Q. What ingredients/cooking tools would you recommend for a beginner, mid-level and advanced-level cook?
A. I’m going to answer this question from the perspective of someone who’s firmly in that middle category: a decent-ish cook who’s interested in moving slightly beyond the basics and experimenting a little. My feeling about cooking – beginner or no – is that it should be fun, not fussy…so I honestly don’t think you just don’t really need a ton in order to create delicious meals, regardless of how proficient you are in the kitchen.
That said, it’s definitely nice to have a few little toys to play with.
Here are the things I use (and love) all the time:
1. One thing you really do need to have is a good butcher’s knife. It’s worth the investment. (The other knife that I use all the time is a serrated paring knife.)
2. When it comes to pots, there are two that I think are absolute essentials: a large, decent-quality soup pot (go for one with a relatively thick bottom) and a smaller saucepan. It’s nice to have a tiny saucepan for things like melting butter, as well, but if you just have those first two you should be good for almost anything.
3. Assorted mixing bowls are a total must, but make sure they’re 1) a nesting set, to save space, and 2) cute, because cute bowls are fun.
4. I keep two chopping boards – one for meats, one for vegetables – handy at all times.
5. A nice, long-handled spoon comes in handy for pretty much everything.
6. Here’s where we start getting into the “fun toys” category. Can you roast in a casserole pan? Sure. But a roasting pan with a rack will turn out results that are vastly improved – since the meat isn’t sitting the juices but rather above them, you end up with nicely crisped skin all over.
7. Busy people must own slow-cookers. It’s a law. (Click here for a bunch of my slow-cooker recipes.)
8. Once I figured out how to make my fresh bread not-terrible, I started using my bread machine all the time…mostly because it makes my house smell amazing, and because nothing impresses company quite like the announcement that you baked that bread yourself.
9. One really nice thing to own is a super high-quality braiser. I own this Le Creuset, and have been blown away both by how much I make in it and how awesome it is – I don’t know whether it’s the way that the heat distributes in the pot, but meals come out perfectly every time.
10. New convert to the KitchenAid Stand Mixer over here, but within two days it climbed straight up to Must Status. I cannot believe I’ve been creaming butter and sugar by hand all these years when I could have just had an adorable pistachio-green machine doing it for me.
11. Microplanes seem fancy and not terribly useful, but I can’t tell you how often I call mine into action when I need some finely grated hard cheese, chocolate or citrus zest. It’s such a great thing to own.
12. Maldon sea salt is the best, and finishes off everything from chocolate-chip cookies to meats to salads beautifully.
13. Finally, a crepe pan is another of those seemingly fussy things that are actually incredibly handy: I use mine for making Saturday morning crepes, but also for quickly sauteing smaller amounts of vegetables and scrambling eggs.
Hope that helps! If you have questions about any particular cooking supplies, Alejandra would probably be a good one to ask.