Since March, I have spent more time in my kitchen than I thought possible. I’m sure a lot of other moms are feeling it. Breakfast, lunch dinner — all the food, 24/7. And trying to feel inspired for cooking the 1,945,877 meal at home in 2020 is the equivalent to participating in an ultra-marathon after logging months on the couch instead of in running shoes.
The Right Tools
Mundane tasks are a TON easier if you have the right tools to optimize your time. This is my list of tools that have held up to lots of use, are worth the price of admission, or inexpensive pieces that are still workhorses.
It should be stiff-bristled enough to actually get the dirt off of sweet potatoes and loops around so you can slide a carrot through the loop. Getting grit off of root vegetables (or from beneath your fingernails) has never been easier. This one is my go-to.
Unless you are a professionally trained chef, 99% of the time three types of knives are ALL YOU NEED. And since that’s the case and good knives are a once in a lifetime purchase, they are worth spending money on. Look for knives that feel balanced in your hands, where the blade carries through the handle (a grip will be placed on either side of the blade), and is pretty heavy for its size. Or just trust me and get the Wusthof Classic (or better, not cheaper) and be done with it.
I prefer an 8” chef’s knife, but you may prefer a shorter 6” one. You will use this for chopping vegetables, meat, etc. You can get them at Amazon, Bed Bath and Beyond, Williams Sonoma and other places.
Serrated Bread Knife
A sharp, serrated bread knife will keep you from mangling delicate breads or deflating crusty ones. (As a side note, it also helps if you turn the loaf upside down when cutting.) It is also perfect for cutting tomatoes. I have an 8” long one. They do have longer lengths available, if that is your preference. Again, you can find them at Amazon, Bed Bath and Beyond, Williams Sonoma and other places.
This smaller knife is great for trimming fresh green beans, taking the stems off of strawberries, or peeling fruits and vegetables. You guessed it, you can find them at the usual places: Amazon, Bed Bath and Beyond, Williams Sonoma and other places.
It seems rather counter-intuitive, but in the world of kitchen knives, sharper is safer. We use this one, which works pretty well, but I wouldn’t stand behind it being the best one out there.
Nesting bowls allow you to have a variety of bowl sizes handy, without having to devote tons of valuable kitchen real estate to storage. And, if you get ones with lids, they double as storage and travel well. Since I have some pretty serving dishes, I love having this stainless steel set with nonstick bases and matching lids. If I were just starting out, I’d opt for a glass set with matching lids instead because I think they are just slightly prettier when they are being used to serve from. Pyrex is my go-to brand for any glassware that I need to be functional and durable.
I personally have not found value in purchasing a big set of cookware. I don’t want to devote cabinet space to things I rarely/never use. Instead, I opt for individual pieces that I use all the time.
As much as it pains me to have to throw them out, non-stick skillets are only good for a couple of years. Once the coating gets nicked or damaged it’s time to throw them out, or you risk that coating getting into your family’s food. I keep a 8”, 10” and 12” on hand. The two favorites that hit my sweet spot of price for quality are Cuisinart Hard Anodized frying pans like this, or Tramontina Professional Aluminum Nonstick Fry Pan like this.
I have both a 12” frying pan and a Dutch oven that I frequently use. While I’d love to splurge on Le Creuset, the Lodge brand is amazingly affordable and can be found almost anywhere, including Walmart. Just remember, if you have cast iron without an enamel coating, NEVER USE SOAP ON IT! Keep reading — I have a solution for you later on.
I have one small sauce pan that is All-Clad brand and I absolutely love it. Some day when I win the lottery, I will buy more All-Clad. But in the meantime, I have a mishmash of stainless steel that does the job for cooking macaroni and cheese and large batches of soup. Look for a three-ply stainless steel, at least for the bottom of the pan, because it will help distribute heat evenly. Higher quality stainless steel has three-ply construction through the bottom and body of the pot. The sizes I use all the time include 1.5 quart saucepan, 3 quart saucepan, and 8 quart soup/stock pot.
For sheet pan dinners, baking salmon, or baking fries, I have found that any old sheet pan will do. Half-sheet size is the most convenient size.
Pyrex is my best friend when it comes to cooking lasagnas or casseroles, brownies or bars. I love that they are fairly light, super durable, clean up well, and look timeless. I have both an 8” square and a 3 quart rectangle I use all the time. Look for the ones that come with a lid and carrier, like this, and you will be super prepared for pot-lucks or dropping dinner off at a friend’s.
I try to avoid metal cooking utensils because I don’t want anyone in my house scratching up the non-stick surfaces. While I don’t have a wooden spoon preference, I have clear favorites when it comes to silicone ones. My favorites come from William Sonoma. The silicone is stiff enough that it doesn’t fold under pressure, it holds up well, and isn’t intimidated by hot temps. And the stainless steel handles never splinter or become rough (although they can get hot if you leave them leaning against the side of a pan).
I’m not a big fan of plasticware for eating off of, or drinking from. Not to mention, I try to purchase things that will have a long life in my house. My husband and I continue to use the plates we got before our daughter came along, but the heavy porcelain is a bit too heavy for my daughter to manage. And our real glasses are too fragile to survive the occasional spilled milk.
Corelle – We have a set of Corelle dishes that our young daughter uses every night. She’s getting to an age where she can clean up and they are light enough for her to clear and put in the dishwasher. Also, because they are tough, there is no problem if she drops them. I also like to use them for when we eat outside because I don’t have to worry about a dropped plate splintering all over the patio.
Stainless Steel Cups – We love to use these for kiddos and for dining outside. I like to limit using disposable tableware when I can, so having these available is handy.
Old-fashioned knitted washcloths and flour-sack cloth towels are my preferred tools for cleaning up but there is one thing that has made cleaning up cast iron and glass bakeware easier:
Stainless Steel Cast Iron Cleaner – Some hot water and this guy are all you need to get crusties off your cast iron. I also find it useful if I burned something in my class bakeware. The only caveat is DO NOT USE ON NON-STICK PANS! Consider hiding this from your significant other or children to save your non-stick pans, but only if you remember to get it out after slow cooking the perfect roast dinner in your dutch oven.
Bonus Inspiration – Cookbooks
Nothing gets me as excited for cooking as a new cookbook recommended by a fellow foodie. Here are a few suggestions to make getting into the kitchen, again, just a bit easier. (Click on the titles for more info.)
Uncomplicated: Taking the Stress Out of Home Cooking by Claire Tansey
What I love about this cookbook is that it is delicious, easy, and gives you great tools to build on. I can easily plan out a whole week’s worth of meals and feel like we have gotten nutritious variety, without spending too much time in the kitchen.
Magnolia Table by Joanna Gaines
I haven’t checked out Joanna Gaines’ second volume of recipes, but her first one is fantastic for comfort food. Most of the recipes aren’t great for busy weeknights, or the waistline, but they are the equivalent of a food hug.
Milk Street Tuesday Nights by Christopher Kimball
If you’ve already heard of this cookbook you probably could have written this post by yourself and have definite opinions about my recommendations. For more adventurous home chefs, this is a pretty approachable cookbook with incredible flavors. It takes you all around the world, and although they take about 10-15 minutes longer (for me) to make than the suggested time in the cookbook, many of them can be made during the average weeknight.
I try my best to cook healthy meals from scratch. I find it is easier to do so if the recipes for healthy eating are truly delicious. This cookbook doesn’t disappoint. It has a variety of recipes from quick and easy to more intensive ones.
I would love to hear from you — what are your go-to kitchen items? What cookbooks do you love? Please share in the comments because I’m sure we could ALL use some more cooking inspiration!