Kitchen tools can help move food preparation along pleasurably. But understand your needs; respect the size of your kitchen. If you’re not an equipment person or have no room, a knife, cutting board and a few pots and pans are enough. But, if you are the type who likes tools and enjoys timesaving devices, there is a lot of great equipment to choose from that will assist you as you whip up meals. However, remember that THERE ARE thousands of unused kitchen tools sitting on and under people’s countertops. Bottom line: Buy what you think you have room for and will use.
All you need: knives
I’ve taught home cooks, often women in their 60’s and 70’s, who prepared tasty family meals for years, happily sawing their way through ingredients, using little dull knives and no special equipment. But I don’t recommend it. If you buy only one thing for your kitchen, make it a chef’s knife, single sharp high-carbon stainless 8-12 inch knife with a wide blade and solid handle. It’s an investment, but if you wash it by hand and sharpen it when needed it will be your best friend in the kitchen for all your years. The only other required knives are a 3-4 inch paring knife and a serrated knife for bread so you don’t destroy your larger knife. Buy a stone and steel for sharpening, a high quality sharpener or take your knives wice a year to a professional sharpener, honing them on the steel at home as needed. back to food tips
A cutting board
Any kind of cutting board is fine. My favorite cutting board is a large wood board that came with my old house WITH ONE OF its little legs missing. One day I’ll fix it, but it’s big enough to really spread out, and I love the feel and look of wood. But I have room and don’t mind washing the board by hand. Plastic dulls your knives quicker, but can be PUT in the dishwasher. Try to keep a separate board for fruit as the onion and garlic flavor isn’t great with sliced apples.
Pots and Pans
Don’t fuss too much. Buy pots and pans of a few sizes, as you need them, including a non-stick skillet for omelets. Start with a large one for pasta and vats of soup or stock, a few smaller pots and a flat sauté pan or two. Good heavy pots, such as all-clad, are expensive but last forever, but I also adore my cheap hardware store cast iron pots. Sets are fine, but make sure you’ll really use everything, or you’re better off buying what you need as you need it.
Hand tools I adore
You can live without all these tools, but I like a citrus zester, a wooden juice reamer (cheap and efficient), tongs for cooking and serving everything, a potato masher to make smooth or lumpy mashed potatoes or any kind OF root vegetable along or along with potatoes, wooden spoons to happily stir, a ladle for soup, a mandolin (or Japanese knock off) for instant slices and long strands of veggies, a giant mortar and pestle for grinding seeds instead of buying ground spices (so fresh tasting!) or mashing garlic and herbs together, a food mill for the rare occasions I want something really smooth and save work by say, removing the skins removed(?) from a bean soup or preparing apple sauce without PEELING or seeding. A pastry wheel and pizza cutter comes in handy, as does an ice cream scoop and AN olive pitter (for olives or the for time you make something with cherries, like a puffy cherry claflouti, with local eggs and milk. (see page____.)back to food tips
For machinery, I use a large stationary mixer for baking (although I happily used a cheap hand mixer for years), A food processor for quick chopping and pureeing (some love a mini-chopper too), a metal mandolin I got for my 30th birthday for slicing and making thin julienne slivers of veggies (you can also use a Japanese plastic knock off that’s great), an immersion blender to blend soups or mash beans right in the pot (what you see is what you get), and a juicer for the sauces and once-every-two-year juicing frenzies.back to food tips
Local food may be the star, but here are some staples to make it shine. You don’t need them all that I’ve listed below, but setting up your kitchen to receive local booty makes it easier to hang loose and enjoy what’s freshest without running around looking for ingredients. As you can see, I am not a purist. Instead, I use a variety of staples, aiming locally, but ultimately cooking with what brings out the best in local foods, especially during the long winter here.
Pantry items (local when you can!)
Anchovies — Preferably salt-cured, but otherwise jarred or tinned.
Beans, canned or dry — I stock black, cannellini (meaty white) and chickpeas. but, there are endless varieties of beans. I recently joined a grain and bean CSA, so will be receiving Black Cherokee, Charlevoix kidney, Hutterite Soup, Vermont Cranberry, and Boston Favorite. Of course, may folks grow and dry their own.
Bread — Some in the freezer too, stale bread for bread crumbs.
Tomatoes, canned or frozen — Yours if you have them, otherwise store-bought.
Broth (stock — Yours if you have time (freeze it), organic store-bought if not.
Chilies — All kinds, dried, canned and chopped and frozen. There are 100s of kinds of chilies. The bottom line? I like to stock canned chipotle peppers for their smokiness and dried anchos for their deep flavor, but some years I also freeze a variety of hot peppers from my garden.
Corn or Potato Starch — For thickening sauces. (For kids that need cabin fever relief, mix cornstarch and water for bizarre texture that is a hoot to play with.)
Cornmeal, coarse and fine — For polenta, corn bread, breakfast mush, coating chicken or fish, etc.
Fish Sauce — Stinky on its own, but great in Asian food. Keeps forever.
Flour — Whole wheat and white (pastry or bread if you bake). Doesn’t last forever, keep cool or buy small amounts. (I freeze ‘em.)
Garlic — An essential. Slam down the flat of a large knife on a clove for an instant peeling.
Grains, whole — Have at least one or two on hand, such as oats and brown rice,as well as quick cooking bulgur and quinoa,. Also try Amaranth, Barley, flaxseed, millet, rye and wheat berries and wild rice, etc. Won’t keep forever, so buy small amounts or keep cool.
Herbs — I buy few dried herbs, rosemary and thyme or the most acceptable, but do air dry or dry a few in salt, especially thyme, rosemary and sage. (Then I use the herb salt.)
Hot sauce —Your favorite, a local brand if it’s good. (Or make your own with those chilies.)
Lemons and/or lime — A squeeze of lemon or lime can transform a dish.
Lentils— I like all kinds for soups, soups, salads and more.
Oils— At least one olive with a flavor you enjoy and one flavorless oil. Nut oil goes bad faster than you’ll use it, so make it as you need it by lightly sautéing nuts in flavorless oil.
Onions and their family — Essential. Keep onions at room temperature. Chill scallions, leeks and chives, which hold in the garden it gets brutally cold.
Pasta— Your favorite shapes, a few short, a few long. Whole wheat, buckwheat and rice pasta too, if you like.
Salt — Kosher and/or sea salt, never iodized please!
Soy or tamari — Always handy, lasts forever.back to food tips
Spices — Too long to list them all here, and what you stock will depend on what you cook. Build your collection of spices as you need them, buying as little as you can at one time (some stores allow you to buy by weight). Although you can use them as long as they’re tasty, they generally don’t last forever and will only retain their good flavor for 6 months or so at room temperature. Whole spices last longer than ground spices and taste better, crushed as needed with a mortar and pestle or electric grinder. I’m frugal, so I keep spices in the freezer on the door shelf, loosely alphabetized. At least don’t store them right by the stove.
Vinegar — When I’m organized, I try to stock lots of vinegars, as they last. But at least stock two kinds, such as red wine, white or red balsamic, sherry or rice wine vinegar. You can flavor vinegars with herbs, fruits, chilies, etc. You can also make wine vinegar from leftover wine, which I’m doing right now.
See also above, as some pantry items also included their refrigerated cousins.)
Butter — I prefer sweet, adding salt as needed. A teaspoon of butter works miracles.
Capers— Great with grilled or sautéed protein or in green sauce on page
Cheese — Always hard grating cheese, and often another local cheese like chevre, or whatever is best in your neck of the woods.
Chutney, relish — Your own or store-bought.
Eggs — Fresh eggs are one of my favorite all-time foods.
Ginger, fresh and pickled — Fresh ginger keeps forever in the freezer, then I grate it, unpeeled, as needed, on the small holes.
Herbs (one or so, depending on the season)— Mostly, I keep at least one kind of fresh herb in the fridge and use it until done. Lots of information on using and storing herbs in new book,The Locavore Way. (Although I generally prefer fresh herbs, I do keep dried rosemary, thyme and mint around, often from my garden.)
Indian pickles— A personal quirk. They add an exotic touch to anything.
Milk from the closest local dairy.
Mustard(s) — Something smooth, like Dijon, and something grainy.
Nuts —Best when local (ahhh those southern pecans). Use unshelled nuts in a reasonable amount of time. They keep well in the fridge or freezer. Toast and sprinkle in anything. Use on a crust atop mean, poultry and fish. Make pesto. Don’t forget chestnuts.
Olives —One or two kinds, never the canned stuff.
Salsa — Chop tomatoes, onions, cilantro and hot chilies, then freeze or can. I freeze tomatillo sauce for later use. Or buy a good brand of red or green salsa when needed.
Sesame Oil (toasted) — A drop shouts of the east. It goes rancid quickly, so refrigerate.
Shallots — GOOD IF you can get them locally. A chopped shallot with a little wine and butter is perfect makes a great base for lots of dishes and smells like France.
Sun-dried or oven dried tomatoes: Bought or homemade. Recipe in my book.
Or whatever delights you! back to food tips