Stocking A Proper Kitchen
by BRIDGET DONAHUE
I know of someone whose entire adulthood, from age twenty-one on, seems to have been spent in moving from one place to another. When she gets to a new home, she immediately opens her packed box of kitchen utensils and pulls out her favourite large stirring spoon, which her mother gave her when she set up her first kitchen; the spoon helps reconcile her to having to start all over and makes her feel at home. So pick your kitchen equipment well, and when your children leave home to set up their own kitchens, you will have a sufficiently evocative spoon to give them to help create the spirit of home wherever they go. Did your mother give you a spoon? No? Stiffen that bottom lip! It was just a story for colour and effect! Now, listen to Bridget. Listen to me about stocking a proper kitchen.
Almost everyone needs the same basic ensemble of kitchen gear. You can add on later as your tastes and habits suggest, or as soon as you progress beyond boiling the water for ramen noodles and frozen vegetables. For example, if you like soups, fresh juice, or fresh pasta, an extra large and fine stockpot, an electric juicer, or a pasta machine might be high on your wish list. Beginners do best to choose multifunction tools and buy specialized things only when they feel sure they will need them often. It is all too easy to end up with drawers or cabinets full of expensive, fancy gadgets that are never used.
Choose all your equipment with thought about how well it functions, how hard it is to care for, and how long it will last. Your cooking character develops in tandem with your tools: you learn to do it in the way your equipment allows, and you do not learn anything that you cannot try for lack of necessary tools. Right, then. Now on to the business at hand.
Tablecloths and napkins for a kitchen table for as many days per week as you use them. One dozen drying or tea towels, 3-4 of which should be liners for glass, crystal, and good china. One dozen dish cloths. Six potholders. Two or three pieces of cheesecloth for cooking, and straining. Two or three aprons (for men and ladies) that cover from at least midchest to midthigh. You’ll thank me later. Six large old towels or pieces of terrycloth for big spills. Six more smaller rags, for dirty jobs and smaller spills. Set aside one drawer for these.
As with most things, you get what you pay for. Kitchenwear has recently begun to include exceptions to the rule, as there seem to be more and more eye-catching, highly designed items that work poorly even though they are ridiculously costly. Choose sturdy materials: high-quality plastics, stainless steel, and wood. Replace can openers when they are dull. Replace chopping boards when they chip, splinter, or develop grooves. Replace anything wooden when it becomes warped or rough or begins to split. Use everything until it simply doesn’t work.
One or two manual can openers even if you have an electric one. Especially if you have an electric one. In fact, toss the electric one in the bin. A “church-key” style bottle opener. A corkscrew. Two large stirring spoons. A slotted spoon. Six wooden spoons of assorted sizes and shapes including a couple with very long handles. Trust me. A large fork and a soup ladle. A rubber spatula or scraper. A couple of pancake turners and a mechanical eggbeater. A large strainer, small strainer, colander, and vegetable steamer. A potato peeler, wire whisk, and a potato masher. Get a mortar and pestle and a dedicated pair of kitchen shears. A grater, a citrus fruit juicer and a pepper mill. Get yourself 4-6 storage jars that are light-proof and airtight along with another 6 or more tight-lidded plastic refrigerator and freezer storage tubs in all sizes. Get a funnel, tongs, two scoopers and some skewers. Two or three plastic chopping boards. A grinder or food mill, a vegetable brush, and a fat separator.
BASIC MEASURING EQUIPMENT
Two sets of measuring spoons. A quart-sized or pint-sized glass measuring cup. A cup-sized measuring cup. A set of nesting cups for dry measuring. A meat thermometer, candy thermometer, an all-purpose quick read cooking thermometer, and a refrigerator/freezer thermometer. And get a timer.
BASIC KITCHEN CUTLERY
This is where I’ve seen so much go so wrong. You’ll have yourself peeling with a butcher knife and half a finger later, you’ll wish you had the proper equipment. So, here it is. A 5″ all-purpose utility knife. 3″ paring knife. 8-9″ chef’s knife. A long slicing/carving knife and/or boning knife. One long serrated knife and also a sharpening steel and knife-honing stone. Get good high-carbon stainless steel knives.
POTS, PANS, AND BAKEWARE
4-5″ skillet, 8-10″ skillet (cast iron or with nonstick coating or simply one of each). A large 8-12 quart stockpot (stainless steel with an aluminum core). 2-3 saucepans of assorted sizes, again stainless with aluminum core. A large lidded enameled cast-iron casserole or dutch oven and a large roasting pan with a rack. Bakeware? Even if you don’t think you’ll do any baking, you will. Keep these tucked somewhere: 2 round 8″ or 9″ cake pans. Two 9″ or 10″ pie pans. One or two loaf pans (9×5 or 10×4). One or two square cake pans (8×8 or 9×9). A rectangular cake pan (13×9). Get a set of 3 graduated mixing bowls that are glass or stainless steel. 1-2 muffin pans and a couple of cookie sheets. Don’t forget to pick up a rolling pin and a flour sifter. You’ll also want to get an 8×2 or 8×3 springform cake pan because you’ll hit a period where you think you’ll bake a cheesecake. And get a pastry board. Marble is best, but wood is cheaper and works just as well.
With a properly stocked kitchen, all things are possible whether you’re doing the cooking or if you hire someone to help.
Bridget Donahue has spent a lifetime honing her practical kitchen and household skills.
© 2012 Haven Magazine. All rights reserved.