So you’re back for day two, which makes me glad to know that I am not just writing for myself. Before I get into meal plans and what’s cooking, I thought today I would take some time to mention a few things that I think are important to have to make your life cooking a little easier. With some items I may recommend specific brands that I have used with some good success in the past, but please feel free to use what’s best for you and your budget. If you think you have a better idea on something, I encourage you to pass it along here so we can all use it.
There are a few essential pieces of equipment I think everyone needs to have in order help make your cooking experiences better, easier and more successful. For me, everything starts with having three good knives: a chef’s knife, a paring knife, and a serrated knife. I use my chef’s knife all the time, and you can use it for just about everything from chopping and dicing to carving. My personal chef’s knife of choice is a Wusthof Classic 7″ chef’s knife. It’s available on the web, many cooking stores or department stores. Wusthof knives are great, but the can be a little expensive and there are cheaper, good alternatives. Victorinox (the maker’s of the Swiss Army Knife) has some great knives at really affordable prices, like this 8 inch chef’s knife that gets good recommendations and is only $26.00 :http://www.amazon.com/Victorinox-40520-Fibrox-8-Inch-Chefs/dp/B000638D32. They also make inexpensive paring knives and serrated knives, so you could round out your knife set for under $60 just using their three. The paring knife is great for the small jobs that a chef’s knife may be just a little large for, like slicing garlic. The serrated knife is necessary for bread slicing. Whatever you choose to get, make sure the knife feels good in your hand and is comfortable for you. I recommend getting a knife sharpener or steel to sharpen your knives and sharpen them often to keep them in good shape. And don’t use your essential knives for things like screwdrivers or pry bars; Chances are you’ll just break the blade or ruin it and the five minutes it would have taken you to find the right tool for the job just cost you money.
Once you have your knives, you need a cutting board (no sense ruining those counter and table tops). I personally prefer wood, but I have plastic as well. The plastic is great because they are dishwasher safe and easier to clean. The wood needs a little more care (I oil mine once a week with mineral oil to keep it from drying and cracking) and has to be hand washed, but I feel I get better and more controlled cutting using a wood board. You don’t need a huge, heavy board for every day use. The one I use every day is an 11″ square butcher block and it works great and doesn’t take up a lot of space. I leave it on the counter every day because it’s used constantly. I do have a large plastic board for carving larger birds and roasts. Again, you can spend a little or a lot, depending on your budget, but I recommend having one to provide you with necessary workspace.
Okay, you have your knives and your board, now how about some pots and pans. While there are dozens of sizes and types, I have found you really only need to use 4 or 5 to do the job. In my opinion, instead of spending $100, $200, or more on a set of pots that won’t last long and you won’t use half of them, buy yourself 3 or 4 really good pots that you will use all the time and will last. First, you need a skillet, and you need a large one, I would say 12 inches. I have two – one nonstick and one stainless steel. The nonstick is great for foods that regularly stick and is super easy to clean (just make sure you don’t use metal utensils on it, it will scrape off the surface), but the stainless steel is great for searing, browning and pan-frying and you can throw it in the oven as well. Having several sizes of skillets to me doesn’t make much sense. You won’t use them much and they just take up space. Get 1 or two big skillets and you’ll be fine.
Next is the dutch oven. I probably use mine just as much as I use the skillet, if not more since we make a lot of soups and stews. They are ideal for soups and stews, perfect for boiling pasta, searing meat, or braising. Again, I would make sure to get an all metal one that you can throw in the oven. After that, all you really need are 2 or 3 saucepans, a large (4 quart), a medium (3 quart) and a small (2 quart) to help out with smaller cooking projects like sauces and gravies. Saucepans can also be expensive or inexpensive, depending on what you choose and can budget for, but there are several moderately priced brands that work very well.
After these items, a couple of rimmed baking sheets are probably used the most in my house. They are very versatile, great for roasting meats or vegetables. if you can get one with a rack in it, even better, because this is great for things like draining fried chicken or making a meat loaf, allowing the fat to drip off and not have the meat sitting in it. (Sean will also tell you they are essential for french fries and tater tots). There are 3 other types of pans I use: a baking dish, a roasting pan and pie plates. A baking dish can be used for just about anything you would need to put in the oven, from vegetables, to casseroles, to small poultry or meat. A 9″x13″ seems to work best for me, giving me enough room to do what I want. I have a large roasting pan with a rack for larger birds or meats. It’s great because it allows for drippings to collect for gravy or sauce, or you can place vegetables around for roasting. Also, in the long run I think it’s cheaper than buying all those foil roasting pans you buy for the holidays. Pie plates, of course are great for pies (one of the few things I actually bake, but that’s for a later post). I actually use pie plates more for breading stations for chicken or fish than anything else, and the glass ones work great because you can use them for warming by just throwing them in the oven (and they’re relatively inexpensive too.)
There are a few other things I find essential as well, such as:
Dry measuring cups
Liquid measuring cups
An instant read thermometer (essential for meats and chickens)
A whisk (I prefer metal)
Wooden spoons (Get them at the dollar store)
A box grater
A vegetable peeler
Some small glass bowls – great for holding prep work
Parchment paper – I find myself using this more lately, it’s great for lining and seems impervious to grease and moisture.
There are lots of other things that you may not use as often (Like a potato ricer, loaf pans, etc.) they are not as essential, to me, as the things I listed. I also didn’t list any small appliances, but we do get a lot of use out of our food processor (great for making bread crumbs, pureeing soups and sauces) and standing mixer (a Kitchen Aid for baking). I am not a big fan of the microwave, although I do use it to cook bacon and to melt things like butter or chocolate. other than that, I find they dry things out too much and don’t cook evenly. Now if you have any suggestions of things you need for the kitchen, let me know! I may find that I need them too. Tomorrow, I am going to talk about some pantry items I use a lot and then Monday we can get down to some cooking!