April – Basic Kitchen Equipment

April – Basic Kitchen Equipment

What items in your kitchen do you consider essential? I thought it would be interesting to explore what is considered “basic” as far as utensils and equipment. Where do you start if you are setting up a new kitchen? What do you keep if you are downsizing (something I will be doing this year)? I’ve compiled a list of equipment I find essential with a little help from Mark Bittman (How to Cook Everything) and Cal Peternell (Twelve Recipes).

What we have in our kitchen is often very personal. Much of my own was inherited from my mother and grandmother. Cast iron skillets only get better if they are properly cared for, and my wooden spoons still retain the stains of my mother’s tomato sauce or pickled beets. I have casserole and gratin dishes given to me by friends over the years. They retain the memories of special meals and the loved ones with whom they were shared. One casserole dish in particular screams Swedish meatballs at me every time I pull it out of the cupboard. It was my younger brother’s favorite meal, always served on his birthday.

So here goes:

  • 2 wooden cutting boards, reserve one for fruit so it doesn’t become flavored with garlic or onion
  • 1 plastic cutting board for chicken (not glass which will damage your knives) – that can go in the dishwasher
  • 8 quart pasta and/or stock pot
  • 1 1/2 or 2 quart saucepan

    Sauce pans from Ikea

  • 3 or 4 quart saucepan
  • 8 inch cast iron skillet
  • 10 inch skillet (stainless steel if you can afford it)
  • 12 inch skillet (ditto)
  • Lids for skillets
  • Mixing bowls – large, medium and small
  • Big wire mesh strainer (my preference) or colander
  • Salad spinner
  • Tongs – several pairs
  • Metal spatula
  • Wooden spoons
  • Vegetable peeler
  • Box type cheese grater
  • Whisk
  • A bamboo-handled spider or other sieve

    Spider or hand held sieve

  • Slotted spoon
  • Potato masher
  • Rubber spatula
  • Can opener
  • Soup ladle
  • Small bowl or container for salt
  • Peppermill
  • Timer
  • Instant read thermometer
  • Measuring cups and spoons
  • Kitchen scissors

    Joyce Chen kitchen shears – sharp enough to be used as poultry shears

  • Knives – 8 inch chef’s knife, 2-3 paring knives, serrated bread knife
  • Knife sharpener
  • 9 inch cake pans
  • Baking/casserole dishes – a 13 x 9-inch casserole is often called for in recipes – pyrex, you may also want an 8 x 8 inch
  • A casserole or gratin dish you can bring to the table – clay is very nice
  • Large roasting pan if you eat meat
  • V shaped rack for roasting pan
  • Baking sheets for cookies and roasting vegetables (I like the large jelly role pans, line with parchment paper)
  • baking pans if you bake cupcakes
  • Cooling racks for cookies or cakes
  • Blender

Then there are those items that I find indispensable and use almost daily.

  • A microplane grater – for hard cheese, ginger, garlic, and zesting citrus
  • 10 inch non-stick skillet for eggs
  • Fish spatula for turning delicate things
  • Silicone baking mat
  • Cheese slicer – for thinly slicing cheese (grilled cheese sandwiches or cheese platters)

    cheese slicer

  • Serving platters, bowls
  • Tea pot
  • Coffee cone and filters
  • Rice cooker (you don’t need a fancy one, my own is over 35 years old and going strong)
  • Mortar and pestle for grinding salt and spices – buy a larger one so you can make pesto sauce in it

You don’t need all these items at one time if you are just starting out. And don’t go out and buy a set, you may not need everything that is included. Start slowly and consider each purchase. Most of what is in my kitchen has been in use for many years. One skillet and one pot will do nicely at first, buy the larger sizes to give yourself more flexibility. Second hand stores are great places to find cast iron and many of the utensils. Check out garage sales, many of us our downsizing right now. Visit a restaurant supply store for real bargains plus high quality, they are also wonderful sources for glassware and crockery. If you have an Ikea close to you, it can be a source of good bargains. The larger pot pictured above has a wider opening and is perfect for making preserves. Similar pots at Williams Sonoma are many times the price.

What do you consider essential that I have not included? I would love to have your input and will update the list.

April – The Basic 20 for a Complete Pantry

April – The Basic 20 for a Complete Pantry

This post is one of a series on setting up a “Basic” kitchen, this time I am concentrating on the pantry. Future posts will feature equipment and other supplies. Over two years ago, I made suggestions for the items I consider necessary for a complete pantry. Keep in mind that these are the very basics, just the basics. At that time I had several young adult friends who were setting up housekeeping for themselves. They wanted to know where they should concentrate first.

You can view this as a minimalist wardrobe for the kitchen, your capsule kitchen.

You can find the original here if you are interested in reading it. However, I would like to make some updates and alterations. If you are just starting out on your own, you really only need these 20 basic pantry items to start preparing delicious meals. These are the items I always have on hand. It is also helpful to have the list if you are renting a holiday house and want to know what to take with you.

We recently returned from Paris where the apartment we rented did not contain any staples, not even salt and pepper. I’ve bolded the ones we rushed out to buy immediately, just in case you find yourself in a similar situation.

It is amazing how many meals you can create if you have the following 20 pantry items on hand. Wonderful cooks have been producing four-star “every day” meals with just these staples. If you add good bread, and a few fresh ingredients from the garden (see my post on the 10 plants to grow in pots) you have a feast. Simplify your kitchen and therefore your life.

All of the following 20 will keep well in the pantry or refrigerator. Use them to make quick delicious meals for your family, or guests.

  1. Salt – I like grey salt and sea salt for finishing, most of my recipes use kosher for cooking and flavoring water for pasta (keep it close to your stove in a jar or salt cellar). Regular table salt has additional additives and is not recommended.
  2. Pepper – a good black pepper (use a grinder not pre-ground, you can find peppercorns already in grinders in the spice section if needed.
  3. Olive oil – extra virgin
  4. Wine vinegar – red
  5. Dijon mustard
  6. Neutral oil such as canola or sunflower or coconut or grape seed
  7. Rice wine vinegar – this is on my list because it is a mild and wonderful with tender salad greens, it does not have a strong flavor
  8. Soy sauce
  9. Parmesan cheese (whole piece, not pre-grated, best you can afford)
  10. Onions – brown or white, plus red for salads
  11. Garlic
  12. Fresh ginger
  13. Lemons
  14. Butter – unsalted
  15. Coconut milk – canned
  16. Sesame oil
  17. Dried pasta
  18. Dried rice
  19. Canned tomatoes
  20. Canned beans of your choice, I love chick peas and use them often

I consider the 5 pantry items bolded are the only ones required to cook a simple meal. Really, only those 5. You don’t need to run out and restock an entire kitchen if you find yourself in a situation similar to the one we found in Paris. Think roast chicken brushed with Dijon mustard, roast vegetables dressed with olive oil and good salt, crisp bread, and a salad.

You will notice a few changes from last time, and what is not on the list…sugar and flour. I don’t use much sugar, in fact there are very few recipes on my blog for desserts. I admire bakers but I am not one of them. Flour and sugar might be part of your own personal list. You don’t really need to confine it to 20. Chocolate would be number 21 on my list (you can make your own judgement about it being essential). A quick dessert consists of good quality chocolate and a few slices of candied ginger (both of those are in my “not-so-basic” kitchen). That simple dessert, with a cup of herb tea or coffee, would complete a meal and put me in my happy place.

Also not on the list are herbs and spices. Flavoring choices are very personal but look for another post listing those I think should be your starting point. Good ingredients often don’t need much more than salt and pepper to shine, maybe with a slick of excellent olive oil.

Yes, coffee is not on the list or tea, also not milk. Add to this list those pantry items if they are required for your own happiness.

Picture these two scenarios…you just got home from work, it was a long day with no time to go to the grocery store. The train or bus was late, and traffic was bad. Your family is grouchy and hungry (and you aren’t far behind).

Or, maybe you get a call from an old friend who is in town for just one night. They want to meet your family. There is no time to do anything elaborate and besides, again, you haven’t had time to go grocery shopping. You want to make something delicious and classy but don’t want to spend hours in the kitchen.

If you have a well stocked pantry (plus some herbs and greens in pots on the deck, and bread in the freezer) you are all set.

Relax; pour yourself (and your guests) a glass of wine.

 

Buttered (or olive oil) pasta with parmesan. 

As a child in Rome I lived on simple pasta with butter or olive oil and parmesan cheese. I didn’t like all that other Italian stuff.

Got some fresh herbs in the garden, or some parsley in the fridge? Even fancier.

Pasta with olive oil, parmesan and fresh herbs

Toss a salad and you are done.

If you happen to have some type of vegetable in the back of the vegetable drawer, you can do something even more colorful.

3 Pepper Pasta

Or what about a handful of frozen peas? The peas shoots are nice but not necessary.

Pasta with peas and pea shoots

Pasta with canned chick peas and parmesan is delicious as well. Fresh herbs would brighten it but are not required. Make it Mexican with black beans and a can of chopped tomatoes. The possibilities are endless.

April – Scenes from Paris

April – Scenes from Paris

We just spent two weeks in France, what an amazing place! Paris is my favorite city and it felt like returning to an old friend. Renting an apartment makes you feel like a native and early spring is the perfect time to go, the city is less crowded and Parisians friendlier.

I don’t intend to write a guide book on Paris (or Normandy where we spent the second week), you will find an abundance on the market. Here are some snapshots of our week, mostly food oriented although we did a lot of walking to justify the indulgence.

Dinner at EXOFFIER at 18 rue de l’exposition, where the chef has cooked for two of our past presidents.

And is famous for his souffles.

The confectionary shops were full of Easter goodies.

Easter Bunny

And other wonderful temptations!

All manner of macaroons

Another memorable evening at Les Bouquinistes at 53 Quai des Grands Augustins.

We were too busy enjoying the food to get more pictures.

The weather could not have been better, it was perfect for strolling and sitting in cafes. My idea of a perfect Paris vacation has to include plenty both.

Italian was on the menu at Gusto Italia, 11 Rue Amelie which was just around the corner. Even French pizza has a fanciful touch.

Cheese pizza – fish shaped crust

heart shaped pizza

If you get to Paris, I recommend the restaurants listed. And, Uber will deliver the pizza on a scooter if you feel like staying in.

In My Kitchen – April 2017

In My Kitchen – April 2017

 

Eiffel Tower, Paris

After two weeks in lovely France, I am back in my kitchen. What a difference  just 14 days can make in the garden when it is spring! We have had (and continue to have) so much rain that it looks like a jungle. The plants haven’t look so lush and abundant in years. There are new herbs, lemons, and the first roses. My Lady Banks rose is growing rampantly up the back of the house onto the little upper deck. Lady Banks is a climbing rose with clusters of lightly scented yellow flowers, currently it  is enveloping the entire corner of the house! I can see it through the window from my kitchen. It is reliably the first rose to bloom each year.

Lady Banks rose

 

Lady Banks rose

Lady Banks rose

Jars of mint, oregano, and rosemary sitting in the center of my kitchen table, reminding me to use them to add flavor to spring dishes. Their scent is lovely.

I don’t usually buy tomatoes from the store this time of year, but these tempted me. As usual, I should have waited until July. Sigh. Tomatoes are one of the things I most crave by spring.

Spring herbs

I brought a few goodies back from Paris and Normandy with me, not much as we packed light and there wasn’t much room in the suitcases. Unfortunately customs would not allow me to bring back what I really wanted, an entire suitcase filled with cheese, pates and wine. As always the food in France was delicious, and I found it very reasonably priced compared to the US. We had kitchens in both places we stayed and did quite a lot of cooking of dinners while in Normandy. I will be writing a short post of our adventures.

In my kitchen I have two small jars of spreads we didn’t eat on our picnics. Since they are canned, customs didn’t care.

Rillettes Sardine

Duck Terrine

I shall open them as a pre dinner snack combined with a bottle of rose and crisp bread. Memories of our trip to be shared with our friends who accompanied us on the adventure.

In my kitchen I have some new dish towels, I was able to squeeze them into the suitcase by stuffing them in my boots.

French dish towels

French dish towel, isn’t it a lovely pattern?

In my kitchen I have a package of herbs de Provence. This is a favorite herb mixture of mine, absolutely delicious used with roasted vegetables, beans, chicken or lamb. This particular mix didn’t contain lavender, which I may add depending on the dish.

Herbs de Provence

In my kitchen I have a new soup/serving bowl from Heath Ceramics.

Heath Ceramics

They are a ceramic company based in Sausalito, this one has a wonderful organic look and feel to it. I plan to add to the collection slowly as they are quite expensive. Heath provides quite a few restaurants with their table ware.

Lastly, I arrived home to find two new cookbooks had been delivered in my absence.

Tartine All Day

Tartine All Day is the newest from Elisabeth Prueitt at Tartine Bakery in San Francisco. The Tartine Bakery website describes it as: An all-purpose, comprehensive cookbook with 200 recipes for the whole-foods way people want to eat and bake at home today, from James Beard Award-winning and best-selling author Elisabeth Prueitt, cofounder of San Francisco’s acclaimed Tartine Bakery.

Dinner Changing the Game

Dinner Changing the Game is by Melissa Clark, a frequent contributor to the food section of the New York Times. I look forward to her columns and this book looks very interesting. I’ve only just started browsing through this one but my mouth is already watering at the recipes. I look forward to sharing some with you on this site.

My mother used to say that if you got one really excellent recipe from a cookbook, it was worth buying. As I am a unrepentant collector, those are words I live by.

I’m linking this post to In My Kitchen, a worldwide community of bloggers hosted by Liz at Bizzy Lizzy’s Good Things. Take a peak to learn all the new things in kitchens around the world. And, we would love to see your own post added.

As a note, starting next month Sherry Mackay, from Sherry’s Pickings, has generously agreed to take over hosting IMK.

March – 3 Pepper Pasta with Garlic

March – 3 Pepper Pasta with Garlic

Sometimes the best recipes come out of necessity, this time the need for a quick dinner with minimal ingredients (the fridge was almost bare). We were away over the weekend, arriving home on Sunday night hungry from a long drive. Something was required almost instantly before true bad humor hit. This recipe will do it for you…it literally took only 15 minutes from the time the pasta water came to a boil. Apart from pantry staples (a box of dried pasta, garlic, olive oil, parmesan, black pepper, salt, and red pepper flakes) only 2 sweet fresh red peppers are required. Don’t have red peppers in the fridge? Use Brussels sprouts or cabbage or winter squash (you will need to peel and cut them into quite small cubes) or red onion or fresh tomatoes in summer. If you have fresh herbs on hand or in the garden, toss them in at the end. What about basil with tomatoes, mint with carrots or peas, cilantro with frozen corn? Be inventive! It’s nice to have a color contrast but certainly not required.

3 Pepper Pasta

The 3 types of pepper in this recipe come from red peppers, a good pinch of red pepper flakes, and a generous grinding of black pepper.

You will have dinner on the table faster than it would take you to run to the deli for takeout.

3 Pepper Pasta with Garlic – serves 4 to 6 generously

Ingredients:

  • Dried pasta of your choice, I used a 1 lb. box of fusilli
  • 2 fresh red peppers, cored and seeded, then cut into julienne sticks
  • 4 – 5 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil plus more for drizzling
  • kosher salt
  • Pinch or about 1/4 teaspoon of red pepper flakes (more if you want spicy)
  • Generous grind of black pepper, or about 1/2 teaspoon
  • Chopped parsley or other herb (optional), about 1/2 cup
  • Freshly ground parmesan or other hard cheese

Method:

  1. First bring a large pot of water to a boil, add a couple of teaspoons of salt. Pasta water should taste like the sea.
  2. While the water is coming to a boil, slice the red peppers and mince the garlic.
  3. Once the water comes to a boil, add your pasta and set a timer. The fusilli required 13 minutes for al dente. Since I planned to cook it with the red peppers at the end, I wanted a little bite left in it.
  4. Put a saucepan, large enough to hold the cooked pasta, over medium high heat. Add the olive oil and heat until it starts to shimmer.
  5. Add the fresh red pepper and pepper flakes, saute until it begins to soften (about 5 minutes)
  6. Add the garlic, turn down the heat as you want the garlic to soften but not brown.
  7. When the pasta is cooked, reserve about 1 cup of cooking liquid and drain the rest.
  8. Add the pasta to the saucepan with the peppers and garlic. Turn up the heat a bit and stir, add the reserved cooking water by tablespoons until the pasta softens a bit more and glistens. (You will probably not need the full cup.)
  9. Drizzle with more olive oil, grind the black pepper over the top, add the parsley and grated parmesan.

Dinner is served!

Add the red peppers to the hot pan along with the red pepper flakes

Softened Red Peppers

Add the pasta to the red peppers

Chopped Parsley

Pasta with red peppers, black pepper, garlic and parsley

Finish with freshly grated cheese

This recipe is similar to one of my very first posts for pasta with peas, another pantry staple this time from the freezer.

I am taking this to share with fellow bloggers at Fiesta Friday, over at Angie’s. Can you believe it is #163! Click on the link to see what everyone else is bringing to the party.