What's in my kitchen?

I’ve been in the kitchen since I was sixteen, and married with a family since nineteen, so it’s fair to say I have had A LOT of experience when it comes to kitchen equipment. There’s always personal preference, such as stainless steel over cast iron and so on, but I thought I’d share my list of must haves, including the items worth splurging on {or saving up for}, as well as the things you can save on or even do without.

COOKING.

Knives.

I don’t care what other fancy dishes, pots, and pans you might have, but if you don’t have decent knives and a good sharpening tool then forget about it. It all starts with good knives, maintained regularly. My preference is for Japanese knives which are one complete piece of steel rather than having a separate handle. I bought a diamond sharpening steel more than ten years ago which is regularly scrubbed clean and stays like new. I do admit that my husband is the sharpening maestro, as the important thing is the angle at which the blade is held to the steel as well as the pressure. If you only spend on one item make it a chef’s knife. I also can’t do without a thin flexible filleting/boning knife and my long serrated knife which is excellent for slicing horizontally through cakes as well as bread and hams. One thing: don’t buy a set. Buy the few that you will use.

Frying pans.

I’ve had expensive ones and cheap ones and the best ones lie somewhere in between. The cheapest ones will warp and buckle and aren’t really great for cooking with, but they’re fine for things like toasting nuts and spices and making crepes. The fancy ones were a bit disappointing, and my favourite ones are the Tefal brand. They are moderately priced and I replace them after about five years or so, maybe a little longer. Possibly not the greatest investment but the ones I paid double the price for didn’t last any longer. I find two sizes are needed, one about 28 cm and one about 35 cm in diameter.

Saucepans.

If you can, spend a little more here. Saucepans can be used for everything from a delicate sauce to a robust bolognaise, and from melting chocolate to making caramel. A good heavy base is important, and anything with layers of copper in the construction will give you great results. I used good stainless steel pans for a very long time until just this past year when I splashed out on copper pans, and the difference is huge. Everything actually cooks better in the copper pans.

Pots/dutch ovens.

My pots get a very good work out. I have about four different sizes, most of them are cast iron, two are stainless steel, and one is copper. As with the saucepans the copper pot really cooks so well, but my favourite are the cast iron. They can handle everything from sauces and soups to stews and slow cooked casseroles. They are quite an investment but one I would strongly recommend. I started my collection almost twenty years ago, one piece at a time, usually in the big end of year sales. I have two stainless steel pots, one large one perfect for boiling pasta and big batches of soup, and one jumbo size Italian made one that I picked up in a sale for $90. It’s rarely used but I have boiled about four kilo’s of potato’s in it for a party one time, as well as stuffed capsicums and cabbage rolls for a crowd.

Baking dishes.

I’ve tried the cheaper ones, and I’m afraid the only way is to get the best that you can afford. My personal favourite are the original Scanpan ones, they cook like nothing else and wash like a dream. I have a moderately priced stainless steel one I use for lasagne and potato bakes which does the job but is an absolute bugger to clean. I also have ceramic ones of various sizes which are handy for smaller roasts and vegetables but don’t cook as well as the Scanpan.

Odds and ends.

I find wooden spoons are my favourite for cooking, but they do need to be washed well in hot soapy water and replaced regularly. I couldn’t bake without silicone utensils, like the scraper and brushes. I have a few rolling pins but always use the oldest one which is long and has handles, and if you do a lot of baking it’s worth buying a good washable piping bag and good quality tips. Baking sheets don’t have to be fancy but if you have a large oven you may as well get large ones.

APPLIANCES.

Mixer.

For me there’s only one word in mixers: Kitchenaid. Obviously a big ticket item, so you can either save up and bide your time or splash out with no regrets. I use mine every single week for one thing or another. I have also bought another beater, an extra bowl, the mincer/grinder attachment and sausage tubes, and the pasta rolling attachment. Other good brands are Kenwood and Cuisinart. Buy the best you can afford.

Food processor. 

I know that the Cuisinart range of food processor sell really well and have a good reputation but I decided to stick with the most well known and trusted and spoiled myself with the extra large sized Magimix a couple of years ago. And it was the right decision. A good food processor will get even more of a work out than a mixer so it’s worth every cent. Dips, sauces, and curry pastes are just the start. There are smoothie attachments as well as all the different sized slicing and chopping ones.

Blender.

If you have a good mixer and a good food processor you probably won’t need a blender, but I have become so used to having a stick blender on hand that I couldn’t do without one for small jobs. My Bamix served me well for twenty years until it was dropped on the tiles, and I have replaced it with a Cuisinart which I’m so far really happy with. In saying that though I do think that you can save some money here and go for a mid priced one, they still do a good job. However if you are planning on lots of daily use, such as for baby foods, I would choose a better one. My Cuisinart stick blender also handles my vegie packed green smoothies with no trouble.

Wok.

Yes my wok is an appliance simply because I went for an electric model to free up some bench space, and also because I bought it when I had a ceramic cooktop which would never have been able to achieve the heat needed for a traditional wok. Mine is very large {not surprising}, heats up really quickly and is also easy to clean. A smaller, traditional wok will do the job for smaller numbers as long as you have a gas cooktop with a wok burner. If you don’t I would choose an electric one.

Rice cooker.

For so many years I messed up rice dishes because I could never remember how much water to add, how much rice, what temperature, and how long to cook it for. I stuck to risotto and paella and avoided fried or even plain rice because I always stuffed it up. Last year I spent $15 on a rice cooker and it was one of the best buys EVER. Mine has nothing more than a “cook” and a “keep warm” button and does exactly what I need it to.

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Slow cooker.

Not essential but definitely handy, especially if you work long hours. I don’t think you have to spend a lot here either, mine was about $40 and is massive, and cooks perfectly. I’d say the main thing is choosing the right size rather than spending big. Especially for something that won’t get used as much as other appliances.

Meat slicer:

It’s definitely not a must have but if you have a large family and enjoy cold meats and cheeses then it might be worth picking up a small model for under $100. We have a large heavy industrial model because we mostly use it for prosciutto so we needed a machine up to the task. Expect to pay upwards of about $300 for these versions.

Deep Fryer:

I hate to admit it but I really do need to have a deep fryer in the house at all times. Not that it gets used a lot, but when I do need it the results are perfect. More than anything it gets used for fries, twice cooked for maximum crunch. I also need it for my bacalao fritters and spring rolls. That’s pretty much all I use it for but between the chips and spring rolls it gets used plenty.

Others appliances I couldn’t live without:

Not strictly related to cooking, but we do always have to have a sandwich press or sandwich maker for those Sunday night snacks. We also have two different sized caffetteria moka’s for espresso, a four slice toaster, and a tea kettle with a choice of temperature selections depending on what you’re brewing. These are the things that get put to use every single day.

Gadgets:

I’m not really one for gadgets, and probably my favourite one is my gnocchi roller which I picked up for $5.

What you don’t need:

Some of the things I have owned and wouldn’t buy again include an ice-cream maker, a milkshake maker, a chopping machine, a regular free standing blender, ravioli moulds/trays, and a hand cranked pasta machine. Plus no doubt others I have forgotten.

To wrap up:

At the end of the day, despite the length of this post and the tips I swear by, I dare say we figure most of it out as we go along. What is important though is to skip buying the cheaper, “starter” items, because you really are wasting your money. If you need that mixer but the budget won’t stretch there are ways to get creative, such as asking for cash instead of gifts, or if the occasion is big enough, opting for a gift registry. The way I see it, when someone is starting out in the kitchen they will learn better in less time with the right equipment. Learning on poor quality kitchen equipment will just make it that much harder to do things properly, and will mean that you have to re-learn once you have the right gear. Knives, saucepans, and pots are probably the key items, but the best appliances will also save you a lot of time and give the prefect result every time.

And now, over to you. I’d love it if you would use the comments to let us all know what your kitchen must haves are, what do you wish you had skipped buying, or what are the best tips you want to pass on? I always love to hear people’s tips and secrets, so let’s share them ’round!

-Ana.

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