You don’t have to collect the latest, fanciest, or priciest gadgets in order to cook delicious and healthy food. Good kitchen basics can be bought at a relatively low price. Restaurant supply stores are cheap, but can be a bit daunting, since they’re stocked for professionals. Alas, most home-goods stores are quite expensive, but the Internet can be a great place to find deals through well-known manufacturers.
One cook’s kitchenware may seem like any other cook’s tool kit, but for people dealing with cancer and toughing it out during treatment, all gear isn’t the same. For instance, weight and ease of handling become significant factors when loss of strength and weariness are facts of life (temporary, we hope). Hence, a cook’s caveat: When it comes to safety and user friendliness, the old adage “You get what you pay for” may still apply. So here’s CFYL’s complete menu of the quintessential cook’s quiver:
Knives– At the cutting edge of kitchen work, you should feel comfortable and in control. A sturdy knife, whether it has a wooden, composite or plastic grip, should feel good in your hand. Knives can be a good investment, but comfort and sharpness are what matters most, and more money doesn’t necessarily buy a better knife.
You’ll need three basic knives:
- Chef’s knife (larger knife for chopping, dicing, mincing)
- Paring knife (small knife for peeling, and smaller jobs)
- Serrated bread Knife (large knife with serrated edges for bread, also works great for cutting ripe tomatoes)
Knife sharpener– There are some very user friendly knife sharpeners out there that cost only about $10.00. They will increase the lifetime of the cutlery you just invested in and will keep your kitchen safer by preventing dull knives that can cause slipping.
Frying pans– Try to get one pan 10″ in diameter and one or two smaller sizes. If buying non-stick cookware, steer clear of Teflon, as it has been found to release carcinogens into food even at medium temperatures. Anodized aluminum cookware is a safer alternative. The anodizing process seals the aluminum so it can’t get into food, and is still an ideal scratch-resistant and non-stick choice. Calphalon and All Clad are both brands that carry Anodized aluminum ware. There are also ceramic non-stick pans on the market that are safe to use. These pans don’t need special tools and work well. Cast iron cookware is another a safe choice, and can even add iron to your meals, but the pans tend to be heavy. If you prefer cast iron, shop at an outdoor and camping goods store, since pans sell for much less to the hiking set.
Sauce pots– Try to get anodized aluminum for these too. And if you’re buying generic pots in a supermarket, make sure they’re not too thin, since this affects heat distribution. Having a few different sizes is convenient, and often you can get them cheaper in a bundled set of small, medium, and large. Also check stainless steel pans. All Clad is the star here. Although expensive you can get terrific bargains when buying sets, plus there are sets from cooking stars like Emeril that do the job well. The bonus is that they will last a lifetime.
Wok- This graceful object with an Asian origin is basically a steep-sided frying pan, and is helpful – even essential – for successfully stir-frying as it allows you to cook with less oil and more heat than a normal frying pan. It’s also good for rice dishes that need stirring, like risotto, and for many South Asian dishes
Lids- Most pans now come with lids, and you can often find sauce pot sets that have one lid that fits all three. But at least make sure you have a lid that fits the medium sauce pan so you can maintain moisture when making brown rice and legumes. We are also fans of universal lids. These are lids that fit several sizes of pan. You can buy two – one to fit small pans, and a second to fit larger fry pans and woks.
Cutting boards– An absolute necessity, cutting boards also range in quality and price. Wood is better, but plastic is much cheaper. If you can, buy a thick wooden cutting board for vegetables, fruits, etc, but get a large plastic cutting board for meat and fish, since these are dishwasher safe. No matter what material, cutting boards should be dedicated to either meat, chicken and fish, or fruits and veggies. If your cutting board does not have a gripping surface on the bottom, place a rung-out wet towel underneath to prevent it from sliding around.
Sturdy sheet pan or roasting pan– Used for roasting and baking, these sheets or pans only need to be relatively large and extremely rigid and sturdy. These can be found for around $10.00.
Cookie sheet– Maybe the happiest reminder of childhood a kitchen can have. This simplest of wares is also very inexpensive, this doesn’t have to be extremely high quality, just relatively sturdy.
Mixing bowls– These can be either stainless steel or glass, but glass works well if you want to double bowls for serving. Try to get a set of three small, medium, and large. The bowl is such an iconic object that there’s no need for designer brands in this category.
Medium balloon whisk- Balloon whisks were made popular by Julia Child and are important and satisfying tools for incorporating air into egg whites and cream. Try and get one with a sturdy handle at least 8 sturdy wire loops.
Heat-resistant spatula- This is about as necessary as kitchen tools get. Make sure the one you choose is strong and truly heat resistant. This shouldn’t cost more than $5.00.
Colander– For draining pastas or blanching vegetables, a good colander is essential, and metal – which can be put directly into boiling water – isn’t much more expensive than plastic. Look for one that is stainless steel with handles on the side. These run for $10.00 or less.
Salad spinner- The Whirling Dervishes of kitchen devices, salad spinners are key items because they make it easy to thoroughly wash leafy greens and vegetables, ever more necessary for removing pesticides and dirt (especially important for anyone with a weakened immune system). In heavy duty plastic, these run about $12.00.
Measuring cups- Plastic, metal, pink, blue whatever, as long as they measure! You can buy these very cheap, and for those new to cooking, or old pros using new recipes, they are constantly needed.
Measuring jug- Measuring liquids often requires more volume than measuring solids. These larger measurers are also cheap and are a neater alternative than trying to measure in a standard measuring cup. You can buy plastic or glass, but glass holds up better in the dishwasher.
Wooden spoons and at least on slotted spoon– This endearing object is about as old and unchanged as anything a cook uses – and usually loves. A wooden spoon will help you more than you think, and the slotted version is great for stews, dumplings, risotto, ravioli, etc. You can never have too many of these, and they’re cheap enough to buy several. If you are in a store where these are expensive, leave.
Immersion blender– Perhaps not essential but incredibly useful, immersion blenders are hand-held electric blenders that mix and puree food directly in the pot. Other names for these include stick blender, wand blender, and hand blender.
Sifter/Sieve– The old standby for removing clumps in dry ingredients, these items are also great for washing berries, and small grains like quinoa. This is a low-tech standard, so get the cheapest you can find; just make sure the holes are small.
Can opener– Of course, you already have one, but they are relatively cheap — even good ones run for only around $5-7.00 — so why not get a spare. Make sure they have a large grip for the comfort and good leverage. If your old one is dull from long use and hard to use, buy a new one. Your hands and wrists will thank you.
Tongs- These great grippers are important for safety when you need to handle cooking food. Make sure they are sturdy and have a good spring. Unless you are using for open flame grilling, there’s no need to get really long ones. The regular version should cost about $3.00.
Box grater– The four-sided, four size metal grater is a whiz when you need to get cheese into the size you want, whether it’s strips for omelets or fine granules of parmesan cheese for pasta. These run pretty cheap, and there is no need to splurge. Just make sure it looks sturdy, since some hard cheeses put up a fight. Sharpness matters, since a grater, like a knife, is less safe when dull. The price should be $10.00 or under.
Microplane grater– This item has become indispensable in our kitchen. Excellent for spices and smaller items, such as nutmeg, for which a box grater can be a bit clumsy. Makes zesting citrus a breeze. Should not cost more than $15.00.
Fruit and vegetable peeler– The very simple ones are really cheap, but one with a grip feels better on your hands. Even with a grip it should not be more than $12.00.
Deep casserole or baking dish– This classic comes in cast-iron, enameled cast iron, aluminum, or stainless-steel. Here’s a place where you’d be well-advised to spend some money (prices will vary widely), since sturdiness and longevity count. The most important detail to look for is a way to make it east to lift easily out of a hot oven.
Gripping oven mitts- Contrary to waggish comments, the Queen of England does not dress in oven mitts. However, they are the de rigeur fashion statement for a cook’s hands. Taking things out of the hot oven can be nerve wracking especially if you are feeling weak. Mitts with rubberized grips will protect your hands from heat and make things easy to hold. They should cost about $15.00.
Rolling pin– This fundamental tool for baking is an inexpensive miracle that makes rolling dough a snap. As long as it rolls easily, there’s no reason not to buy the simplest, cheapest one you can find — about $5.00.
Glass storage ware– Left-overs are great, but BPA’s are scary, so go for glass containers instead of plastic, especially if you tend to reheat in a microwave oven.
Aluminum foil- Aluminum foil is almost endlessly useful, and can be used to line roasting pans and baking pans to save on clean-up – important when you’re hoping to conserve precious energy after meals.
Parchment Paper – Creates an instant non-stick surface so makes clean-up easy peasy. Great for lining cake tins, cookie pans and baking sheets, and for lining pans to roast vegetables or fruits on, as the yummy caramelized bits won’t stick to it. Buy unbleached if you can.
Plastic wrap– This is one of those everyday products that we wonder how cooks of yore ever did without. It’s the miracle that let’s us say, like a satisfied movie director, “That’s a wrap!”
Food processor- Though a lot of kitchens and cooks fair well without one of these whirring wonders, it’s a device that can save time and a lot of energy with chopping, dicing, etc. They are now competitively priced and widely available, even in smaller sizes. If you can, buy a nice one with a guarantee or warranty.
Electric whisk– Balloon whisks work well for most baking, but are hard work. If you bake a lot without the help of an electric whisk, you may end up looking like a contestant in the world arm wrestling championship.
Ladle– You can use a measuring cup as a ladle, but the real thing is truly an elegant solution.
Baster- Tried-and-true, and inexpensive, a good bulb baster way to keep meat and roasting birds, moist and tender.