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Necessary Kitchen Equipment for Any Kitchen
Necessary Kitchen Equipment
I love to cook, and I come from a family of great cooks, but for many years I had to create my gourmet dishes without aid of all the fancy-schmancy kitchen gadgets that are on the market. The fact is, no one really needs all those gadgets, but we are inundated with flyers and television ads insisting that we need to spend $19.95 on a gadget to boil eggs. This is an unnecessary gadget, and I promise that I will cover boiling eggs in a future edition, as well as money saving recipes to recreate leftovers and reduce your food bill, but for now, I want to cover the basics of what kitchen equipment every kitchen needs to function properly.
This page will list the kitchen equipment needed to put together a functioning kitchen that will allow any cook to prepare any recipe. I'll explain what items you should spend your money and where to cut costs for other kitchen items. So, whether you are just starting out or if you don't really cook, but the economy has restricted your nightly restaurant adventures, then keep reading.
Knives: There are three knives that every kitchen should have, and a good quality knife is an investment piece, so shop around, but this is where you'll want to spend the money. The first knife is a chef's knife. The chef's knife is the workhorse in the kitchen. It is going to do the chopping, the splitting, the peeling of large fruits or vegetables, the cutting of meats and the list goes on, so make sure that you are able to hold the knife in your hand before you purchase it. You want it to feel good in your hand, and you should make the motions with the knife that you will once you have the knife in your kitchen--so don't be afraid to do a little air-chop. The second knife is, the paring knife. This small knife is perfect for small jobs, like halving grape tomates or olives, and it is good for peeling small vegetables and fruits. Not to mention, it is excellent for hulling strawberries, and it is a great knife to use when creating garnishes for dishes. The final knife that every kitchen must have is a good, quality serrated edge knife. It is excellent for slicing breads and tomatoes and it is also excellent for slicing some meats.
Cutting Boards: Cutting boards are essential, and two types are required. The first is a wooden cutting board for chopping fruits, vegetables and breads. The second is a plastic, preferably self-healing board for cutting meats and fish. Never use a glass cutting board, because it will dull your knives. Also, NEVER place your wood cutting boards in the dishwasher or leave sitting in water. This will warp and splinter the cutting board. The size of the cutting board is up to you and how much room you have available to store the cutting boards. Personally, I think bigger is better if you are just going to purchase one of each kind of board.
Quality Pots and Pans: Again, this is not something you want to skimp on, but at the same time, you don't have to buy the "famous chef label" either and spend a ton of money. Shoot for the middle-of-the-road price range and you should end up with quality pots that will last you for several years. Many brands come with a number of different sized pots in one box. Just make sure, they are what you need. In fact, the discount stores carry the more famous brand names, so do a little price comparisons online before heading out to the stores.
A Dutch Oven is essential, even if you have a small family. It is great for cooking pasta, making soup or chili, and it is great for making a giant pot of marinara. And, if you are lucky enough to score some crustations (lobster and crab), it is large enough to cook a couple of them, at a time. A large saucepan is something I like to have on hand. It is great when I am entertaining, because I can cook my vegetables, without having to worry about them boiling over, because they were in a pot that was too small. A medium saucepan is going to see a lot of action, because of its size. I use mine constantly. A small saucepan is great for reductions and making sauces. A high-sided skillet is essential in the kitchen, and I use mine more than any other skillet I own. It is great for making sauces, tossing pasta in those sauces, making fried rice, cooking vegetables, frying bacon, pan frying, cooking eggs, and the list goes on. If you can only afford to purchase one skillet, the high-sided skillet it the way to go. With all of the pans mentioned, make sure they all have tight-fitting lids.
Cast Iron Frying Pan: I actually have two--a small one and a large one. I use my cast iron pans for frying, cooking meats, and I use the small frying pan to make corn bread. These pans are great, because they can go from cooktop to the oven. Also, what makes them so great, is that they are dirt cheap and can be picked up at any hardware or discount store for little money and they last forever! Just remember, that before you use a brand new cast iron pan, it needs to be seasoned properly. That means, that you need to rub it with vegetable oil and bake it in the oven for an hour or so. The other important item to remember is, that after you have cleaned your cast iron pan, you need to rub it with a tiny bit of vegetable oil to keep it from rusting. If you season your pan after each use, the pan will outlast you.
Baking Pans: There is no reason to spend a fortune on baking pans, because no matter how well you take care of them, they eventually need to be replaced after several years. This is my list of must have baking pans: a 13"x9" Oblong pan, an 8"x8" or 9"x9" square pan, two 8"x8" or 9"x9" round cake pans, a 13"x9" Pyrex casserole dish, two 14"x17" baking sheets, two 9"x5" loaf pans, a pie plate (metal or glass), and a large roasting pan with a rack.
Measuring Cups and Spoons: For years, the only measuring cup I had was a one-cup Pyrex liquid measuring cup, and I still have that measuring cup today. I used it for measuring my liquid and dry ingredients, and my recipes turned out fine. If there is absolutely no money to spend on dry measuring cups, then a one or two-cup Pyrex liquid measuring cup is adequate; however, if you are planning on baking a very intricate recipe, you can purchase dry measuring cups at any discount store for a couple of dollars. Measuring spoons are readily available at any discount store, and are relatively inexpensive. I prefer stainless steel which are affordable, but buy whatever your wallet will allow.
Wooden Spoons: Do not spend a lot of money on wooden spoons. They all crack, and they all need to be replaced periodically. Wooden spoons are great for stirring mixes and for scraping the little bits of flavor off the bottom of the pan. The one thing you want to remember with any wooden utensils is: NEVER put them in the dishwasher, and NEVER leave them sitting in water. Always wash them by hand and allow them to air dry completely before putting them away.
Spatulas: Every kitchen should have a spatula with a long head on it, which is perfect for flipping fried eggs or fish, and a shorter spatula which is excellent for flipping grilled cheese sandwiches or hamburgers. Just remember, that if your pots have a non-stick coating, you will want to purchase silicone spatulas that are heat resistent. Heat-safe rubber spatulas are a necessity. They are great for scraping down the sides of bowls and they can be used for cooking without the worry of them melting.
Large Spoons: A large spoon is necessary for stirring, mixing and removing food from the pot. The large slotted spoon is essential for allowing liquid or grease to pass through the slots while removing the food from the pan.
Other Utensils: A ladle is necessary for serving soup or sauces. A whisk is a basic requirement for the kitchen, but there are so many types of whisks, it is hard to know which one to get. A basic 11.5 inch whisk is all that is needed to complete your kitchen basics. In the future, you may want to expand your whisk collection and buy other whisks, but for now, a standard whisk is all you need. Tongs are a must in any kitchen. Just make sure they are at least 12 inches long, to prevent getting burned from spattering food or grease. A potato masher is also required. Not only will it mash potatoes, but it can mash other vegetables, as well as fruit. The box grater is another must-have item. Its design makes it sturdy for grating everything from cheeses to vegetables to chocolate, and the different sized grates will ensure your grating turns out the way you want it. A can opener is next on the list. Please do not spend more than $8.00 on a can opener. The reason being, is that no matter how well you clean your can opener, it is eventually going to get nasty and rusted and it will need to be replaced. On the contrary, a good wine bottle opener will last forever, and so investing in a good one will eventually pay for itself. Every kitchen needs a rolling pin. It is great for rolling out dough, but it can also be used as a meat mallet, to pound out meat. It is also great for crushing crackers for a crumb topping. I did not spend a ton of money on my rolling pin over twenty years ago, but it does have some heft to it, and I am confident that I will have it in my kitchen for another twenty years. The meat tenderizer is the last item in this section, and I was hesitant to add it, but I decided that even though the rolling pin is good for pounding out meat to make it thinner, it cannot tenderize the meat. So, the meat tenderizer is on the list, because it can do everyhing I mentioned the rolling pin can do (except roll out dough), and it can tenderize the meat. My only suggestion is that you purchase a good quality (which is NOT synonymous with expensive) and make sure that it is made from metal, for sanitation purposes.
Collander versus Sieve: I think it is important to have both items. My collander is a hand-me-down from my mother, who had it probably twenty years before she gave it to me some twenty-five years ago. So, if you don't have any prospect of inheriting a collander, shop the yard sales before investing in one. The collander is great for draining foods, and washing vegetables, but to strain anything, it falls flat, because the holes of a collander are just too big. Sieves are great for straining sauces, gravies and custards, but do not spend a great deal of money on one. It is time consuming to get the sieve really clean, and even the most expensive sieves need to be replaced eventually, so purchase the sieve at the discount store.
Blender versus Food Processor: If you have to make a choice between the two, go with the blender, because the blender is less expensive than the food processor, and you can do quite a bit with a blender, such as: make smoothies, make frozen cocktails, purees for soups, dressings and sauces, and baby food. I have both a blender and a food processor, and I use my blender far more than I use the food processor.
Electric Mixer: Every kitchen must have an electric mixer, even an economical hand-held model. They are great for whipping potatoes, making whipped cream, puddings, and cakes, as well as other sweets. For years, all I had was a hand-held electric mixer, and those were the days when I was decorating cakes. Then, ten years ago, my husband surprised me with a stand mixer. I use that mixer all the time, and I polish her up, like a guy polishes his refurbished classic car. I am a big fan of stand mixers, and I truly believe that every kitchen should have a stand mixer, but if it's not in the budget, it is certainly something to aspire to obtain. Again, you can go to the pricey store and spend $350.00 on a stand mixer or you can go to the discount store and get the same brandname mixer for under $200.00, and if you wait for it to go on sale, you can usually pick it up for closer to $150.00. They are the same machines with the same manufacturer's waranty, it just seems senseless to me to spend an extra $150.00 for what? A stylish paper bag with the pricey store's logo on it.
The items listed above are the necessaries to make a kitchen functional, and I know, because I made my kitchen function for many years without all the gadgets and appliances that I have today. And, even though I have some neat stuff to make my life easier, in the kitchen, I often rely on my tried and true equipment to prepare my gourmet meals. There are so many neat gadgets out there, and there are some really silly gadgets for sale, but as long as you have the items listed above, you can create just about any recipe.
I hope that you have found this page informative, and that you will return every week, because in upcoming issues, I will share with you the compulsory pantry items needed to help prepare dishes in a flash, as well as ways to save money on your grocery bill, and how to reduce food waste. Not to mention, I will show you how to recreate leftovers and share with you fabulous recipes I know you are going to love.
Until next time, enjoy good food and good fun!
Carol Ann Donnelly