Saturday, 9 March 2013

Kitchen Kit 101- Part 1

I love to browse in cook shops. Next to a bookstore, it is probably one of my favourite places to hang out.  I am a sucker for beautiful things and in past years if I loved it, I would buy it.  I'm not like that anymore, partly for financial reasons, but mostly because I have learned to enjoy the beautiful whatever and then put it down.  It results in less clutter in my home, a happier bank account and when I do purchase something, it is only because I really have a use and need for it.  I will admit to having well stocked kitchen, but not overstocked and other than the angel food cake pan my mother gave me, everything gets used.  This is because I love to cook and I do it all the time, but what if cooking isn't really your thing or you are just starting to get excited about it?  There is a sea of stuff to buy for the kitchen and it is one confusing landscape, especially if you are figuring out what to put on your wedding registry.

There is a gadget for everything under the Sun out there, not to mention kitchen appliances, knives, pots, frypans, serveware, etc. Where does one begin?  And what if you don't have a budget like Martha's to go hog-wild at Williams Sonoma?  I do believe that the right tool for the right job makes cooking easier and more pleasurable, but do you really need that 16 piece cookware set?  Or that giant block of knives? Probably not. So I thought I would do a four-part series here of Kitchen Kit 101. This is where I will share with you my must-haves in the kitchen and hopefully help you to cut through the noise of stuff out there so that you can get down to business in the kitchen and have some fun.  So here we go.

First up, the cast iron skillet.  My husband and I bought the big one (10 in) at an outlet store in Bellingham over 10 years ago and I have to admit I was resistant at first.  I had two very expensive non-stick pans at home already and I had grown accustomed to using them.  However, after hearing about birds dying from Teflon fumes and how dangerous it is to our health, I took a closer look and realized that my pans were actually deteriorating and decided to give cast iron a chance.  We have had that pan for over 10 years now and we have never looked back. We recently got a smaller one to fry eggs in for one or two people when we don't need the big one.  The great thing about cast iron is that you can do everything in it from roast a chicken to  bake up some corn bread to frying a fish.  Stove-top to oven and back again, it will never deteriorate and it has a wonderful non-stick surface.  The pans come pre-seasoned and after a few uses and making sure to wash the pan only with hot water, you will love this pan for life.  If the seasoning ever seems to thin, you can always give it a boost again with a thin coating of oil.

Next, a few good SHARP knifes and a cutting board.  Ok, I know this sounds like the bleating obvious, but really, without these few things, you are going to be hooped in the kitchen.  I prefer wooden cutting boards and have a bit of a collection, but all you need is one.  If you can get a second plastic one for cutting raw meat, all the better.  As for a knife, you don't need the whole knife set.  One good chefs knife, a pairing knife for fruits and getting the ends off beans and a serrated knife for cutting bread will be sufficient.  I use a Santoku knife because, well, it's what I have and I like the indents on the side that help to release things like raw potato.  A good chef's knife is another great choice and is basically the same just a bit longer in length and doesn't have the indents on the side of the blade.  Once you have these and some good knife skills, you will be able to get anything done in the kitchen, even without a food processor.

Lastly, a few good pots.  Now, you don't need 16 of them, trust me.  I don't know who even has the room for all those pots or if they ever get used.  Here's what I use all the time.  First, a big stock pot for well, stock, which I make regularly or for large amounts of pasta or soup.  Get one that can hold at least 8 litres of water.

Next, a couple of sauce pans.  I use these for steaming vegetables, boiling eggs, small batches of soups, you get the idea. I also have a 5 Litre soup pot that can be used for all manner of soups and pasta.

I have had these same pots since 1999 and they are still going strong.

I found this beauty at Winners one day for $30.00!

And finally the cast iron enamelled dutch oven.  This last one is an investment for sure.  They don't come cheap, but if you have ever wanted beautiful home made artisan bread at home, then this is going to be your new best friend.  I make my no-knead bread in this pot along with chili, soups, braised meats and stews.  This pot has been a really smart investment for our family and unlike a big clunky bread machine, it has loads of uses and is a workhorse in the kitchen.

 I'll let you digest this for now and return next week with part 2, electronic gadgets and appliances.  Until then, start looking through your cupboards and see what you actually use in the kitchen and what you don't.  It may be time for the onion chopper to move aside for something a little more useful.  I'd love to hear what you find in there!

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