Friday, January 28, 2022

Tools for Cooking

What equipment do you actually need to cook good food?

Stuffed Squash Flowers
Fresh squash flowers stuffed with goat cheese and pepperoni.  They're delicious... I ate half of them before they were fully done.

There is a very large universe you could explore with that question as there are ssssooo many kitchen gadgets and gizmos you can buy that can do anything you've ever thought of and more.  The real answer to that question though is: not much, not much at all is actually needed.

The food you enjoy should be judged by nothing more than the taste of the actual food.  If I walk into someone's house and their kitchen is fully stocked with the latest and greatest kitchen gadgets, that doesn't mean anything and it's not an accurate predicter of the quality of the food you may soon encounter.  It hints at they know how to cook, but it doesn't mean they know how to cook good food.  Especially if all this fancy equipment looks brand new and appears to have never been used.  That's not a great sign unless all of those gadgets are actually brand new and are only new because they used the old gadgets so much that they broke all of them.  However, if I walk into someone's house and they hand me some banging crab cheese wontons that they made from scratch, I do not care what their kitchen looks like or how many fancy or unfancy kitchen gizmos they have.  At that point all I know and care about is that they can cook and that's all that matters, regardless of how they get there.  Taste buds do not lie and how someone achieves great food is up to them.  If they do that with a minimal kitchen setup, great.  If they do that with all the latest and greatest kitchen gadgets, great.  I quite frankly,  I just want to enjoy the good food, that's all I care about.

It's not a matter of what kitchen gadgets you own, it's a matter of do you know how to use them to create great food?

Which brings us back to the original question, what do you actually need to create said good food?  This is really all you need:

Pots - More than one pot is handy, if you go with a single pot, make sure it is big enough for a vegetable steamer basket (see below).  A 3 qt. (2.8 liter) pot works out famously for this.  It's nice to have a few varying sizes of pots though especially since as you cook more you'll likely be using a few pots at once.  Stainless steel is the way to go but it can be a bit quirky and you have to learn how to properly use stainless steel.  Which I didn't realize until just now this is something that I'll need to go over at some point but we'll get into that in detail later.  For now: medium heat at most and always use some type of oil.  A jar of Bar Keepers Friend* can help you keep your kitchen pots / pans / skillets looking brand new...if you want that.  Stainless steel is very versatile, you can use it on the stove top, throw it in the oven, put it in the dishwasher, etc.  They can take a beating which far outweighs the quirks which are really positives in my mind.  There are different thicknesses of stainless steel, the thicker the better.  I love the feeling of a skillet that has a good amount of weight to it, it just feels like it can make good food.  When I pick up a thin skillet it feels like if I hucked it at a window the skillet may shatter instead of the window, not a good sign.  Plus if someone breaks into my house and I hit them over the back of the head with a skillet, I want that skillet to knock them out and not have their head to go through the skillet.  Thicker is better.  Shop around for a decent stainless steel set* that's in your budget, isn't anything fancy, is thick, has a good weight to it then wait for it to go on sale somewhere, then buy it.  Sure you can get a really fancy set* or a really cheap set* but the middle ground is where it's at, something that is thick, durable, will last and doesn't cost an arm and a leg.

Skillet - Just as with the pots, more than one skillet of varying sizes is handy for various reasons.  If you go with a single skillet then go with one that's big enough to fit four eggs or so but not the largest skillet.  That should suit the majority of skillet needs (including hitting a burglar over the back of the head).  Stainless steel is suggested for the reasons mentioned above.  If you cook a fair amount of eggs and you have trouble with eggs sticking to the pan then you may opt for a good non-stick pan to avoid this.  To prevent eggs from sticking to stainless steel, heat the oil for a few minutes in the pan before you add the eggs.

Knife - Very important!  This is what you are going to prepare all of your ingredients with for your delicious meals.  It needs to be sharp and you need to keep it sharp.  There are lots of different knives out there along with some very fancy and expensive knives.  I take a page out of Anthony Bourdain's book on this one, his knife suggestion was always the Global G-2 Knife* and that knife alone.  So as of about a year ago that's what I use and it's been working out famously for me, I have yet to look back and I surmise I probably never will.  It's a rocking, stylish, and very functional knife!  Plus, it has a really good weight to it, which we've already established is very important when it comes to cooking.

Knife Sharpener - Keep your new, fancy chef's knife in brand new condition.  You'll do that with the Mino Sharp knife sharpener* which isn't some fancy electric sharpener, it's powered by you and is very easy to do.  Sharpen your new knife each week and you'll only spend about 60 seconds a week sharpening your knife and it will be very, very, very sharp... all of the time.  Use your sharp knife wisely and pay attention while you're using it, which goes without saying if you value your fingers.

Cutting board - You need something to prepare your ingredients on so you don't destroy your countertops.  I like plastic cutting boards because then I don't have to worry about if I'm handling meat or not but nothing tops the feel of a wood cutting board.  If you get a wood cutting board, don't use it with raw meat.  Get a separate plastic cutting board that you use for raw meat.  Wood is porous so the meat juices can seep down into the cutting board and harbor weird diseases, etc.  Having said that, it shouldn't be an issue if you clean your wood cutting board really well and it isn't overly porous but... I don't know... I'm not a scientist.  I play it safe when it comes to that, getting some weird disease from old raw meat juice that found your way into your cutting board and is now festering does not sound like fun to me.

Vegetable steamer - This necessary kitchen tool* will probably get the most amount of use out of any other kitchen gadget (aside from your knife), it's also the cheapest.  Easy and straight forward to use.  Combine this with your homegrown veggies and you have great food ready to eat in less than 10 minutes.  More to come on how exactly to go about this later, but it's easy.. trust me.

Those are the only necessary kitchen gadgets you need to make good food!

Here are a few optional kitchen gadgets you may want to consider:

Cast Iron Skillet - If you like to make bacon, a cast iron skillet is a must.  It's also very functional for the vast majority of dishes that you'll make and allows you to easily bake dishes instead of sautéing them.  We'll get into the details of all that later though.

Instapot - Instapots* are great and they can save you a bunch of time.  They get a bad wrap from people who have never cooked before because they are not actually instant, in the literal sense.  What they accomplish is cooking your food for you, you just set it and forget it.  All you do is add the ingredients and set the time per an instapot recipe, then it's done.  You don't have to watch it and worry about it boiling over, etc.  It just cooks.  Plus you can make perfectly tender ribs in about 20 minutes since it's literally cooking with pressure.  In the recipes that follow on this blog I'm going to attempt to include both normal cooking and instapot recipes, we'll see what actually happens though.

Baking Sheet - If you like cookies or baking in general, you're going to need a good cookie sheet / baking sheet*.

Bread Pan - If you like making bread, any type of bread... pumpkin, zucchini, chocolate, banana, strawberry, huckleberry, snozberry, etc. you're going to need a good bread pan*.

Mandoline - Nope, not the musical instrument.  A cooking mandoline* slices things for you in a consistent manner at whatever size you desire.  There are also different style blades so you can easily slice french fries or hash browns, etc.  Remember when you last went to a fancy restaurant and you kept wondering how in the world the chef sliced those fancy radishes on that fancy salad so thin?  You kept pondering how great that chef must be with a knife?  Spoiler alert.. they used a mandoline.  The chef does probably still have mass amounts of fancy knife skills though!

KitchenAid Mixer - Super expensive but lasts forever and is worth it.  An electric mixer* that mixes ingredients for you so you don't have to do it by hand and at varying speeds with various attachments.  If you find yourself doing a lot of baking and you're tired of mixing ingredients by hand, here is your solution.  I've lucked out in this arena as the kitchen aid mixer I have was my parents kitchen aid mixer that was a wedding present to them some 30+ years ago.  It's been used almost every week for over 30 years and it still works pretty well.  It's a bit wonky and not all the speeds work on it but it still works so that's good enough for me.  Could be worth checking craigslist to see if you can snag a good deal on one of these.

There you have it, six necessary kitchen tools and six more optional, fancy add-ons if you so desire for you to start your own cooking journey with.  As you start exploring the cooking world you may find yourself wanting other unnecessary kitchen gadgets such as a garlic press or who knows what else.  As you starting traveling down this road then you get to decide if more gadgets are necessary for you or not.  While more gadgets may not be necessary, they can sometimes make your life easier but most of the time they're just ridiculous.

Let's get cooking!

*Affiliate link where if you make a purchase on that site after using that link I do receive a meager amount of money back from it.  It's a small attempt on my part to try and make a little bit of coin in exchange for providing you with a free resource for growing your own food!

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