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Water Cooler: Essentials to transform your kitchen

UPDATED: Wed., Aug. 26, 2020

A mortar and pestle, in foreground, can be used to grind whole spices for more flavorful dishes.  (Dominika Roseclay)
A mortar and pestle, in foreground, can be used to grind whole spices for more flavorful dishes. (Dominika Roseclay)

Has quarantine transformed you from a reluctant cook to a home chef? Even if you’re somewhere in the middle, you’ll notice once you start cooking at home on a regular basis, having the right tools is essential. Nothing is worse than being in the middle of cooking a meal only to realize that you don’t have the tool you need to complete it.

You don’t need gadgets galore or to spend a fortune to be a good home cook. Having a few simple pieces of equipment that are of decent quality will give you most everything you need without cluttering up your drawers with items you only use once or twice a year.

Check out these kitchen basics to see what is missing from your arsenal.

Sauce pans – Most pots and pans kits will provide you with several sizes of saucepan, but you only need two. A medium-sized saucepan is great for making sauces, heating liquids and cooking rice. A large saucepan will give you enough room to cook pasta without it becoming a starchy, gluey mess, make soups and stocks, and cook in bulk if you like to make meals for the week. Any copper or stainless steel pan will do. Get one with a matching lid so you can heat things up as quickly as possible. The heavier the bottom, the more heat the pan will be able to conduct. The thinner the bottom, the higher chance you run of burning your food.

Knives – Despite what most knife block sets would lead you to believe, you only need three knives. A heavy duty chef’s knife will take care of all your basic prep and cutting needs.

A paring knife is great for more delicate tasks like peeling, deveining shrimp or lobster, removing seeds from peppers and creating garnishes. If you don’t normally come across tasks like this in your cooking, a chef’s knife will get you buy just fine. Last, you’ll need a serrated knife. A lot of knives come with a serrated edge, like carving or steak knives, but this is specifically in reference to what most would call a bread knife. Needed to cut bread without crushing it and handy for slicing slippery tomatoes, torting delicate cake layers, cutting up batch desserts, and even for getting a uniform slice off a baby loaf of cheese.

These are all European-style knives, so if you largely cook Asian cuisine and need to do a lot of delicate slicing and chopping, you could swap out a chef’s knife for a light-weight Santoku knife. Your preference between a chef’s knife and a Santoku may also be decided by your personal chopping style.

You can usually tell a good knife by its handle. Hold it in your hand and see if you can get a firm grip. A heavy handle will lend itself to giving you better control.

Frying pan – Fry eggs, sear meat, saute vegetables, make an omelette, all with the same, naturally versatile frying pan. Get an oven-proof pan with a metal handle to be able to finish dishes in the oven or under a hot grill. A high-quality nonstick pan with a heavy bottom will be easy to use and will distribute heat evenly.

Scales and a sieve – Scales may seem like a complex way to measure, but they take out all the guesswork and take just as much time to use as it is to level off a measuring cup. Scales are a must-have for baking recipes that require precision. Digital scales are a breeze to use compared to older kitchen scales. A long handled sieve is incredibly effective for quality baking. It costs nothing and can be used for fine straining or removing clumps from dry ingredients.

Casserole dish – The ultimate for stove top-to-oven versatility. If you love one-pot dishes, this is the tool for you. The cast iron holds so much heat that you can use low stove and oven temperatures with the highest efficiency.

Grater and peeler – A stainless steel peeler is fantastic for speedy peeling of vegetables with minimal waste. It can also be wonderful for finely slicing cheese or shaving chocolate. A box grater gives you options for fine, medium and coarse grating, and usually has blades for slicing. Process ginger and garlic, zest citrus and shred onions all with the same tool.

Roasting and baking tray – Baking trays (or sheets) are great for roasting fish and baking all sorts of cookies, breads, scones and more. A two-handled roasting tray is great for roasting whole birds, and can even be used to finish sauces and gravies from drippings on the stove top.

Mortar and pestle – This isn’t necessary for everyone, but it is a fantastic traditional tool if you are a fan of flavorful spices. Buying whole spices and grinding them with a pestle and mortar ensures maximum flavor and perfect texture. This is especially great if you are interested in Middle Eastern, Indian, African or Southeast Asian cuisines that regularly use a mixture of whole and ground spices. It’s also perfect for preparing wet or oily ingredients for pestos, guacamole, aioli and hummus. Think of this as the original and more affordable food processor, but instead of shredding the ingredients you are crushing them and releasing a lot more of your food’s aromatic compounds. It takes a little more time and love, but you will reap the rewards of great flavor.

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