Friday, February 24, 2012

Essential Kitchen Equipment

The other day, a friend of mine told me she was hankering after a fancy new kitchen gadget, and asked what I thought was indispensable. I don't think I had a good answer for her. Eight or nine years ago, I might have rattled off a bunch of nifty-looking one-trick-pony kinds of gadgets. But lately I've been paring down to the stuff that I actually use. Its not for lack of storage space--got plenty of that. We did move houses last year, which forced me to actually empty all those cabinets and package up all of those kitchen gee-gaws.

My list of essentials

Good quality, stainless steel, dishwasher-and-metal-utensil-safe pots and pans. Ours are All Clad, bought with a collection of wedding gift cards over ten years ago. They are indestructible. I think this is the set we originally bought:

which includes a 6-quart stock pot, a 3-quart chef's pan, a 10" frying pan, 2-quart pot, 3-quart pot. To that set we added a 1 quart sauce pan (for small batches of veggies or sauces), a colander (yes there are cheaper ones, but the all-clad one is pretty and, like the rest of their stuff, indestructible), and a double-boiler insert (perfect for melting chocolate or making pecan pie).

Non-stick frying pans. I keep two, a 8" one for making omelets, and a 12" for scrambled eggs for a crowd. Mine don't match. And they aren't All Clad. And I replace them every couple of years. I'd fork over a couple hundred $ for one if I was truly sure that the non-stick coating really never came off, but I'm not willing to take the chance. Better to spend $20 every 2-3 years. My main requirement here is a metal handle that is completely oven safe (up to 500 degrees).

Half-sheet baking pans. These are also sold as "jelly roll pans" and are a heavy-duty sheet pan with about a 1" lip around the outside. I bought a 2-pack for pretty cheap ($10? $15?) from the catering section of a warehouse store. Can be used for cookies, roasting veggies, frozen chicken nuggets, and, of course, jelly roll cakes. Mine are not non-stick--they are plain old aluminum.  They are also indestructible. (Notice a theme?)

Tools: Whisk, silicone-headed spatula, dough blender (for making pie crusts and biscuits--get one that has firm knives,not the wires--the wires just bend out of shape). I found mini-whisks at the grocery store for like $2 that are perfect for a single egg at a time.  Measuring cups that go down to 1/8 cup and 1/8 teaspoon. I don't need the weird sizes like 3/4 cup and 2/3 cup (thank you I did pass 5th grade math and know my fractions). Just something....{say it with me now}...indestructible.

Knives. My knives aren't fancy, nor does the set match. I have two chef-sized knives that get used frequently (neither cost over $20), plus bread knife, steak knives, and a couple of oddball small paring knives. I occasionally visit the knife section of the kitchen stores and check out the $500 sets. But truthfully, find a knife that can be sharpened, that fits in your hand, and that won't be ruined when someone throws it in the dishwasher.

A griddle for making pancakes. I've had like 5 so far, and am still not sure I'm completely happy with any one. I started with a reversible grill/griddle that I had to give away 11 years ago when we bought a house with a smooth-top stove.  I next got a stand-alone electric one that was huge but a pain to wash. Then came one with interchangeable grill, griddle, and waffle plates that began falling apart after 1.5 years (and I've never been thrilled with the waffle plates--too shallow). Finally I have a gas stove and am back to a reversible grill/griddle.

Stand Mixer - I have a Kitchenaid 5quart Heavy Duty one. Expensive, yes. But they can be repaired if you do something stupid to them (ahem). If I ever truly kill mine, I'd go for one with all-metal gears next time :) Also indispensible: a Side Swipe beater for the mixer. It has silicone wings to scrape the pan while yo mix--genius :)

Baking Pans - 1 12-cup muffin pan plus 2 6-cup muffin pans (need 24 for a batch of cupcakes, 12 for muffins, and having two little pans gives you flexibility for other recipes). A square glass pan (preferably with lid). 2 loaf pans (mine are either Pyrex or Anchor Hocking--I'm too lazy to check). A 9x13 glass pan (also with lid). Pie plates--I keep a metal one (for frozen pies), a larger-sized glass one, plus a Pfaltzgraff stoneware one that matches my dishes (and turns out really great crusts)  I really like the Chicago Metallic brand cake pans. You do have to baby them a bit and hand wash, but they have sturdy straight sides and a nice finish that bakes evenly. I've got a ton more odd-ball shapes and sizes (Tigger, mini bundts, rose-shaped muffin size, mini and Texas-sized muffins, donut pan), etc, because I like to bake.

Silicone Baking Liners for the pans, oven, and microwave. Brand names: Silpat, Betty Crocker, Kitchenaid, etc. I have a large silicone one that fits my large sheet pans and can be used instead of parchment paper. I have liners on the bottom of both ovens, plus one for the microwave carousel that make cleanup easy.

Sure I have more stuff that I use, but this covers most of my day-to-day cooking. What about you? What did I leave out that is on your essential kitchen equipment list?

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