Kitchen essentials in this wee place do indeed include toothpicks, serving only as one more thing to knock off the top of the fridge upon retrieving the flour. But as we approach the post-holiday season of abundant sales, why not share some handy cooking tools? Who says only Julie Andrews and Oprah get to publicly list My Favorite Things?
I’m meeting all kinds of new cooks every day—even encounters like sweet Anja today at Williams-Sonoma—who share the same despair as so many friends. “Lindsey, I don’t know how to cook, what to cook, or where to start.” This blog is meant to be full of resources, not big secrets. Effective tools certainly help make beautiful food happen. Here are some basics for any cook, especially starters:
A chef’s knife. Lots of people are scared of these especially long sharp cutlery, perhaps assuming they’re only for people who know what to do with a slab of steak.
Little knives cannot get the job done. A chef’s knife crushes teeny garlic cloves and removes the thick skin from butternut squash, chops onion and slices through filet.
Trust me, for your own safety: you need a wide, very sharp knife. You want something to glide through the onion, rather than slide off the skin and send you to the ER, your detached thumb in a baggie of ice.
I’ve tried a number of knives and found (in my limited cooking years) nothing, nothing more reliable than the Furi Gusto Grip Basics. I could chop all day with this vibrant silicone-coated grip without hand fatigue. Not only does it stay sharper longer than any other knives rotating through our rack, but it is comfortable beyond belief. Oh, and it was $6. Mom eyed it for me at Ross, and I see the entire set of Furi knives all the time at Home Goods. You can click here to find the 7″ version for $19 on amazon. Somewhere around 7 inches is ideal for an all-purpose knife. Quality chef’s knives can be hundreds of dollars, and there are an endless array of crappy inexpensive ones available, too. My Furi has served me well, and it’s easily the only knife you need. (Store safely in one of these, I purchased mine at Target).
Kitchen shears. You can find these guys anywhere, from Target to the highest-end kitchen store. Kitchen shears revolutionize chicken prep—cutting fat, removing bones, or chopping tenderloin. They’re also an easy-breezy way to chop herbs or shred lettuce. The best thing about them—beyond endless function—is how easily they detach to sanitize in the dishwasher.
A knife sharpener. Sharp knives are safe knives. No matter your chopping frequency, maintaining your knife-life is crucial to preventing hand fatigue. I bought this one for $12 about two years ago and it is a wonderful and ultimately practical tool. In our teeny kitchen, we like to avoid cluttering the cabinets with once-a-year gadgets. This is one serious exception. Did I mention it also sharpens kitchen scissors?
A fine mesh over-the-sink colander. Okay, it seems presumptuous to list my brand-new colander-of-five-days as a must-have. I’ve only used it twice. But there’s a reason I’ve been wanting one for ages. I’m telling you that a very fine strainer is crucial for rinsing the starch from rice (which you must do!) and also straining any size pasta. Does anyone else lose angel hair down the sink to those large-hole colanders?? Having a large, fine strainer is a perfect all-purpose tool for rice, pasta, produce, and even sifting flour. You might fork over nearly $20 for a large colander with expandable arms to rest over the sink. But it is more space efficient than bowl-shaped colanders, and surely more functional. (Like most of My Favorite Things, these brand items are common at Home Goods, TJ Maxx, etc. for significantly less).
A comfortable vegetable peeler. I’m not saying snuggle up for a nap, but darn if there aren’t endless comfort grips out there. Take advantage! Now this isn’t on my recommended Top Picks because I’m conspiring to turn the world vegetarian. In fact, I love putting my veggie peeler to all kinds of non-veggie uses. Use it to spruce up your salads with large shavings of fresh parmesan to really wow your eaters. We use this peeler all the time for various cheeses, but it’s great for making chocolate and vegetable ribbons (not necessarily consumed in the same sitting). Don’t bother heading over to Williams-Sonoma for this one, I’m certain you’ll find it everywhere else.
A microplane zester. Oh, now you’re thinking I’m getting into ridiculous specialty items. Nope nope nope. This is a must, and nowadays you can find it at plenty of non-kitchen stores. I use it for an array of ingredients: freshly grated parmesan, perfectly minced garlic, fine fresh ginger, sprinklings of chocolate, or citrus zest for about every salad dressing. I love zesters so much, you’ll find whole archive of posts here featuring Things to Do With a Microplane.
A mini food processor. Oh there are so many people who don’t have a food processor, and just as many who go their lives thinking they’d never find good use for one. But I tell you, the day I brought homemade pesto over to my Momma Stark (which you can read about here) she immediately inquired about food processors. When you taste how remarkable the homemade sauces, pestos, herbed butters and hummus… the investment in a Mini-Prep Plus is totally worth it. Now I have a 2-cup food processor I use almost daily to chop and puree, but it appears easier to find 3-cup minis these days (and boy are they cute). Let me tell you, 3-cups is just enough for all the small jobs you need. A Pear to Remember also features an archive of food processor inspirations, and you will find more mini food prep ideas here.
There are the other obvious things like a whisk, mixing bowls, a nice bamboo utensil or two for stirring things around in your pan, an 8-cup pyrex, a really big skillet, a sheet pan for both baking and roasting, a large dishwasher-safe cutting board, maybe a pizza stone and, oh, I could go on for days. But those aren’t My Favorite Things, you see.