Friday, June 6, 2014

kitchen essentials

It is that time of year again, moving season. If you are just graduating and heading out on your own, or dealing with having to shuffle your life into boxes again, setting up a kitchen can be daunting. It also can be a money pit. After tackling 14 home kitchens I have whittled down my must-haves significantly. (cough, if you have moved it 2x and not used it, you don't need it, cough.)

Items in bold are my must haves, things that I think a kitchen needs to function. Items that follow, in regular text, are the things I really like and are great add-ons. At the end I tacked on my must-haves for baking, a special category for keeping a gluten-free kitchen, and one more if you are lucky enough to have an outdoor grill.

Fire extinguisher - this is not negotiable. You should not be allowed to inhabit a kitchen without at least 1. This is not up for discussion. It is worth every penny and could save your life, along with most of your earthly possessions, but don't do without the thing that could save your life. You must get one, better yet two. Fire extinguishers are rated with a letter system. It is worth making sure the type you are getting will meet your needs. There are kitchen-rated fire extinguishers, they are often white instead of red, which should be used in kitchen fires only. If you have an outdoor grill, you need a more broadly rated fire extinguisher and yes it must be in addition to the one in your kitchen.

Knives are the most important investment you have. Keep the sharp, never put them in the dishwasher, and they will last for at least your lifetime. I really like Wusthof, but the most important thing is that the knife fits in your hand. I can get away with a shallower handle, but anyone with larger hands would experience some unpleasant knuckle bashing if they tried to use my favorite knife. You need to test out your knives before you buy. If a place is being weird about letting you try out their wears, go somewhere else.
chef's knife
pairing knife
bread knife
sharpening stone and honing steel 
boning knife - if you cook a lot of meat or have pissed off your butcher
kitchen sheers
2 cutting boards (one for meat, one for everything else)

Stuff you throw in a drawer or keep in a tall container on your counter:
vegetable peeler (Kitchenaid euro style is my all time favorite)
rubber scraper/spatula (2 if you like baking)
wooden spoon
slotted spoon (essential if you are keen on poaching things)
wire whip/whisk
spring-loaded tongs
colander (I really like the ones that fit on the edges of the sink)
meat thermometer or digital probe thermometer (if you are new to cooking meat, this is a must)
spatter guard (if you do any frying, this gets bumped up to the need list)
basting brush (I think the silicone ones are awesome)
chopsticks (they are great for whisking, stirring, and the bamboo kind are great for flipping hot things in pans)

I am going to get some gruff here, but when it comes to cooking vessels I really think you only need:
cast iron skillet 
stock/pasta pot (thick bottom, solid handle construction)
sauce pot
2 jelly roll pans (I like them so much more than baking sheets and use them to roast veggies as much as I do baking)
pressure cooker - I am a convert and use this at least once a week so its on my must list
saute pan - really useful but you can get away with the cast iron for most. It is a must if you cannot live without omelets
dutch oven or crock pot
mixing bowl (you need one, but 2 is really nice. You can skip if you have a stand mixer and space issues.)
vegetable steamer (some can't live with out this ufo-shaped do-dad, I am on the fence)

Almost all food looks better contrasted against white. Get yourself some boring service wear; save your money for other things. A set of four is the bare minimum you need unless you are a hermit.
4 soup/salad bowls
4 small plates
4 large plates
4 forks
4 spoons
4 dinner knives
4 steak knives (nice but you can get away with not serving t-bones and live a great life)
4 wine glasses (you can upgrade to the wine-specific glasses later)
4 water/cocktail glasses
2-4 coffee mugs (don't pay more than $1, thrift stores have more of these and pro-Ts than you could ever imagine)
1-2 large serving bowls (salad, chips, or when you have graduated from serving pasta out of a pot)
1 serving platter
4 small snack bowls (olives, dip, candy)

Things to hold things
You need to accept that you are going to have grain moths and/or mice who will constantly want to eat your food. The best defense is defense. I like glass, specifically Ball jars, when I have eye-level or lower storage. If things are going above my head, I switch to plastic. So you need to get yourself some containers to put flours, beans, rice, and other open dry goods in that will keep beasts out.

step stool (Don't think your tip-toes are going to cut it. Be safe especially with heavy things that can dent your noggin or crush your toe.)
something to make coffee with (drip machine, french press, stove percolator)
tea pot or electric kettle
can opener (Swingline is the best)
wine opener/corkscrew with bottle opener
funnel (I am a fan of the collapsible kind that will fit in a drawer)
toaster oven
2 ice cube trays
kitchen side towels (4 minimum)
box grater 
microplane (I love mine more than the box grater...)
blender or stick blender
vitamix or blendtec (these are the faster, stronger, intense-youtube-video fodder mixers that are worth the money but they should be an upgrade not a first purchase)
food processor
plastic squeeze bottles for oil

Baking, in general
kitchen scale
parchment paper
silpat (these are great and basically a sturdier version of parchment paper that is reusable)
hand mixer
stand mixer (get the 5 quart because it has the adjustable arm, worth it)
disher (the best way to portion out muffins, cupcakes for even baking)
2-cup liquid measuring cup 
4-cup liquid measuring cup (it is nice, I use mine all the time, but it does take up more space)
set of dry measuring cups
set of dry measuring spoons
casserole dish/baking dish (the kind for brownies et al)
2 muffin tins (standard size)
toothpicks (for checking doneness)
pie dish
loaf pan
cake pans
tart shell pan
angel food pan
2 mini muffin tins (you will know when you need these and you will have to push through an awkward phase of wanting to make everything in 2-bite chunks)
blowtorch (if you are an avid baker you will reach the point of wanting to crème brûlée something)

Baking, gluten free essentials
off-set spatula (Of cake decorating fame. They are key for spreading gf pizza dough.)
kitchen scale (yes I put this twice, but you really need it!)
cupcake liners

If you have an outdoor grill
fire extinguisher
long spring-loaded tongs 
long wooden handle spatula 
grill scraper (essential if you are doing a lot of grilling. You need to slough off the built-up food on the grates so they don't ignite)

This list is by no means exhaustive and you will need to tailor it to your space and needs. If you make baby food, a food mill or food processor might shoot up to the top of the list.

So tell me friends, what am I missing and what is on your dream kitchen list?

Monday, June 2, 2014

cherry almond butter cookies that will blow your socks off

I was invited to a party where the host cannot eat dairy or cane sugar. Not wanting to disappoint - and knowing the crowd was a pretty open-minded bunch of heck-yeah-I-will-try-a-new-weird-food people, I thought I would attempt a dessert. No gluten, no grains, no sugar, no butter, no problem. These cookies were a giant hit. 

I basically made a modified version of The Ambitious Kitchen's Flourless Almond Butter Dark Chocolate Chunk CookiesThey are on the cakey-side of cookies, but who cares because they taste awesome and don't have a gritty or weird texture. I am not so subtly looking at you coconut oil and rice flour cookies of sadness

Cherry Almond Butter Cookies
1 cup creamy almond butter
4 dates (pitted)
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 egg
1/2 tsp kosher salt (plus more to sprinkle on top if you like)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp almond extract
1/4 cup chopped dried cherries
1/4 cup pistachios 

preheat oven to 350F 

1. In a mixer with a paddle attachment combine the almond butter, dates, maple syrup, egg, salt, baking soda, and extracts. Beat on medium speed for 1 minute.

2. Scrape down bowl, beat again for another minute. 
3. Stir in the cherries and pistachios
4. Spoon out 2-3tsp portions of the batter onto lined cookie sheets (parchment is your best bet here). 
5. Bake at 350F for 7-12 minutes
6. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes on the cookie sheets, then you can transfer them to a cooling rack. 

These things taste so so so so good, but they will stick together if you stack them in a Tupperware - you have been warned.