It’s that time of year when we rack our brains trying to come up with gifts for our friends, loved ones, and conversely, for ourselves.
I’m a practical person and love gifts that serve a purpose. Maybe it’s a sign of getting older, but just how many knick-knacks does one need? So, today’s blogpost is a list of kitchen items that (in my opinion) every well-stocked kitchen should have. They range from inexpensive to pricey, and are listed in no particular order. There is a multitude of other kitchen equipment that can be bought and, naturally, I own many of them. But this is a list of my must-haves:
NOTE: You won’t see a bread maker on my list. They’re expensive, bulky, heavy, and can only do one thing: make bread. The most difficult thing about making bread is kneading it – you can do that in a food processor.
- FOOD PROCESSOR – (Did you notice the nice segue way?) I love my Cuisinart, but there are many brands. It can be used to knead dough (bread, pizza, tortillas, pasta), chop vegetables (tomatoes, onions), purée (hummus, soup), shred vast quantities in seconds (carrots, cheese, cabbage), finely grind (graham crackers, nuts), and, I’m sure, other things for which I don’t need. I use mine almost daily!
- BLENDER – I actually own 2: the large jet-engined VitaMix, and the smaller Oster. I use them both. The VitaMix is great for yogurt shakes (which I make almost daily) because it can handle the ice cubes. Also, because it has such a large pitcher I can blend soups, etc. in fewer batches. On the other hand, I use my smaller Oster to make small batches of soup or pesto (even if I triple the recipe, it’s still not enough for the VitaMix.)
- COOKIE SHEETS – You should have at least 2 flat sheets and 1 jelly-roll pan (it has 4 sides). I generally prefer to use my dark non-stick sheet – cookies cook a little faster, brown better, and I don’t have to grease the pan. But sometimes you don’t want any of that, so it’s good to have the silver kind, too. Don’t waste your money of the cushioned kind – it has a layer of air between 2 sheets. It’s not that they’re bad, it’s just that things don’t cook any better on it. Save your money.
- PIZZA WHEEL – This is not just for cutting pizza. I use mine for quickly slicing dough, such as when I make Corn Dogs.
- GARLIC PRESS – There are several different types. Make sure you get a sturdy one – these things have to undergo a lot of pressure. I use mine all the time.
- POTS AND PANS – This is an obvious need for a kitchen. It’s nice to have a variety of sizes. I use the 1 quart size the most and own 4. The 1½ qt., 2 qt., 3 qt., and Dutch ovens often come as sets and are worth the money. An ultra large stockpot is invaluable to me for making huge batches of spaghetti, chili, and vegetable stock so I can freeze it in portion sized containers for future use. I also love the tiny ½ cup and 1 cup sizes for melting butter. A 10″ skillet is a must for sautéing and making omelettes. Brands where the lids are see-through and have a steam escape hole are great. I also love handles that are metal, so they can go in the dishwasher. My black-handled Revere Ware pots are greyed and getting brittle after years of dishwasher cleaning.
- ELECTRIC FREE-STANDING MIXER – Absolutely essential for making cakes, cookies, frosting, whipped cream, and meringues. Don’t get a hand-held. Yes, they’re much cheaper, but you’ll never use it because when mixing you need one hand to scrape and one hand to turn the bowl. There are no hands left to hold the mixer. Plus, it gets heavy even after a short while. As to brand, I cringe when I see the price of KitchenAids. Outrageous! They’re not worth it. I’m still using the Sunbeam I’ve had my whole adult life. You don’t need a motor that powerful to beat cake batter. Sure, KitchenAids come with dough blades, but use your food processor for kneading dough.
- MIXING BOWLS – You can never have too many. A set of pretty nesting bowls are nice for presentation and usage. Add to that a variety of different sized glass bowls. It’s nice to have at least one huge bowl – it doesn’t get used that much, but comes in handy now and then.
- MEASURING CUPS – There are different cups for dry and wet ingredients. You’ll need both. Cups for dry ingredients come in nesting sets and are flat on top so you can level off the excess.. I have 4 sets and it’s the perfect number for me. Nothing is more frustrating than needing a ½ cup for sugar after you just used it for shortening. The best sets include ¼ cup, 1/3 cup, ½ cup, 2/3 cup, ¾ cup, and 1 cup. Measuring cups for wet ingredients have a handle and spout. You’ll need at least one of a 1 cup, 2 cup, 4 cup, and 8 cup. The larger ones should be plastic because they’re lighter and easier to manage.
- MEASURING SPOONS – You should have at least 2 sets. The best kind are metal and have the size etched into them. The paint eventually wears off the plastic ones making it hard to figure out the size. A set that includes 1/8 and 3/4 tsp, as well as the usual sizes is the best.
- LARGE WOODEN BREAD BOARD – Not only can this be used for rolling out dough, but you can cut fruits and veggies on them. I make so much dough that I keep a floured board in a large drawer I had specially made. Before that, I put brackets under my overhead cabinets so I could slide it in and out without throwing out the flour.
- PASTRY SHEET – These are great for rolling out pie crusts. Mine is Tupperware, but there may be other brands out there. To dispose of leftover flour, just lift up the sides and empty into the trash. The sheet folds up small and can be stored away easily.
- MUFFIN PANS – Cupcakes are very popular nowadays. I made the switch from whole cakes to cupcakes – they’re great for portion control. One cupcake = 1 serving. Done. Two pans are nice so you don’t have to cook in batches.
- LOAF PANS – These are great for baking bread, “meat”loaves, quick breads, and loaf cakes. They come in glass and metal. I really don’t have a preference. I own both and generally use the glass.
- POTATO PEELER – This is just a small item, but essential for peeling potatoes, yams, apples, and carrots. You don’t need an expensive one – the cheapies work well.
- GRATER – I use mine constantly for grating cheese, and occasionally for a small amount of shredded carrots. (I use the food processor when I need a larger amount.) Buy one that has small holes (for hard cheeses) and large holes (for soft cheeses). I don’t like the kind that have four sides and stand upright – I tend to cut myself with those.
- DEEP FREEZER – Okay, this is a large item but if you have room, I highly recommend them. Not only can you stock up on flours, frozen foods, and leftovers, you can cook multiple batches of foods that freeze well (such as spaghetti sauce and chili), and then freeze in portion sized containers. Cook and clean once, then eat for months to come. Just because you’re tired doesn’t mean you can’t have a home-cooked meal.
- STORAGE CONTAINERS – You can never have too many containers – everything from ¼ cup size up to giant cake holder size.
- SIEVES – These are necessary for draining. It’s nice to have a large, medium, and tiny size.
- WOODEN STIRRERS – Using wood prevents scratching up your pots and pans. You should have both spoons and flat stirrers, and at least two of each. The more expensive ones aren’t necessary – the cheap ones work fine.
- ROLLING PIN – Absolutely needed for rolling pie crusts, some cookies, and tortillas. They have marble ones, but I don’t like them. They’re heavy, expensive, and break if you drop them. The wooden ones work best.
- TOASTER OVEN – Rather than having a pop-up toaster, the toaster oven will do the job of making toast, plus a multitude of other tasks. I’ve never had much luck with baking in them, but I toast nuts, cook fake bacon, and make toasted open faced sandwiches in it. Mine is used nearly everyday. It’s better to use the toaster oven than heat up my big oven for small things.
- THERMOMETER – After years of using and breaking the glass candy thermometers, I finally bought a digital one. It’s fabulous. Mine adjusts for Celsius and Fahrenheit, which is nice.
- WIRE RACKS – You need at least one large one or two smaller ones. Baked goods need to be cooled on a rack to set properly.
- UTENSILS – You can never have too many spatulas, slotted spoons, tongs, wine bottle openers, etc. It’s a giant category – not very exciting but extremely necessary.
And that’s my list! Repeat: MY LIST. I’m sure there are those of you out there who couldn’t live without your tortilla maker or mortar & pestle. We all have different wants and needs. But I guarantee, just about any item on this list would be welcomed by most people who actually use their kitchen for cooking. Happy shopping!