While we live for weekend takeout/delivery, most of the week I am cooking three meals a day for our family of four, like everyone else. We try to buy all the right groceries to get us through a week or more with no return visits to the store—and without wasting a thing. At the same time we want to cook a wide variety of foods that the whole family will like, a mix of classic favorites and new recipes, healthy stuff and indulgent treats, because, let’s face it, thrills are not easy to come by these days. A successful new homecooked meal is the most excitement we may see in a day!
It’s all made us more grateful than ever for having certain kitchen tools at our disposal (not to mention for having completed our kitchen renovation just days before New York went on PAUSE). And since we’ve stopped spending money on most things other than food, I’ve allowed myself a few new purchases for the kitchen to make the daily task of cooking a little more enjoyable. (Hello, tortilla press!) Here are 10 of my current essentials—please share yours in the comments!
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Cast-iron Dutch oven
I love to bake bread, mostly sourdough, so a few of these tools are essential to that process. This Dutch oven is one of them, but it’s also so useful for one-pot stews and casserole dishes. I love the American-made Lodge brand of cast-iron cookware (and own several other pieces) for its durability and affordability. (The 5-inch skillet is incredibly useful too.)
If you are serious about baking anything, you gotta have a food scale, because measurements have to be precise. It’s all about those grams, baby! I use the small and inexpensive one pictured at top, similar to this model (alongside the excellent Ground Up Grain flour out of Hadley, Massachusetts).
Skip to the next one if you don’t bake bread! If you do though, get yourself one of these, and some rice flour too, as that’s how you keep the dough from sticking to the linen fabric (or the basket itself, if you prefer). It’s such a nice little bed for your dough to rest in. Game changer. Next I covet a real lame to score my dough with.
This is such a simple thing, but it wasn’t until relatively recently that I had a bunch of colorful, different-size mixing bowls at my disposal (I love the Nordic Ware brand). They’re a must for rising bread/pizza dough, and just make cooking and serving things so much easier (plus my kitchen’s a bit brighter).
This is a new one for me, and I’m hooked. In my quest to replicate the delicious handmade flour tortillas we’ve had in Houston, Austin, and Colorado, I’ve been using this King Arthur recipe and a rolling pin. A tortilla press (I have an 8-inch Victoria cast-iron press, similar to this one) cuts the time and effort in half, and finally give me rounder tortillas. Next up I’d love to experiment with corn tortillas.
The more the merrier, as far as I’m concerned. Every time I buy some, I find myself thinking I could use a few more! I use the 32 oz jars for my fermentation projects—making sourdough, kefir, and Jun tea; pickling vegetables—to make overnight oats in, and to store spices, leftover coffee and smoothies in the fridge. They are so useful, and elegant enough to leave out on the counter (or on open shelving). Bonus: You can use the rings to make crumpets with (or get egg rings like these).
Nothing new here—we have depended on our rice cooker for well over a decade, and have used this Panasonic model for as long. It’s a workhorse: We’ve never had to replace it, it’s inexpensive, and it’s just the right size for small kitchens. People who are intimated by cooking rice—this is for you! It takes out all the guesswork and is so easy. (For a delicious, healthy rice-based meal that feeds the whole family and is easily customizable, see my favorite rice bowl recipe at the bottom of our Earth Day post.)
I know we’re not the only ones going heavy on the bread- and pizza-making these days. Carbs are comfort, after all. When we make pizza, I let my kids make their own on a sheet pan, which I cook at 425 F for about 10 minutes, and then I make two pizzas for my husband and me on a ceramic stone similar to this one, with the oven cranked up to 500 for about 7 minutes. It’s tricky without a peel, though, so now I’ve got my eye on this bamboo one.
Marcato Atlas 150 pasta machine
Got an afternoon to kill with the kids? Make delicious pasta, like the fettuccine pictured above. There’s some sweat involved with this Italian-made hand-cranked machine, especially if you have to knead your own dough like me, but it is always, 100% worth it.
Especially for those of us who enjoy working with dough, a nice big butcher block provides just the right workspace. This thick and sturdy maple board by Bally Block has proved indispensable in our kitchen.
And one more that’s not a tool, but still an essential …
Thrive Market subscription
I have been a member of Thrive for well over a year, and I pretty much rely on its shipments of discounted healthy-ish pantry snacks and staples to keep my kids happy. They love the cereals, granola bars, lentil chips, and more; I love the company’s commitment to organic, nontoxic, non-GMO products and accessibility via affordability, as well as the eco-friendly packaging. And it really is affordable; I routinely see prices way below what I see in the grocery store. The onetime membership fee ($59.95 for a year; $9.95 for a month) is more than absorbed in those savings, and there’s free shipping over $50 (remarkably easy to achieve in one order).
If you are interested in giving Thrive a whirl, use this link and get up to $20 in shopping credit when you purchase a one-month or one-year membership.
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