I grabbed one item from one of the packing boxes that were labeled “Kitchen Tools” and carefully unwrapped it. As I saw my little blue plastic lemon squeezer in my hand, suddenly, I realized that this thing has traveled with me from Shanghai, China to San Francisco, CA, to Jacksonville, FL, and now, to Austin, TX.
Having moved three times in three years both internationally and interstate, the lemon squeezer is not the only kitchen tool that I brought along with me. There are a few others. I looked into the boxes. They contain my favorites – things that I wouldn’t leave behind, no matter how tough the move would be.
As I continued unpacking in our temporary residence, I started thinking about an old friend, Melissa.
Melissa went to college with my husband, Han. Two years ago, when we were living in San Francisco, Melissa visited us from Boston. The weather at that time of year was gorgeous as always, so we arranged a picnic in Alamo Square. I brought covered bowls of guacamole, salsa and chips, along with some homemade turkey enchiladas, which Melissa especially loved. She asked me for the recipe, then immediately followed with a question that caught me out of the blue.
“What kitchen tools do you use to make the enchiladas?”
“Kitchen tools? What do you mean?” I looked back at her hoping to get some more explanation.
“I’d love to cook, but if a recipe requires certain tools that I don’t have, then I won’t make it.” Melissa clarified.
Of course, she has everything she needs to make the turkey enchiladas – pots, pans, knives, spatulas, and a baking dish. But her interesting statement about kitchen tools started me wondering–how many of us are like that when it comes to cooking? Do we really need certain tools to make certain recipes? I am not 100% convinced, because I started with cheap and minimal kitchenware from IKEA when I immigrated to the States three years ago, and they served me, as well as this blog, just fine.
Now that we are boots on the ground in Austin, I am back to the basics once again with the kitchen tools that have always traveled with me. I think it’s time to pull back the curtain and show you the exact tools that I use in my daily cooking. I Hope this will provide you with some new ideas whenever you are on the fence about making a recipe just because you don’t have the right tools, or when you need to put together a new kitchen just like I do.
Before we dive in, the items in below list are the exact ones that I use or I’ll be using in my kitchen once we settle in Austin. You don’t necessarily have to purchase the same items. Feel free to use this list as a general reference whenever you need and choose your own items according to your preference.
All right then, let’s get started.
A set of knives is the single most important tool that you have to have in your kitchen in order for it to be functional. Without question, this set of Wusthof knives always finds its way into my luggage.
Out of a whole set of knives, the chef’s knife is certainly going to be used far more often than other knives. It’s like a mattress. Since you’ll be using it every day, might as well get a good one and enjoy the experience, right? That said, you could start with a chef’s knife and slowly build up your knife collection based on your needs. A good friend of mine gave me a 30-minute detailed introduction of her first-hand experience with Global Chef’s Knife when we visited in NYC this February. Before we left, she put a new one in my hand and said “Happy Belated Birthday, Sharon!”
I had absolutely no hard feelings of leaving my plastic cutting board behind when we moved out of San Francisco. You can easily pick up a cutting board in Target or online. Based on my experience, you probably want to consider to own two cutting boards – one plastic for cutting raw meat or chicken and one solid wooden for chopping your vegetables and fruits. The reason is simple. You can switch between the two cutting boards when you are short on time without worrying about thoroughly washing it after cutting raw chicken before putting vegetables on it. Plus, if you have a helper in the kitchen, an extra cutting board always comes handy. The same with knives.
Pots & Pans
The number and the size of pots and pans that you need really depend on how much food you are going to cook each time. I started with a 4-quart saucepan and a 12-inch sauté pan in San Francisco. It worked out well when I cooked for two. However, there’s no way to get efficient if you have to wait for one dish to be done, wash the pan, then move onto cooking the next dish using the same pan. So it never hurts to have a few different sized pots and pans in your kitchen not only for different cooking purposes but for getting things done fast when you have guests in the house. For a frying pans, I would recommend to opt for nonstick ones. It’s just so much easier when you don’t have to manually scrape the bottom of your pan every time you use it.
That said, even though my friend is going to ship all the cookware that I left with him from San Francisco to Austin, I prefer to be fully prepared for entertaining guests, which means more pots and pans for me!
I don’t really have anything special to say about spatulas. I’ve used silicone ones and wooden ones. Both types seem to be fine with me. Sometimes the plastic ones feel a little weak if your food is heavy. All I know that I am getting a set of wooden spatulas and some black silicone ones.
Cast Iron Skillet
I confess. I had never used a cast iron skillet until I lived with my brother-in-law Felix in Jacksonville. The fact that you can just transfer the skillet from the stove with food directly into your oven without switching pans is great! Among all the pots and pans, if I have to choose one, a cast iron skillet is probably going to be my pick. You can use it for stir fry, for baking, for making bacon and eggs in the morning. Oh, did I mention that it’s nonstick? It seems to be a perfect skillet to have. I thought the only downside was that it created too much smoke. At least, that’s what happened whenever I used the cast iron skillet. It turns out that if you take care of your cast iron skillet properly, there won’t be much smoke at all. I am gonna share how to do that with you in the next few weeks once I own this baby.
Let’s see. I need smoothies, salsas, hummus and homemade cooking sauces in my life. If you are on the same page, then a food processor is totally essential. In Jacksonville, I used a set of Ninja food processors that belong to Felix and they work like a charm.
Mini Food Chopper
Honestly, a food processor can do whatever this guy is capable of. However, if you only need a small amount of ingredients to be chopped up quickly, this mini food chopper is very handy. It’s small, light and easy to clean. It’s one of the things that I wouldn’t leave behind because I need it to make homemade minced garlic once a week.
From stirring everything manually to watching a KitchenAid stand mixer do the job for me, I think the upgrade is pretty extreme. Thanks to my parents-in-law for the gift, but I decided to leave the KitchenAid stand mixer to Felix. In order to properly downgrade myself, a hand mixer doesn’t seem to be a bad alternative to start. The stand mixer is still on my shopping list, though. Let’s take one step at a time.
Baking Sheets & Baking Dishes
I absolutely can’t live without my slow cookers. Ever since I was introduced to a slow cooker, I have been madly in love with this machine. As a matter of fact, I have three slow cookers. My first slow cooker is still in San Francisco, and I brought the other two with me to Austin from Jacksonville. Keep a lookout for my slow cooker cookbook this year. It’s not going to happen without these.
Tatung Rice Cooker & Steamer
You don’t necessarily need a rice cooker to cook rice. It can be perfectly cooked with your saucepan on the stove. To me, the reason that I am obsessed with Tatung Rice Cooker & Steamer particularly is because of its multi-functions and simplified design that allow me to make a variety of foods in a breeze, such as steamed fish, seafood stew and beef noodle soup. I cook quinoa, beans, chickpeas and all sorts of stuff in it. It’s kinda like a slow cooker on certain levels, but cooks faster than a slow cooker. I thought I would be one of few people who use this in the States. To my surprise, there are ton of people who love it. Take a look at the comments of my review regarding Tatung Rice Cooker here. You’ll know what I am talking about.
Measuring Cups and Spoons
You might be a spontaneous home cook and don’t measure while cooking. That’s perfectly fine. But for any sort of baking, you’ll need measuring cups, which come in so many different colors and shapes. Have fun shopping for these. I have a set of antique-looking measuring spoons as a birthday gift from Anthropologie (I know, I have great friends!). As for the cups, I got them from Amazon. They are so cute and useful. I am sure you’ve seen them in many of my photos.
Now, this one is for serious bakers. Baking is a science. Sometimes we need to be very precise to make that perfect pie crust. You can use this scale to weigh pretty much any food in different units of gram, kilogram, ounce, and pound. I purchased my food scale three years ago and I have not changed the battery for once. Highly recommend it.
Well, a pastry brush is one of those items that you think you don’t need, but you wish you had one whenever it’s needed. When I had too many of the same wishes, I picked one up, and I am so happy for that decision.
Do you like playing with flour? This is another baking essential.
You can find a vegetable peeler for five bucks that serves the purpose. I plan on spending four more bucks for one that can also make zucchini noodles for me. Look at that!
Ever consider cooking with wine? I do that too often not to have a wine opener in my kitchen.
That should be all you need to cook delicious and healthy meals at home. I hope you find the above list helpful. Once again, pick the tools that suit your needs and start with the basics. You can always upgrade later on.
Now that we’ve handled the basics, it never hurts to dream about our future kitchen. In fact, dream is the fuel to make us move close to our goals. Dare to dream big? Here’s my pick for the dream kitchen.
In a sunny belt like Texas, an outdoor grill is almost a must in your backyard. Well, what if I don’t have a big patio or a yard to put a gas grill? Something like a BlueStar 60” RNB Series Range with a 12” Griddle or Charbroiler would be perfect to meet all my cooking requirements. I will never leave my kitchen if I have one of these gas ranges in my kitchen. Look what I built for myself through BlueStar’s “Build Your BlueStar” page. Come on over and build your own dream kitchen!
John Boos Cutting Board
KitchenAid Stand Mixer
That’s my kitchen essential items and dream kitchen items. Now, how about you? What is the single kitchen tool you absolutely can’t live without it? What does your dream kitchen look like? Leave a comment below. I’d love to chat with you about this.