This is a bit of a departure for this little Magpie, but one area of my life I don’t frequently touch on here on the blog is cooking/cuisine–but it’s a major part of my day-to-day. I’ll be honest and say that Mr. Magpie is the true chef de cuisine in our nest: he is an absolutely INCREDIBLE cook (as are his parents) and dedicates a ton of his time to reading technique books, trying new and complex undertakings, and hunting down the best gear, ingredients, and equipment. Those of you who know us IRL will agree that I am a very lucky lady to have such a talented cook in the house. I’ve had many friends beg me to have him teach their husbands to cook–and he has!
P.S. — How sick are these kitchens? I love that all of them have an open feeling to them and let a lot of natural light in.
Despite Mr. Magpie’s intimidating prowess (as an example, he grew his own levain to make his own bread — meaning that he basically harvested wild yeast to make a starter that goes into making a bread…and then bakes a bread that takes 3 days to make due to several rises…and it is HEAVEN on earth), I do enjoy cooking and especially baking desserts, the one area that he’s not as interested in. I thought I’d share a few of my absolute favorite kitchen tools, though I should preface this by saying that I’m assuming y’all will have the basics, by which I mean:
- A good set of sharp knives (we have Shuns) — this should include a chef’s knife (Mr. Magpie prefers a super long one, around 12″, but I favor an 8″; it’s your preference), a paring knife, and a serrated knife at a minimum. I was interested in Globals for awhile because they are lightweight and possibly better for a petite woman like myself (and Giada uses them), but Mr. Magpie convinced me that having some heft to your knife is a good thing. Also, you should learn how to properly hold a knife–you can probably just use YouTube for this–but I see SO many people holding their knives wrong and it makes my stomach flip flop! SO dangerous!
- A basic set of pots and pans — we have All Clad and a few special Mauviel copper pieces, but also a few cheapies we’ve kept around since our college days. The more expensive brands conduct heat evenly and are super sturdy (won’t warp with time, and won’t tilt on your stovetop!), but the cheapies do right by us on most occasions.
- Measuring cups, spoons, and basic kitchen implements: whisk, ladles, spatulas, spoons. (IMHO, you shouldn’t spend a lot of $$ on these things — a set of 5 wooden spoons from a kitchen supply will run you a few bucks and last forever.)
- Cuisinart, blender, and stand mixer.
- Baking sheets and appropriate pans if you’re a baker.
- Cutting board(s). We have a variety, but I recommend a Boos block — nice and sturdy and lasts forever. If you serve a lot of meat, you might want to find one with a well around the edge to catch the meat juices that run off after you let a piece of meat sit. Mr. Magpie loves this Epicurean one for that purpose.
- Dishtowels. We go through 1-2 per day!
The items below are more along the lines of “really lovely to have” slash “I can’t imagine having to do xyz without this implement!” but aren’t exactly “kitchen stocking 101.”
Unless you juice oranges everyday (like my father)–in which case, you should probably get a fancy juicer–you’re probably needing to squeeze lemons/limes/oranges as part of a vinaigrette, marinade, or cocktail on a routine basis and this $14 citrus press is my very best friend. Those reamers are messy and annoying–and you still have to fish out the seeds. And anyone who does it by hand is probably losing half the juice each time unless you’re Popeye. This little beauty is probably used at least once a day in our house, whether for my evening Tom Collins (my signature bev); my go-to vinaigrette (SO good, so simple: 1 T Dijon, 1 T honey, a big glug — maybe 1/3 or 1/2 cup? — of olive oil, and a few teaspoons vinegar or citrus juice — season with salt and pepper and, if you’re feeling it, mix in some minced garlic or herbs. I use variations of this for salads, for pasta salads, for potato salads, for just dipping bread into. Addictive.); or finishing some fresh fish with a squeeze of citrus. It goes in the dishwasher but most often just needs a little rinse since it’s only used for citrus anyway.
We have a full-sized Cuisinart and it’s totally all you need, but I had one of these mini Cuisinarts ($40) from before we were married when I didn’t want to spend the money on a full-size. And I have to say, thank God. We give this mini guy SO much more love/use on the reg! There’s something so convenient about pulling out this little buddy (vs lugging out the big guy, which is HEAVY and has multiple parts to put together), and all the parts are easy to throw in the dishwasher (whereas the big one usually requires handwashing to make the most of each dishwasher cycle). It’s not as powerful or versatile as the full-sizer, but for your every day grinding up nuts, pureeing chickpeas for hummus, or blending up a little batch of vinaigrette, it’s the perfect answer.
If you have only one spatula in your kitchen, let it be a fish spatula ($6). Despite the name, it’s not just for fish. It’s the perfect lightweight, bendable tool with a nice sharp edge and a long body–perfect for digging under fries that may be sticking to your pan without shredding them up, or for flipping a piece of halibut without having it break in half (thanks to the length). I also love that it’s metal instead of plastic, which can melt at a certain heating point and get scuffed up pretty easily. This little guy lasts. I use it for everything.
Our salt pig (such a funny name — but the official name for a salt container) is used heavily. We have a Le Creuset ($34), which is totally unnecessary and purely aesthetic, because you could totally use an inexpensive ramekin for this purpose. But the point is: fill it to the brim with kosher salt (Mr. Magpie swears by Diamond brand salt, which has no anti-caking agent in it and therefore has a cleaner flavor) and keep it out on your counter, preferably by your stovetop. You’ll find yourself reaching in for a pinch, grabbing a tablespoon out of it, dumping a big stream of it into your boiling water, etc, ALL the time and it’s so convenient to have it out and handy at all times.
Speaking of ramekins, do yourself a favor and get a bunch of inexpensive ramekins ($13 for set of 6). We use these ALL the time and for all kinds of things — organizing mise en place (i.e. chopped garlic, diced onion, chiffonaded basil that you want all pre-cut so everything’s ready to go into the pot at the right time), keeping a pinch bowl handy when applying a dry rub, melting a pat of butter, serving disparate condiments. The cheap, sturdy (microwave-safe!) guys will do the trick, but we also have some of these prettier Anthro pinch bowls because they’re a little more attractive when used for serving purposes.
Similar to the mini cuisinart above, you can totally get by with fullsized versions of these two items, and if you only want to buy one, you should get the fullsized one because it will be far more versatile. But MAN do we use these two minis a lot in our kitchen: mini cutting board ($16) and mini baking sheet (quarter sheet, actually — $8 — and I really like the brand Nordicware for baking). The number of times you just need a little surface to slice up a lime for a cocktail or give a handful of nuts a chop for a salad or slice a bit of baguette — this little board is just indispensible. And there’s just something easier about pulling out this little, lightweight guy and then giving it a quick rinse vs. maneuvering the bigger cutting board around awkwardly in your sink that makes life easier. Same goes for the mini baking sheet: for a household of two, it’s pretty routine that we just need a small amount of surface area to roast potato wedges or toast some coconut or reheat some pizza. And this little guy can slide right into the dishwasher with no problem. We use these daily.
The one, the only: the Lodge cast-iron Skillet ($21). This is the best thing that ever happened to me. I love it so much that when my sister was first outfitting her kitchen, I convinced her that even if she didn’t have any other skillet, she needed this cast-iron one. It’s inexpensive. It lasts FOREVER. No, literally, it lasts generations–Mr. Magpie inherited one from his grandmother!–and they get better with time. This will sound weird to those unannointed in the ways of the Lodge skillet, but you aren’t supposed to wash these the same way you wash a metal pot. You basically rinse them out with no or minimal soap, using a scrubbing sponge ONLY if you have bits stuck to the bottom. You want a “well-seasoned” skillet–you want it be basically perpetually oiled. The idea is that you’re seasoning your skillet and every time you heat it (and you basically only heat a Lodge skillet over high heat), you’re getting all this great grease from previous cookings. Sort of like a well-seasoned diner griddle. It creates a crust in a way that your average metal pan just cannot, and it conducts heat like a beast. Just trust me on this one: it’s amazing. One of my favorite things to do with it is to turn the heat up way high, slice up some cured Spanish chorizo, and pop them in there for a little bit of time to get the fat to render a bit and give the chorizo a little crispness. Then I leave the heat on high and throw in a little pat of butter and a few slices of baguette, which in turn absorb the chorizo juice and turn into what we call, affectionally, “dirty pan bread.” Serve with some good cheese (manchego!) and a glass of wine and it is outta this world.
PS — We actually have two sizes of this badboy and we use them both. Love, love, love.
Our digital thermometer is used all the time. We have a thermapen ($124), which was a bit of a splurge but gives you a super accurate read in no time. We use this for measuring meat temperatures (crucial for Mr. Magpie, a grilling/smoking enthusiast), frying (so you know how hot your oil is!), and baking (you need an accurate temperature for anything in the candy or caramel family). My only gripe with the thermapen is that the sensor is midway up the metal prong, which means it can be tough to get an accurate read if you’re trying to measure the heat of your oil and it’s only a few inches high. You don’t want the prong to be touching the bottom of the pot, because that will give you a much higher temperature read, so sometimes I’m like holding the pan on an angle and trying to get the sensor immersed enough…blah blah blah.
OK, so it seems that my theme is mini here. But seriously, these smaller sizes are so unexpectedly useful. We use our mini (5″) whisk ALL the time ($6 for 2). Yes, you need a standard size (8″ or so — I actually hate the super long/big ones, since they’re harder to control), but this little guy makes our life easy. I think we actually received this as a little decoration with a bigger gift, but this may be one of the most valuable little things in our utensil drawer! I use it for whisking up vinaigrettes / marinades right in a pyrex measuring cup.
Similar to the salt pig above, these glass oil cruets ($8) are always on our counter and oh-so-useful. We have one for vegetable oil and one for olive oil and we keep both to the right of our stove, next to our salt and pepper grinder (we have a Peugeot, which is sort of the classic, but we’re not overly thrilled with it).
Finally, a few runner up bonus items I’d be remiss not to mention:
+Rosle garlic press ($38). Mr. Magpie is on the fence about this one, but I swear by it. SO easy and quick to clean and so much less of a pain that mincing up garlic all the time. I use this for vinaigrettes/marinades/sauces in particular, when you want the garlic a little more paste-y anyway.
+Mr. Magpie is obsessed with his bench scraper ($10). Yes, he uses it for bread making (so you can scoop up the sticky dough without a problem), but he also loves it for scooping up piles of mise en place and dumping into hot pans.
+Generally, I’m a huge advocate of Pyrex glass measuring cups because they’re microwavable, sturdy (so easy to mix things into with your mini whisk!), and have a good level of granularity on the sizing. (Is it not so annoying when your measuring cup has only like 1/2 C and 1 C on it? — I’m looking at you, cute decorate measuring cups from Anthro.) But this silicon measuring cup ($9) is my dream for coffee time. I make a poor man’s latte every morning, heating up soy milk in this little badboy and then using a frother to whisk the milk. Why do I like it? First, it’s microwavable. Second, it’s tall and narrow, which makes it ideal for frothing without making a mess. Third, it pours really beautifully into coffee (you can sort of fold it/squeeze it to get the right pour).
+A microplane ($13) — this is a pretty standard implement in most kitchens nowadays, but for those of you not familiar, this little grater is a godsend for grating parmesan (or fresh nutmeg for baking!) or zesting citrus.
+I know I mentioned good knives up above, but you should also have a few cheapies that you don’t mind throwing in the dishwasher (never, never throw your fancy knives in the dishwasher! You’ll dull the blade.) We love these colorful ceramic Kuhn Rikon pairing knives ($17 for 2) for that purpose. Sometimes you just want to cut something right quick and throw it in the dishwasher — easy peasy.
+Speaking of Kuhn Rikon, go ahead and chuck every other peeler you’ve ever had, especially those big OXO ones with the huge grippy handles (blech, there is so much plastic/gripping material you can barely peel!). These ($10 for 3) are the best. Super cheap, super sharp, and super small–meaning they’re really easy to control. We have like 3 different peelers in our drawer and we ALWAYS go for this one.
+Mr. Magpie insists that lots of Ziplocs in varying sizes and a ton of mason jars are also part of his “essentials” — he likes to marinate his meat in Ziplocs because you can fit them anywhere in your fridge, and shift them around/squeeze them around every now and then to make sure the meat is truly covered in the marinade, whereas throwing it in a huge pyrex baking dish requires a lot of space and you’ll need to pull it out and flip the meat/stir it around (dirtying spoons!). He keeps everything in mason jars — marinades, hot sauces, pickled vegetables, vinaigrettes, etc. And they’re cheap! You can buy a whole flat for like $10 at Home Depot. (Also can double for cute decor for a rustic theme!)
What are your must-haves?