Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Kitchen Stuff

I had a friend request this blog topic, which was really nice, since it pointed out to me that someone besides my husband actually reads it. (My brother's wife used to, but I think she got bored with it. And truth - I have to ask my husband to read it.)

Anyway, she asked me to blog about my favorite kitchenware. There are lots of lists out there of "must-have" kitchen equipment, providing an ample variety of other opionions. But for what it's worth, here's mine.

Let me preface this by saying I am not a kitchen gadget freak. I have friends and family with walk-in closets bigger than my kitchen, so I have to be pretty selective about what I put in there. I have a tiny galley kitchen with three crappy drawers and really old cabinets that we've modified to be as organized as possible, but when you start with crap, there's only so far you can go. Honestly, my issues with the kitchen have less to do with the size and more to do with the lack of quality of the fixtures. That's a major gutting project for down the road, though. 

We added these pull out stainless steel racks to maximize the storage. They're marginally effective. I still swear a lot when I use them.

I'll leave out Major Appliances. I think it's a given that you'll want a fridge, a range or cooktop and ovens, and a FREAKING VENT-A-HOOD. I swear one day I'll have one that sucks the chrome off a trailer hitch. For now, I'm stuck with one that works about as well as an octogenarian blowing out a full compliment of birthday candles.

the left side of my kitchen notice the "vent-a-hood" hahahahahaha (sigh)

One large "appliance" that I will crow about until the cows come home is my big, nice gas grill. We have it hooked up to natural gas right outside the back door. I use that thing every bit as much as I use my stove. If meat is going to be cooked in any way other than in a sautee or stewpot, it goes out there. I never cook fish in the house. It stinks the whole house up for days, and yes, my fish is fresh. See "vent-a-hood" above. Also because of the lack of vent-a-hood action, I don't sear meat on really high heat in the house. The fire alarm does not mean dinner is done. The grill works great for this. It will get up to 700 pretty quickly, and I'll put the cast-iron skillet on it to fast sear beef filets, or I'll roast meat on it on a foil and parchment lined pan (helps keep the grill clean and keeps the meat from being charred too much if it's got a marinade or if it's fatty). Thanks to it being right outside the back door, it's really part of the kitchen and I wouldn't be able to cook nearly as well without it.

Here are medium appliances, I use these ALL THE TIME.

  • KitchenAid Stand Mixer

  • Food Processor (mine happens to be Cuisinart - about a mid-range model)

  • Toaster Oven - we don't even have a nice one. It's a 15-year-old Black and Decker that set us back about twenty bucks. (I'm sure it would be more now.) We use it probably twice a day. It's great for reheating, baking potatoes, keeping stuff warm, and cooking small things like sandwiches so we don't have to preheat the kitchen to 350 with the big oven.

  • KitchenAid Burr Coffee Grinder - This is in the category of things I didn't know I needed until I had one. Dad got it for us for Christmas and I LOVE it. It grinds coffee much better than those little frappy ones.

  • Toaster - I could probably get by with just the toaster oven, but I like a standard toaster for bagels and toast. Ours is a two slot one.
  • Coffee Maker - do I even need to list this one? We finally got one we both like - it's a Hamilton Beach Brewstation - NO GLASS CARAFE. I kid you not, we bought a cheapo Mr. Coffee and used it ONCE and then I broke the carafe washing it. It keeps the coffee hot and doesn't make it taste as burned as the hotplate kind. We went through the thermal carafe kinds and they just didn't keep the coffee hot enough.
  • Waring Blender - not the heavy glass one. We bought a plastic one at the restaurant supply place. Price was reasonable.  Pootie uses it every morning to make his breakfast smoothie.

You may have noticed I don't list a microwave. Don't have one. Never have. Couldn't fit one in our kitchen when we first got married and got used to not using one, so I don't miss it. Someone always asks where it is, though, so I figured I should mention it. I have not found one to be necessary. If I reheat leftovers, I use a pot on the stove or the little aforementioned cheapo toaster oven and that suits me fine. Baked potatoes "cooked" in a microwave taste like rubber, and it doesn't save that much time anyway. I split 'em in half and put them in the toaster oven. Takes about the same amount of time and the texture and taste is much better.

Small appliances I use ALL THE TIME

  • An immersion blender - I use this baby every day also. I puree soups with it and mix up salad dressings with it. Love it.

  • Digital instant-read thermometer

  • Digital kitchen scale (really, I use it all the time) 
That's about it. I'm really not into little things like that.

Pots and Pans I use ALL THE TIME
My inventory of pots and pans has obviously grown over time, but I got by without much for a long, long time. I do think it's important to buy quality, which is expensive, but they'll last you forever. I have All Clad and have had some of them for 20 years and they're still just as solid as the day I bought them. They're nice and heavy and they conduct heat evenly. I had a couple of cheapo Revereware pots when we first got married. They're functional, but I burned a lot more stuff in them - it's harder to control the heat in them.
I think the following are essential: (I have more than these now, but these are fundamental, I think.)

  • 1 large cast-iron skillet - I'm talking the cheap plain cast iron that you have to season. You know, like your grandma had.

  • 1 large heavy frying pan - I am not a fan of nonstick. It never lasts and you always have to replace them. I'm not fond of having to replace things. I like to buy my stuff once.

  • 1 small heavy frying pan - again, not nonstick

  • 2 - 4 qt. heavy saucepans

  • 1 - 2 qt. heavy saucepan

Knives I use ALL THE TIME
I can't stress enough how important a couple of good, and I mean GOOD, knives are. I got by with two for probably 10 years. A small chef knife and a large one will get you pretty far. They're versatile and powerful. Over the years, I've added a few others, but the big chef and the small chef are the ones I use over and over. Keep them sharpened. I have a few Henckels and a couple of Wusthofs (I cannot find the umlaut on the fonts in Blogspot) and they've held up very well to many sharpenings over the years. I take them to a guy and have them professionaly sharpened about twice a year.
Along with knives go cutting boards. DO NOT USE PLASTIC!!! They dull your knives and they are not any more sanitary for cutting meat than wood. Some tests they did actually showed that plastic boards held more bacteria than wooden ones. Just wash them with soap and hot water and don't cut raw vegetables where you've just whacked apart a raw chicken and you'll be fine. Two medium ones will do you just fine.

Bowls and Bakeware I use ALL THE TIME

  • Small, medium and large mixing bowls - I have three red plastic ones with rubber bottoms and spouts. I love them. They were cheap.

  • Brownie Pan - get a decent one. Metal, not silicone. Those don't brown properly.

  • Muffin Tin - I honestly think one of mine was my grandmothers. The metal ones last forever.

  • Round cake pans - again, heavy metal.

  • Bundt cake pan - this is necessary if you bake at all. Everyone should bake a coffee cake once in their lives.

  • 2 Heavy, rimmed baking sheets - one large and one small. I mean heavy.

  • Deep dish 9" pie pan - I'm not a huge pie fan, but you'll need one from time to time.
For all my bakeware, I like Chicago Metallic brand stuff. They make good, heavy-weight quality pieces.

Little stuff I use ALL THE TIME

  • A vegetable peeler - mine happens to be Oxo. I like their stuff.

  • A corkscrew - I like the key kind that bartenders and wait staff use. Cheap, too! I probably should have put that first.

  • A shrimp peeler/deveiner - Makes short work of peeling and deveining shrimp, which we eat a lot of here on the coast. I liked my Oxo one best. I broke it recently. I need to replace that.

  • Pyrex measuring cups - 2 cup size.

  • Stainless steel dry measuring cups

  • Stainless steel measuring spoons - I don't know why,  I just don't like the plastic ones. My favorites were actually my grandmother's, and they're aluminum.

  • A teapot - ours is a bargain we got at the Williams-Sonoma Outlet in Memphis (man, we got some serious deals there when Phillip's parents used to live there). It's a Chantal heavy one with a Hohner harmonica in the spout instead of a whistle. Red. I love that thing.

  • 2 or 3 Wooden Spoons - I like ones with long handles

  • Slotted metal spoon - big

  • Soup ladle - Has anyone ever noticed when they put spouts on those things they're backward? (I'm left handed.)

  • Metal Spatula/Pancake flipper - I really loathe those floppy cheap plastic ones. I can't do a damned thing with them except fling food everywhere.

  • Tongs - one long pair, one short pair - I got mine from a restaurant supply place. Cheap.

  • Aluminum Foil

  • Parchment Paper

Those are the things I use either daily, weekly, or monthly. Obviously, I have more gadgets and bowls and servingware and such, but those are the things that I could survive with (and have) if I had to hang on to just the basics.

As for sources for these, save money where you can. I wouldn't advocate going to William$-$onoma, for example. A LOT of the small stuff can be procured at a restaurant supply place for minimal money. (I love going to those. I could stay for hours.) Other items can be had for less online if you're willing to do some searching or at outlet stores. If you're in the Memphis area, get thee to the Williams-Sonoma outlet store there. They put their overstocks there and sell them dirt cheap, in a lot of cases. You can get really high quality products for ridiculous prices. We bought one of those VIPP trash cans there 16 years ago that finally died this year. They'd had it listed in their catalogue for over $200 (seriously? people pay $200 for a trash can??) and they were selling it for $20. Yes. $20. Because evidently other people looked at the price and had the same reaction I did and they were left with a lot of them.


John said...

Ha! I read it, so there. :) Truth be told, I usually read every post you put up since you've been posting them up on Twitter. Nice work!

Andie Reid said...

Thanks! (But I'm still not sending you a check, little bro.)

Marti said...

Love it. I could live without a microwave too, but what can I say. .teenagers. They couldn't live without one. And the pans. . .my husband believes in cheap. So we keep buying them. Although I love my Le Creuset pan. Use it a lot.

Leigh said...

Good list.
I completely agree about buying quality knives and pans. A good pan will make a big difference in how you cook, for sure. I don't like the handles on All-Clad (they feel funny in my hands) but they are great pans! I have Calphalon Tri-Ply Stainless, which I don't think they make any more. There's a site that sells awesome seconds of All-Clad. I'll post the link when I can remember the name!