I’m here today to talk to you about your kitchen. How’s it looking? Is it happy or rather in a state of mismatched disrepair? Are you in your late twenties and still rocking that discount store kitchen your parents graciously bought for your college apartment?
Do you see all of these beautiful things on Pinterest, Facebook, and food blogs that you go to create yourself but end up with a heaping mess that spirals you downwards into a pit of total despair?
Fret no more! I am here to help you move from a dull and worn-out world full of hopelessness to one filled with sexy and inspired dishes — all courtesy of a coordinating and dashingly effective workflow in your kitchen.
It’s no secret cooking at home is far cheaper and healthier than dining out. If you splurge a little now to set yourself up right, you’ll be paid back in time as you fall in love with your home kitchen. I have been curating my beloved kitchen since 2005 and have developed what I think to be a very efficient workspace that allows me to work freely and unencumbered by clutter. I am in no way endorsed by any brands I mention here. I spend countless hours researching every single product before making a purchase and only want to share with you my personal favorites. Let’s look at what your kitchen is begging for:
Can’t live without:
Kitchen Scale: A must have. I am putting this here first because of all things I have purchased over the years for my kitchen, the scale has made me the most efficient. Gone are the days where I use approximation by measuring cups and spoons. Place your bowl on the scale, set it to 0 and just build everything in one bowl, resetting the tare to 0 along the way. Baking cookies? You can literally do it all in one or two bowls. No more cleaning the measuring cups mid-bake. Are you counting calories and find it incredibly annoying counting almonds? Check the gram portion (in parentheses right after the count) and dump it straight into your snack bowl on the scale. Any brand of scale will do, and I recommend one with a display that will be easy to read even with a large bowl on it.
Pro tip: You can easily weigh annoying things like peanut butter and honey by setting the open container on the scale to zero. When you take product out of the jar it will give you a negative weight. Use this number for your measurements.
Knives: Your plastic-handled knives are all broken, missing, or so dull by now they’re unusable. Things like tomato skins make you break a sweat. Slicing meat leaves you with a shredded mess. Cutting an onion brings on a whole new level of sadness. Thanks mom and dad for the set I used in college, but it’s time to graduate.
Don’t bother with those knife sets with 11 or more pieces for $100. They will disappoint you within a year. Opt for one or even two knives that are the same price as the entire boxed set and you’ll thank yourself later. I have a really nice set of 13 knives and I find myself using the same two time and time again. With knives, brand and price vary greatly and oftentimes large names like Henckel are grossly over-priced. So what should you look for in your knives?
The handle. Pick up the knife you want to buy and feel it. Really feel it. Even chop the air if you have to. You want a solid piece of steel that runs the entire length of the blade. You also want your blade to have balance to it. Place your finger under the knife perpendicular to where the blade and handle meet. A good knife will balance on your finger. Only have a limited budget? Get a chef knife and a small utility knife (about the size of a steak knife with no serration) and grow your collection from there. As a quick aside, make sure you only hand wash your blades promptly after use, dry them, and keep them stored properly.
Now that we have our fancy new hair-splitting knives, we can’t be seen using them on wobbly baby-blue cutting boards now can we?
Cutting board: Get a big one with a juice-catching rim. Think function over aesthetic here. You want a good cutting board to provide a little grip to the knife edge. The hard-as-rock “cutting boards” that are a piece of your countertop are your new knives worst enemy. I like the oversized plastic ones most restaurants use. They’re inexpensive and let you prep an entire meal on them with great ease. Slip a paper towel between the board and your counter to keep it from slipping.
Pots & Pans: Despite what your mismatched collection has been trying to prove to you, pots are actually meant to hold consistent heat and disperse it evenly across the surface. This is another instance where less is more. Get yourself 2 skillets, a sauce pan, and a stock pot. Teflon is nice for beginner cooks, but with a little practice you can ditch that arguably dangerous coating for good. Fat-bottomed pots make the culinary world go round. Thick and luscious, they can hold heat nicely which keeps them in the mood even when you add cold vegetables and meats. You can scale your pot budget to your income, but $100 can get you a decent basic set that isn’t paper thin on the bottom. Oneida is a good entry level brand and I still use many of their products today. If you’re looking to ramp your cookware beyond the basic four, check out:
Cast-iron skillets. They can cook anything and you can get them super cheap just about anywhere. If you season your cast iron properly and take care of it, it will reward you with a lifetime of delicious food.
Wok: There’s no better way to master stir-fry than to first learn the wok. If you are like me and only have access to electric burners, a flat-bottomed wok is ideal. While you’re at it, go ahead and pick up a copy of Stir Frying to the Sky’s Edge, this in-depth cookbook goes beyond recipe regurgitation and actually helps you develop as a fledgling wok chef.
Griddle: This is sort of niche but if you still love the occasional panini from 2005 like I do, then this is your go to. If you eat bacon, a griddle is also choice because it allows the fat to drip just below the strips, giving you crispy perfection.
Baking Soda: Buy it, open it, and put it in your fridge. A bit random, but seriously, it really helps and it’s like fifty cents. If anything is going to break your budget on this list, baking soda certainly isn’t it.
Prep Bowls: Go for nesting bowls with lids here. They don’t take up much space in the pantry and provide so much versatility. Pinch bowls are also great to have as they the are super small and are great for holding spice mixes and chopped garlic.
Nesting mixing bowls with lids: These are wonderful for everything from salad preparation to cookie baking. The lids are essential and let you keep things like your dough covered without the use of anything disposable. Leftovers go great in these bowls too 🙂
Blender: Do you really need 18 speeds with four different attachments? Opt for fewer features of higher caliber. Check the power wattage and find yourself a blender with some muscle. Vitamix blenders are incredib — ly expensive. While many people swear by them, they are more overkill than anything for the average chef in the making.
The next step:
Okay, with the basics covered let’s now dig a little deeper to really enhance our cooking experience.
Immersion blender: Do you love making pureed soups but find pouring boiling hot liquid into a blender terrifying? The immersion blender is your new bestie. From the safety of a stock pot, an immersion blender can make quick work of any pureed soup. It is also great when you only want to partially blend your soup for nice creamy yet chunky harmony.
Kitchen Timer: They’re cheap and very helpful. Buy one that works for you. It really helps when you have multiple things set on timers. The microwave provides one and oven timers don’t believe in seconds so you’ll need a backup.
Digital Thermometer: This inexpensive little guy is insanely useful. He helps you check meat cooking temperatures, keep candies and sauces in check, and even helps you get the perfect water temperature for your tea or pour-over coffee.
Parchment Paper: If you haven’t discovered the magic of parchment paper yet, I bestow upon you one of life’s greatest gifts. The power of parchment makes cleanup from baking and dough-making a breeze. Get a roll and just start using it. You can thank me later.
Kitchenaid Countertop Mixer: Every nice kitchen has one proudly on display. Shouldn’t yours? Besides being kitchen eye-candy, it actually serves a wide range of uses from dough making to cheese grating. There are some very useful attachments that literally slice and shred your prep time on big cooking days like Thanksgiving.
A set of cooking spoons: Regular, slotted, pasta, and ladle. It’s time to ditch your $.99 plastic set and go for all metal for a sleek and professional look. Bonus points for matching finishes across the set. Discount stores like Home Goods are great for finding old models of good brands like OXO and Oneida. Besides, it’s a spoon, how fancy do you really need to be here?
Tongs, Turners, and Spatulas: Tongs are essential for grilling and cooking meats on the stovetop. All metal is ideal, but if you are still clinging onto your Teflon, then opt for silicone-tipped. Turners. What the hell is a turner you might find yourself asking. What we think of as spatulas are actually slotted turners. Don’t worry, nobody calls them that. A stiff one and a wide flexible one are the two basics you need. What spatulas actually are:
If you can swing it, get silicone ones. They will last longer and not trap smells. Using a spatula that smells like curry to make meringue is nobody’s idea of a good time. These often come in packs of three so pick one up and grab a wooden one too while you’re at it. Nothing feels better than cooking with a wooden spoon. If you love getting distracted like me, then here is an in-depth discussion on spatulas vs turners.
Salad Spinner: A must have for my green-loving rabbit friends. If this doesn’t seem important to you, consider this: oil and water are worst enemies, so when you put your oil-rich dressing on your lettuce, it is going to treat that water as a slip and slide and end up pooled at the bottom of the bowl.
Besides being incredibly useful, this toy is really fun to use. I like to pump it faster and faster to see how fast I can make the greens spin. Sometimes I get it going so fast the whole counter starts to shake! Ahem, anyways…
Microplane: This little gem does wonders for your baking game and can make quick work of tough guys like ginger. A little parmesan and a quick one-two over the microplane brings your food presentation to a whole new level.
Juicer: You are juicing by now, aren’t you? You make me so proud! If you are new to the game, get yourself a cheap juicer that works. After you have fallen in love with everything juicing offers, it’s time to upgrade to a masticating juicer. They are a bit pricey, but if you juice daily like we do, then the huge increase in yield will eventually offset the high price tag. The auger-based extraction lets you juice leafy greens and herbs with maximum efficiency. Be a part of the solution and make sure you’re composting your pulp. Rotting food in dumps emits methane gas which is no bueno.
Speaker: While not a kitchen item per se, a quality bluetooth or wifi speaker sets the mood and cannot go without mentioning! I had a Sonos speaker which was nice but its major drawback was the inability to play whatever you wanted. You were required to use its app which was more of a deal breaker than you might think at first.
The Flavor Bible & Vegetarian Flavor Bible: These two tomes will unlock the secrets to your culinary destiny. Just when I thought The Flavor Bible couldn’t get any better, they release the Vegetarian edition. Meat lovers, don’t let the title scare you. They added a slew of updated ingredients like quinoa that were completely obscure back when the original was written. Check back as I will be providing a very in-depth review of these two magical books in the near future (such a relative term isn’t it?)
Time to get fancy:
Have you a lovely kitchen that is on the edge of perfection? Looking for a bit of functional flair? Here are the things that are totally indulgent but I find myself using time and time again.
Spice mill: Five year old ground spices are adding nothing but dust to your food. A spice mill lets you use whole spices that will keep their potency much longer. A quite tip: you can save a ton of money by finding a store that sells loose spices. The per ounce cost may be more, but you only need to buy exactly what you’ll be using so the cost is actually much less. Their spices will also always be fresh. A mill also lets you grind fresh coffee beans every morning. I have used an inexpensive Ninja bullet for years and it has never let me down. It is also really useful for making popcorn seasoning incredibly fine so it will stick to your air-popped goodness.
Glass straws: You might gasp when you see the price on these, but let me tell you, I love these things. I use them multiple times daily. Nothing can make your mundane glass of water shine like a glass straw.
Silicone Ice Trays: I’m not going to lie, these things are an absolute bitch to use. That being said, they do serve a very important purpose in my kitchen. I buy spinach in huge bulk and blend the leaves down into a green soupy liquid that freezes perfectly in these trays. Come smoothie time, you just pop a few cubes in your blender and you’re good to go. Good luck cleaning the things though! My advice: look for a mold that doesn’t have sharp corners as those were the trickiest!
Meat Tenderizer: For you meat lovers, this utensil gives things like chicken parmesan a thin and consistent thickness for maximum juiciness. Even though I rarely eat meat, I still would use my meat tenderizer daily to break up things like walnuts and graham cracker.
Fruit cutting board: The aim of this cutting board is small and designer. Often left on the counter with a half-cut lemon or lime, this board is perfect to leave out for your guests to cut their own fruit for cocktails. I find myself even using it to cut small slices of lemon or cucumber for my water throughout the day.
Oil carafe: Buying in bulk comes at a price. You really don’t want to be lugging the big 3L can of olive oil out every time you need a quick drizzle. A snazzy little carafe is inexpensive and makes an excellent accent for your stovetop.
Nice wine glasses: No you probably don’t need Riedel, but if you’re rocking generic glassware with your mid range wine you are doing yourself a disservice. A nice glass doesn’t only improve the aesthetic appeal. As you develop your appreciation for wine, consider expanding beyond the basic glass into more specific glassware. A narrow flute is designed to preserve carbonation in sparkling wine while a big-bowled glass is to help your heavy cabs open up and breathe. You will begin to notice how proper glassware affects the aroma, or bouquet, of your wine.
Pizza Stone: Having trouble getting a brick-oven style crispy crust? Get a pizza stone and grill your crusts. The results will astonish you.
Speciality Utensils: If you are anything like me and just love Asian food then I implore you to pick up the proper utensils. For a few bucks you can create an authentic dining experience. Your local Asian mart will sell you everything to complete your dinner’s feng shui.
Taco Holders: Ok I know these are incredibly niche and serve really only one function, but they are masters of their craft. If you love making tacos as much as we do, I highly encourage you to pick up a pair of these.
Wow so we just covered a lot! I hope I didn’t max out your credit card too hard just now. Seriously though, a great kitchen doesn’t happen over night. Over time you will learn what does and doesn’t work for you. Just do me a favor and keep your kitchen decluttered by donating or gifting all of the things that don’t work for you. Speaking of, there have been a multitude of kitchen things I have purchased over the years that didn’t do it for me. Let’s take a look at a few standout disappointments.
Things to ditch:
OXO pop containers: I thought I loved these at first, but the more I used them, the less practical I noticed they were. With a gargantuan lid that doesn’t even seal your dry goods, these containers (especially the smaller ones) serve as more of a dysfunctional eyesore than anything. Also, why on earth do they taper out slightly at the top? If I’m buying square containers, I want them all hugging perfectly flush. It must be said though that to this day, I still am on a hunt for the perfect pantry solution.
Toaster: Unless you are a die-hard toast and bagel maker, you can probably get away with using that double-decker toaster oven you have sitting right there that’s been trying to remain relevant since you abandoned frozen pizzas years ago.
Plastic storage containers: Over time, plastics in food storage stain and pick up smells. It is also up for debate whether or not they leech chemicals into the food. With the growing slow-food and farm-to-table movements, why not treat yourself to some good old fashioned glass? It will last a lifetime and give your kitchen a posh touch.
Gimmicky single-use plugin cookers: Do you still really need that bright red quesadilla maker you cherished in college? I didn’t think so either.
You will really have a much better time cooking if you can keep your cabinet and counter clutter to a minimum. Pulling out ten pans to get the one and only lid you ever use is the worst. Don’t even get me started on when a long spoon handle catches in the drawer so you can’t open it. These tragedies can be avoided easily with less junk. Also, with fewer things, there is less you are able to clean, am I right?
Now that we have our beautiful kitchen, it’s time to go back to the basics and remind ourselves what it is to actually cook. Look forward to the next installment in this series where I will be covering how to think like a chef.