One of the nicest parts of my job is the wonderful guests that come to stay! One morning after breakfast I was chatting with a lovely young career gal who has decided to begin purchasing things for her kitchen. She travels a lot, is beginning to enjoy cooking, and wants to buy the “right” things but in her words is clueless on how to begin. I promised her a segment of “Cook’n with Caroline” that would talk about the “right” way to buy for your first kitchen. It also began a thought process on how our needs change as we go through cycles of our lives.
When I was younger, raising a family and doing lots of “family” type cooking in my kitchen, the things I needed were vastly different than what I need today. Now it’s just me and Gary, my life partner, and we even eat a totally different type of diet. Back then I had to cook and plan for lots of people; these days it is usually just the two of us. Because of that I have given away a lot of my cooking tools and have pared down what I use to the bare essentials.
In a strange way, I am back to the first kitchen I had almost 50 years ago when I outfitted my first kitchen.
I think one of the most helpful magazines and books you can have is the “Cook’s Illustrated” magazine and the cool thing is the way they recap the entire year in a hard bound book. I love the way they test out different tools, appliances, food, sauces, etc. They do a great job and make it easy to sort through all the marketing hype that we are subjected to! The most expensive or the most marketed is not always the best!
You probably have determined by now that organization is my middle name, so as I thought about this I came up with the following categories:
• Preparation Utensils
• Cooking Items
• Baking Items
• Serving Items
• Storage Items
• Small Appliances
Those are a lot to cover in one segment so today I am going to talk about the first category, the knives and other gadgets that are the core of a good kitchen, the Preparation Utensils.
Let’s get going and see how efficiently we can furnish a kitchen and use it as a basis to grow as our lives change.
Preparation Utensils are those items you need to peel, chop, strain, stir, etc. These include graters, strainers, chopping boards, potato peeler, melon ball scoops, measuring cups and spoons, rolling pins, and other small items. For many of these you will find a personal preference and you will try several before you find “your favorite.” I strongly suggest a good sturdy set of stainless steel measuring cups and spoons; they will last forever. We have come full circle and a wooden chopping board is now considered “safe and sanitary” if you wipe it clean after each use. I have had mine for years and we are all still alive….no killer bacteria! I prefer a wooden rolling pin and I have two types of graters, a small hand held that I use primarily for zesting, and a box grater that I do not use as often as I do my mini food processor (more on that later).
First and foremost in any well equipped kitchen is a GREAT set of knives! These are a lifetime investment. Of course there are personal preferences but over the years I have found a good set of carbon steel knives with walnut wood handles perform the best and you can always get a good edge when you sharpen them. The carbon stainless steel will require more time in sharpening and does not hold a sharp edge, so I discarded them years ago. Personally I prefer the wood handles as they do not get “slippery” when wet and I think they fit a woman’s hand better than some of the more modern styles.
On Stonehurst Place Recommends you’ll see a set like the Chicago Cutlery knives I’ve had for over 50 years! I like a knife block to store my knives and I never, never, never put them in the dishwasher. A professional chef will fire an assistant if they commit this kitchen crime! Hand wash and dry always. I have never had a problem with rust and when you use the same knives all the time you will develop a “feel” for each knife and when you pick up the wrong knife for your task you will know it before you even look at the knife!
If you like, install a magnetic bar mounted to the wall near or over your kitchen work area; with this it is easy to see which knife you need and the blades do not get chipped or dulled by rattling around in a drawer. This time-tested starter set of essentials includes:
• small paring knife
• “chef” knife for chopping
• serrated knife for slicing breads
• boning or trimming knife for removing fat from meats
• good pair of kitchen shears
• sharpening wand
Expect to pay up to $100 for a starter set like this … but you will use it all the time! As you progress in your cooking, you can add more “specialty” knives.
Other items in this category are:
• measuring cups and spoons
• potato peeler
• melon ball scoop
• large tea strainer
• small hand grater
• set of glass measuring cups
• metal ice cream scoop
• set of heavy duty spatulas
• small porcelain mortar & pestle
• cooking tool set including offset spatula
• set of whisks
• cooking tongs
• 12-inch, manual can opener
• wooden rolling pin
• wine cork screw with built-in thermometer.
I prefer to get these in stainless steel; they go into the dish washer, are easy to clean, light weight and last a long time. The exception is the rolling pin….wood is always the best.
These are the basics that will carry you through most cooking tasks. As you become more efficient and your cooking and entertainment styles change you can add other items. Just remember, you do not need a gadget for every task.
I did not include a garlic press because you lay a clove of garlic down on the cutting board, reach for your chef’s knife, place the blade flat down on the garlic and give it a good quick hit with the palm of your hand….presto, the dry husk will loosen and the garlic will fall out….finish finely chopping that lovely clove of garlic with your chef’s knife.
Nor did I include a pizza cutter … your long boning knife or chef’s knife will do a much better job and it is one less item to clutter your kitchen. You should be just as creative in choosing your kitchen tools as you are in your cooking!
Next time we’ll take a break on our kitchen set-up started here, and we’ll spend time on how to create spontaneous menus and meals! A good cook knows how to to use what is in the fridge or pantry to create a dish, instead of using a recipe that calls for ingredients you may or may not have on hand and means another trip to the store and another bite out of your budget.