Thursday, August 16, 2012

Kitchen Essentials: Hardware

 

Many friends have asked me to pontificate on the kitchen gadgets and hardware that I find essential in everyday cooking. I’ve been preparing meals for my family for 16 years, and did a fair bit of cooking for myself before that. And in all those years, I’ve never had the pleasure of a large kitchen, so keeping things pared down to the absolute essential has been a priority. I am confident that anyone stocking their kitchen for the first time (or replenishing supplies after many years) will find these items useful. If you think I’ve left something out, speak up (email me!) and let your petition be heard. 

Prep

High quality knife set – can not be overstated how important this is. Dull knives are the enemy.

wooden paddles- used for stirring most everything on the stove. Cheap and easy to replace.

cooking spatulas – 1 short nonstick, 1 long nonstick (for turning fish and crepes), 1 short metal.

baking spatulas of various sizes for getting the last bits of batters and sauces out of pans, for cooking omelets, and for folding batter.

graters -  1 microplane (for spices, for zesting citrus), 1 handheld (for grating small amounts of cheese or chocolate).

metal pounder – for tenderizing or thinning out meats, for crushing ice and garlic.

wooden citrus reamer – another workhorse of our kitchen as so many recipes call for fresh lemon or lime juice.

apple corer – used frequently to core apples and pears for cooking and eating.

handheld cheese slicer –nothing else gets perfectly thin slices of cheese at the dinner table.

mandolin – pretty much required for paper thin vegetable slicing.

large round metal spoon with holes – for scooping things out of the deep fryer.

2 veggie peelers – so you and a friend can work together in the kitchen.

tongs of various sizes – so useful for flipping and grabbing things while cooking.

kitchen scissors- for cutting bags open, for cutting herbs.

soup ladles – 1 large for soups and stews and 1 small for sauces.

cheesecloth – for bundling herbs in stocks and sauces, for draining ridiculously small grains like red quinoa.

kitchen twine – for tying up roasts and a host of other uses.

measuring cups and spoons – for the obvious.

prep bowls – we have a nested set of glass and another of metal and they both get frequent use.

tiny prep bowls- when you get good at having mise en piece (chopping everything up that the recipe calls for before you start cooking) you need a place to put it. These bowls also double well for serving salsa and other condiments at the table.

pastry scraper – for cutting dough, for scraping dough, for scraping off my baking stone and glass top cooktop.

whisks of all sizes – for the obvious.

kitchen scale – SO important for accurate measurements in baking.

pepper grinder – if you are a good cook you are going to frequently use freshly ground pepper. Make it easy on yourself and buy a handheld pepper grinder. Battery operated is a plus!

handheld can opener – don’t bother with a small appliance when they cost more and take up counter space. A next generation handheld (the kind that cuts the top off without jagged edges) will do just fine.

crumpet rings – used for making homemade crumpets (basically english muffins), but also for keeping fried eggs and batters in perfect circles while cooking.

biscuit cutters – for the obvious.

strainers of various sizes (including a colander for pasta) – for draining everything from beans, to straining sauces, to holding berries for rinsing. Very important for any kitchen.

pastry board – for rolling out pizza and other dough.

cutting boards – 1 for meats, 1 for everything else.

Bakeware

2 loaf pans – for baking breads, including quickbreads. Also for meatloaf and terrines. You want at least 2 so that you can put one in the oven right after the other around the holidays. Go for ceramic or glass and skip the metal.

2 aluminum sheet pans – get the large commercial grade sheet pans that you will use for everything from cookie baking to roasting vegetables.

At least 2 round nonstick Wilton cake pans – for cakes of course.

1 nonstick mini muffin tin – I find the mini muffin tin to be much more practical then the large muffin tins as it’s easier to make portion controlled treats and it’s lovely for making appetizer sized quiches and tarts.

Bundt pan – for Bundt cakes and angel food cakes. Also for layered jello molds.

glass casserole baking pans – 1 small, 1 medium, 1 large, all for baking casseroles, roasting cuts of meat, or baking sheet cakes and other desserts.

1 springform pan – essential for cheesecakes and other desserts.

1 tart pan with removable bottom – for savory and sweet tarts of course, but also for quiche and desserts.

pie pans – 1 glass (for fruit or other pies), 1 ceramic deep dish (for pot pies and such).

1 baking stone – cheap and easy from Wal-Mart for making pizzas, and cooking most of your breads in the oven.

cooking racks

Cookware

stainless steel pans – 2 small, 1 medium, 1 large for everyday use. Always get stainless steel because they are affordable, easy to clean, last forever, and can go from stovetop to oven/broiler without issue.

stainess steel pots -  1 tiny, for melting butter and chocolate or steeping herbs in hot oil; 2 medium for the bulk of everyday cooking; 1 very large with steamer/strainer insert for making stocks, cooking large amounts of pasta, steaming tamales, lobster boils, etc.

nonstick pans- 1 small for omelets; 1 large for low fat sautéing (particularly perfect for cooking non-fatty fishes like tilapia or sole); 1 large square flat griddle for crepes and pancakes.

1 cast iron large pan for cornbread, blackening fish and chicken, and other southern cuisine. Also perfect for making Dutch babies.

At least 1 enameled Dutch oven – size you need will depend on your family. There are just two of us so we have the 5 quart le Creuset. This thing is the workhorse of our kitchen. Stews, braises, chili, soups, and anything deep fried are all done in this beloved pot that is used on top of the stove or inside the oven.

1 or 2 stainless steel small broiler trays – flat, usually with ridges to let fat drain, these are used in our home to broil steaks and roast/toast nuts.

1 roasting pan with rack- we have a large one we use for turkey, chicken, beef, lamb, etc.

Small Appliances

coffee grinder – use for grinding spices. Any brand should do.

food processor – workhorse of the kitchen for grinding/pureeing solids, grating larger quantities of cheese and vegetables, making pie dough. Cuisinart is the industry leader.

immersion blender – key for smooth pan sauces and pureeing soups in the saucepot. Any brand should do, we have a Cuisinart and are quite pleased with it.

high quality commercial blender  – the only appliance that can juice root vegetables like carrots; also great for crushing ice, smoothies, Frappuccino's, and batters such as for crepes. Blendtec or Vitamix are your best choices here.

stand mixer – absolutely essential for making bread, whipping cream, creaming dough for cookies and cakes. I used to recommend KitchenAid for this but they’ve gone downhill in the past decade (plastic gears- you have GOT to be kidding me!) and I now recommend Cuisinart, unless you are rolling in money and can afford a Hobart.

electric frypan – larger size and controlled temperature make this appliance perfect for shallow frying (chicken, chile rellenos, etc) or sautéing for a crowd. Any brand should do.

ice cream maker – ok, so this is really more of a splurge but fresh homemade ice cream makes life pleasurable. Get the Cuisinart electric and you’ll be so glad you did.

at least 1 electric fondue pot – if fondue is not part of your life, that’s no way to live! Seriously much cheaper to make your own then going to the Melting Pot or other pricey fondue joint.

waffle iron – for the obvious.

The frypan, ice cream maker, waffle iron, fondue pot, and immersion blender get stored in our cabinets while the rest of the appliances live on our kitchen countertops for daily access.

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