Pare your kitchen down to the right essentials

Years ago, I couldn't seem to get enough gadgets and gizmos. I had two different types of pressure cookers, a rice cooker, one of those 'spiralizer' things, different types of rolling pins, dozens of different pots and pans. Half the stuff needed to be stored in the garage. It was also the mark of a person who didn't really know who she was as a cook.


As time went by, as I took more and more serious culinary courses, got to know restaurant chefs and became more fluent in how home cooks in Europe kept their kitchens, it became clear that I was relying on 'stuff' rather than skills. That was the turning point. I rarely have reason to wander through the fancy kitchen stores these days. The merchandise is, perhaps, nice but hardly necessary. And, I've found that I could 'make do' perfectly well with so much less, that I had storage space and money left over.


So, what are my 'essentials'?


A high-quality, heavy-duty wood chopping block/cutting board. I keep it clean, dry and well-oiled. It's reversible. Don't 'cheap out' on this. You'll end up replacing a warped, unusable block.


And, to keep my block in place, and easier to pickup, I put one of those cheap cork 'trivets' underneath.



Decent knives. Some of my knives I've had for decades. I care for them like they are my children. I sharpen my own knives with a couple simple-to-use whetstones. I also have a honing steel and a sharpening steel. I keep my knives 'scary' sharp. My father taught me that you get hurt using dull blades. I cannot handle watching somebody cut anything other than food with my knives. Or, use them for anything other than food preparation.


I have probably 4x the knives you see here. I'm a knife hound. Some go back 40+ years. You don't 'need' that many unless you're a knife hound, too.



I have one French-style rolling pin.



I have a heavy-duty mortar and pestle which I use regularly to make all manner of pastes, spice blends and such.



You need a large/medium/small colander.



Every kitchen should have a good Japanese mandoline slicer. Although I have excellent knife skills, the mandoline can make things more efficient. It should go without saying that a 'cut resistant' glove is part of the package.



I have two pair of one-handed locking metal tongs. The pair I have are perfect, and I will track down anybody who 'borrows' one, since I've not been able to find exact suitable replacements. You'll notice them in the lower right front of the drawer. Oh, I would also suggest a 'sandwich spreader' (shown in the basket lower left). Super handy. A couple of turners. Ladle. Slotted spoon. Keep the pointy and sharp items to one section if you can. It prevents injuries.


In those small baskets are all the little 'tasting' or 'dishing up' spoons, 'poke to see if it's tender' forks and such. I have a lot of the really old 'Bakelite' handled stuff because I just like it.



An Instant Pot, with steamer basket insert, is an essential in today's kitchen. It makes such fast work of pressure cooking a wide variety of foods, plus it takes the place of a rice cooker, separate slow cooker or steamer. Less is more.



And, speaking of steamer baskets, you should also have a simple folding, expandable steamer basket. Pop it into any pot with a bit of water, and you can have perfectly steamed foods faster and better than the microwave.



Because I went from gas to induction in the last couple of years, I got rid of a lot of my cookware. Induction requires specific metal content to 'work'. That gave me the impetus I needed to pare down my cookware even more! I sold or gave away a lot of pieces that I'd acquired over the decades. I have two large Fissler skillets - one nonstick and the other metal. One small non-stick. And, one 10-inch cast iron. That's it. I have one large stock/pasta pot, two medium (1-liter and 2-liter) Fissler sauciers, and a very small sauce pan. I do have several, lidded, French enamel-coated cast iron pieces that I've had for years. They work on the induction cooktop. Except for the largest, I use them all several times a week. The beauty of the French-style enamel pieces is that they can go from cooktop to oven to fridge. I'll often cook soup or stew in the larger, serve, then store leftovers in one of the smaller ones, and bring it out to the cooktop for another meal. Saves a lot of time, bother and washing up. The blue Le Creuset is there, the larger red one is in 'service'. The Staub braiser lives under the Fissler non-stick skillet, and the really big Le Crueset lives in another closet. The Staub and Le Creuset are expensive but with proper care should last decades. You might look on eBay , Overstock or WayFair for deals - especially during the holidays.




When I got rid of the cookware that I'd accumulated over the years, a lot of lids went too. Now, I find that I reach for one of two Universal pot/pan lids for 90% of all my cooking. If you're tight for storage space, you should consider them.


And, I found a better way to store pot/pan lids - in racks that I installed on the back of the furnace compartment door.




Oh, BTW, I thought for years, like so many cooks, that gas was the only way to go. That was then. The induction cooktops of today are amazing. The induction is more - yes, more! - responsive than gas ever was. And, the kitchen stays cooler. It's lightening fast. I'm not contributing to climate change by burning hydrocarbons. And, since we have roof-top PV and a Tesla Powerwall home battery, the electric appliances make a lot more sense economically. I wouldn't go back to gas on a bet.


I have two salad spinners since I'll usually store washed greens in one with those goofy little plastic 'shower cap' covers. I put the spinner top down under the cooktop.


I used to need various pie and tart pans, but since I don't make 'pies' per se, but 'galettes' instead, I got rid of all those different vessels.


A handheld immersion blender is an essential. I use mine a lot. Even better, mine fits into the lid of a very small food processor. Two for the price of one. Oh, and you can fit a beater attachment into the end of it also, to whip Aquafaba.



I do have a large Cuisinart food processor. I'm not sure, but I've probably had it close to 30 years. I do have another small food processor that I'm trying to give away.


You need a citrus 'microplane' zester. One of the long ones with the smallest holes, and a box grater for everything else. Like carrots.



Every kitchen should have a blender. This isn't a place to go cheap. I recommend the VitaMix - and I bought a refurbished one from Amazon and it's been great.



Everybody needs a selection of small tools: wooden spoons, spatulas (one large, one small), a pepper grinder, spice grinder (a $20 coffee grinder works fine!), a couple different sizes of 'whisks', a couple vegetable peelers (I prefer the 'Y' shaped), measuring spoons/cups, a corkscrew.


You might have noticed that I keep a tension curtain rod in the drawer to keep the stuff in front - like that basket of miscellaneous cooking forks/spoons/spreaders - from constantly sliding to the back every time I closed the drawer.


Mixing bowls are essential. I have a rag-tag collection of Pyrex, glass and metal. You should also have several sizes of small Pyrex type bowls for your prep. They're great for having everything measured out and at the ready when you begin to cook. I use those little bowls for that.



The box grater lives behind the mixing bowls.


I have one large maple salad bowl with a couple sets of salad servers.



And, a compost bucket unless you live in an apartment. I feed the compost to my worms in the vermiculture bins, or to the backyard compost bin.



Finally, if you are trying to complete your own set of essentials in the kitchen, make your first shopping trip to your local restaurant supply house. You don't need to be a professional chef to shop there. I regularly wander in to Resco in Reno, and much of what I have in the way of basics came from there - at a fraction of the price, even from discount stores. And, I had a better selection - and quality - to choose from.


Is this all the 'stuff' I have? Hardly. I used to entertain BIG. Like having 40-50 people over. And, I did all the cooking. I still have far too much from those days. I've told friends that should they need any sort of cooking/entertaining/serving stuff to borrow it from me before they buy it. Please! I'd get rid of a lot, but there's the sentimental angle. Memories. And, if I were to empty out the hutch in the dining room, why do I need that big hutch? You see how one thing leads to another?


So, get what you need, and use what you have. When you see a bright, shiny new 'thing' - on sale - remember that your 'today' won't necessarily be your 'tomorrow'. Do you want it? Or, need it?


A cautionary tale.




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