Image by JD Hancock
I don’t believe in owning a lot, but I do believe in owning some good kitchen tools. Being able to cook for yourself is, in my opinion, the most important step in self-sufficiency. It will save you money, it’s good for the planet, it’s good for your health, and will provide a lifetime of delight and satisfaction. Having a kitchen stocked with quality tools will make cooking that much easier and more enjoyable.
In my last post on creating a minimalist bridal registry, I suggested some of guiding principles when putting together a registry:
- Look for durable items.
- Look for classic styles that won’t quickly go out of date.
- Avoid plastic.
- Avoid items that only serve one purpose.
I also offered a list of common kitchen items I don’t really recommend. Today, I’m diving into the top kitchen items I do recommend, with suggestions for quality brands I’ve used and loved. (Disclaimer: contains affiliate links).
I explained in my last post that I regretted most of the items I registered for nine years ago. If I could go back and register all over again (and if my guests weren’t all frugal Mennonites — *ahem*), here are the items I would choose. They are what I use on a daily basis now, as a seasoned home cook, and I love them all (and hope to use them for many years to come).
Since I am trying to be a good steward of the planet, and aim for a minimalist lifestyle as much as possible, these items follow a certain set of criteria that are important to me:
- They are made to last a long time, so you’re not constantly throwing things out and replacing them. Often, they are much more expensive than conventional options, but should save you money in the long run.
- They are as multi-functional as possible, enabling you to keep the number of items to a minimum (For example, I include a toaster oven, which can do the job of both a toaster and a microwave, eliminating the need for either). This reduces clutter and keeps things simpler.
- They are generally the least toxic and most energy-efficient options I know of.
Cooking and Prep
Knives: Don’t be fooled into thinking you need a whole big set of knives. I have found that with three good knives, you can do just about anything.
Chef’s Knife. You guys: getting a proper chef’s knife changed my life. I’m listing this first because it is, in my opinion, the most valuable and important kitchen tool. I got a Wusthof 8-inch Chef’s knife two Christmases ago and will never use anything else. Nothing else compares in terms of versatility, balance, control, blade sharpness, and (according to Amazon reviews) longevity. I highly recommend that every home cook get the best chef’s knife they can afford.
While I used to use a variety of cheap knives every day, I now use this one for virtually everything. Chopping, mincing, slicing, you name it. Every single day. I still have my old knives but never touch them. For me, this knife worth the extra cost because you’ll never need another knife. I also prefer to use it over fancy chopping and slicing gadgets. It’s faster and tidier.
It’s nice to have a good knife sharpener to maintain it. I have this one, as recommended by a professional chef.
Paring Knife. Even though I do almost everything with my chef’s knife, I occasionally need a small knife for things like trimming and coring fruits and vegetables. I currently just have a cheapo and it does the job; eventually I would like to get a Wusthof.
Bread Knife. Another essential. I think brand and quality are less important with this one (I just have a department store brand), but you still want something that will last (like this J.A. Henckels Stainless-Steel Bread Knife.)
Cutting Board. I recommend wood or bamboo — it’s gentle on your expensive knives; and more hygienic, durable, and eco-friendly than plastic. Although one lightweight, flexible plastic cutting board in addition to the bamboo one can come in handy when you need to whip out an extra one.
Cast Iron Skillet. I can’t say enough about my 12-inch Lodge cast iron skillet. It’s inexpensive. It’s heavy-duty. It will last you the rest of your life — you might even be able to pass it on to your children. You can use steel utensils in it. It’s safe (unlike Teflon pans). It’s multi-purpose — wonderful for frying, sauteing, braising, grilling, you name it. I use mine every single day, for almost every meal.
It takes some getting used to, learning how to use and care for cast iron (e.g. you never wash with soap, to preserve the seasoning); but once you get the hang of it, you’ll never go back. You also have to get used to the weight.
Stainless Steel Saute Pan with Lid. In addition to my cast iron, this versatile pan with a lid gets near-daily use, especially for sauces.
Pot Set. Surprisingly, I have no opinion here. I had a fairy cheap set for the first 8 years or so and found it fine.
Surgical Huck Towels. Forget traditional dish towels. Surgical huck towels are super-absorbent, durable, and lint-free. They dry quickly, which means they don’t get stinky. They dry glass without streaking. You can use them in lieu of oven mitts or pot holders — just keep them neatly folded a few times and tucked into your apron strings. I love them.
I recommend choosing a colour besides white, so the stains don’t show so fast. (I have the orange.)
Toaster Oven. I use my toaster oven for SO MUCH: for reheating leftovers (instead of a microwave); for toasting bread (anything from standard sliced bread to baguettes); and for baking small items like cheesecakes and pies (this uses much less energy than your oven). I highly, highly recommend this item. I’m sure they’re all great, though I own the Oster convection toaster oven.
Blender or Food Processor. I still haven’t found the One Food Processor to Rule Them All. I started out with a cheap Costco blender. I do not recommend it. If I had to choose between a blender and food processor, I’d choose the latter.
I own and love my Ninja Master Prep Professional – it’s super-versatile (it can function as a blender and food processor), it can blend anything, and works quickly. I use it for anything from smoothies to salsa to my date and nut balls. I can make my own peanut butter, and it will blend frozen banana chunks into a creamy, dairy-free ice cream. It’s very affordable, too. I just worry that the construction isn’t very sturdy and it won’t last long. I’ve had it for a couple of years without issue, but I’m noticing fissures in the containers which vexes me.
If I had the money, I’d buy a Vitamix. Apparently it’s the bee’s knees of blenders.
Basic Box Grater. I’ve used fancy food processors with grating and slicing discs; but unless I’m doing huge bulk amounts, I find a box grater (like this Norpro) much more practical because it’s easy to clean and take up less space. Plus, something in the motor of my stupid Hamilton Beach food processor broke and I had to throw it in the garbage. Sometimes manual is just better.
Silicone Brush. I use it for all kinds of things, but especially spreading fat (butter, lard, olive oil, coconut oil) onto bakeware. With this little tool, I avoid all cooking sprays. Aerosol cans (like Pam) are horrible for many reasons; and I’ve never found a good reusable spray-can (I’ve tried a few). I prefer solid fats anyway for health reasons, anyway.
Silicone Spoon. I love love love my silicone spoon, though of course a regular rubber spatula works (almost) just as well.
Cooking Utensils. Growing up, my mom always kept a drawer bursting full with innumerable broken, half-melted plastic spatulas and utensils. I have since learned the value of a few quality items — I recommend one stainless steel whisk, ladle, serving spoon, slotted spoon, spaghetti server, tongs, and spatula. (Duplicates are nice, of course.) You can use stainless steel with my suggested pans (above) without worry. A few wooden spoons round this out nicely.
Vegetable Peeler. I haven’t found my peeler soul-mate, but I have used a lot of crappy ones, and they make life miserable. A good one is hard to find. I am happy with my newish KitchenAid peeler.
Large (Metal) Colander. For draining pasta, homemade stocks, etc.
Baking and Roasting
Baking Stone. I got two of these Pampered Chef cookie sheets for Christmas two years ago and I am CRAZY about them. Nothing sticks to them. I bake crackers, cookies, buns, pizza, anything on these stones, and they bake beautifully and evenly. LOVE.
Glass and/or Ceramic Bakeware. For baking, you’ll likely need at least one of each: 9 X 13-inch pan; square 8 or 9-inch baking pan; 9-inch pie plate; and loaf pan. (I like to bake bread in bulk, so I actually have 8 pans).
Electric Mixer. A hand mixer is totally sufficient for whipping cream and mixing batters if you don’t have a stand mixer. It’s all I used for the first eight years, and I can’t say upgrading to a stand mixer has made that big a difference.
Metal Cake Pan and Muffin Tin(s). I prefer a springform cake pan (I have this one). My muffin tins have a nonstick coating, which i don’t love, but I usually use paper muffin cups.
*I haven’t found the ideal solution for rimmed baking pans (when baking something roll-y, like roasted chick peas). I currently use cheap nonstick baking sheets. I would someday like to own one of these Pampered Chef stoneware bar pans.
Serving, Eating and Storing
Corelle Dinnerware. This is one bridal registry item I don’t regret. Corelle dishes are affordable and incredibly durable — I still have almost every original piece from 9 years ago. I got the plain white (“Winter Frost“) set. Yes, it’s kind of boring. But it matches with everything, never goes out of style, and individual items are easily replaceable if broken — this style will never be discontinued. I can get funky napkins if I want to spiff things up.
Drinking Glasses and Stemware. I have nothing to say except choose sturdy over pretty. (Ideally, they’ll be both.)
Mason Jars. I use all different sizes of mason jars for storing all kinds of things, from dried beans in my pantry to homemade yogurt in my fridge. I can jams, tomatoes, and pickles in them. Mason jars are so versatile, I adore them (and they look cute, too!). It’s great to have a nice collection of every style and size, from half-pints to quarts. And I absolutely LOVE having the plastic caps (regular and wide-mouth sizes) for storage.
Plastic Dry Foods Storage Containers. It’s also handy to have some larger, plastic, rectangular storage containers for bulk dry foods. Buying in bulk can save money and decrease packaging waste. I like my Rubbermaid Modular containers for storing things like flour, rice, and sugar. They’re affordable, durable, and more space-efficient than mason jars.
Other Storage Containers. I always cook enough food at dinner to have leftovers for lunch. I have a variety of storage containers for that purpose. I personally love the Tupperware brand — it’s spendy, and you have to buy from a buy it from a consultant, but it lasts forever (with a lifetime guarantee). It also doesn’t contain BPA. I like to use glass containers, too, so that leftovers can go directly into the toaster oven to reheat.
Well, I’m probably forgetting something, but these items come to mind as the most essential items.
Do you agree? What’s missing from my list, in your opinion?