Once you have the basics, here are the items that we find most useful for putting together fabulous meals in your own kitchen.
If you are just beginning to stock your kitchen, there are some fairly obvious things that you need to have: pots, pans, measuring utensils, mixing bowls, a good set of knives, etc. Assuming you have the basics, here are the items that I find essential for the kind everyday cooking that our family enjoys. With the exception of number 6, these are all affordable items available in a variety of models, colors, styles, etc. I am sharing the brands and models we use, but want to be clear that I and/or we are not compensated by the companies or stores who sell these items in any way. Please check current ratings for items that you may want to buy and shop around for the things that may be just right for you.
1) Instant read digital thermometer: This handy little thermometer allows you to stick a probe into your food while it is cooking and instantly get the internal temperature. It is wonderful for meat safety, helping you to cook to a specific temperature without overcooking “just to be safe.” We also like it for re-heating casseroles or foods from frozen. I even sometimes use it for bread. I have given these thermometers as a gift and always hear rave reviews saying, “I had no idea how much I would use it!” The one we like is Javelin Lavatools.
2) Digital scale: Weight is often the most efficient measurement of food quantities. Things like fruits and vegetables vary greatly in size, but you can always measure out a specific weight. What is firmly packed brown sugar? Twelve grams will be twelve grams no matter how “packed” it is. I also find measuring flour for bread and pizza dough to be much more accurate by weight. Lets face it, a good part of making certain recipes work is simple science where accurate measurements can make the difference between a success and a flop. We use an Eatsmart Precision Pro.
3) Extra large mixing bowl: It may seem a little silly, or obvious, but we have an ENORMOUS stainless steel bowl that I initially thought was simply going to be a constant storage dilemma, but we use this bowl several times a week. It is great for tossing salads, rising dough (especially if you are doing multiple batches at once), straining stocks, sometimes we even use it for a “dump” bowl when cutting lots of veggies like onions and celery that have parts that need to be thrown away. Ours is a William Sonoma Stainless Steel 8 quart.
4) Salad spinner: Mostly used for fresh greens and herbs, we use our salad spinner almost every week. Pre-washed salads and greens are convenient and have their place, but they also go through an additional processing step, increasing the possibility of exposure to germs and bacteria. The salad spinner takes some of the agony out of washing your own greens. We also have several pasta salads for which we use the salad spinner to cool and dry the pasta before tossing it with dressings and other veggies. Our first salad spinner lasted over 15 years and we only just replaced it with the same brand, OXO, and we love the updated, improved model!
5) Several quality kitchen timers: We have 3 digital timers that are magnetic and we keep them above the stove or on the door of whichever oven we are using. Sometimes I even stick one on our front door so that I can hear it from my office when I am trying to multi-task. The most important thing to me about these timers is that they beep for a long time, not just three beeps or a short ring. I have been notorious for missing a timer and, as we all know, that can be a disaster! We like the Polder Clock/Timer.
6) Kitchen Aid: I know this is a pricey prospect, but because of the range and amount that we use our Kitchen Aid, it makes the list. There are many breads that I would not even attempt without the Kitchen Aid. We make multiple batches of pizza dough at once using the Kitchen Aid and that allows us to cook “shell” crusts which we freeze for quick dinners on weeknights. Jim has a grinder attachment which allows us to grind meat for sausage, which he then mixes with herbs and spices in the mixer part of the Kitchen Aid. Cookies and cakes become a snap. Sometimes we use it for mashed potatoes. There is even an attachment to use it to make fresh pasta. I could go on and on! If you can swing it, this is a worthwhile investment for your kitchen. Our model is Kitchen Aid Professional 600.