[Please note that all product suggestions and opinions given here--and elsewhere on my blog--are my own. They are based on my own experiences using products for which I paid retail, like any other consumer. I do not accept advertising, sample products, or compensation in any shape or form. Okie dokie? Just wanted to be clear on that. ]
If you’re just starting out in the kitchen, you’re probably wondering which of the myriad gadgets and do-dads you really need. You’ll definitely need a few basic tools, but don’t feel like you need to go out and spend a fortune. They say a good cook can do almost anything with a sharp knife and a few pots and pans. Truly, a professional chef typically uses one knife to peel, slice, dice, chop, and mince. In a commercial kitchen, it just doesn’t make sense to have one gadget for each and every task; it’s an expensive and inefficient way to work. I try to adopt that philosophy at home.
With that in mind, here is a list of the basic supplies you’ll need to get started.
- Chef’s knife – 7 to 10 inches, depending upon the size of your hand. Wusthof and Henckels are the best but aren’t cheap. They will, however, last a lifetime if you keep them sharpened.
- Paring knife – For small jobs like deveining shrimp and removing the seeds from a vanilla bean.
- Sturdy cutting board - John Boos makes nice ones out of end-grain butcher block, but you can find a cheaper one that will work just as well at a place like Bed Bath & Beyond. I like one with rubber “feet” to help stabilize it.
- Rubber spatulas, wooden spoons, whisk – No need to go high-end here. Target and Ikea have nice selections.
- Measuring spoons and measuring cups – Again, Target is a good source for inexpensive options.
- Microplane grater – This is possibly the best kitchen invention of the past ten years and costs less than $10. It makes super-fine lemon zest, finely-grated cheese, and freshly grated nutmeg. I just had to throw it in there.
Pots and pans should be stainless steel, heavy-bottomed, and durable. All-Clad are the best, but pricey. The first piece of good news is that All-Clad will replace or repair damaged or defective pots for life, no questions asked, as long as you cover the shipping. The second piece of good news is that three or four pots will probably do most of what you need to do:
- 8-inch fry pan – Your all-purpose fry pan, for omelettes, sauteed vegetables, etc.
- 3 ½ quart sauce pan – Probably the pan you’ll use the most. A straight sided, deep pan with medium capacity used for everything from boiling water to cooking sauces.
- 6 quart saute pan - A saute pan is a low, straight-sided pan used for browning meats and making risotto, among other things.
- Dutch oven – A larger, deep, covered pot for making soups and stews.
If you’re interested in baking and pastry making, you’ll need more specialized equipment. There is a plethora of baking supply retailers: Williams-Sonoma, Sur La Table, and Chef’s Catalog, are just a few. But you don’t necessarily have to pay retail prices. Thrift stores are great places to find barely-used cake pans, pie plates, cookie sheets, and casseroles. Check your local cake-decorating or candy-making supply store for a digital instant-read candy thermometer, cake rounds, doilies, and cake decorating turntable. Some craft stores such as Michael’s also carry cake decorating supplies.
Ah, appliances. You can certainly buy a lot of convenience. One life-saving appliance that is a bit of a splurge but totally worth it is a food processor. Cuisinart makes the classic one with bowls ranging in capacity from 7 to 14 cups. A food processor makes slicing, chopping, and mincing effortless. You can even use it to make pie dough. If you get hooked on baking cakes, a 4.5 or 6-quart Kitchen Aid stand mixer is something you will not be able to live without. It will cream cake batter and whip egg whites and even knead your bread dough for you. Ice cream makers, juicers, blenders, pressure cookers, and indoor grills are all nice to have, depending on your interests, but certainly not necessary for everyday cooking. Whatever you need, don’t panic if you’re on a tight budget: Craigslist is a great place to find used appliances for pennies on the dollar. Like exercise equipment, small appliances are often given as gifts, only to collect dust for several months and then end up in the classified ads. Also keep your eyes peeled at garage sales.
If you’re going to spend a lot of time cooking, you’ll probably want to have your friends over so you can enjoy the fruits of your labors. That, after all, is the biggest reward for any chef: The pleasure of sharing good food with the ones we love. So you’ll need to set the table with some nice plates and a tablecloth, and you’ll need some serving dishes and spoons. In this department, I put fashion ahead of function. Collect what you like so you can set a table that’s attractive and welcoming for your guests. Keep in mind that thrift stores offer interesting options for tableware: If you don’t have a full set of china, consider collecting mismatched floral patterns or themed prints that speak to you. In college (on a very limited budget), a close friend of mine started collecting plates and bowls in various shades of green. Today she has enough pieces for twelve full place settings. It’s an eclectic set, for sure, but they not only look beautiful on the table but also reflect her own unique style.
(c) 2009 Miri / www.lauracarmen.com