kitchen basics guide

Josie Ortega takes stock of the functional and beautiful cooking tools and items that help us love being in the kitchen, and researches the kitchen basics everyone should have.

Must-Have Kitchen Basics

Well, my friends, my perennial dreaded chore continues to be meal planning. I hate thinking about grocery lists. (I really don’t mind cooking . . . and I love eating!) Let’s face it. Providing meals in one way or another will continue to be necessary, in the relentless nature of being human. Oh the humanity.

I want to be well equipped on this lifelong cooking journey. Therefore, today, let’s think about what it takes to set ourselves up with great kitchen basics. (Then we’ll be ready for meal planning. Later.)

kitchen basics sketch dutch oven

Taking Stock of our Kitchen Needs

First things first. How are we living today, and what do we need the kitchen to do for us? What’s the situation? How much space do we have? Thinking this through will help us decide what our needs actually are during this very stage of life, right now. Then, we can think more aspirationally about what we’d like to have happening in our kitchens, and whether financial and physical space will allow it.

Taking Stock of our Kitchen Equipment

  • What’s working well for us? If you’ve already got nice knives, sharpen them. Lots of places will do this for a few bucks.
  • Get rid of excess. Let it go, let it go! If you’ve never used the fondue set . . . Especially with limited space, it’s helpful to demand a lot from your kitchen tools. No single-use items. (Unless you’re just completely obsessed with it.) For example, I could toss our pizza cutter, because I like using the kitchen scissors to cut slices anyway. Pro-tip: Always ask for double-sliced pizza from the delivery place when you’re feeding kids.
  • Re-arrange. Which items deserve that prime counter real estate? Could things be moved closer to where they’re used, in a way that makes more sense?

Researching Big Ticket Kitchen Items

What investment pieces should we consider? (Or sell?!) What do we use every day? This will be different for each family. In this podcast, food blogger Bri McKoy recommends considering investing in, among other things:

  • Vitamix or other high-quality blender
  • Instant Pot
  • Kitchen Aid mixer
  • A good food processor

With each of these, we’ve got to do our research along with an honest evaluation. My husband and I received a stand mixer as a wedding gift that’s attractive enough to live on the counter, if we had room. But I don’t bake all the time, and it’s so dadgum heavy to haul out, that we really don’t make the most of it. If you have counter space (Cherish it! For my sake!), you might utilize the mixer all the time, and find pasta attachments and many other wonderful uses.

I am very tempted by the Vitamix. Our blender is terrible; I hardly use it, but my mother-in-law does. In Latin America, from what I can tell, blenders are one of the key tools that always live on the counter. For the sake of culture and of future salsas for my family, it’s an investment we may need to make.

kitchen basics rolling pin

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Favorite Kitchen Tools

While considering my own kitchen tools, I did an informal—yet scientific—survey of friends’ kitchen favorites. One key idea that emerged was finding that winning combination of useful and beautiful.

Here are some suggestions to consider:

  • Coffee maker. Like a great one. And a coffee bean grinder to go with it. My friend who recommended this drinks coffee all day every day (like I do), and she now prefers her kitchen’s coffee over Starbucks or any other.
  • Kitchen scissors. (I love mine! I want to marry them!)
  • Herb scissors
  • Cast iron skillet: which was mentioned by several people, and which I consider attractive enough to live on the stove top. Fair warning: you’re going to have to murder some folks before they learn how to wash and care for it.
  • Dutch oven
  • Colander. We could stand an upgrade here.
  • Tea kettle
  • Large cutting board
  • Chef’s knife, and other good, sharp knives, like we mentioned earlier. I’ve loved having mine on a magnetic strip on the wall, rather than in the knife block. Also, I was jealous this summer of a friend who pulled out a small knife in a safety sheath (I guess that’s what it’s called?) from her picnic bag at the pool, along with a small cutting board, apples, peanut butter, and graham crackers, for a very low-prep lunch/snack. Cutting apple slices ahead of time is soul crushing. Obviously, think it through before you’re carrying your knife around to places.
  • Compost bin
  • Immersion blender
  • Handheld mixer
  • Acrylic containers for pantry and fridge: eggs, cheerios. I’ve seen ‘em in action, and it looks fantastic.
  • Canisters on the counter top
  • Cute measuring cups and spoons
  • Restaurant cleaning cloths
  • Rice cooker

True Kitchen Basics You Cannot Live Without

Next to those mentioned, there are some basic kitchen items you definitely will need when – say – you’re moving to your first appartement but most people forget about when start equipping a kitchen:

  • Ladle
  • Metal serving spoon
  • Slotted spoon
  • Wooden spoon
  • Spatula
  • TONGS. Gotta have those tongs!!
  • Baking sheets
  • Cake tins
  • Pie dish
  • Casserole dishes (large and small)
  • Dishes, bowls, silverware, cups.

Having a variety of bowls, that I enjoy the look of, within reach during cooking is one of the simple pleasures that makes life worth living. Another friend is on a mission to replace all her kid dishes and sippy cups with more attractive, yet sturdy, melamine plates. I also love these kid-friendly bamboo salad bowls that remind me vaguely of the 1970s.

We use canning jars for drinking glasses, as well as for storage. It works with our vibe.

dutch oven mother daughter kitchen

Photo by Rustic Vegan on Unsplash

Fun Kitchen Basics and Bonus Items

So much of life happens in the kitchen, so we shouldn’t neglect the non-cooking items that make a room inviting and live-able, as well as functional.

  • Art. Have fun in life, is what I’m saying.
  • Plants. Cooking herbs, aloe vera, or other. We need that oxygen!
  • A pretty watering can for those plants. (If you give a mouse a cookie, etc.)
  • Cookbooks
    • Salt Fat Acid Heat: will serve as our guide and teacher on this life-long cooking journey. Bonus: Samin Nosrat and artist Wendy MacNaughton include beautiful endpapers with a list of kitchen and pantry essentials (according to which, FYI, I need a rasp grater and a mandoline).
    • Joy of Cooking: is a great reference with all our standard recipes, including basic instructions like hard boiling an egg.
  • Portable speaker for music or podcasts while cooking, a perfect Taco Tuesday playlist, and recipe assistance from Siri or Alexa if you’re into that sort of thing.

Alright, let’s make it work people. We’re getting the kids involved and having enjoyable family meal times; we’re sorting our kitchen equipment. (I think the meal planning will flow, don’t you?) I’d say we’re right on track! Signing off like Julia Child, who famously enrolled in culinary school at age 37: Bon appétit!

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