Kitchen essentials: updated

My kitchen has changed quite a bit since I wrote my Kitchen Essentials post back in 2008, so I thought I’d write an updated and expanded version. This time I’m breaking it up into categories for different parts of the kitchen. I can’t speak to what other cooks want in their kitchens, but I can tell you what I use and value the most.

So here goes, my kitchen essentials (along with some extras you might want). If there’s something I didn’t mention it’s because I don’t have it, but I probably want it!

KNIVES

Chef’s knife: First and foremost, you want a good knife. I use mine every day, multiple times a day. It’s a Wusthof santoku, I’ve had it for at least six years, and it still works beautifully. Just take it to a hardware store to get sharpened once in a while. It might seem like a lot to spend $70 or more on a knife, but you will get your money’s worth and so much more.

Smaller knives: A smaller serrated knife works great when you need to slice something soft, like a tomato. When you need to cut into a small space, a paring knife will do the trick.

Bread knife: You need a bigger serrated knife to slice through baguettes and other crusty breads. You shouldn’t have to spend as much money to get a basic bread knife.

Cutting boards: I like bamboo cutting boards, and the one I use most is probably 9 x 12 inches or something like that. We also have a bigger bamboo board, a plastic one we use for cutting meat, a board with a strainer, and a fancy one we use for serving cheese. We definitely don’t need that many, but hey, we’re foodies! My handy method for storing them is to keep them in a file organizer.

COOKING VESSELS

Set of pots and pans: You can get a nice complete set for about $200, more if you want something that will last longer. You at least need a small skillet/omelet pan (nonstick preferred), a larger pan with a lid, a medium-sized pot with a lid, and a large soup pot with a lid. Next time we buy pots and pans we’ll be looking at a restaurant supply store. I’ve heard you can get great bargains on pans that will hold up well. You can also sign up for emails from places like Williams Sonoma so you’ll be the first to hear about sales on these sets or individual pieces. Sometimes they are even like 40% off.
Warning: Many pot-and-pan sets are not dishwasher safe, so check before you buy!

Cast iron pans: If you take care of these pans they will last forever. They hold heat well, and are great for things that go from stovetop to oven, like steak or salmon. I was skeptical at first, but now I’m a convert.

Cookie sheets with a Silpat: Throw a Silpat on any baking sheet and it becomes completely nonstick. I use mine at least once a week, often more than that. Absolute essential!

Mixing bowls: Mike loves to tease me about my obsession with bowls, but really, can you have too many? The most often used set is by KitchenAid. They have rubber on the bottom so they don’t slide around and handy pour spouts. I also have some clear glass ones and some bigger stripey ceramic ones. I’ve always loved this set at Crate and Barrel.

9×13 baking dish: This is sort of your go-to vessel for casseroles, lasagnas, and other baked dishes.

8 or 9-inch square baking dish: When you don’t need a huge dish, these come in handy, especially for side dishes and desserts. I love the vintage Glasbake ones.

Single-serving plastic or glass containers: For leftovers, for lunches, for overflow ingredients. The plastic ones get so banged up and stained, I am moving more to glass containers.

Dutch oven: This didn’t used to be an essential in my mind, but now that I have one I use it constantly. Anything that slow cooks or braises can go in here. Again, cast iron helps with even heating. Don’t think you have to drop $250 for a Le Creuset version. My Lodge dutch oven was less than $75!

Others: muffin tins (regular and mini), round cake pans, pie pan with fluted edges, loaf pans. Look for discounts on these at places like TJ Maxx and Marshalls.

SMALL APPLIANCES

Blender: A lot of things that you can do in a food processor or other chopping device you can also do with a blender. So start with a good one. I’ve gone through several cheap plastic ones and they’re just not worth it, in my opinion. If the plastic cracks you get leaks, so you might want to go with a glass container. My husband also says that the ones with a metal peg in the base are better than the ones with the plastic fan-like pieces, so look for that. Of course I would die to have a Vitamix, but until I make my fortune I’ll have to stick with something a little cheaper.

Food processor: I love ours. I believe it’s the Cuisinart PowerPrep Plus. If you need to grind the heck out of something, this is your machine. It makes hummus, bread crumbs, fruit/nut balls, pie dough, and with the other accessories you can shred things in seconds. I hate cleaning it because of all the pieces, but that’s mostly because our dishwasher sucks.

Mixer: Like pretty much every foodie, we’re devoted to our KitchenAid mixer. Not only is is great for baking (get the big glass bowl), it also can be used, with attachments, to make ice cream, pasta, or ground meat for sausages.  For desserts, the mixer is ideal for making whipped cream and frostings.

Immersion blender: This thing is awesome! I have a Cuisinart Smart Stick, and I use it all the time for blending up tomato sauce or soups, right in the pot. To clean it you just pop off the end, rinse it off, and you’re good to go.

Others: As you can probably tell, I have a thing for Cuisinart appliances. We also have a toaster and coffeemaker of theirs. I just think they’re smart looking and really functional. (You better believe I bought them on sale at department stores, and with extra coupons). In addition we have a big Crock Pot, an electric teakettle (love this one), and a super powered juicer. What we don’t have is any counter space left…

GADGETS

Spoonulas: Part spoon, part spatula, these things are amazing. Probably the most-used item after the chef’s knife in my kitchen. I have several in different sizes.

Peelers: Your standard $4 Kuhn Rikon peeler is all you need for basic peeling. Sometimes I use it for cheese or chocolate shavings, too. If you cook a lot with peaches or fresh tomatoes, you might want to get a soft peeler for the skins.

Box grater: I like this one because it has measurements on the side and a little sliding thing that holds everything inside the box.

Measuring cups and spoons: I have glass cups for liquids, plastic ones for dry ingredients, and a cheap set of stainless steel measuring spoons. You don’t need to spend much money on these, but you certainly could.

Silicone whisk: A regular whisk is fine, but a silicone-coated whisk won’t scratch the bottom of your pans.

Handheld juicer: I love our lemon juicer for squeezing fresh juice into just about anything (no seeds!). We have other juicers, but this one works the best.

Others: Microplane, Hard cheese grater, can opener, garlic press, soup ladle, potato masher, flat spatulas, silicone brush, PBJ spreader. We have a lot more junk than that, but nothing essential.

RANDOM ITEMS

Hanging baskets: I like these for storing onions, potatoes, shallots, and the like. Then they don’t take up precious counter space.

Garlic pot: Get one of these to keep garlic fresh for a long time.

Compost bin: If you’re able to compost (or your garbage takes it), keep one of these around for collecting food scraps and coffee grounds. I like this ceramic one because it’s nice looking and has air holes and a filter in the lid.

Strainers: One with bigger holes for pasta and rinsing off fruit. One with fine mesh for straining liquids.

Salad spinner: Perfect for rinsing greens. Also kind of fun to use. I like the one by OXO.

Dressing shaker: Like a salad spinner, this is the kind of thing that encourages you to eat healthy! I like this one, but a Mason jar will do in a pinch.

PANTRY
Obviously we have a rotating selection of foods in our house at any given time, but we always have certain staples on hand.

Crushed tomatoes: My cooking got a lot better when I started using better-quality canned tomatoes. I get San Marzanos. Usually they’re about $3.50 or so for a 28-ounce can. It seems like a lot to me, but it makes such a difference in soups, sauces, and chilis.

Tomato paste: I like the kind that comes in a tube so you can squeeze out just the right amount.

Kosher salt, black pepper: I like the kosher salt flakes. They’re stronger and less processed. I just buy cheap ground pepper to have out, and then we also have a pepper grinder if we want it fresh.

Olive oil: I wish I could say we bought the best quality we could find, but the truth is we use so much of it we’ve been buying fairly generic brands. This is something I hope to change someday!

Good bread: We’re lucky we have access to amazing local bakery breads at the grocery store, but I bet most places do now. Overly processed packaged breads just taste weird to me now, so I can’t go back.

Local honey: Pretty much every farmers market has someone selling honey. Support your local beekeeper!

Tea: Our tea shelf runneth over. But I don’t think it’s a crime to have too much tea. I really love Trader Joe’s white pomegranate and Gong Fu’s holiday blend.

Fresh spices: I can’t emphasize enough how much it improves your cooking to use fresh, high-quality spices. If it takes you a while to use up a spice, just buy the smallest container of it. At places like Penzey’s it will usually run you about $2. You can also find affordable spices at Indian and Mexican grocery stores. The ones we use most are definitely cumin and chili powder. Always buy real vanilla. And get whole nutmegs to grind fresh.

As far as the dry goods part of the pantry, here is what we usually have. I like to buy Le Parfait jars for storage.
Rice: brown, basmati, wild — must be from Minnesota!
Flours: all-purpose, whole wheat, whole wheat pastry flour — King Arthur flours are great and have really come down in price
Beans/legumes: black, white, black-eyed peas, split peas, lentils
Sugars: white, brown, powdered, organic raw
Grains: quinoa, couscous, oats, cornmeal, polenta

COOKBOOKS

We keep all of our cookbooks on a bookshelf in the dining room. I’m sure that we have way more than we need. The one I use most is actually a binder where I keep all of my recipes printed from the internet in plastic-covered pages. I also save helpful articles from magazines in there. And we have a takeout menu organizer that is pretty cool.

As far as favorite cookbooks, I probably use Simply in Season the most, followed by Super Natural Every Day. You can’t go wrong with a copy of How to Cook Everything

Decoupage head

I had this styrofoam head that I use to model knit hats at craft fairs and it was getting kind of banged up so I wanted to get a new one. I went on Etsy to see if anyone was selling them and I found all these listings for heads that had been decoupaged with old book pages. I thought it looked cool, and I could totally do that instead of buying a new one. So I got some Mod Podge and tried it out.

I’m calling her Simone because the only book I had with yellowed pages was a copy of The Second Sex. (Don’t worry, I only tore out the introduction). So now I have a head covered with feminist literature.

Here is a nice tutorial on how to decoupage a head. It’s pretty simple — just spread on the Mod Podge with a foam brush, place torn pieces of paper on top, and smear more Mod Podge over that until they lay flat. I love the finished look, and I think it will fit in nicely with my vintage looking baskets.

Speaking of crafts, can you believe how much friendship bracelets are making a comeback? I only ever knew how to make the simple ones with diagonal stripes, but I’m kind of tempted to try some others. I even saw them for sale at Target!

End of the cleanse

So, 28 days of cleansing — complete! It feels great to have the full spectrum of food options again, but it’s also kind of confusing. I don’t want to undo all the good work I just did, after all.

In addition to feeling like I reset my good habits and ate really well all month, I lost 7 pounds. Mike lost at least 10 pounds, maybe closer to 15. It’s definitely good motivation to keep eating well. I’m going to try to get back into my exercise routine, too. We’re having great weather compared to last year, when it seemed to just rain and rain all winter. I want to enjoy it!

One little tip if you’re interested — like the Clean program on Facebook. They post healthy recipes pretty frequently, so they will show up in your feed.

Turmeric roasted cauliflower

This is such a yummy side dish. I will definitely make it again.

Turmeric roasted cauliflower
adapted from Clean

1 head cauliflower, broken into florets
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2-3 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat your oven to 400. In a small bowl combine the coriander, pepper, garlic, turmeric, and salt. Spread out the cauliflower pieces on a nonstick baking sheet. Sprinkle the seasoning mixture over the cauliflower and then drizzle the olive oil over the top. Toss to coat — don’t use your hands unless you want your fingers to turn yellow!

Bake 25 minutes or until the cauliflower is tender. You can tell it’s done when the tips of the cauliflower start to brown.

By the way, I made broccoli soup again and I remembered to take a picture this time. It came out a little creamier (I think I used fewer cashews). It’s definitely one of my favorite soups now.

Stuffed turkey tenderloins

I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a turkey tenderloin, but I was looking for a turkey breast in the store and this was all I could find. I didn’t have a plan for cooking the tenderloins, but I wanted something sort of comforting, so I made up this Thanksgiving-ish recipe and it turned out pretty well.

Stuffed turkey tenderloins

2 turkey tenderloins
1 apple, peeled, cored, and diced
1/2 an onion, diced
1/3 cup walnuts, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil (plus a little more for browning)
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup chicken broth

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. First you want to butterfly your tenderloins so there’s room for the stuffing. I just made a long cut down the middle until I got a piece that would lay out flat. But what I probably should have done was to pound it out a little thinner so it would be easier to roll. Next time. (If you do that you might need to reduce the baking time.)

Next, prepare your stuffing. Heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a pan over medium and saute the onions and apples until the onions are just starting to brown. Add in the walnuts and thyme and season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat.

Let the stuffing cool just a little before you start working with it. You’ll also want to set aside about 1/2 a cup to make a little sauce.

Scoop some stuffing onto one of the tenderloins and spread it out a little. Then just roll it up so that all the stuffing stays inside. Secure with some kitchen string. Repeat with the second tenderloin.

Before you bake them, you want to sear the tenderloins on the outside so they’re nice and brown. Get a pan with a little more olive oil up to high heat and drop in the tenderloins. Sear them on all sides so they get some nice brown color but aren’t cooked all the way through.

Then bake these for about 30 minutes or until the juices run clear.

Meanwhile, heat up the chicken broth until it starts to bubble and add in the 1/2 cup of leftover stuffing. Let it reduce just a little.

When the tenderloins are done, slice them up and pour the sauce over the top.

Wall of yarn

In an effort to reduce my many trips to the craft store, I decided to start ordering yarn wholesale (thank you, Karen Brady, for the advice!). It arrived this week and I got it all arranged in my cube shelves.

I’ve already used a bunch of it, and it’s so cool to be able to just go downstairs to my “store” and pick up whatever colors I need.

In other news, this is the last week of the cleanse. I’ll be relieved when it’s over, but I know I can’t go crazy and eat whatever I’ve been craving just because I can. We were thinking about some things we’d like to keep doing like buying almond butter instead of peanut butter and trying to eat blueberries more often. I also plan to cook some of the new things I tried, like lamb and artichokes, on a regular basis.

This week I made a really yummy white bean and kale soup.

I tried to make some biscuits again using a gluten-free baking mix, but they were just as bad as the last ones, maybe worse. Oh well. I probably didn’t need them anyway.

Last night I made trout. I don’t think I’ve ever made it before. I just baked it with some lemon slices, capers, fresh thyme sprigs, olive oil, salt and pepper.

It was really good. I think you could make just about any fish with those ingredients and it would turn out well.

I also tried Joy’s spiced almond steamer, which is a nice alternative to tea at night. I bought some cauliflower to make as a side dish this week. It’s another thing I pretty much never make, so I’m excited to see how it turns out. Well, as excited as someone can be about cauliflower!

Snacking on…

This week I’ve been eating the yummiest snack in the afternoons. It’s just a brown rice cake smeared with a little almond butter and drizzled with agave nectar. The agave is a little runny, so it’s actually better if you mix it into the almond butter first.

I guess I don’t have a photo of the broccoli soup we’ve been eating, but we liked that a lot, too. I have no illusions about it being the same texture as a regular cream soup (even if our blender is the problem), but it tasted great.

This week it seems like we’ve settled into a routine and we’re not thinking as much about the foods we’re missing. It’s supposed to be rainy and gloomy the next few days, so we probably won’t want to do anything but curl up with a bowl of soup and a cup of tea anyway.

Road trip: Point Bonita lighthouse

Mike had a three-day weekend and the weather was unseasonably warm and pleasant (well, 65 degrees instead of 55), so we decided to get outside on Saturday. It kind of turned into a things-we-can’t-believe-we-haven’t-done-yet trip. But we just went with it.


Greatest. Sign. Ever.

Our destination was the Point Bonita lighthouse, which is pretty close to the Golden Gate bridge in the Marin headlands. We were hoping for a nice hike with some picturesque views, and that’s exactly what we got.

After a short hike you walk through this creepy tunnel to get out to the lighthouse.

When you emerge you find yourself on this beautiful point with waves crashing up against the shore.

You can’t actually get to the lighthouse because of construction, but you can get close enough to see it.

There were all sorts of plants just growing right out of the rocks there.

And next to the trail, daffodils!

Nearby there’s an old fort you can climb around.

There’s actually quite a bit of military history in that area. If you’re nerdy like us, you can read all the signs about it.

Or just enjoy the views.

After that we decided to drive around a little more and we discovered all of these scenic overlooks where you can get great photos of yourself with the bridge in the background.

After that we were like, why don’t we get even closer? So we crossed the bridge into San Francisco and started walking from the marina to the base of the bridge. It was at this point that I started saying I can’t believe we haven’t done this before!

There’s a great beach full of kids and dogs. Then there’s a marsh full of shorebirds to watch.

And as you walk along the path (this is the Crissy Field area), the views just get better and better.

We just happened to be there around sunset so the light was amazing.

Once you get to the base of the bridge you can go inside Fort Point and see more military displays.

Or you can go straight to the top, where you are basically underneath the Golden Gate bridge.

Even though we were pretty exhausted from all the walking, we walked alllll the way back to our car, enjoying the sunset.

We were definitely feeling very lucky to live in the bay area. Next time maybe we’ll even walk across the bridge!

There are actually a lot more things I still want to explore in the city. Sometimes it’s fun to just play tourist.

Halfway through the cleanse

So, two weeks in and the good news is, I haven’t quit yet! I’ve lost not quite 5 pounds, in fact. But I’ve definitely entered the boredom stage, so I’ve been trying to squeeze in some new recipes.

I tried steaming fresh artichokes for the first time. I had saved an article from Real Simple about how to do that, and it was really helpful. Once they were cooked, I took out the hearts and used them to make an artichoke pesto.

It was really tasty, and I probably should have just spread it on some rice crackers and eaten it like that. But I decided to spread it on chicken breasts instead. It made a lovely sauce, but it tasted very meh. Kind of a disappointment.

Next I’m going to try Joy’s vegan broccoli soup. I still love my butternut squash and curried lentil soups, but I need something new.


I can’t help but think it looks a little like baby food.

Our saving grace has been rice noodle soups from a nearby Vietnamese restaurant. I’m sure they don’t pass the clean test 100 percent, but they are so soothing and flavorful.

I’ve also been enjoying faux Sprite — just organic lime juice squeezed into sparkling water.

In other news I’ve been working on some new products for 2012. I’m going to make these tiny crochet bowls with cotton/hemp yarn. They’re so cute, and perfect for storing random earrings and things.

And then I ordered some wool roving so I can experiment more with making my own giant yarn.

I am super excited and kind of nervous about this. I hope it works!

Week 2 of the cleanse

I finally broke out the juicer. Now that we’re supposed to be having 2 liquid meals a day I’m having juice for breakfast. Mike has been having blueberry-almond smoothies because they stick with him a little better while he’s at work.

My “green” juices have been coming out mostly orange. I think it’s because my kale is kind of dry so it doesn’t produce much juice. Or maybe it’s because we got the HUGE bag of carrots at the store this week. Carrots are so cheap!

We also got a huge container of blueberries. Otherwise we end up buying multiple small containers or running out by like Thursday.

The other night I made salmon, just like I would normally make it. All you need is salt, pepper, and olive oil. I think I am getting better at perfecting the cooking time, so it’s so moist it doesn’t need any sauce.

Then last night I made this chicken stir-fry.

I marinated the chicken pieces in wheat-free tamari, sesame oil, agave nectar, garlic, and black pepper. Then I sauteed up some veggies before adding in the chicken/marinade to finish cooking. I can definitely see this being a go-to meal (with brown rice) even after the cleanse. And I kind of needed it because I’ve been getting bored already of eating the same things.

I haven’t been too hungry, but I have been craving all sorts of bad things like cupcakes and cheeseburgers. I think it takes a while to get over that when you’ve told yourself you can’t have something.

I also made some terrible gluten-free biscuits.

I wanted something carb-y that was not brown rice or quinoa. They were pretty soft in the middle but way too crumbly and sort of chalky tasting. If you know of any good gluten-free baking mixes I would love to hear about them.

I made a split pea soup and I’m thinking about making this curried lentil soup. I still have a huge piece of butternut squash so I may make a soup with that, too. I need more soup ideas!