After seeing several lists like this on some of my favorite websites, I wanted to have a go at creating my own list. It turns out I have more than 10 items (the standard length for most of the lists I've seen), so I'm dividing mine into the Top Tier Ten and Second Tier Ten. Top Tier are things I use most often, sometimes multiple times a day; Second Tier are slightly less "essential" but still used regularly and things I wouldn't want to be without. Each item has a link so you can see what it looks like; in most cases it will be the exact item, or as close to it as I could find. I'd love to see what your own Kitchen Essentials are, so please let me know about them via a comment on this post, or a post on your own blog, or an email. It would be a shame to be missing out on something wonderful for my kitchen!
TOP TIER TEN
- 7" Santoku knife (or a chef's knife)--I prefer the Santoku knife because of the slight curve to the blade, allowing for (in my opinion) easier chopping of herbs, vegetables, etc. since I can "rock" the blade back and forth while chopping. On both the Santoku and chef's knives, the blade is wide enough to be able to transfer your ingredients from the cutting board to the pan. Supposedly the kullens (little indentations along the blade edge) are there to keep food from sticking to the blade, but I've never found this to be the case. All food sticks equally for me, but maybe a pro could tell a difference. Steven did a lot of research and he found the Calphalon Contemporary series to be a good choice, because it's less expensive than a lot of other brands out there, but equally well made and balanced.
- Bamboo cutting board--The grain on my bamboo board appears tighter than my previous wooden cutting board and I feel that it makes it easier to clean and shows less cuts from the knife. I wish my countertop was big enough to just have the board sitting out all the time. It also serves as a good resting place for hot things coming out of the oven. I love the two-tone coloring on this board, too. There's no reason something functional can't be beautiful too!
- Honing steel--I was lucky enough to get my Wusthof honing steel for $20 at Williams-Sonoma because the handle was a color that was not selling well (kind of a cream/off-white color). The steel part is what's important to me, not the color of the handle, so I was very happy to get the good deal! This has saved and enhanced the blades of all my knives and I don't know what took me so long to buy one. You don't realize the value of a clean, sharp blade until you don't have it and your tomato gets squashed instead of sliced.
- Wooden spoon--(Don't know that I really needed a link for this, but since everything else has one, I guess this one should too!) All of my wooden spoons have handles of different lengths, but I'd probably have to pick the longest handle if I could only choose one. That way no matter what your pot or pan size, you'll be able to stir your goodies. Lately I've found some beautiful olivewood spoons that I would love to get, but I can't really justify it yet since my old ones show no signs of wearing out any time soon! Although there is one of my short-handled spoons that is becoming almost see-through; hmmm.
- 12" saute pan (with a lid)--Another thing that we've researched to find good quality at a lower price. The one I currently have is a non-stick version by Tramontina; several of their pans have passed the rigorous testing of the Cook's Illustrated folks, who are extremely thorough in their testing processes so I trust the results they post.
- Rosle ladle with off-set hook handle--I use this for everything: soups, gravies, spaghetti sauce, pancake batter, anything that needs dipping. It's amazing the difference the angle of the handle can make! Steven gets tired of washing it because I use it so often.
- Good cookbooks, websites and other recipe sources--I'm not good at creating a recipe entirely from scratch, so a great starting recipe is absolutely essential. I always make the recipe exactly as it is printed the first time, and then tweak it from there to fit our personal tastes (or to fit what I have on hand in the pantry, refrigerator and freezer). Over the past few years I've begun accumulating a healthy collection of cookbooks that I really enjoy and if I'm contemplating a new one, I usually try to check it out of the library first to make sure it has enough good recipes in it to make it worth buying. Ebay and yard sales are great sources for used cookbooks in good to excellent condition, and since it will probably get dirty the first time I use it, I don't care if it's brand new when I buy it. So far my favorites are: Everyday Italian by Giada De Laurentiis; The Food You Want to Eat by Ted Allen; Two Dudes, One Pan by Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo. I also rely on different websites for inspiration: Real Simple, Food Network, Cook's Illustrated and Chocolate & Zucchini are just a few. Friends and family are another exceptional source; many of our favorite recipes have come from them! And there are always those recipes you grew up with that you get from your mom or grandmom or whoever did the cooking in the house. Sometimes the writing on the card or paper has gotten so faded that I have to fill in the words again. That's the sign of some good eats!
- Narrow silicone spatula/scraper--Somewhere Steven found me a set of these with a stainless steel handle and a hole in the handle for hanging them from a hook, but I've never seen them in a store. I use this spatula so often, it's another thing Steven hates washing because it's in the dirty dishes all the time. Even if I have a large jar, can, bowl, whatever, it's still the one I go for because it just works the best.
- Measuring cups and spoons--I've got a variety of measuring cups that I've had for so long I don't know if they're even made anymore. One newer kind I've come to love is a smaller glass one that shows tablespoons, teaspoons and ounces. It kind of looks like a tall shotglass but the sides are straight, it doesn't taper down at the bottom. Of course, the Pyrex ovenproof glass measuring cups with a spout are reached for often, too, especially for making scrambled eggs or salad dressing. The narrow measuring spoons I have are perfect for fitting into smaller size containers.
- Tongs--In all of the restaurants I've worked in, tongs are like an extension of the chef's arm. They use them for everything, including grabbing hot bowls and pans, as well as for cooking. I'm not quite so confident with my tong-usage abilities as to be able to pick up hot bowls with them, but I use them all the time for cooking. I like the ones that can lock shut for storage in my utensil canister, but are opened easily for quick use.
SECOND TIER TEN
- Dutch Oven--I resisted buying one of these for a long time, but it has quickly become a very important item in my kitchen. It's so satisfying to see hot soup simmering in it on a cold day!
- Kuhn Rikon Swiss Peeler--This little guy is the perfect size and the blades seem to stay sharp forever. I wouldn't trade it for any other peeler.
- Microplane tools--Technically this is two items, but I'm lumping them together because they're made by the same company and one is basically a bigger version of the other. The zester was my first Microplane tool, and I use it all the time for grating fresh parmesan cheese and lemon/lime zest. The box grater was a recent purchase, and one I'd been lusting after for a long time. I'm glad I waited because they've made a few improvements over the original version, including a cover to keep your hands safe when it's being stored. These puppies are crazy sharp!
- Paring knife--It may surprise some people to see this in my Second Tier list, but based on the criteria of using something multiple times a day, this one doesn't get used as often as my Santoku knife, hence the "lower" placement. However, I do love this one for handheld jobs that require a little more precision.
- Skimmer--Extremely useful for transferring ingredients into and out of a pot of hot water.
- Cuisinart Food Processor--I've recently found myself using this more often; I know some people would consider this an essential but I haven't gotten to that point just yet. One thing that has made me more apt to use it on a regular basis is the flat lid/cover that I had to buy separately. Trying to clean the original lid with the crazy feeding tube that comes with it was always such a daunting task that I never wanted to bother with it (remember, we don't have a dishwasher!). Having the flat lid has made a world of difference; the only thing I wish is that the top hole was a little off center so when you're pouring something in it doesn't go straight down onto the blade's plastic center, it would go into the food instead. (It looks like my link shows that the processor now comes with both lids/covers; good news for all those cooks out there.)
- Kuhn Rikon Epicurean garlic press--Another item that passed the test for the Cook's Illustrated panel of experts. Ok, so I don't need this since I have the Santoku knife that would work perfectly well for chopping garlic, but I hate how sticky my fingers get when I use the knife, plus this garlic press creates uniformly sized minced pieces of garlic that are almost impossible to achieve with a knife.
- Safe Cut Can Opener--I'll be honest, I use a lot of canned foods, probably tomatoes most of all, and different kinds of beans. This opener leaves no sharp edge on either the can or the lid and has lasted for many years.
- Electric Peppermill with light--Technically this fits the criteria of a Top Tier item, since it's used multiple times a day, but oh well, I ran out of room in the Top Tier list so it's in this one instead. The light is much more useful than I anticipated when I first bought this peppermill, it's very easy to refill, and the batteries last a long time.