When I first started cooking in my mid-20′s, I had a hand-me-down frying pan, a couple sauce pots, and maybe a spatula or two. When I took it upon myself to really learn to cook, I knew I needed a few more tools and gadgets (and well, this provided a handy excuse to shop!). After wasting a lot of money on crap unnecessary stuff, here are my kitchen must-haves:
KitchenAid Stand Mixer: Yep, it’s worth the price. They last forever, and come in an array of cute colors (like the anniversary edition in Candy Apple Red!). Ok, so that’s probably not as useful as the fact that you can just throw stuff in while it’s mixing, keeping your hands free to measure, chop or read the most recent copy of Us Weekly Food and Wine.
Wooden Chopping Board: I like ‘em big. Sure, you can’t throw a huge cutting board into the dishwasher, but you really shouldn’t do that with a wood board anyway, so why not have the space? I have several dishwasher-safe plastic boards for meat and poultry, but for most kitchen tasks, my Boos Block makes chopping endless amounts of veggies less of a chore. If anyone would like to make it even less of a chore for me, I’d graciously accept one of these lovely boards by Ozark West.
Knives: I am partial to Global knives, but Shun and Wustof make great ones, too. The most important thing is to find a knife that feels good in your hand, is a comfortable weight (some knives are very heavy — Global knives are quite light), and allows you to make a smooth rocking motion while chopping. Go to Williams Sonoma or Sur La Table and try out the knives that they often have on display. I’d advise against buying an entire set of knives, as you’ll likely only use 2 or 3 on a regular basis: a chef’s knife (traditional or Santoku, 8- to 10-inches), a serrated bread knife for bread and tomatoes, and a paring knife for smaller tasks.
Pots and Pans: Here’s the thing — in the world of pans, you really do get what you pay for. I’d rather live with one good quality pan, than several sub-par ones. No matter what you decide, you’ll at least need a pot big enough for boiling water for pasta and making soup, a 12-inch stainless skillet (I love All-Clad French Skillets, which are such a good value!), a 8- to 10-inch non-stick fry pan, and a smaller sauce pan with a lid for heating sauces, soups and the like. I use All-Clad stainless steel pans, which are expensive, but you can find deals and they last a lifetime! Sign up to receive emails from Williams Sonoma and Sur La Table, and you’ll be surprised by the promotions, as well as prices you can always find at Amazon. As add-ons to the above mentioned items, I’d save for an All-Clad double-burner griddle, an All-Clad double-burner grill pan and a Le Creuset dutch oven.
Tools and Gadgets: This is one of the most fun categories there is, and yet the most dangerous in terms of unnecessary spending. One way to ensure you are buying only what’s necessary is to evaluate your personality. Does chopping 4 carrots, 2 potatoes, ½ an onion and a bunch of thyme provide stress relief and a form of therapy, or would doing so drive you to see your psychiatrist on Monday morning? Once you answer that question, you have some helpful insight as to what gadgets you might need. For example, I love to hand mince garlic, so you won’t find a garlic mincer in my gadget drawer. You will, however, find a lemon squeezer in there, because they are just brilliant! Evaluate your feelings on hand chopping and mincing produce, and you’ll quickly see what you can cross off the list.
So here’s what else I consider essential gadgets besides that handy lemon squeezer:
Microplane: I can’t say it enough — get a microplane and all will be right with the world. Your lemon zest will be fluffy and your nutmeg will be delightfully fresh.
Spider: I *love* this tool. It quickly pulls pasta out of the boiling water to add to my sauce (also allowing me to easily reserve the cooking water for sauces!), and makes blanching vegetables a snap. Trust me, you want one of these!
Wooden Spoons: Alright, I’ll admit it. I’m sort of a wooden spoon snob, but you’ll be too after you try these fantastic ones that are made in France. They are mostly made of beech wood, and come in sizes from 12- to 18-inches.
Oxo products: They really make some terrific kitchen tools, such as their box grater and 2-cup angled measuring cup.
As new favorites are born, I’ll add them to this page. Bon Appétit!