Most of the time, I am in a cooking mood and if I go a day or two without cooking, I suddenly feel the urge to get in the kitchen and make something. Though I will get an occasional bout of “I’m-so-tired-of-food-and-have-no-idea-what-I-want-to-cook-or-eat.”
That’s where I am this week.
No amount of watching the Food Network or Cooking Channel or reading food magazines inspires me. I’m just zapped. And that’s not a bad thing. It just is.
This phase is generally associated with a change of the weather, will likely pass in a few days and once again I will feel moved to cook. Actually, it’s more like my body begins to crave certain things (like salad and vegetables) and that’s what triggers my “I-want-to-cook” mode back into action.
So considering I’m extremely unmotivated to cook today in the hopes that whatever it is, it’s good enough to share with you, I’ve rummaged around my kitchen and come up with a list of a few of my favorite things.
It’s not all about having the latest and greatest granite countertops, Wolf or Viking ranges, Sub-Zero refrigerators or custom cabinets that cost more than a vintage Ferrari. It’s about having good, basic equipment and some really good tools and really great ingredients. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in decked out kitchens with all the bells and whistles and beautiful “latest material” countertops, tile or stone on which to place the take-out containers and pizza boxes that best exemplify the state of their culinary skills.
So whether you are establishing a kitchen or just looking for a few new suggestions on how to better stock your cocina, here’s our list of favorites. I’m sure I’ve overlooked some items, so please let me know which of your culinary “can’t-live-withouts” are missing from this list. I’m always in the mood to buy new cooking tools.
These Are a Few of My Favorite Things
Kosher and Maldon salt and freshly ground pepper
I prefer Kosher salt for cooking and then when I plate the food, I like to crush a few Maldon salt crystals over everything for a nice pop of flavor and added texture. Freshly ground pepper is mandatory and that means you need a pepper mill. Ours is copper and we’ve had it for at least 12 years. Be prepared to spend about $50 for a good one, because once you’ve had freshly ground, you’ll never buy the who-knows-when-it-was-ground-pepper again.
|Kosher salt with a spoon|
|Our beloved copper pepper mill|
Good quality olive oil, a cheap olive oil and Smart Balance
I am not one who falls for buying or needing to have a $25 bottle of olive oil. The way we go through it, I find that the $4.99 Central Market olive oil is just what we need for every day use. I also like to keep a cheap olive oil around for times when it’s more about oil than flavor. Smart Balance is also a must-have in our kitchen since we use it like butter. A slather here, a dollop there.
Cast iron skillets and Dutch ovens
While I have my own collection of cast iron cookware, I also acquired my grandmother’s when she died and David had some of his own cast iron goodies as well. Needless to say, we have amassed enough cast iron skillets and Dutch ovens for a lifetime. And they do last a lifetime or two. If you don’t have any cast iron cookware, you can find it at Target. Lodge Cast Iron is the big name company that makes it and it’s all very reasonably priced. Be sure and season it well before using, unless you buy it pre-seasoned.
|A small portion of our cast iron collection…
the Dutch ovens and one skillet on top
Several years ago, I started purchasing copper skillets and sauce pans on Ebay and I am sold! While it may be extravagant to have this on my list of essentials, there’s nothing quite like cooking in a copper skillet. What I have is not Mauviel, though maybe some day. Hint, hint.
Non-stick and a stick pan
A non-stick and stick (metal or aluminum) skillet are as essential as salt and pepper. Without it, you can’t cook. While I do have some nice All-Clad, Le Creuset and Cuisinart cookware, I really like the skillets you buy at restaurant supply stores, of which there are in every city. They are reasonably priced and sturdy enough for professional kitchens. Ace Mart is a Texas-based restaurant supply store and you don’t have to be a member. If you have never checked out one of these stores, I suggest you high tail it over there right now, have some fun and then get cooking.
|Non-stick is on the right and the metal skillet is on the left|
Soup and/or spaghetti pot
I use my grandmother’s 40-year-old Revere pot (below on the left) for making extraordinary soups and then we use a bigger pot (on the right) for spaghetti. This Revere cookware is astonishingly well-made, so if you can ever get your hands on some, call dibs on it and quick.
For zesting citrus, grating Parmesan, fresh nutmeg and even grating garlic superfine, I find that I am constantly grabbing this tool from the drawer.
Colored cutting boards
Call me neurotic, which I am, but I don’t like to cut veggies on a board where David previously cut chicken. Even if he did clean it with bleach and it was two weeks ago! So as to not have that problem, we bought several colored cutting boards. Green is for fruits and vegetables, red is for red meat and yellow is for poultry.
While I have been known to cut myself with extremely sharp knives, such a dangerous tool is imperative. As with my skillets and saute pans, I buy my knives at the restaurant supply store since they offer good quality at a great price. If you don’t get your knives sharpened on a regular basis, it’s a good idea to keep a steel in the knife drawer as well. A steel is a knife sharpening tool that all cooks must-have (pictured below, the steel is on the top).
Tongs, wooden spoons, spatulas, a metal fish spatula and a whisk
To stir, turn, scramble, saute and whisk, these are all indispensable cooking utensils. My favorite new spatula is actually two-in-one and I love it! One end is wide and the other end is a little thicker and more compact.
|My new favorite spatula|
Pour spouts for bottles and bottle stoppers
We pour our olive oil into a glass bottle and use a pour spout. That way, we are not removing the cap every time we want some olive oil. We also love bottle stoppers for wine and Topo-Chico bottles. Both of these items are cheap and practical kitchen staples.
Now that I no longer ever, ever buy salad greens in a bag (do you know how long they have been in that bag before they get to you? Don’t ask!), I get most of my greens at the farmers market which I wash well before using. I recently found a beautiful worm in my salad greens and was grateful I was washing them…the joys of organic farming. Better worms than pesticides. A salad spinner is an easy way to clean and dry your greens and other vegetables.
When I get this monster out of the closet, Nacho (my black Labradoodle) lies by my feet and waits in anticipation of a taste of something great. Really, he does! This machine has helped me make dozens of cupcakes, infinite cakes, batches of brownies, boat loads of whipped cream and so many other edible memories. Again, it’s not cheap, but it is something that will be used for generations.
From purees to grinding nuts into powders, this machine is hands-down my favorite tool in the kitchen. I use it to make mayonaisse, mustard, desserts, pureed vegetables and so many things in between.
For pureeing tomato sauces and soups, this is a $25 tool you won’t want to be without. Just stick it in the pot and va-voom! With a few pulses, you’ve got a smooth and silky texture. And the clean up is so much easier (and cleaner) than pouring batches and batches into the blender. Trust me on this one.
No functioning kitchen should be without a toaster oven. We use the toaster oven several times a week, just to make a piece of toast or heat something up quickly. And I’ve found that they generally don’t last but two years max. While some of my friends’ kitchens sport those lovely looking stainless toaster ovens that cost well over $100, I’ve found that the $18 toaster oven we recently bought works like a charm. We figured, why spend money on something that’s going to break in a year or two?