All kitchens need certain basics to be functional. Functional is a relative term that means different things to different people. To me it just means making sure I have everything on hand to make my kitchen a nice place to be and my cooking experiences as enjoyable as possible. For home cooking, while certain basics are necessary, nothing is set in stone. Different cooks need different things. This is an outline to help you make sure you have at least the bare minimum without breaking the bank.
There are many different types of cookware. This is where I do not skimp on price. Quality cookware will last a lifetime and is a worthwhile investment to make your home cooking experience enjoyable.
Cookware is manufactured with a variety of materials but my top three choices are cast aluminum, cast iron and stainless steel. Cast iron probably distributes and maintains heat the best. It is also the least costly of my three choices but it is also the hardest to care for. If properly maintained and seasoned it takes on an almost perfect nonstick finish and will last for years. Without proper maintenance it can discolor and rust. Stainless steel is extremely easy to maintain but does not distribute or hold heat as well as cast iron or aluminum. Stainless with a bonded aluminum bottom is an excellent choice. Cast aluminum is probably the best all around choice based on its properties. It spreads and holds heat almost as well as cast iron. It is lightweight and almost as easy to care for as stainless.
Cookware to have on hand
While the most cost effective way to buy cookware is to purchase sets it may not be necessary for everyone. You can always add pieces later. They may not match but functionality is more important than appearance for the Home Cook. Feel free to either add or eliminate pieces to this list as you see fit. If you are just starting out and are only cooking for one or two you most likely don’t need three saucepans. Always keep in mind that you can get specialty items as needed. In other words – if you don’t plan to bake pies for a while don’t buy pie pans.
- Sauce Pans 1, 2, & 3 Qt. With lids
- Stock Pot with lid 5 or 6 Qt.
- Skillets 6 in., 10 in., and a 12 or 14 in. preferably with lids especially for the large one.
I also have on hand a fourteen inch Wok type cast aluminum fry pan with a rounded bottom that I find extremely useful. I use it a couple of times a week for many dishes from stir fries to frying chicken. It is a heavy gauge aluminum for which I find many uses. Heck, I even used it once to make loud noises to chase a stray dog out of the yard.
Ovenware and Bake ware
For the oven what you need on hand just depends on what type of cooking you want to do and how many people you cook for in your home or on how much entertaining you intend to do. The list that follows is the minimum that I like to have available but my home cooking needs are limited to a family of three and a Chihuahua. My wife likes to bake a lot of cookies for the holidays so I keep at least 5 cookie sheets around for convenience.
For ovenware or bake ware I mostly stick to glass or porcelain coated cast iron except for cake pans and cookie sheets. There I prefer nonstick aluminum. I keep two loaf pans – one glass for meatloaf and one nonstick aluminum for things like carrot cake and zucchini bread.
- 1 Baking Dish 1 qt.
- 1 Baking Dish 1 ½ qt.
- 2 9in. cake pans
- 2 8 or 9in. pie pans
- 15 1/2×10 1/2×1 in. cookie sheet number depends on how much you like to bake cookies or dinner rolls. I recommend at least two.
- 9x5x3 in. loaf pans 1 glass and 1 aluminum
For your cutlery choose wisely. Go for quality over price. Cheap cutlery is no bargain. Choose either carbon steel or stainless steel. My preference is good, high quality stainless. It is easier to care for than carbon steel and holds its edge almost as well. Stay away form serrated knives with the exception of steak knives and maybe your bread knife. Serrated edges tend to tear raw foods rather than cut cleanly, especially with meat. Always sharpen your knives by hand with a stone or a butcher’s steel. Electric sharpeners will eventually ruin the edge. Also, when cutting with your knives always do it on a surface that is softer that your knife. I recommend a wooden cutting board at least one inch thick. A thickness of one inch will help to prevent warping. Be sure to clean the board thoroughly as soon as possible and dry it completely to prevent warping or cracking.
- Chef’s Knife – the one with the triangular blade – 7 to 14 inches long. I prefer one that is between 8 and 10 inches.
- Bread Knife – 8 to 10 inch – this is better if serrated because it takes less pressure to cut through fresh bread so there is less chance of crushing the loaf.
- Paring Knife for peeling and coring fruits and vegetables.
- Swivel bladed vegetable peeler – takes only the peel – a paring knife tends to take a little more of the pulp unless you are really skilled so use it mostly for coring.
Not much to say here. They are available in many varieties, both glass and plastic. I use only two. Both are glass as the markings are easier to see. Plastic is more opaque and the measurements are harder to read. Get one that measures up to one cup and one that measures up to two cups in glass with bright red markings.
Stocking Your Kitchen
While you could spend a small fortune to stock up on stuff you may use some day but will most likely throw out when it expires I think it is better to purchase a few basics and then buy other things as the need arises for specific recipes. In most instances fresh ingredients and spices are best but some processed and dry items are very handy for day-to-day home cooking. All other items can be picked up on an as need basis. The following list is what I keep on hand.
- Dry bread crumbs plain and Italian
- Corn Starch – a great thickening agent for gravies and stews
- All purpose flour
- Baking soda – more for heartburn than for cooking. I buy baking powder as needed.
- Vegetable oil
- Olive oil
- Syrup for pancakes
- Sugar – don’t buy powdered or brown sugar until you need it.
These are some basic spices and dried herbs that I keep on hand. Most others I will buy fresh as needed. Please remember that even these packaged spices lose potency over time. Plan on replacing any unused portions at least every two years and purchase the smallest bottle or jar you can. Be sure to store these items away from sunlight and heat.
- Ground Allspice
- Dried Basil
- Bay Leaves
- Chili Powder
- Dry Mustard
- Nutmeg – but only if you like French Toast or Egg Nog a lot.
- Salt and Pepper
- Tarragon – I like this herb in a lot of things, spaghetti, omelets, whatever, I even found a recipe for liver with a Mustard and Tarragon Cream Sauce the I like much more than liver and onions.
Condiments and Sauces and Coffee and Stuff
This is a personal preference so I won’t make many suggestions. You know if you like catsup and mustard and not mayo. I like mustard. I keep a variety of different prepared mustards on hand for different purposes. Dijon, Spicy Brown, & Hot Sweet Mustard for things like crackers and cheese Southwestrn Mustard for Chorizo Sausage, & regular Yellow Mustard for hot dogs and burgers. Pickle relish should definitely be on your list if you like hot dogs. Other condiments like taco sauce, seafood sauce, tartar sauce, or any other specialty items just depend on your personnal preference. Their are just too many special items to list here.
Coffee is also a personnal choice. I like a medium roast and drink it “black and nasty”. Coffee is available in many roasts and grinds. You can also get many specialty blends like Mocha and Latte as instant coffee. Some of them are quite good and add a little positive note when served after dinner when you are entertaining.
I like salads. Sometimes I prefer to make my own dressings but I do not always have the time. When I purchase prepared salad dressings I do tend to stay away from store brands which I think tend to be a little bland. You do not have to buy the most expensive to get a good dressing. Check out a few brands to see what suits your taste. As with most things in Home Cooking experiment until you find what works for you and your family.