TOOLS AND EQUIPMENT
I live in a one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn. If you know anything about life in NYC, you know what that means – my kitchen is pretty small. Storage space is limited and I’ve had to get creative to keep things organized. I’ve also had to make some decisions about which tools are truly essential to keep at the ready, and which ones get shoved so far back into the recesses of a corner cabinet that I have to warm up with 20 minutes of yoga stretches before I can retrieve them. Despite my limited space I have a pretty well stocked kitchen and I do tend to use all the tools at my disposal (though I only pull out the big guns like the food processor and stand mixer when absolutely necessary). If you only have space for a few items you can still accomplish a lot with the basics. The most valuable advice I can offer you for success in a kitchen of any size is this: be organized and work cleanly.
Sharp chef’s knife and paring knife, and a honing steel
Dishwasher-safe cutting boards
Large metal or wooden spoon
Stainless steel sauté pan
Sauté pan with nonstick surface (preferably cast iron or ceramic)
Sauce pan with lid
Dutch oven (or oven-safe braiser)
Ceramic or glass baking dish
Fine-mesh colander or sieve
Dry & liquid measuring cups1
Pot holders or oven mitts3
Digital food scale
Glass storage containers and jars with lids
Nice extras to have around:
Small prep bowls or ramekins
Stove top grill pan (or if you’re lucky, an outdoor grill)
Mortar & pestle
Handheld ricer or small food mill
Small spice/coffee grinder
Airtight containers/storage bins
Stand mixer (or electric hand mixer)
Cake, pie, muffin and specialty pans
Ceramic pie weights6
Cookie & biscuit cutters
Plastic bins or cambros with lids7
Pizza stone or baking steel
1As I mentioned here, I’m not a fan of using measuring cups for dry ingredients in baking. However, I do use them pretty often in savory cooking where the measurements don’t have to be quite so precise, and I’ll occasionally use the liquid cups for the wet ingredients in a baking recipe.
2For me, the immersion blender is an essential tool because I use it at least 2 or 3 times a week for all sorts of tasks. It’s ideal for blending homemade mayonnaise, puréeing soups and cooked sauces while they’re still in the pot, and even whipping cream.
3I hate oven mitts – I think they’re dangerous. They’re clunky and make it difficult to grasp pan edges, they never fit right, they collect stains, and they can catch on fire or melt pretty easily if you’re not careful. I personally use folded kitchen/side towels to grab hot pans, but that’s a pro chef habit. For home cooks, I always suggest investing in a couple of quality pot holders.
4Silicone mats are great for more than baking in the oven. I use mine for spreading/cooling chocolate bark and caramel, making nut & seed brittle, and even for rolling out dough. Just be sure to buy a top-quality product like a Silpat, and wash it well with soapy water after each use so it doesn’t retain oils and aromas. As much as I love silicone mats, I CANNOT recommend silicone bakeware such as cake and muffin pans. They always produce sub-par results, so I suggest sticking with metal and glass.
5I don’t often recommend disposable products because they’re not environmentally friendly, but parchment paper is an exception. I use it all the time to line cake pans, particularly when the recipe contains eggs (they make the batter stick to the pan more stubbornly). The stuff that comes on a roll is a real pain to use – it never tears off cleanly, and always snaps back into a rolled up shape once you’ve laid it in the pan! Do yourself a favor and buy pre-cut parchment sheets to make your life easier. These days you can also find parchment circles that have been pre-cut to fit a variety of round pan sizes.
6Pie weights aren’t a necessity – you can always use dried beans or even another pie pan nested on top of your crust. I personally prefer the weights because they’re washable and more sanitary than beans, they last forever, and they don’t absorb aromas as readily as beans do.
7Most flour is sold in plastic or paper bags. They’re messy, difficult to keep sealed and fresh, and often leak. I transfer all my flours to labeled airtight containers as soon as I get them home, and it really helps. Everything is easy to identify, it all stays fresh, and it’s much easier to spoon or scoop flour out of a sturdy container than out of a wobbly, unstructured bag. Containers are also ideal for pre-mixing and storing your flour blends – just add all the components, secure the lid, and shake vigorously until everything is evenly distributed. No whisking necessary, and you won’t have flour flying all over your kitchen.