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 – Cookbook Memories

April – Cookbook Memories

Do you collect things? My personal collection (read obsession) is cookbooks. My library shelves are bursting at the seams.

Some of the collection

Some of the collection

I really do need to do a purge but cannot bring myself to part with any of them. They are a very personal history of my life and that of the women in my family. They tell the story of my evolution as a cook, and how cooking has changed over the last few decades. I have cookbooks that belonged to my mother and grandmother, very precious for the memories they contain. With my mother (and grandmother when I was quite young) I spent hours discussing recipes, ingredients, and menus. When I visited my mother in Florida, we explored any new market near her. I remember her delight when arugula finally made it to the local stores. It was a regular in California where I lived, but less common for her and therefore highly treasured. Traveling together, local farmer’s markets and food specialty stores were goals and highlights. In the evenings we cooked together. Neither of us wanted to go out because it was so much more fun spending time in the kitchen together.

This was one of the first cookbooks my mother gave to me, with a cover she lovingly made herself.



Can you guess?

Mastering the Art of French Cooking b Julia Child

Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child

JC was always Julia Child to her.

But how do you tell, out of those hundreds (I am afraid to count) of cookbooks if it’s a good one? For me it’s the food stains on the pages and the notes in the margins.

Stained and well used pages of a recipe

Stained and well used pages of a recipe

I read cookbooks like others folks read novels. But unlike novels, which I mostly read on my Ipad, for cookbooks I want an actual book I can hold in my hands…hardback preferred.

The recipe pictured above came for the book The Preservation Kitchen by Paul Virant. Paul is a Michelin-starred chef so his preserving manual is different from any others in my collection. The recipes are creative and imaginative, inspired by his restaurant, Vie, in Western Springs, Illinois. He gives menus plus suggestions for using those pickles. It’s a treasure trove of ideas.

My Meyer lemon tree is bursting with lemons which need to be picked. This will be the third year I’ve made Aigre-Deux with them, the jars from last year are almost gone. Look for a post later this week.

What are your favorite and most used cookbooks?

January – Roasted Garlic Spice

January – Roasted Garlic Spice

When should a recipe be posted? For me it’s a big question. If something is simple or obvious should it be left un-blogged? When is something interesting enough that you will want to read it? If you have thoughts, let me know because this question weighs on me. My family will say “take pictures and post this” and I think “there are a million similar recipes on the internet, no one will want to read one more”. It’s a problem because I read so many postings from talented home cooks out there, not to mention the professional blog sites.

Once in a while something simple turns out to be far more than the sum of it’s parts. This recipe came from the cookbook “At Home with Michael Chiarello“. I have found all his cookbooks treasure troves of simple and delicious ideas. He suggests using this roasted-garlic spice on potato chips, something I did as a amuse-bouche before Christmas dinner last year. But it has other uses as well.

What is an amuse-bouche and why did you do that” you ask? For the what I turn to Wikipedia:

An amuse-bouche [aˌmyzˈbuʃ] (plural amuse-bouches) or amuse-gueule [aˌmyzˈɡœl] is a single, bite-sized hors d’œuvre.[1] Amuse-bouches are different from appetizers in that they are not ordered from a menu by patrons, but are served gratis and according to the chef’s selection alone. These, often accompanied by a complementing wine, are served both to prepare the guest for the meal and to offer a glimpse into the chef’s approach to the art of cuisine.

The term is French, literally translated as “mouth amuser”. The plural form is amuse-bouche or amuse-bouches.[2] In France, amuse-gueule is the proper term normally employed in conversation and literary writing,[3] while amuse-bouche is a euphemistic hypercorrection that appeared in the 1980s[4] on restaurant menus and is used almost only there. In French, bouche refers to the human mouth, while gueule refers to the mouth or snout of an animal, and is used as a derogatory term for mouth or face.[5][6]

And now for the why. I love dinner parties. And many of my friends (I count you in that group lovely readers) are amazing cooks and enjoy giving them as well. I arrive anticipating wonderful food and company. The house is filled with delightful smells. And, laid out on the buffet or coffee table are a selection of delicious pre-dinner snacks. I have no will power, I admit it. I usually make a bee line to the dips, cheese and other tidbits. Most certainly you have more self-discipline than I do! I hit the buffet (glass of wine in hand) and immediately stunt my appetite for dinner. It’s sad!

In France a restaurant will serve just a little something to welcome you and build anticipation for the dinner ahead, I have started to do the same. These potato chips are easy, addictive, delicious, and perfect with a glass of dry champagne.

Garlic Spice Potato Chips

Garlic Spice Potato Chips

Even better, they are quick and can be made ahead. Just make sure the container isn’t in plain sight or they will be gone in a flash.

I used this same spice mix on some chicken quarters before roasting, another success story!

Roast chicken leg quarters with roast garlic spice

Roast chicken leg quarters with roast garlic spice

So without further chat, here it is.

Roasted Garlic Spice

  • 8 fat cloves of garlic, very thinly sliced
  • 2 teaspoons finely ground sea salt, preferably grey salt
  • 4 black peppercorns
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
  • Pinch of chili powder
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and arrange the garlic slices in a single layer on top.
  3. Cover with a second piece of parchment paper.
  4. Bake until the garlic is dry and crisp, about 15 minutes. Watch this step carefully to make sure it doesn’t burn. Ovens vary in their true temperature. My garlic was done in 13 minutes.
  5. Remove from the oven and cool completely.
  6. Grind the garlic and other ingredients in a spice mill (or coffee grinder dedicated to spices) until it is a fine powder.
  7. Store in an airtight container away from light and heat up to 2 months.

The potato chips couldn’t be easier once you have the roast garlic spice.

Roasted Garlic Spice Potato Chips

  • 2 bags of good quality plain potato chips
  • Roasted garlic spice
  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Spill the potato chips onto a large baking or cookie sheet.
  3. Place in the oven and heat until you start to see the oil on their surface, this will only be a few minutes.
  4. Remove from the oven and sprinkle (while still hot) with the roasted garlic spice.
  5. Cool and serve. You can also store them in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

What are your favorite tricks for wetting the appetite without overfilling your guests’ tummies?

December – Dual Fuel or All Gas Range???

December – Dual Fuel or All Gas Range???

Happy holidays everyone. I need some recommendations and thoughts from the blogging community. As you may know, we are getting ready to embark on a major remodel of our cabin on the Northern California coast. The kitchen will be a major part of that project. I am struggling with the decision between a dual fuel (gas burners and electric oven) or all gas range. I’ve heard that the major advantage of an electric oven is for baking. However, the all gas is significantly less expensive than the dual fuel version. And, unlike so many of you amazing bakers, I don’t do much baking. Roasting will be the main use of the oven, maybe an occasional broil when the weather is bad and we can’t pull out the BBQ.

The internet has arguments on both sides. I’ve heard the major problem with a gas oven (in addition to no self cleaning options) is the variation in temperatures, but also heard that it can be overcome by putting pizza stones or quarry tiles in the bottom. My husband is pushing (gently) to the all gas range and has even (gasp!) offered to do the cleaning.

The appliance store (of course) wants to sell us the more expensive model. Please comment and weigh in on your experience.What do you think?

The picture is of the current kitchen, prior to demolition which will take place sometime in January.

Thank you for your help.