Although I love to cook, I took a 10 year hiatus. Now, I am back at it and I have found that there are some kitchen items that I can live without and some that are invaluable. The items that I use are versatile and make cooking a lot easier. Some I just discovered and others I have had for a long time. When purchasing tools, I always buy a variety of sizes so that I always have a size that is appropriate for the task and, more important, the tools fits the hands of my little helper!
- Food Processor – My original food processor was purchased at Walmart because I desperately needed it to complete a recipe. I did not have much money and I paid less than $15 for it. I used it and then put it away for many years. Recently, I pulled it out and found that although it worked, I did not enjoy using it. It was small and did not chop consistently.I did a lot of research and almost purchased a Cuisinart but changed my mind at the last minute due to the number of models they have and the confusion that arises when attempting to determine which are current and which have been discontinued. Their website was no help.
In the end, I purchased a Braun FP3020 that was made in Germany. The Braun came with sufficient attachments, including a citrus juicer. There was a minimal learning curve from box to use. The sad part is that Braun no longer produces a food processor for US distribution so whatever is available now is all there will ever be. I am pleased with the weight of the machine, it chops very consistently, and it reduces my prep time from minutes to seconds. I will never again be without a quality food processor.
- Immersion Blender: Immersion blenders are also called stick blenders. As is my standard, I owned one years ago but did not really recognize its full potential. I have found that an immersion blender is great for blending smoothies, eggs, frothing milk, and pureeing soups in big pots. In short, think of an immersion blender at the moment that you are dreading pulling out the stand mixer or the big blender for a task that will take less than a moment to complete.
My Magic Bullet blender broke when attempting to make hummus (Note to everyone: make hummus in a food processor or a very powerful blender). I loved my little blender because it was easily concealed and therefore, could be left on the counter. I threw it out and pulled out the big blender and hated looking at it every day. At this point, I was reminded that an immersion blender does exist. I debated purchasing one but decided, it needed to be on my list of kitchen tools that I would never be without. So, the research began.
I like purchasing quality products, not necessarily what is popular. I want to believe that what I am buying will last long enough for me to feel good if it does finally break. I checked out America’s Test Kitchen reviews, which can be viewed on You Tube or their website. Then, I drifted to other videos and discovered Bamix. After a lot of thought and research, I purchased the version they produce for Williams Sonoma. It is 200 watts and has a nice weight. It comes with three attachments and a cup for mixing or storage. I have used it every day since purchase.
If I had been willing to buy an immersion blender made in China, I would have purchased the Breville. I have had years of service from every Breville product that I have owned (counter grill and coffee grinder). Willams Sonoma has it and it is cheaper than the Bamix.
*I am not affiliated in any way with Williams Sonoma, they are simply most convenient when I want to purchase high-end products.
- Quality Pots: I have Cuisinart stainless steel pans and I have loved them for the double digit years that I have owned them. I will say that cooking with stainless does require a learning curve. First, unlike thinner pots, you must wait for the ENTIRE pot to heat or you will be very unhappy because everything will stick. I do not recommend stainless over other types of quality pots because I have not tried others.
I only suggest that you step away from the bargain bin when purchasing a set of pots. You want them to last for a lifetime and not require a lot of maintenance. Do your research and save your money and buy the best that you can afford. If I could, I would own Al-Clad but I cannot so I remain proud of the one pan that I was given as a gift years ago. Yes, they are very expensive and you should appreciate it if you are ever gifted Al-Clad.
- Baking Sheets: I am finally embracing the need for a few good baking sheets. In the past, I have purchased the cheapest that I could find and they performed accordingly. The best performers were those that warped. Try cooking on a baking sheet that does not lay flat in the oven. How about those that are “insulated” and have holes that suck in water when you wash them. That water will come out when you do not want it to and it will be rusty and disgusting.
My latest purchase has been two Nordic Ware baking pans, which I learned about on America’s Test Kitchen. This purchase plus what I already own brings me to 4 baking sheets. I do not bake a lot so I have one very large sheet that can hold a lot of cookies and it has very shallow sides. The other three pans have high sides and are half sheets so that I can use them various cooking tasks.
Finally, always use parchment paper on your baking sheets because it will keep food from sticking and/or burning into the pan. When food leaves burn marks, you will not be able to remove them. Purchase parchment paper in rolls at the grocery store or you can buy it in sheets (Amazon or eBay) that fit your pans perfectly. Parchment paper is inexpensive and will prolong the life of your baking sheets.
- Cooling Racks: Not a lot to say here other than, you will need them. It is impossible to properly cool anything when air cannot get to ALL sides because it is sitting on the counter. A cooling rack allows air to circulate and the food cools evenly and quickly. I purchased a set of 4, years ago, at Bed Bath and Beyond. I tend to recall they were on clearance. Many times over the years, I wanted to throw them out but I am happy to say that I resisted and now, I use them at least weekly.
If you are buying, consider having at least one cooling rack that completely fits in one of your baking sheets. This will allow you to cook certain meats without having them sit in the juice.
- Cutting Boards: Take notice, board is PLURAL. For years, I had one or two cutting boards and I thought I was doing it right. Now, I have grown up and realize the benefit of having many cutting boards, many different sizes. Do not think that I am worried about cutting chicken on the same board that I use for veggies. I am not because soap and water work wonders.Having multiple cutting boards and using them keeps the prep moving along. It keeps the flow going. It maintains the momentum. It keeps spices from getting in the wrong dish. I use up to five different cutting boards when preparing a single meal. When you are buying cutting boards, variety, quality, and quantity are key. Buy a good wooden one, buy quality silicone, and buy sets that include small and large. You can thank me later. Some of your cutting will be eliminated if you buy a food processor but you will still need cutting boa
- Knives: Again, save your money and buy quality knives. I was given a set of Wusthof knives this year and I am still smiling. I also own Chicago Cutlery. Keeping knives sharpened is important and I am finally paying more attention to this area of maintenance.I have read lots of stainless steel knife reviews and it seems that people become upset because they rust. I will share the secret to rust-free stainless knives. DO NOT put them in the dishwasher, it causes pitting and the knives will rust. DO NOT leave any quality knives sitting in the sink after use. Wash and dry all knives immediately and store them. If your stainless knives do rust, a magic eraser, lemon juice, and a little “elbow grease” will remove it. Know this: Carbon Steel (Wusthof) tarnishes and rusts even easier!! The tarnish is known as “patina” and it is embrace – I am learning to embrace it.
- Silicone Tools: Purchase spatulas and whisks in various sizes. Small for mixing one egg and larger for batters. I have purchased colorful tools to add a bit of “umpf” to my kitchen. Do not buy the cheapest that you can find because they will melt and the savings will be lost. I have found that spending at least $5 per spatula or whisk is within the norm.I threw away my old tongs that would not stay closed. I have purchased new tongs, in two different sizes, that have a built-in locking mechanism that makes storage frustration-free.
Brushes in a variety of sizes are also helpful for basting and other tasks.
This list is not all-inclusive and I will return with Part 2 because no list is complete without mentioning the stand mixer and the electric pressure cooker.