Cooking School

Top 7 kitchen essentials

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Cooking School

Top 7 kitchen essentials

Kitchens are laboratories, used to whip up concoctions that soothe souls and fill bellies, so they need to be equipped to take on the theories, hypotheses and experimenting we do in them.

Bonny Reichert is a graduate of the George Brown Professional Chef Training program in Toronto and apprenticed at Jamie Kennedy Kitchens. She's a recipe developer and one-time executive chef at Sobey's, and this food writer is also a mother of three. When it comes to outfitting a kitchen, she's got some ideas worth listening to. 



The chef's essential kitchen
Here are some appliances, gadgets and tools you'll need to help you outfit your kitchen as well as any chef's!

1. All-gas stove and oven
Reichert has an all-gas Wolf range with four burners because "my kitchen's not big enough for six," which is the deluxe option, she says.

"It has no frills: It doesn't self clean, it's not electronic," she adds. Besides the oven dial, there are no embellishments. “It's super basic in functionality, which I love."

Why is simple better? "I had an electronic range once and they go on the fritz. The oven's got a very important job to do -- bake, roast, broil. It doesn't need to do more than that."

You're going to want to make an investment in this piece. "Cheap stoves are always too hot, they're never accurate, and the temperature is uneven," says Reichert. Hers is expensive, yes, but it cooks evenly. "It's not precious. I make my range work really hard."

Many people choose a unit with a gas top and electric stove, but Reichert likes gas in the oven, too. Why? "The broiler. It's not a coil, it's a flame. You can see it. So you get a really nice char when broiling steaks," she says, adding that it's perfect for the winter when it's too cold for barbecuing outside.
2. Small refrigerator
"Huge fridges are a disaster," says Reichert. "People buy way too much food and it goes bad." Nothing piles up in her single-door, stainless steel model with the bottom-mount freezer. "I regularly pull out everything from the back and use it up. I shop often and having a small fridge makes me very efficient."

Reichert’s taken out most of the compartments her fridge came with, making room for the products she uses most and keeping as much air as possible circulating around it all. "You should be shopping often," she says, so that meals are fresh and healthy.

3. Countertop appliances
"I groan every time I have to take out my heavy blender or my food processor," says Reichert. Still, she hauls the latter out for shredding vegetables.

"But the best appliance for small, tough jobs is a Magic Bullet," she says. "It's about $50 and the motor is an animal." Besides the fact that it grinds ice, Reichert likes it for making jerk sauce, hummus and smoothies for the kids.

"I have to make latkes every year and a food processor is best -- you don't shred your knuckles [the way you would shredding potatoes with a hand grater]," says Reichert, "but you can live without it."

For most people, she recommends a stand mixer. It takes up a lot of square footage on the counter and can be tough to haul out of cabinets, but it lets you whip up pizza dough, cake batter and cookies. But it's not just for baking. "I bought the grinder attachment for my mixer, and I make my own ground meat. It lets you do a coarse grind, and you know what's in there.”

4. Knives
This is not the place to economize. "Buy the best knife you can afford," says Reichert. "I have one knife I look for every time I go to cut." It's her chef's knife -- the big triangular one.

"A lot of women are scared of knives, but they shouldn't be. Just make sure it's sharp and that you grip it properly," she says. "Your thumb on the blade gives you a lot more control." Reichert can use that instrument for everything, but recommends most people add a small paring knife to their arsenal.

"A knife is like clothes: It has to fit you," she says. "I used Wusthof at chef school and it was scary because they are huge and heavy." Now she uses Japanese knives. "They feel like an extension of my hand." Your knife shouldn't be too light, though. “It needs some weight to help with cutting and chopping."

Knives should also be one piece, with an integrated blade, not glued into the handle. Blades should be steel or carbon, which is really fancy, Reichert says, but not absolutely necessary. Metal pins or screws attaching the blade to the handle are also a sign of quality and strength.

Don't let your knives go dull. "If it's dull, the knife doesn't bite. It will slide off the food and that's when you cut yourself." Test yours by chopping a soft tomato. A sharp blade will catch the skin and cut the meat; a dull one will slide off. Reichert sharpens her knives herself, so you might want to add a sharpening stone to one of your drawers.
5. Pots
"There's never enough room in the cupboard for pots, so choose very carefully and don't buy too many," says Reichert. For most of us, a 12-piece set is going to have more than we need or can comfortably store.

Copper bottoms are often expensive, but have selling features worth considering. "Things don't burn as easily in them," says Reichert. Stay away from aluminum. "They're cheap, but there's no insulation, so things burn and stick," she says.

Skillets are an essential for most of us, and Reichert has three. The 7.5-inch All-Clad is used for single-serving omelets or browning two cloves of garlic, she says.

Reichert's 10-inch copper-bottom Lagostina was an engagement present nearly 25 years ago, and while the cover handle fell off, it's still her favourite and most used. The largest, a 12.5-inch non-stick Calphalon, is perfect for making caramel, which is super sticky.

Enamel-covered cast iron is another efficient choice that's perfect for chilies, stews and recipes that cook on the stove and heat in the oven.

"Buy one or two in a pretty colour and leave them on your stove," says Reichert. "They're so heavy, you don't want to put them away and have to haul them out."

6. Cutting boards
"You're not supposed to use wood, but I hate plastic cutting boards," says Reichert. "The knife bounces on them, but a wood cutting board absorbs shock." She has one that's only for onions and garlic, because those flavours can be impossible to get out of a board, plastic or otherwise.

So you should have a few in your kitchen. "It's not a bad safety precaution to have one for meat and another one for everything else," she suggests.

7. Small kitchen accessories
And besides the big items every kitchen can benefit from, there are lots of smaller items that will also make the at-home chef’s life easier. For starters, a reamer. Citrus is a staple for many drinks and sauces. "I like a lemon reamer because it's way more effective than a fork," says Reichert.

While you can easily buy grated cheeses, nothing beats the flavour (and nutritional value) of fresh. "A microplane or rasp is nice for hard cheese like Parmesan," says Reichert. It's also easier to store than a box grater.

"Tongs are very important to a chef," she says. Besides getting pasta out of the pot, you can use them for flipping meat and vegetables, and they're great for tossing salad.

If you bake, an offset spatula for icing cakes and smoothing batters will save you time and headache.

A quality vegetable peeler—in stainless steel and with a comfortable handle—is worth the space for those of us not quite ready to use our chef's knife for smaller cuts.
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Cooking School

Top 7 kitchen essentials

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