Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Getting ready - tools of the trade

This post is for old kitchen hands and newbies alike.  Newbies - just remember that we old kitchen hands are still figuring it out.  Cooking is all about  lifelong learning. 

Since the Featherstone Farm CSA boxes are starting the first week of June it is time for a brief overview on the topic of kitchen equipment and tools.   It is easy to fill up your kitchen drawers with really cool stuff.   I know.  Since we are friends I will show you how I know.  Here are two of my kitchen drawers. Uncensored.  Uncut.  Many of these tools were purchased at garage sales or secondhand stores.  Some from Williams Sonoma.  Some were gifts or handed down from cooking ancestors.  I didn't acquire these in one day or even one year or decade.  And you don't need to either.
The big white circle in the lower left is a ginger grater.   Nice but not necessary. Do you like my pink heart shaped cookie cutter?  The steak knives are pretty crummy.  But given the frequency of our steak eating they do just fine. My husband made the maple Asian style spoons.  They are pretty special.  Lots of stories in these drawers.  But no time for that now.

I consulted famous cook, restauranteur and local food advocate Alice Waters on this important topic of kitchen equipment.  Not in person.  But in her lovely book The Art of Simple Food, pages 22-27.  She and I are very sympatico on this topic.  She says:
"I am a minimalist in the equipment department. I don't like a lot of gadgets and I don't like cluttering up the kitchen with things I rarely use.  My friends tease me and call me a Luddite because I don't particularly like even small electrical applicances.  Instead, I love to use a mortar and pestle and have hands-on contact with the food.  That may be unusual these days, but I've found you don't really need that much equipment.  I tend to use the same few knives and pots and pans over and over again.  What matters is, they're comfortable, well-made, hard-wearing and long lasting. 
.... but if you're starting from scratch and outfitting a kitchen on a limited budget, spend your money on two or three very good knives and a few pieces of good, heavy heat conductive cookware.  These are truly lifetime investments.  Acquire other equipment piecemeal, when you can afford it, at your own pace.  Don't overlook garage sales and thrift stores for such equipment as cast iron skillets, pasta machines, baking pans and dishes and small tools."

If you don't have Alice Waters' book or don't want to buy it or find it at the library, then you could go to Jamie Oliver's web site, where I found a pretty decent PDF file on equipment that you can download from the home page.  I am getting to be kind of a fan of Jamie Oliver even though I have only seen one of the episodes of his new reality TV show.  I give him credit for bringing an important message to the "masses".  And his equipment list is straightforward and doesn't seem to be all about selling people more than they need.  So check it out.  http://www.jamieoliver.com/campaigns/jamies-food-revolution/get-cooking


  1. Hi Peggy, it's nice to know that someone else has accumulated 2 drawers full of "stuff", I was beginning to think I had a problem! :)

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  3. This is insprational. I'm going to tackle my spring cleaning this month, and one of the things on my list is to get my knives sharpened. I don't have a lot of gadgets either, but three that I have been using a lot lately are my rice cooker (cheapest model, never scorch a pot again!), my slow cooker (great for bean recipes and making quantities to freeze, and I'm really looking forward to trying it out with my Grande share!) and my little Coleman grill (great for sausages, grilled cheese sandwiches, grilled veggies).

  4. As a former Williams-Sonoma manager and a current marketing specialist for Arc's Value Village Thrift Stores (Richfield, New Hope, Brooklyn Center and St. Paul) - I second the notions of less is more and check out the thrift stores! I have purchased some great Le Crueset au gratins, Zyliss cheese grater, Williams Sonoma stainless-lined copper saucepan, a high-end press pot. Develop your eye for quality brands and check to see if you can find it at a thrift store for a fraction of the cost of new!