As I have a small kitchen, it is crucial that everything in it functions flawlessly and efficiently. As I like good design, I expect things that on top of functioning well, they also look and feel good. I am somewhat neurotic and will spend weeks looking for the right soupspoon and am miserable when something does not work right or feel right. I also do not believe in having useless gadgets in the kitchen, that are hard to clean, have only one use and seem like a new way of doing something old, but in the end are just gimmicks to sell stuff. My philosophy is, keep it basic and buy quality so you just buy it once. I am influenced by old style restaurant equipment, once you learn how to use it, it will make life easier. So here are a few items I couldn’t live without:
Cutting boards are a bit controversial because of hygiene. Some argue that polyurethane is better because it can be put into the dishwasher; others argue that wood is better because wood is a naturally anti-bacterial. A have a few cutting boards, two plastic and one wooden chopping block. I use only one, the wooden one. I scrub it with hot water after cutting meat or fish, and have never had a problem. I believe that plastic is bad on your knives, and not nice to use, but I have at times felt like I should use one of the plastic cutting boards for meat, a trend that I don’t follow for more then one day every six months.
Cast iron pans
Some people love them, some hate them, and some have them and are scared to use them. First what must be explained is that there are two kinds, coated and uncoated. The expensive pans on the market are for the most part coated, meaning that you are cooking on enamel and you don’t need to cure them or keep them oiled. The ones you find I the restaurant supply store or second-hand store, will most likely be uncoated and will require a bit of a learning curve (especially if new) and some care to keep them working well. I would recommend the uncoated pans, once you learn how to deal with them, they are really comfortable, versatile, will outlive us and many generations to come and unlike anything with a coating, get better with age. The ideal is to find second-hand pan, because you don’t have to cure it and it will be smooth for years of use. However, there is also something very fun about buying a new one and seeing it mature. There are pans that are all iron and then there are ones with a wooden handle, I prefer the all iron ones, yes the handle gets hot, but the big advantage is that it can be put in the oven as well, to make tarts, bread, quiche, etc. I will write here only about the uncoated ones because they are more complicated to upkeep, the coated ones are pretty self-explanatory – I wouldn’t put them in the dishwasher.
Starting a new pan: I ordered mine for about € 11 from a restaurant supply store in Berlin, it was sold as a serving pan. I actually have two, a small one for roasting nuts and other small things and a larger 27″ one for everything else.
1) with hot water scrub the wax off.
2) coat pan inside and out in vegetable oil, as thickly as possible.
3) place on baking paper upside down in the oven at 230 degrees Celsius for 2 hours.
4) turnover off, and let cool.
5) take pan out, it is now cured.
Maintenance for all pans:
1) after use, scrub with hot water. If there is still residue left over, add course salt and keep scrubbing.
2) with paper towel, rub vegetable oil into it so that it doesn’t rust.
3) after awhile a natural layer of fat will build, that’s what you want, don’t scrub everything off – it is not Tupperware.
4) don’t use detergents one it.
5) if it rusts, oil it.
Good quality graders are a must, poor quality here will just frustrate you and cut you. Choose a grader that can slice hard vegetable like red beets very thinly, easily. I once uses a slicer and cut sliced away part to my thumb, after that experience I insist on sharp slicers. I have always thought about getting a mandolins slicer with a guard, but they are more complicated to clean and store, so I have stuck to this WMF versatile slicer, it is comfortable to use, easy to clean and slices the perfect thinness. I also have a small grader because it is more comfortable than always using the large grader for things like, citrus zest, garlic and nutmeg.
Essential for making ricotta or Topfen (quark). It is of course possible to buy a cheesecloth, (in which case you have to multilayer it) I usually just use a piece of an old cotton cloth, it is more versatile in size and you just need one layer.
Spoons and spatula
As I do not have anything that is Teflon, I can have all the other tools in metal instead of plastic. These spoons are the basic of a kitchen, I chose the same ones, partially because they fit together and take up less space. The spatula is much more comfortable to use then a plastic one because the edge is sharper so it can be used to scrape as well as flip.
A basic tool, but totally necessary, whether for mixing pasta or picking up hot food, they make life easier. I also have a chicly designed pair of spaghetti tongs, but I prefer to use these, so I end up using them for everything and my chic tongs are in the back of the drawer.
These are the basic knives I use for everything, one beard knife, a large meat knife and a small paring knife. The only one that needs sharpening is the large meat knife, a run it though a sharpener when it no longer cuts tomatoes well. I prefer heavy knives with wooden handles that you feel in your hand, that are balanced so that the handle is heavier than the blade.
Finding a salad spinner that looks good, works well and does not break after six months is an almost impossible task. I have this one that works and is supposed to double as a serving bowl so I stead of having a middle point of the bowl raised they have included another component, which is a pain to deal with. I have always liked the ones from Rösle, but I am sceptical of the string mechanism, as they generally tend to break. So this is my compromise, although it works well, it could be improved by only having three parts not four.
Salt and pepper mills
A good mill is hard to find. The popular one are from Peugeot, but I find that they grind too finely and I ended up returning mine after a week. I tend to like pepper to be ground quite coarsely, so I bought these, they are not the greatest quality in the world but they grind the way I like. I also prefer to grind salt instead of buying it finely ground, as it gives you courser salt and more control of how much you are using. I also, like the manual ones, not the battery operated, but that is maybe more of a romantic preference.
Nutmeg is one of those things that should always be ground fresh, it is possible to use a by traditional grader to grade it, but this little gadget makes life a lot easier.
Whisk and rubber spatula
Important to have, but not exclusively for baking. This spatula from Rösle I really like, it looks good but the rubber is also really good quality so it is comfortable to use which makes it easier to use and clean.
Stable bowls are important to have especially for baking and whipping cream. I prefer heavy Bakelite with a rubber base so that the concrete counter does not get scratched and they don’t slide around.
A little trickier to use at first then a spring form, the big advantage with cake rings is that they are so versatile. They are great for baking, but also for freezing or refrigerating cakes. It is possible to get them in aluminium or in stainless steal; I chose stainless steel so that I could put it in the dishwasher.
Soufflé dishes (big and small)
Soufflé dishes are perfect because they can go for the freezer to the oven and back again. Great for soufflés of course, but also other deserts, ice cream, etc.
Heat resistant stand for pots
One of the advantages of concrete counters and table is that they are pretty heat resistant, but nevertheless I use these pot stands for very hot dishes. These are WMF, although I am not sure if they are still producing this particular model, as I have not seen it sold anywhere since I bought mine. I like that they are foldable so they don’t take up very much space and that they are easy to use.