What's In Our Kitchen, Top 10 Cooking Essentials
As this will be the first of many food posts, I really felt the need to explain my ride or die kitchen goodies because I’m sure I’ll be mentioning them along the way. Now I’m a sucker for a cute serving dish or pie pan, but this is not a list of indulgent items. This is a true list of the kitchen necessities that I truly feel like my life has been completed with, and that I could no longer live without. So as much as I LOOOOVE the Staub Cast Iron Pumpkin Cocotte (we don’t need it, we don’t need it), I digress. Click the links to the items I’m mentioning, and you’ll be redirected to Amazon where all of these items are conveniently located (because I am an Amazon hooch, and I love not ever having to go to the store), and enjoy! Side note, NONE of this post is sponsored, and I personally own (and purchased with our own money) each of these items. These are my tried and true kitchen loves of my life that I use on a very regular, if not daily basis. The Amazon links are simply for your convenience and serve no purpose other than to help you locate the exact product I have. Feel free to shop around!
1. Chef’s Knives. When Nik and I moved into our first house, we were 19 and 20-years-old. We went to our very first Home & Garden show, also known as the danger zone, when you’re a new homeowner, or renter in our case. Nik had seen bougie clients and family friends with Cutco knives, and he’d expressed an interest in purchasing a set, but I took one look at that price tag and felt like that was completely obnoxious for knives, of all things. After some schmoozing and testing out these knives in person, I was absolutely, head over heels in love. Now the set is buildable, but very pricey. I would recommend buying a few of my favorites to start out with, and building your set over time by adding a block, and buying steak knives last (you need lots of these, and you won’t use them for cooking very often, so don’t make these your first expense). My favorites are the Petite Santoku Knife, Santoku-Style Trimmer, and the Vegetable Knife. If you can only choose one to start out with, go with the Santoku-Style Trimmer; this bishhh can cut anything, it’s small and manageable, and super versatile. Cutco comes with a free sharpening every year (at least if you buy from an authorized dealer) and I highly recommend utilizing that 100%. Don’t be weird about it, take the free sharpening. Take good care of them by not putting them in the dishwasher (though I totally do), and towel drying before storing. P.S., the vegetable knife is massive, and feels overwhelming at first, but when you cut your first pineapple, acorn squash, or watermelon, you will be sold.
2. Wet & Dry Ingredient Measuring Cups. This is a two-part love affair. One, with Pyrex Glass Measuring Cups (I went with the 4 piece set with a lid for the largest, but, if I’m being honest I never use the largest one) for your wet ingredients, and the other with cheapie plastic or metal cups like these for your dry ingredients. I like having both sets so if you accidentally measure out all of your wet ingredients first, and then dry, the crud isn’t getting stuck in the wet cup and making your measurements sliiiiightly off, which can make a difference in baking. I also mix things like marinades, sauces, and broths in the Pyrex cups, and sometimes, if those are dirty I’ll switch to my second (or third or fourth, because, who am I kidding?) set so I don’t have to ruin my kitchen groove in the middle of a recipe. I also prefer the dry cups with a ring that allows them to come loose, because I like to defy the laws of kitchen organization and let them roam free in my baking drawer. Call me crazy.
3. A Nonstick Pan Set. I’ve had cheap and expensive pans, of all shapes and sizes, colors and metals, and the pans I prefer after many, many years, are my KitchenAid Aluminum Nonstick Pans. I own the 8” and 10” ones, but will be purchasing more of them, along with a pot set, next time around. These pans are justly priced, weighted (so they aren’t rocking back and forth when you’re sauteéing something unweighted like garlic), and so low maintenance because they are nonstick, dishwasher safe, and oven safe up to 400 degrees (I’ve tested all of these for the last 4 years in the exact same 2 pans). I know a ton of people against nonstick pans, but I am a true product of my raise, where we only grew up cooking in cast iron or nonstick. I prefer to cook on cast iron most of the time, especially meats, but the clean up and care for cast iron is overwhelming when you just want one scrambled egg. So lets be real here, I am a firm believer in the nonstick pans.
4. Cast Iron Skillet. I’m sure you saw this one coming. I have a love/hate, but really love/hate cleaning relationship with my cast iron skillets, dutch oven, and griddle. I have all Lodge products, and I really and truly adore them. If it’s within your budget, I’ve heard wonderful things about the brands Staub and Le Creuset, but they are much more pricey than Lodge products, and I’m a big fan of getting more for my money. Like, literally more. A bigger pan for less dollars. Also, if this is your very first cast iron skillet, go cheap. That way if you absolutely demolish it, even though cast iron is hard to ruin, it was only a small investment. Like I said previously, cast iron requires more TLC than your nonstick pans, so if you despise caring for it, you won’t feel so guilty when it sits in a corner for a while between cooking. Okay, back to the Lodge products. I say “go big, or go home” and get the 15” Preseasoned Cast Iron Skillet, because I feel like you’ll use it more often than the smaller ones, especially if you’re cooking for more than 2 people. Each time you use cast iron, you’ll want to preheat your pan on medium-high heat before you get started. Once cooking has commenced, you can adjust the temperature, but keep in mind, cast iron is holding onto heat more than your aluminum skillets, and also takes a bit longer to heat all the way up (it’s a denser pan), so adjustments will need to be made to temperature, and watched over the course of a few minutes to gauge if you’ve got your pan low or high enough. If you’ve wayyyyyy overheated your pan, remove it from heat entirely, or add a bit of liquid to your dish to give it an instant cool down and to avoid burning an entire dish. When you’ve completed cooking you can soak cast iron for a bit. (Note: cast iron is easier to clean when it’s hot, but you can certainly let your pan cool down.) Most bits will come clean off after a soak, but this is iron we’re talking about, so you are at risk for rust if you don’t care for it. I make it a habit to clean my cast iron, if nothing else, before I go to bed for the night. Here’s where things get tricky, or, at least different than how you’ll clean a normal pan. Under NO circumstances can cast iron go in the dishwasher or be used with dish soap. The beauty of cast iron is the “seasoning” of the pan that happens over years of use and proper care. If you put your pan in the dishwasher, or use soap, you’re stripping all that flavor you’ve cooked into the pan over every dish you’ve made in it. If you’ve soaked your pan and bits of food are still stuck, you can use a few different method to clean your pan like utilizing Kosher salt and/or baking soda as a paste to assist you in removing the sticky fond from your pan. You can boil water in the pan to assist in loosening the food, and try your paste mixture again. It’s not going to ruin your pan to use soap or abrasive pads like steel wool, but it can remove that seasoning so do your best using elbow grease only! Once the pan is clean, you’ll want to wipe out the excess water and you’ll have to dry and cure your pan on the stovetop or in the oven. Wipe the pan down (inside and out) with your oil, shortening, or butter of choice, I personally prefer unsalted butter or olive oil, and put it in a heated oven, or on the stovetop with a burner on, until the pan lightly starts to smoke. Once you see just a few waves of smoke in the air, remove from heat and let it cool down before storing. I’ll make a nice little vlog or step by step with photos and link it here later this week so you can visualize what cast iron cleaning is like as well. It sounds expensive, and compared to nonstick, it’s definitely work, but the quality taste you get from a seasoned cast iron skillet is priceless, I swear! You can also get a Lodge Pro-Grid Cast Iron Grill and Griddle Combo with grill marks on one side, and flat on the other, to make indoor burgers when it’s too hot or cold outside, paninis, pancakes or french toast in bulk, and so much more! The Lodge 6 Quart Cast Iron Dutch Oven comes in handy for baking breads, braising meats and then putting in the oven (you don’t lose all your juices), making beans or soups, roasting small poultry and then baking (again with the juices), and so much more!
5. Stand Mixer. I have owned my KitchenAid Classic Plus Series Mixer for about 6 years now, and truly, could never go back to a time when I didn’t have a little sous chef mixing my whipped cream, shredding my beef, or perfectly mashing my potatoes while I focused on something else. There are tons of bigger (more expensive) KitchenAid mixers with other cool things to offer, but I have been juuuuuust fine with my Classic Plus. Obviously, you can use the stand mixer for cake mixing and cookie doughs, but also for bread kneading with the dough hook attachment, shredding meats with the paddle attachment, and everything from pasta making, to bean grinding, to spiralizing veggies until your heart's content, if you purchase other additional sets. My KitchenAid mixer came with whip/whisk, paddle, and dough hook attachments, but I recommend also getting the Edge Beater that will scrape your bowl as it mixes for you (because I’ve ruined a few whip attachments by sticking a bowl scraping spatula in my dough while my mixer is mixing… we call this pure laziness at its finest). I also think it’s a good idea to have an extra bowl and pouring shield if you’re new to the stand mixer game. Once you fully utilize the mixer, you’re going to tire of cleaning the bowl every single time you need to transfer something out, especially if you’re making pudding, or something that needs to “set” in the bowl before transferring. The shield is super helpful when you’re baking and need to add flour just a bit at a time, or powdered sugar, because we all know I’ve really jacked those both up and ended up with a gue mess on my hands. The alternative, of course, would be to turn off the mixer and add the dry ingredients slowly, but yet again, we are forgetting my pure laziness factor. Get a stand mixer, get an attachment, make me some cookies, and we’ll all be better off.
6. Betty Crocker Cookbook. When I moved out of my mom’s house, though my whole family cooks and I was taught how to make quite a few run of the mill dishes, I didn’t know simple things like how to poach an egg, or how to proof bread. My mom got me this Betty Crocker Cookbook when I moved out 8 years ago, and its sits on my kitchen counter with sticky pages and greasy fingerprints, to this very day. This was the very first cookbook I owned, in a time before I even had an iPhone or access to the internet 24/7 (wifi is expensive when you first move out, okay?!). This book taught me more about basic recipes and getting comfortable in the kitchen than any other book to date. Though I’ve learned plenty from researching exact recipes and now testing my own, I still refer to this cookbook for the original hollandaise sauce, or a basic pie crust, or even to just double check myself on a recipe I’ve made 12,000 times in the last 8 years. This book was one of the first cookbooks that made the kitchen feel not only familiar to me, but conquerable. I learned basic cuts of meats, differences in pastas, and basic cooking techniques at 18-years-old, and with all the step by step instruction and photos, I was very grateful to my mom and this book for opening my eyes to all that I didn’t know, but also in educating me and setting a proper foundation for my cooking background. I often buy this cookbook as a housewarming gift for friends and family. I cannot rave enough about this book and all the basics it covers (and dumbs down to a cooking newbie level)!
7. Crock Pot Slow Cooker. Let's start this section out with some facts. I own 5 crock pots. I have an entire section of my kitchen dedicated to crock pot storage. I am aware that I have a problem. I have stopped purchasing crock pots, as my husband demanded, as we are simply out of storage room. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, I can confess my undying love for this beautiful invention that is the Crock Pot Cook N Carry Slow Cooker. First, I will address why I have multiple crock pots. We entertain very frequently, and there are a TON of things you can make in the crock pot, or make ahead and store in a crock pot so that they stay at a proper temperature for serving. When we have more than 8 or so people over, I have a few crowd pleaser menus that mostly have to do with these “set it, and forget it” little beauties. Deep pit, Mississippi Pot Roasts, soups/stews, chili, mashed potatoes, dump cakes, bread, lasagna,... I mean, the possibilities are endless. If you believe that you can make it in a crock pot, with a few adaptations to your normal recipe, you probably can. I am a firm believer in enjoying a party when you are throwing one, but also being a good hostess. Second, even if you can make it IN the crock pot, you can keep it warm. When we throw our annual Halloween party, I always think about the good, drunk munchies that everyone requests. Because I don’t have Taco Bell sauces on tap (yet), I usually lean towards the more carb heavy, alcohol absorbing choices that can be made at home, like pigs in a blanket. Though you can’t make these little devils in the crock pot, you can make them a bit ahead of time (not too far or they’ll get soggy) and keep them warm in the crock pot for all the drunkies to munch on (once at the beginning of the night, and again a 2 AM because they are STILL WARM). Thus saving you from making drunk munchies (always make way more than you think you need, they always disappear by the end of the night), and also making you the hostess with the mostest, and, lets be real, saving all of your friends from a terrible hangover the following day (you’re welcome). The best thing about this particular crock pot is the lid and strapping mechanism made especially for portability. Have you ever tried transporting chili beans in your (light interior) car without the locking lid? If you haven’t, don’t. Think Kevin from The Office on his famous chili bean day. It’s not worth it people. Side note, if you haven’t utilized the Reynolds Slow Cooker Liners, are you even a real and true crock pot lover? All the deliciousness of the crock pot, without (most) of the mess. I say “most” because I usually puncture my liners and end up having to rinse out my crockpot bowl insert, but that’s much easier than soaking and scraping off mac and cheese for 3 days straight. Definitely add a crock pot to your kitchen. You will thank me!
8. Spice Rack. When I first started cooking, I wasn’t really confident in what spices should go in what particular dishes. Over time, I read and reread so many recipes that I knew the basic spices that compliment each dish I usually made but once I started recipe testing on my own, I found out how many flavors I’d really never exposed myself to. I have a pretty large assortment of spices now, but I wish I’d bought a spice rack before buying all kinds of different spices to just put in my pantry. A spice rack usually consists of the most commonly used spices, and they’re all labeled and organized to sit right on your kitchen countertop for easy access when you’re cooking. I have owned a few different brands in the past, but the one I’ve used the most is the Kamenstein 20-Jar Revolving Spice Tower that comes with 5 years worth of free spice refills (you just pay shipping). When I first purchased this spice rack, I went home and uncapped every single one of these babies, sat in my kitchen, smelled and tasted most of them, and found that I could really see what flavor they brought to a dish if I took time with the spices independently from the food. Of course, in certain dishes, fresh spices are preferred or even necessary for the outcome of the dish, but more often than not, I can reach for a dried spice from my pantry or rack and add a bit more than fresh, and it will still do the trick. When I run out of spices and years worth of refills, I simply start buying the ones I run out of frequently in bulk from Costco or Sprouts. Sometimes our local Vons will even have “local” spices that are fresher (and larger sizes) than the McCormick ones, or the comparable brands. The moral of this story, if you want to branch out from the everyday spices you use right now and don’t know where to start, start by buying a spice rack, and REALLY USE IT!
9. Olive Oil & Vinegar Dispensers. This is more of an ease of access move for me, but vinegar and oil are two of the most commonly used products in my household. Though I buy both balsamic vinegar and olive oil in bulk from Costco, it wasn’t until I purchased our Royal Oil and Vinegar Bottle Set (similar to these but not these exact ones), that I started actually using them in everyday cooking. The bottles are fairly large so you won’t find yourself refilling them every day, but not so large that they are unmanageable (like Costco sizes can be sometimes) or an eyesore for your countertop. The lids automatically allow air in, and liquid out, so you’re quickly getting what you need very easily, while also preventing big spills if you knock them over in a kitchen tizzy. I liked having the set, even though I use far more oil than vinegar most months, because they compliment each other and were a cute, almost decorative addition to my countertop. My set also came with the steel rack, which was misplaced upon unpacking (I think even possibly thrown out with the box it came in), but I usually use them freely anyway (remember my comment on the measuring cups and that I don’t like to feel constrained by the organizational rings and holders of kitchen society). There are definitely cuter dispensers out there, so feel free to look around. These aren’t going to do you a whole lot of good unless you actually let them sit out on your countertop, so find a set you are comfortable staring at day in, and day out.
10. Salt and Pepper Mills. Last, but certainly not least, I would advise everyone to invest in a set of salt and pepper grinders, like the Pershoo Electric Salt and Pepper Grinder Set, though there is no true necessity for automatic grinders, I thought they were cool, and I had flashbacks to the poor servers at Olive Garden, grinding their little hearts out, over my cesar salad, sweating, and hoping that I would say “when”. Most all recipes call for freshly ground pepper, if not salt as well. There is a difference in the taste of freshly ground pepper 100% versus the already ground stuff that just makes me sneeze. I prefer Pink Himalayan Salt in our salt grinder, though Kosher salt is called for in many recipes, it is supposed to be chunky, thus, not suitable for a grinder. We buy these spices in bulk from Costco as well (I’ll be doing a “What To Buy at Costco” post shortly) and only have to refill them every couple of months, depending on how cray I get with the pepper. These grinders are easy to refill and can obviously grind more than salt and pepper if you needed freshly ground coriander or mustard. I preferred stainless as most appliances in our kitchen are stainless steel, and the acrylic container is transparent so you can see at what level your spices are while you’re grinding away. There is an LED light at the bottom of the grinders (in case you are cooking by candlelight I guess?) that kind of threw me off when I first used them, but I assume it’s so you can see how much you are salt and peppering a dish. There is a knob at the bottom of each mill to allow you to adjust how coarse your spices are being ground, and they are battery operated, so no worry about them dying because you forgot to put them back on a charger.
Nik’s Essential Item: Ketchup. Always Heinz. Always in the house. Always on top of my most creative dishes, and in my opinion, ruining them! Buuuuut, nevertheless, he is obsessed with Heinz Tomato Ketchup, and they aren’t even paying us to say that.
I do hope you enjoyed and found my personal list of “must haves” helpful! Like I said, these are my favorite items, and cooking essentials that I use just about daily. Was there anything you’ll be adding to your kitchen? Anything I mentioned that you don’t use? Or anything I should be using, but didn’t mention? Drop me a comment below!