I don't know why, exactly, but I seem to be in the midst of a kitchen mindset. Maybe it's the fact that I've been eating dinner away from home for the better part of two weeks, and can't wait to get back in the kitchen at home and make my own meal.
Whatever the reason, it came to me that there are some things that every kitchen simply MUST have.
* Cast Iron Skillet. For the money, Lodge makes some of the finest out there. I have a 12 inch skillet, and find that it is large enough to make most everything I want to cook in cast iron. You have to take care of it by seasoning regularly, but if you do, it'll last forever. Seasoning is simple, though: Rub the entire skillet with real lard. Turn the oven to 350 degrees, and put the skillet in, upside down, with foil covering the racks. Once the oven has reached 350, turn the heat off and leave the skillet alone to sit in the heat. Come back in a few hours, and it'll be cool enough to put away.
* A high quality set of knives. Don't get cheap here. Spend the money on a good set of knives and your cooking experiences will become much less stressful. The Wusthof Classic is a great set. The forged blade will hold it's edge well, they are perfectly balanced, and you can pick up a 10-piece set for roughly $450. Yes, that's a fair hunk of scratch. Trust me, you'll never need to buy knives again.
* Bamboo cooking utensils. Better than other types of wood used, bamboo is more durable, doesn't rot or wear out as quickly, won't absorb the taste of the foods you stir, and simply looks better. Oh, and they're pretty environmentally friendly, too. I've got two slotted spoons, two non-slotted spoons, one turner, and one past serving thingamajig.
* Salt and Pepper grinders. While finding fresh ground pepper is as easy as finding a nekkid college girl at a Spring Break party, not as many people have caught on to the idea of using a grinder for coarse sea salt. I don't really notice much of a taste difference using ground sea salt vis-a-vis Morton's salt in the round cardboard can, I do find that it's more fun and makes you look more like you care about what you put in your dish. "You eat with your eyes first," I was taught, and the very sight of a cook putting in extra effort to make a dish is appealing to those you serve.
* A set of pots and pans. Again, money well spent up front will save you in the long run. Some heated (no pun intended) discussions will come up regarding the type of metal that's best for cookware. Copper heats and cools quickly, and conducts the heat evenly, but is expensive. Aluminum is cheaper, but reacts with highly acidic and alkaline foods, which can impart a funny taste to some dishes. Stainless steel is durable, lasts forever, and doesn't react with foods, but it is a relatively poor conductor of heat. Thus, the decision comes down to what works best for you and your style of cooking. And what you can afford, of course.
* A cutting board. Again, bamboo works well here, although I have one I made myself from maple scraps, some glue, and a couple dozen hours in the garage. If you decide to make your own cutting board, there are some good directions available via the internet. I haven't used one made of marble, though some friends swear by them. Don't get plastic... they're too cheap.
* An assortment of dishes for slow heating in the oven. Ceramics, pyrex, glass, etc. Get a couple different kinds, different sizes, etc. You absolutely should have a 13x9 pan, a 2.5 quart dish with lid, and perhaps a 1.5 quart dish with lid.
* Miscellaneous gadgets. A couple wire whisks, a pair of oven mitts, a spoon holder so you don't make a mess of the stove top, hot pads for placing dishes as they come out of the oven or stove, a half-dozen towels, and so forth.
* Lastly, get one of these. They kick ass. :)
(I'll talk about spices, seasonings, and sauces in a follow up post.)