I have been trying to sort out my kitchen- to remove those things I don't use very often, and are non essential. I am finding it difficult, as I am very lazy, a packrat, and sentimental to boot.I can spend most of an afternoon on this project, hauling what feels like enormous loads of stuff to the basement (for a hypothetical yard sale), or in some cases to the trash, and find that my kitchen appears unchanged, as crowded and messy as ever.
I thought I would try this different approach. I'm going to list what I believe to be the bare essentials for a working kitchen, and then get rid of everything else for which I cannot give a convincing excuse. I discussed this post with reader/friend Lynn D., way back when. Her son was setting up his first kitchen, and she suggested this topic. I said then that I planned to do it soon.
How often have I said I would post about something, fully intending to do so, and then just failed to follow through? When, for example, am I going to make the damn rootbeer? You may well despise me for a liar, but I swear I was sure I would do it- at the time. Lynn's son has probably cooked Thanksgiving dinner for his grandchildren by now. But I see another benefit here: I just love to make lists.
I thought I would divide this into sections on equipment, and on pantry. We begin with disclaimers and admissions, followed by appliances, and then, pots and pans. I invite you to point out items unmentioned, which you would not dream of living without. Later, I am going to add links for many of these items. But I have not shopped for the best deals-I just want you to see what they look like. Internet prices are always changing- so if you decide to get something- I'd google around. I believe if you buy something from Amazon, after linking, I get a pittance level reward.I ain't in this for the teensy money- I'd rather you look around and get yourself a bargain.
These will be low-tech lists. Though I have a Luddite side, I thought I'd better admit to the technology I have acquired over the years. Because I have been around for some time, I have accumulated the following items, from which I will not be parted. None of them are needed, but I love them, use them often, and am very fond of them. I cooked for many years without any of them- you don't need them, but they do the job well. The low tech substitute for each is indicated:
Non-essential Appliances dear to me:
Toaster oven: These are really great, and much more versatile than a toaster.If I could have only one small electric, this would be it. You can, of course, use a toaster instead, and your regular oven.
Bunn coffee machine: The kind that diners have, home version. A tank of hot water is always at the ready; it makes a full pot of extremely hot coffee in 4 minutes. You can use a french press, or an italian espresso pot.
Kitchenaid mixer: Mine is British racing green. I think this color is generally no longer available. I love it to bits. You can use a wooden spoon, fork, and whisk.
Food Processor: When my inherited Cuisinart died- I got a Kitchenaid. And it is very good. You can use a grater and a food mill or chinois.
Kitchenaid coffee/spice grinder, with removeable top part, so you can wash it out, and your coffee doesn't taste like cumin. You can use a mortar and pestle (though not for coffee- better buy your coffee preground.)
Crockpot with plain white removable ceramic liner and glass lid. Well, you can just slow cook on or in the stove. But you can leave the house all day with your slowcooker on "low", and be sure it will not burn the place down. Also they are very cheap.
Refurbished vintage waffle iron-just because.
On the borderline: My little icecream maker. I don't use it that often, but itis great to be able to make proper icecream. You need to have a freezer section that works well to freeze the cannister sufficiently. It takes a good 8 hours to freeze, but is too bulky to leave in the freezer, unless you have something beyond a fridge top space. It is a pain, but I'm not going to be getting rid of it.
Non-essential Appliances not dear to me:
Microwave which came with the apartment-used mainly for reheating stuff. I can't chuck it- it's not mine.
Electric tea kettle- a gift. I kept it and use it because it is fast, and frees up a burner. Obviously, you can boil water in anything.
If you have a choice, gas burners all the way. They are more responsive, and you can see how much heat you've got. Gas or electric ovens are both fine.
A fridge: This probably came with your kitchen, too.
And, thanks to Julie's comment, an item I can't believe I forgot- the immersion blender. Maybe it's not strictly necessary, but it's close. I don't have a regular blender- between this one and the food processor and chinois, I'm covered.
Pots and Pans/ Top of Stove:
A large stainless steel pasta pot (8 qts) with strainer insert: This can be used for a stockpot, too. If you are making stock with bones from a chicken or roast- leave the strainer in, and pull up the mess of bones at the end to discard. You can make soup in here , too, as long as you do not need to brown anything in the pot- as is very lightweight, and not good for that sort of thing. Also you can steam stuff-especially if your pot comes with a short steamer accessory.
A 5qt heavy dutch oven or "cocotte", with nonreactive interior and a lid. There are topnotch, heirloom quality ones (Staub, Le Creuset, AllClad) but many lesser sorts are also fine, longlasting, and easier on the budget . This is perfect for small batch soups, and stews, and braises, and can fill in as an extra saute pan. You can bake your no-knead bread in here, too, and boil a mess of potatoes for mashing- and more.
A 2 or 3 quart heavy nonreactive saucepan with lid. Use it to cook rice, vegetables, casseroles. The little ones are cheaper than the big ones, and the fancy kind are often on sale- good place to splurge and see if the fancy pots are worth it to you. I love my little Staub one.
A wok- plain steel or thin cast iron, with a flat bottom and a handle. You've got to work at seasoning it. The Wokshop sells preseasoned ones- I imagine they are good, as the shop is totally classy, utterly reliable, and friendly. My personal favorite wok, however, is now the Vollrath one I got at a restaurant supply shop. It is the bomb-if you haven't got one, buy this one! Not only good for Chinese and Indian cooking...a wok is excellent for deep frying, too. A lid is good.
Cast iron frying pans, 9" and a 12" chicken fryer/saute pan with glass lid. Gotta season these, which is time consuming but worth it. Very cheap to buy, and when properly cared for, cannot be beat for all sorts of things, and virtually nonstick. Lodge now makes preseasoned cast iron. I have no personal experience with these, but hope they work, because the idea is brilliant. I would be nice to have a big fancy lidded saute pan of stainless steel lined copper or any All Clad variety. They cost the earth, however, so I haven't got one yet.
This is really all you need for stovetop cooking, though I also have a big old 12 qt pasta pot with strainer and steamer; it lives in the basement, but comes up for turkey carcass soup,steaming a whole stuffed cabbage, and canning ventures. And a copper jam pan- which is beautiful, and lives in the dining room when not in use. These stay too- but you obviously don't need them. Everything else must go here. Next will be pans for the oven and or utensils...coming soon.
Photo from Fanny Farmer Cookbook, 1936 edition.