I go on and on here about the importance of cooking at home. And by that, I mean real cooking, not taking a heavily-preserved and cleverly-marketed food-like substance out of a colorful box and warming it in the microwave. That shit will make you obese, give you chronic diseases, and end you with a miserable and early death. A much better idea is to eat wholesome food selected from the periphery of the grocery store rather than from the aisles.
One of the things people bitch and moan about when it comes to eating well is the cost. In reality, with careful shopping, it costs very little more to eat fresh produce, dairy, eggs, meat and fish versus processed poison like breakfast cereal, macaroni and cheese, or Hamburger Helper. You just can’t be lazy about your shopping, just like you can’t be lazy with your cooking. Tradwife shops carefully and feeds me delicious, nutrient-dense, wholesome, fresh meals for very little money. Yes, it’s an effort, but it’s also an investment in good health (not to mention starving the Big Agro beast).
But it’s much more than that. Preparing a tasty, nutritious, high-quality meal for someone is an act of love. I very much enjoy preparing good meals for my daughter, her husband, and Tradwife. My daughter came to my condo on Father’s Day and made me a beautiful brunch from scratch, and I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience. I seldom feel more loved than when Tradwife happily prepares me a great meal with her own hands.
Minimalist thought leader Josh Becker recently posted about decluttering your kitchen, and his piece makes sense. I have a great deal of duplication in the kitchen I share with Tradwife. This is partially inertia, but partly because we use the kitchen every day and don’t want to do dishes every night. But I’m not a true minimalist by any stretch of the imagination, and our kitchen tools aren’t spilling out from drawers and cabinets, so I’ve thus far called it good.
But Becker’s piece linked to an old (2007) article at the New York Times about a sort of minimalist kitchen. This got me to thinking about the kitchen tools I deem absolutely essential and that I or Tradwife use often, which I thought I’d list out here.
Why would someone need this list? Maybe you’re a recent college grad who miraculously managed to find a good job in a trash economy, or a recently-divorced guy who lost his shirt and his kitchen gear in the breakup. Maybe you’re finally moving away from the processed-n-boxed poison to fresh food, and need the tools to prepare for your newer, better, healthier lifestyle.
Bear in mind that I’m low-carb, so you’re not going to find any flour sifters or bread machines on here. And I’m not going to touch on plates or flatware, since that’s completely dependent on how many people you need to feed and how often you have guests. Anyway, my list goes like so:
- Chef’s knife. I’ve written about this before, and I do somewhat disagree with Anthony Bourdain when he says you only need one good chef’s knife for your kitchen. But it is essential for cutting 90% of what you’ll need to cut when preparing fresh food.
- Paring knife. This will tackle the remaining 10% of cutting chores.
- Huge pot. You need this to boil big stuff, like chunked cauliflower or sweet potatoes. Or pasta, if you absolutely must.
- A couple of medium pots. Useful for everything from steaming vegetables to boiling eggs to scrambling eggs a la Gordon Ramsey*. I like nonstick pots and pans here, even though there are minor health hazards associated with the nonstick chemical compound.
- Colander. Obviously you’re going to need to strain some of the things you boil.
- Large and medium nonstick pans. These are good for frying, searing, sautéing, etc.
- Baking pans, one medium square and one large rectangular. These two will handle most any baking/broiling job like fish, chicken, pork, whatever, plus vegetable dishes like smashed cauliflower, asparagus, etc. I like Pyrex, but metal also works and costs less.
- Large mixing bowl. To mix stuff.
- A couple of flat spatulas. Even cheap ones last forever. Get plastic ones if you get nonstick pans.
- Rubber spatula. Essential for stirring those Ramsey eggs!
- Vegetable peeler. You may need to peel vegetables that don’t come in a frozen bag. Way easier with a peeler than a paring knife.
- Large slotted spoon. Makes the boiling tasks easier.
- Large wooden or plastic spoon. You’ll probably need to stir stuff from time to time.
- Can opener. Some things like garbanzo beans, canned tuna fish, and El Pato hot sauce require it.
- Short tongs. Especially useful for flipping delicious thick-cut bacon strips in the frying pan!
- Grater. Useful for cheese, carrots, and other things.
- Garlic press. As Bourdain says, anything less than freshly-crushed garlic is a crime against humanity.
- Cutting boards. Get plastic since it doesn’t absorb meat juices and handles the dishwasher better than wood. You’ll probably want one big one (like 18”-20″) and one medium-sized (10-12”).
- Slow cooker. These things are cheap and super convenient. I wrote about them a while back.
- A couple of trivets. My tile countertop is immune to heat, but yours probably isn’t.
- Oven mitts. Hospital trips for burned hands are not the Deplorable Way.
Some of this stuff is cheap, like most of the utensils, and can be had for under $10. A good chef’s knife will set you back a little, but they really do make life much easier. I see decent ones in Ross and on Amazon for under $20, anyway, to get you started. I see slow cookers at Walmart for about $20 all the time. The pots and pans are where you’ll spend the majority of your money, but you should be able to get the whole setup for under $200 with careful shopping. This will pay for itself with less than a month’s worth of home-cooked meals.
The NYT article lists a lot of “foodie” things that are very far from essential, like food processors (you have a good knife, get to chopping) and salad spinners (you can scoop some lettuce with a couple of spoons, and if not then GTFO). Skip all that crap when doing your initial set-up. Buy it down the road if you seriously think it will enhance your meal preparation, but think long and hard about buying these gimmicky trinkets. Stick to what you need, not what some snooty goofball food blogger thinks you need.
*Seriously, try your scrambled eggs like that and you will never go back. I don’t even bother with the crème fraiche. I just use heavy cream because I’m a deplorable consumer.