Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Well Equipped Kitchen

I'm on an organizing kick. Blame the outrageous amount of work I should be doing. Blame Liv who is moving moved and got me thinking about having to move myself. Blame my own foodie tendencies. But whatever it is, I'm tortured by thoughts of what I actually need in my kitchen and how to make better use of it.

I have a lot of crap in my kitchen.

A lot.

This photo belies the amount of stuff I actually have. This was shortly after I moved in. I have accumulated since then. I'm a foodie. And I'm a collector. Even though I have a big kitchen, it's getting overrun. I have one hell of a utensils drawer. And even my best efforts at organization are getting overwhelmed. It's seriously time to purge.

Anyhoo. I recently dumped recycled a lot of old cookware to Liv and other friends. And I have begun thinking about moving. I can't take all this with me. I guess I could, but I shouldn't. So, I'm trying to compile a list of things that a foodie's kitchen actually needs. Consider this a working list.

Cookware: at least one cast iron pan. Whether you get a preseasoned one from a discount store or find one in a junk shop or antique place, this is a must. Properly seasoned, cast iron skillets are virtually non-stick and are great for everything from searing meats to frying eggs. I currently have two cast iron skillets. The largest is big enough and deep enough to fry a entire chicken. Not that I fry chicken, mind you. It's much too dangerous. Someone might propose. I also have an All Clad non-stick omelet pan. I can't tell you the last time I used it. Must have been sometime before I discovered Poach Pods.

Some people claim that the new  pans are pitted, causing food to stick, but I don't believe it.  These companies have been using the same proprietary methods of casting iron for generations which leads me to the conclusion pans from the past and pans forged today are the same.  The difference is that with a new pan, you have to put in the effort to season it yourself.  That takes time.  Sorry.  Snobbery gets you nowhere in my book.

In the pots and pans department, I have found that I use three pans regularly. One is a 2 quart saucepan made of heavy aluminum. It was given to me and has no lid. Oh how I wish it did. I use a lid from another pan--which doesn't quite fit this piece--when I'm in need. Like when cooking rice. The other is a lighter 2-qt copper bottom saucepan with a glass lid. This is the lighter one. This is also usually the lid I borrow.

I think you need two medium sized sauce pans to make a standard meal. Think rice and vegetables. Yes, I do have another 2-qt. anodized aluminum pan, but I don't use it as my "second". I have no idea why. That lighter pan just fits the bill most of the time. My last pan is a cheapo non-stick 4-qt. pan that gets chosen because it has a colander built into the lid. Roughly $16 at Wally World. I gave the rest of my pans away. Oh, I think there is a copper-bottomed stock pot in the back somewhere for when I am boiling ball jars for canning jam. It's about 25 years old. And that's it or my standard cookware.

I have several baking sheets, an embarrassing amount of cake/cupcake/bundt/angel food/coffee cake ring pans tins, brownie pans, and Pyrex casseroles, but then again, I'm a baker. I have three pie pans (two glass which are perfect for crustless spinach quiche and a ceramic one for making actual pies, assorted Corning ware that is only used for pot luck dinners, and don't even get me started on the specialty cake-deviled egg-and insulated carriers. Fancy Christmas serving ware and dishes could fill a series of posts on their own.

I really consider only a few utensils indispensable. A set of wooden spoons and spatulas. Chop sticks. A large, restaurant quality spoonula. A zester, potato peeler, a meat thermometer, a candy thermometer, and a high quality set of kitchen knives and knife sharpener. I don't own a steel, but I will one day. In my opinion, if you can't afford anything else in your kitchen, you should have the best possible knives you can lay your hands on.

A sturdy blender. My blender of choice is a  toggle switch Oster beehive blender.  Two speed:  full on and pulse.  My criterion for a great blender is one that can handle chopping ice and a lot of it.  I always put ice in my smoothies, my dacquiris, and my marguaritas!

Specialty stuff I couldn't live without.  The dutch oven.  I have two: an antique Wagner Wear Magnalite aluminum stock pot (pictured) and a Rachael Ray enameled cast iron dutch oven.  I bought the Rachel Ray at Penneys on sale on a whim because it was orange.  I like orange. The pan has issues.  It has a plastic handle which, apparently, can't be put in an over over 350F (WTH?), but the aluminum one is a workhorse.  Got it at an antique shop for $40.  If I end up needing to replace the Rachael Ray, I'll probably just get a cast iron dutch oven.

Wagner Wear Magnalite Stock Pot
 Go from oven to stovetop. Great for stews, breads, whole chickens, roasts, soups, and even boiling spaghetti and making stove-top popcorn. Yes, two is probably overkill, but I can't be expected to give away some of my favorite pieces. The aluminum one can double as a mixing bowl in a pinch. I like making my cookie dough in this thing because when you cycle it in and out of the fridge while a batch is baking, it keeps the dough nice and cool as you work. You wouldn't want to put a hand mixer anywhere near an enameled pan unless you had a mind to destroy it.

A George Foreman grill. Quick easy hamburgers, chicken breasts, veggie burgers, steaks, pork chops and grilled vegetables. It's a bitch to clean up and I'd probably have bought the kind with removable plates if I was buying it for myself, but it was a gift. Still, I use it. I have the $13 version. Big enough for two good sized hamburgers at a time. It's a champ. In fact, I think that's the name of this size grill. Brilliant.

A crock pot with removable crock.  Been around forever and still wicked popular. There's a reason. I love these things. Makes the best Italian beef ever. Chili. BBQ spare ribs. Man, the possibilities are endless. I love these things. Folks, don't get the kind that has a crockery liner you can't remove. These things are under $30 for the top of the line version. You don't want to have to work around that cord and heating element to try to clean out the crock. Crack open your wallet, because this workhorse is a savior.

Bamboo steamer. I bought mine about 25 years ago. It came in a stacking set of two. I forced myself to use just one of the two (logic was I would save the other for when #1 wears out). I'm still waiting for #1 to wear out. Who would have thought that bamboo would last so long. Only drawback? When steaming broccoli, it retains the smell. This is no way affects the taste of the food.  Put this over a boiling pot of hot dogs and you can steam your bun while your dog cooks. See? There are some perks to not using your microwave for EVERYTHING.

Then there is the thing I never thought I wanted that, once I got one, I can't believe I lived without for so long.

It really is a time saver and it is a breeze to clean. If you ever have a $200 windfall, I can't recommend this highly enough.

I saved the best for last. But the coup de grace is the pizza stone. The pizza stone.

Queue the Hallelujah chorus. The day you receive one of these, the heavens will open up and all things good will come to you.

I'm not kidding.

Seriously, I'm not.

The other things I have in my kitchen.....well, they are nice, but I don't consider them essentials. Sure, I depend on them now and again, but for the average cook, they would be superfluous. Yes, I have a Kitchenaid mixer. Do I use it a lot? Yes. Could I live without it? Probably not anymore, but I use it to knead bread. I also have a hand mixer that I should probably pass along, but it is a retro thing and I sort of like it.

So that's it in a nutshell. The backbone of my kitchen. The stuff I'd recommend. And if I had it to do all over again, I'd not buy any of the cheap crap (I'd pick it up second hand at Goodwill), and save my money for the really top quality stuff, added a bit at a time. Now I've just got to convince myself that I can live without the rest of that stuff.

I have been faring quite nicely with the reductionist kitchen but as January and February are the start of white sale season, I thought that I might start a conversation with any readers about our idea of a "well equipped kitchen".  I open up the comments to you.  What kitchen toys can't you live without?


  1. You are so right about buying a crock pot with removable crock. What were they thinking when they made the one-piece models?? I recently bought a smaller (2 quart?) pot for things such as queso, etc. Very handy!!

    A couple of things I can't live without are a good, sharp chef's knife and a good cutting board.

    And last but not least....gotta have a GAS stove. I use words that cannot be repeated here when use the electric one out at Bobby's place.

  2. My mother has a glass top stove. It's insane.


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