personal blog

kitchen tools
ravioli cookingThis article on cheaply equipping a kitchen includes a list of the most and least useful kitchen items, according to the author (Mark Bittman). I disagree on some of the items, but I agree with the moral of this story:

The point is not so much that you can equip a real kitchen without much money, but that the fear of buying the wrong kind of equipment is unfounded. It needs only to be functional, not prestigious, lavish or expensive.

There are many, different, functional kitchens. I grew up in a kitchen without wooden spoons or sharp knives; I still can't figure out how my parents managed to cut or stir anything, but somehow dinner got on the table anyway.

My kitchen, while functional, is very different from the one described in that article. Here are my favorite tools:

  • a wok - Bittman recommends against one, but who are you going to believe, somebody with the sense to use a wok or somebody without? (admittedly, I probably use my wok in place of his large skillet). This thing is wonderful for any task that begins with oil or butter - like cooking onions for a soup, making a stir-fry, making a pasta sauce (and then stirring in the pasta), and millions of other things. It's great for heating canned soups and curries, and for re-heating leftovers of any sort (much better than the microwave we don't have). I use my wok almost every day.
  • a cast iron skillet - Chris uses his cast-iron pan about as often as I use my wok; that's what you do when your idea of lunch is an unadorned slab of cow. Chris cleans his pans with soap, and re-seasons them occasionally. (Some people prefer to get their pans all greasy and salty in lieu of cleaning.)
  • a colander from the dollar store - great for washing berries, beans, and other small items. (For pasta, I just use the pot lid).
  • a stockpot - also on Bittman's "not necessary" list. Sure, I could use my pasta pot for soups or multi-serving pasta dishes, but one miscalculation would send the soup over the edge. I don't calculate anything, especially not soup. I use a nice tall stockpot.
  • a grater - obsoleted by a food processor? Seriously? I've rarely gotten anything good out of a food processor. If I try to grate something in there, I'll end up with most pieces too small or too large, and none at the right size. Also, a food processor is much more of a PITA to clean than a grater. Grater it is.
  • a couple sharp knives - never in my life have I felt the need to own a mandoline. I'm just saying. (We're fortunate to have a set of ceramic knives as a wedding gift from Chris's parents - love them!)
  • stand mixer - Maybe we don't need it exactly, but it has more patience than I do for kneading bread dough, and it makes Chris's homemade ice cream possible. Another wonderful wedding gift.
  • steel mixing bowls - we can agree here, super useful. Our set includes several sizes and a couple of prep bowls, all with lids.
  • bamboo and silicone spatulas; baking pans and cookie trays (but NOT the kind with the nonstick coating; it eventually leaves nonstick metal flakes embedded in your food); and I do like the dutch oven for my bread. That's the essentials, I think.

Here are the things I wouldn't bother with - a mandoline (I'd use a knife or a grater); a salad spinner (what's that for again?); a microplane grater (ok, I'm just jealous that I don't have one); a coffee grinder (I don't drink coffee, and I've got a mortar and pestle if I really need to grind something). I gotta wonder, what do you need to food-process 14 cups of? If you have a small processor, you can divide your large quantity of food into batches; but if you have a large processor, good luck making a single cup of pesto (or finding 14 cups of fresh basil).

I also don't use a microwave; anything a microwave can do, an oven or frying pan can do better. Well, and we don't eat much popcorn. A whetstone isn't necessary for the ceramic (they keep their edge for a long time, and then you're supposed to send them away to be sharpened).
To food by Beth on 2007-05-15.
Kevin Mark (mail) (www):
Most of the times I've seen reports on kitchen equipment, they say 'you dont need to buy the 50 piece set of XYZ, you can just buy a few good tools and build from there'. The last time I saw this was on the PBS 'America's test kitchen'. Great show for geek who cooks because they actually test stuff and tell you what they liked and didn't or what worked and what didn't instead of just saying 'hey this is the super-premo fancy one -- a must have!'.
5.16.2007 6:11am
Michele (mail):
Great post. I do, however, love my salad spinner - since I grow my own lettuce on my window sill, I wash my lettuces at least 3x, I'm able to spin those leaves until they are bone dry. It also seems to spin out any soil I've missed.
5.16.2007 12:25pm
Patti (mail):
I love my salad spinner, too.

I'm with you on the stock pot - I make huge quantities of soup and freeze it, and also chicken stock from carcasses. (carcasi?) And a grater is essential.

I love my microwave - I'm a stressed out single mom and I work from home, and can throw in leftovers for my lunch. I also have a small ice cream maker with a motor that I'm fond of, and a bread machine - I never use it to bake in, but for mixing and kneading and rising, it's super. My kitchen is all about saving time but still eating real food.

You know what I've been wanting? One of those weird half-moon shaped flat colander-holed things you hold against a pot of pasta as you drain the water into the sink. No idea what it's called.
5.17.2007 6:29pm
Liesl (mail) (www):
I loved that article! Wouldn't it be great to do a full run-down on sewing tools, cosmetics, cleaning products, etc.? That's sort of what Real Simple seemed to be doing when they started, but now they do total obsessions about the very BEST mandoline you can POSSIBLY buy. Somehow it stops feeling "real simple" when it's so thorough like that...
5.17.2007 10:15pm
diann (mail) (www):
I love my salad spinner too. And all my stock pots, and good knives. Don't need a big Cuisinart - the small ones work just fine. And our microwave is used as a "cat safe" for breads and such.
5.19.2007 8:26pm
Salad spinners throw water off of food. This is great for anything you plan to batter and/or deep fry, like french fries. That said, I don't own one either but I'd like one.

And yes, Microplane graters are awesome.
6.24.2007 8:18am