April 28, 2013

Taking Stock of Your Kitchen

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For my last blog post of the year, I want to look forward. Next year, many Cornellians will find themselves stocking their kitchens with pots, forks, blenders and the like. Whether you are living off-campus for the first time or leaving Cornell to foray into the real world, I have compiled a list of three kitchen items and some culinary ingredients to always have on hand.

This list is not comprehensive. You should google “kitchen essentials” to figure out the full inventory of what you need. These are the less obvious, underappreciated things that I have found incredibly useful in the past year of culinary independence.

First, the kitchen hardware. Hipsters and jam-makers alike will praise Mason jars for their reliability and utility. At the beginning of this year, I bought a set of twelve Mason jars for about ten dollars to serve as storage containers and drinking glasses. Eight months and hundreds of meals later, I can safely say that was the best money I spent all year. They come in a huge variety of sizes, which makes them great for storing all sorts of liquid leftovers from salad dressings to marinades to soups. A Mason jar’s tight seal assures an unparalleled longevity in your refrigerator. After a thorough wash, pour in your favorite cocktail and embrace your inner hipster.

A ten-inch cast iron pan is a completely worthwhile investment. These thick skillets retain heat much more than thin aluminum pans, which makes them ideal for searing steaks, griddling pancakes and stewing, well, a stew. Your cast iron pan will be your best friend and your kitchen workhorse because of its durability and usefulness. At my house, we even have names for our pans. Just make sure to wash by hand without soap and to apply a thin coat of oil afterwards to prevent rusting.

Finally, every kitchen needs at least one solid chef’s knife. An eight-inch model strikes the ideal balance between comfort and force. A truly great knife can run you hundreds of dollars, but I would recommend starting out with something from $50-$100. I prefer the German brand Wusthof. These knives stay sharp longer, which ensures safety and productiveness. There’s a reason that all chefs invest heavily in their knives, and this will become apparent once you purchase your own. Once again, make sure to wash by hand to prevent your fancy new knife from dulling.

In terms of ingredients, my first recommendation is to always have a good balsamic (or other) vinegar in your cabinet. More expensive vinegar may seem like a waste, but I promise you will be surprised by the increase in quality and flavor over the common varieties. For balsamic, take a look at the ingredients. If it says anything other than “balsamic vinegar” (i.e. red wine vinegar and caramel coloring), then it’s worth it to spend the few extra dollars on a better bottle. Your salads and sauces will thank you.

Yeast and flour are two cheap ingredients with almost limitless potential. Both last a long time if stored properly (yeast in the fridge, flour in a dry place away from light). I have written before about the virtues of homemade bread. Having yeast and flour (along with the ubiquitous water, eggs, and oil) around means that a simple loaf of your favorite bread (Challah? Focaccia?) is only a few hours away.

If you’re stressed about stocking your kitchen for next year, I hope this list has helped. As I said, these suggestions are only the beginning of what you will need for culinary success. These often unheralded tools and ingredients have been incredibly useful this past year. Have a great summer everyone, and happy cooking.

Original Author: Zachary Siegel