What Every Home Cook Should Have and What You Can Do Without

I have noticed these past couple of months that many people are getting into cooking at home more, and everyone is getting really creative and adventurous in using what they have available. I include myself in this, and although I already did a lot of cooking before, I’ve certainly been doing a lot more now. With more home cooking comes binge watching cooking videos, which has me taking mental stock of my kitchen tools and gadgets. I realize I have quite a few very useful things around my kitchen, but seeing the fun, convenient tools these chefs have has made me a tiny bit envious. Now isn’t the time to be running out to the store every time I see something that looks cool (some are very expensive anyway), and while I have definitely bought a few kitchen items recently, I already have pretty much everything I need, so I, along with Bethany and Taryn, wanted to compile a list of some of our favorite kitchen tools and gadgets. The caveat with this list is that everyone has their own style of cooking and various flavors and dishes they enjoy making, so what I consider a non-necessity might very well be necessary for the kind of things you cook or how you choose to cook them. However, since Bethany and Taryn have different cooking styles than me, I thought it would be a fun way to see how our lists differ, and hopefully that can help some of you as well!

What kind of cooking/baking we do:

Alexys: I cook most of my own food and sometimes multiple times a day, but I like to make big batches of things so that I can have some things made ahead of time as well. I wouldn’t say I’m the most adventurous cook, but recently I have been expanding my diet and trying lots of new recipes! I also find cooking and baking to be very therapeutic, so I like to take my time and keep it relaxed, although I do like to be as efficient as possible.

Bethany: I tend to make quite a few meals from scratch, and I’m always trying out a new ingredient or style of cooking that has seemed intimidating in the past. My husband is a great cook and likes to eat new and exciting foods so when I met him I started to become more adventurous with what I ate. Before him I used to be very inexperienced in the kitchen and I usually ate takeout. However, I am a pretty good baker. My mom and grandma have even passed a few of their signature recipes down to me.  

Taryn: I like to experiment and try new ingredients. I cook Asian and Mediterrean food the most, but don’t do much baking (maybe once a month). I like leftovers for the next day, but I don’t tend to batch-make. Although I like to make my meals from scratch, I still use a decent amount of premade ingredients to help speed things along. For example, I’ll make my own Asian soup but will add frozen dumplings. I have to pick my equipment wisely because I have a small kitchen, but I will one day own tons of fun, specialized equipment when I have the room. 

What we think is necessary and why: 

Alexys: 

  • Sea salt and/or flaky salt: This is my most used seasoning so I like having plenty of it around, and flaky salt has been a fun addition to my spice cabinet.
  • Olive oil: I use olive oil almost everyday so I prefer having a good quality extra virgin olive oil.
  • Stainless steel pot: This is my most used pot by far! It’s very versatile and easy to use. If you are looking for new pots and pans, avoid buying them with plastic handles. That way they can go in to oven too.
  • Non-stick skillet (either regular or ceramic coated): This is a more recent addition to my kitchen. I love using my non-stick skillet for eggs or to make things like french toast, grilled cheese, and fish. There are a lot of great non-toxic options out there if that is a concern.
  • Decent chef’s knife: Very useful for all kinds of food prep. I got mine at Target for under $20.
  • Baking tray: I use my baking trays for all kinds of things from baking fries and veggies, to baked goods like cookies and homemade granola!
  • Parchment paper: This goes hand-in-hand with the baking trays. Parchment paper keeps food from sticking and saves on having to wash the pan.
  • Food storage: I cook a lot of large batch meals, so having enough containers really helps me keep things organized and keep food waste at a minimum.

Bethany:

  • Can opener: There is really no getting around this one. If you find yourself without a can opener you would have to get pretty creative to find an alternative. Right now I have an electric one, but I think I would prefer a manual one instead.
  • Zester: This is a newer one for me and I can’t believe I went this long without it. A lot of recipes I follow tend to call for lemon or lime zest and sometimes when I am too lazy to chop garlic I use the zester for that as well. No need to buy an expensive one. If you use them a lot, they tend to dull in about six months, so buy some that you’re okay replacing.
  • Wine opener: If you enjoy drinking wine then you will need one of these. You can get a fancy electric one, but they can be expensive. If you don’t have a lot of storage space in your kitchen a simple wine key works just fine.
  • Dutch oven: I use mine a lot for soups, stew, or when I make a large batch of pasta sauce. If you are tight on kitchen storage you could easily get by with a dutch oven in place of a large pot or frying pan. 
  • Strainer: I really do not see how I could get by without a strainer. It comes in handy so often. Like when I need to strain pasta, boiled potatoes or other vegetables.

Taryn:  

  • Fish spatula: longer than a normal spatula. I really only use my normal spatula when my fish spatula is dirty. It’s so much better for flipping large, flimsy things, like pancakes, grilled cheeses, and of course delicate fish.
  • An assortment of sauce bowls: Smaller metal ones you see at restaurants for ketchup and condiments, soy sauce bowls, ramekins, etc. They’re easy to store and they give your homemade dishes a restaurant feel. They’re also just fun to collect and gift to others.
  • Salt bowl & kosher salt: I never buy iodized salt anymore. I just think kosher salt and flaky salts elevate your cooking in such an easy way. I also think it’s really important to have a salt bowl to be able to pinch the salt you need or easily put your measuring spoon in the bowl. I have this one from Williams Sonoma, and yes it’s $30 but I will keep it for decades. You really just need one with a lid on it to keep out moisture, but I like that mine has a swivel top so I only need one hand to open.
  • Masking tape and a sharpie: I like to label leftovers, homemade pickles and sauces, and produce I’ve cut up. Masking tape doesn’t leave anything sticky behind and when I have a lot of homemade stuff in my fridge with tape and sharpies on them, I just feel accomplished.

 Things we can do without:

Alexys: Stand mixer: I don’t own a stand mixer, but I do have a hand held electric mixer, and I don’t even use that very often. I usually mix by hand when I bake (I either use a whisk or a large fork or spoon, depending on what I’m mixing), and while it might be a bit more work and take longer, it saves on dishes and I don’t feel like I’m missing anything by not having a stand mixer in my kitchen.  

Bethany: Panini press: We received ours as a gift and at first thought we would use it all the time, but in reality we only used it a handful of times and it’s probably been sitting in the back of the cabinet for over a year now. 

Taryn: This is tough because I got rid of so many things when moving to Washington DC that I feel like my kitchen is pretty efficient, but in general I don’t use things that are super hard to clean. We still use our blender once a week, but I hate cleaning it. I also bought a lot of metal straws when that became a thing, then realized I don’t use straws at home very often and don’t like cleaning them, so I never use them. 

Luxury items (things that aren’t totally necessary but make cooking easier):

Alexys: 

  • Marble salt holder: When I decided to order a salt holder, marble was one of the few in stock, so I went for it. I’m really happy with it and get a lot of use out of it, however, you could use any small bowl you already have and it will work the same.
  • Cutting board: I recently found a cutting board tucked away in my pantry and it has made food prep much more convenient.

Bethany:

  • Soda stream: My husband prefers to drink soda water and before we had a soda stream he used to by soda water in cans. When we started reducing the waste in our household we got a soda stream, and it has been a great investment.

Taryn: 

  • All my spices and sauces. None are expensive, but I love collecting spices and sauces to see if I can better mimic more authentic recipes. 
  • Good (possibly overpriced) knives: I started buying good knives about four years ago and buy a nice, Japanese brand knife for myself every year. This year I will probably buy a cleaver and that will round out my knife collection. I use my paring knife the most though.

Things we want to get in the future:

Alexys:

  • Better knife: I am happy with the knives I have for now, but I have noticed that they are a bit too big for me to use for everyday things and can also get uncomfortable when I am chopping a lot. I use my knives very frequently so it is something I want to look into at some point. 
  • Dutch oven: A dutch oven has been on my list for awhile now and I make a lot of soups and broth so I feel like this would be a good investment to make eventually.

Bethany:

  • Pasta attachment for stand mixer: I love my stand mixer, and I do use it quite a bit. I would love to get the pasta attachment and learn to make pasta from scratch.

Taryn:

  • Cast iron skillet: I just keep seeing these pop up in videos and recipes and like the rustic feel of them. 
  • Tamagoyaki Japanese omelette pan: this one may wait a bit, but it’s just a deep rectangle pan to make rolled omelettes. It was my favorite thing to eat in Tokyo for breakfast and think it would be fun to be able to make my own.

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