount of time and energy hunting down the right pasta spoon and ladle after we killed the old ones).

Here too is a list of supposedly essential items that we either never use or at least are overrated:

  • stock pot
  • garlic press – honestly, I’d rather mince it by hand or use garlic powder than have to clean that thing
  • cookie cutters
  • casserole dishes
  • salt shaker (we do have a small Weck jar that we use as a salt cellar, or we just sprinkle from the box)

I would add the food processor to this list, because while I know we’ve used it on occasion, I can’t remember the last time it wasn’t more trouble than it was worth.

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