When I moved into my first apartment, my kitchen was stocked in an appropriate college-student fashion: cast-off pieces of stained Tupperware, cheap pots and pans that warped when they got hot, and a few new gifts that my practical relatives had given me for high school graduation presents.
By the time my husband and I were engaged, I thought that “real” cooks had certain types of tools in their kitchens. I also thought that the most expensive tools lasted longer and were the best value. Oh, and time-saving tools were a necessity for busy cooks such as myself. So I created a wedding registry accordingly.
As it turns out, I was wrong on all accounts, but it took some time to realize that. Although I will share what I think is necessary in my kitchen, I am not you, of course. I don't cook like you cook, and my kitchen is not your kitchen. My kitchen (see pictures here) is not huge, but it's not small as Mark Bittman's either. However, decluttering was great, and I like my counter tops to be clear. So what's necessary in a kitchen, and how much do you need to spend to have a working kitchen?
Mark Bittman argues that you can set up a kitchen for $300. If doing it all over again, I would have three goals:
- Spend as little as possible.
- In the interest of space, buy as few things as possible.
- When quality matters, buy quality for as cheaply as possible. When it doesn't matter, buy the least expensive product.
What I could live without
1. Toaster. We got a huge four-slice toaster when we were married. We probably used half of the toaster twice a month for the first eight years. For as little as we use it, we could make toast with our broiler.
2. Food chopper. This tool cuts nuts and onions by smacking the top of it and engaging rotating steel blades. I gave mine away. A knife can do this, so you could save $32 (The Pampered Chef's version's cost) by avoiding this one.
3. Serving bowls. I have mixing bowls and serving bowls. It would have made more sense to buy a set that was both pretty and practical.
4. Non-stick pans. We have a set of non-stick pans. We cared for them according to the manufacturer's directions, but after five years of use, they were still flaking. For that reason, I won't buy non-stick pans again. Plus, they require non-metal utensils, so if you have both non-stick and regular pans, you may have two sets of utensils.
And another thing about pots and pans: You may want to avoid sets and just buy the sizes you will need. I have a stockpot (used often for making stocks, pasta, and soups), a small and large sauté pan (I use the large sauté pan much more often), a small and large saucepan (I use them both equally, but could probably get by with just a large one), and another pan that I use all the time for one-dish meals.
5. Dutch oven. I have never had one, although I occasionally drool over the Le Creuset ones.
6. Digital scale. I personally don't have a scale, but most of the websites I checked out did put this on their short list of tool requirements.
7. Food processor. I had one, but rarely used it. Other people say it makes the best pastry crusts. But I rarely make pastries.
8. Knife block. My husband, who loves cleared counter tops more than I do, is counting down the days until the knife block disappears. And really, he's right. A paring knife, big knife, and a bread knife would be enough for me. My small hands like The Pampered Chef Quikut knife for just over $2. I have had it for years, and I think it's an amazing deal for the money.
9. Any appliance that is large and has one purpose. Quesadilla makers, a Keurig, a pizza maker, etc. Although I don't take my own advice and make an exception for my waffle maker and regular coffee maker.
1. Stand mixer. My stand mixer is a Kitchenaid — and wow! — do I love that thing. However, I didn't get one until three or four years ago. Instead, I survived with a hand mixer and didn't need anything else. I did receive the fruit/vegetable processing attachment as a gift and now use it to make applesauce from our apple trees.
2. Blender. Before I got a stand mixer, I had a blender/food processor combo. One part cracked a couple of times and needed to be replaced, but it was okay otherwise. But one year for Valentine's Day (this was one appliance that really said “I love you!”), my husband gave me a Vitamix. Expensive, yes, but awesome. It should last a very long time.
What I don't want to live without
1. Cast iron pan. As I mentioned above, I am over non-stick pans. Cast iron pans, though, aren't non-stick, but they act like it as long as you season and care for them correctly. Surprisingly, my pan was around $20 and looks like I will be able to give it to my grandchildren. It is heavy, though, which isn't a bad thing if you need a door stop.
2. Hand mixer. While I could probably develop more muscles with a wooden spoon and a whisk, I do like my hand mixer. I am not sure that I need a hand mixer and a Kitchenaid, but I have both. And I use both.
3. Pans. I already mentioned the pans I have. Shopping for pans is intimidating. I suggest reading reviews, or trying to find old sets like Farberware or Revereware at estate sales.
4. Rubber scrapers. I use these scrapers all the time. After eight years of daily use, they are only stained, but are otherwise as good as new.
5. Digital thermometer. Thermometers can be used to prevent under- or over-cooking, thus preventing bad meals and using more heat than necessary. Check out this chart for appropriate cooking temperatures.
Ironically, as I look over this list, my kitchen still seems excessively overstocked. I don't have a minimalist kitchen yet, nor am I likely to. But I will keep moving that direction as I become a better cook and realize which tools I need and which ones I don't. I have had some amazingly delicious, but simple meals in other countries that were cooked in kitchens with the bare minimum, so I definitely don't need as many gadgets as we have.
Which gadgets do you prefer not to live without?
Lisa Aberle is a college professor by day and a freelance writer by night. Always an aspiring writer with an interest in money, she once ironically misspelled “mortgage” during a spelling bee. Most of her current adventures take place on the four-acre mini-farm she shares with her husband in the rural Midwest (where she writes with gel pens whenever possible).