As anyone with a passion for cooking will attest, we love our “stuff”. My apartment’s small kitchen is stuffed to the brim with all sorts of gadgets, cookware, utensils, and electronics all designed to help me be better cook or – better yet – designed to make me FEEL like a better cook. Because really, when you’re using a top of the line Global spatula to ease some salmon out of your Calphalon saute pan don’t you think, “wow – I’m JUST like Eric Ripert”?
But lately I’ve been thinking about what it is I really use the most in my kitchen. You know, the things you couldn’t live without. The things that always seem to be dirty because you use them for 80% of what you cook. So here I’ve compiled a list of my five favorite kitchen items. Sure there are plenty more things I use a lot, and that I could have added if this list was my “top 10”, but I wanted to stay focused. So for those of you who don’t know what you really NEED, here is a good place to start.
My lovely friend, Lisa, gave me this for my birthday a couple of years ago after we had taken a Mediterranean cooking class together. Our instructor recommended that we all buy a good cast-iron pan. She said we would use it for everything. And since getting one, I have. It’s so versatile that it would probably be easier for me to list the things I can’t prepare with it than the things I can. What I will say is that it sears meat beautifully, and is really the only way to make a proper Spanish tortilla (recipe to come later). Take care of it, and it should last the better part of a lifetime.
Oh Le Creuset… even your name is fun to say. But you’re even more fun to cook in! This particular item was a very generous gift from my mother and is one I go to so often for preparing my favorite dishes. It heats evenly, goes smoothly from stovetop-to oven-to table (and then to the fridge), and clean-up is a breeze. It’s perfect for slow-roasting or braising meats, or making things like soups, stews, risottos, and even lasagnas – yes lasagna! The 5 1/2 qt size is, in my opinion, is juuuuust right. Any smaller and you’d be hard-pressed to fit a large chicken into it, but any larger and it becomes cumbersome and useful only on those rare occasions when you need to feed 10+ people.
There’s nothing quite like the feeling you get holding a well-used wooden spoon. It feels sturdy yet soft, cozy yet capable. I simply love this tool and if I had my way, I’d probably have 50 at home. But 2 or 3 will suffice. I’d suggest picking up one fully round, one rounded with a slight edge (for getting into the corners of pans) and one that’s straight across, to be used more as a spatula. These three will cover you for all your cooking needs. But beware – do NOT ever put these into the dishwasher. Warm soap and water is the only way you should clean them.
I use my 8″ chef’s knife for a lot – slicing, chopping, dicing, mincing – really everything. When shopping, look for one with a blade made of high carbon stainless steel, and make sure the handle is riveted to the blade. Ever had the handle of one of your cheap knives crack off? That’s because it wasn’t riveted.
Don’t be afraid to spend a little extra on this item. It will last you forever with yearly sharpening and a little TLC – e.g. hand-washing , always using it on a wooden cutting board, storing them in a knife block (only if they’re clean and DRY- no mold thank you!).
We’ve all been there. Attempting to cook a lot of pasta in a pot that is not quite large enough. Remember that pasta loves to swim through the water with freedom. So if you want to cook it well, you need to cook it in LOTS of water (heavily salted, like the sea of course). The one I’d recommend is from Calphalon, and it comes with bonus items, too. Fun, right?! For $75 bucks, (or less depending on where you shop), you get the 8 qt. pot that is perfect for cooking all types of pasta – particularly long form types like spaghetti, linguine, pappardelle – as well as a full pasta insert (to make sure you get every one of those pesky strands out of the hot water), plus a smaller stainless steel steamer that fits on top of the pot. This, my friends, is what we call a good deal.
So there you have it. My top five picks, for kitchen must-haves. Like I said, there are many more things you’ll need to be properly prepared for anything in the kitchen (3 1/2 qt. saucepan, set of measuring cups and spoons, good pair of tongs, strong wooden cutting board, half sheet pans for baking…) but writing about all of that could take me another week!
If you have any of these items, I hope you agree on how indispensable they are. If you don’t, go pick ’em up! Even the pricier ones will be a good investment since you’ll probably never have to buy another one again 🙂
Happy eating (and cooking)!
P.S. Stay tuned for a post on how to make the most unbelievable vodka sauce you’ve ever tasted courtesy of her highness Ina Garten.