Thursday, July 11, 2013

For Francie - the Minimally Well-Equipped Kitchen

Vic and Francie 1965
Francie and I met during our sophomore year in high school when I was moved into her class at the recommendation of my English teacher.  We read the classics, took creative writing, and struggled through chemistry together.  And, best of all – better than dating our boyfriends, straightening our hair, and wearing miniskirts - even better than being escorted around the Gallery of Modern Art by Huntington Hartford himself – at 7:45 p.m. on Wednesday, February 12,1964, we saw the Beatles at Carnegie Hall. 

They sang twelve songs,

Roll Over Beethoven
From Me to You
I Saw Her Standing There
This Boy
All My Loving
I Want To Be Your Man
Please Please Me
Till There Was You
She Loves You
I Want to Hold Your Hand 
Twist and Shout
Whole Lot of Shakin’ Goin On . . .

 and we screamed our heads off through all of them.  

All these years later and 1,907 miles apart, we’re both reading the same books and still discussing our hair.  What we don’t talk about is cooking.

That’s because Fran doesn’t cook.  Unless she absolutely has to.  And then, not very much. 

Her sister Patricia, who was a well-known classically-trained chef, once confided to me that Fran kept books in her kitchen cabinets.  And while I agree that a good book can in a sense be devoured, and I have books squirreled all over the house, I don’t keep them in my kitchen cupboards.

I always think it should be my mission to come up with lots of easy recipes for Fran to follow, but I am constantly thwarted by the simple fact that if you don’t like to cook, you probably don’t have much cooking equipment lying around the house.

As John Pawson, the author of the not-recommended-as-a-basic but highly-prized Living and Eating, points out, having the “right kit” makes cooking infinitely easier and much more pleasant, which to me means having the right stuff is essential for those who don't like to cook but who do cook - or who should cook.  So even though I’m sure Fran would rather spend her money on almost anything else, maybe my mission should start with a list of the things I think someone needs in the kitchen - if not to make it actually fun, at least to keep it from being a drag. 

For Francie Because I Love You, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah

Two Good Books

The Fannie Farmer Cookbook by Marion Cunningham

This is what I consider to be the best general cookbook there is.  You can even get it in a mass-market paperback, which is the Twelfth Edition, my favorite.

Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan

This is my favorite cookbook.  If you make the Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter on Page 152, you will see why (and, honestly, have you ever met anyone who doesn't like Italian food?)  I usually use a 14-1/2 ounce can of Muir Glen Whole Peeled Tomatoes.  They are high-quality organic tomatoes, and the can lining is BPA free.  I put the entire contents of the can in a bowl, squish the tomatoes with my fingers, then finish cutting up the tomatoes with kitchen scissors, and proceed with the recipe.  

3 Knives 

An 8-inch chef’s knife (never to be put in the dishwasher)

You can use this for almost anything except slicing bread and performing tiny chores like segmenting grapefruit.  Having the right chef's knife will make your cooking easier than any other single tool, and using a knife that's sharp (which means owning a knife that you can easily keep sharp) is safer than using a dull knife.  

Expensive but worth it.  I highly recommend the MAC 8-1/2-inch Pro Chef's Knife

I like it better than any other chef's knife I’ve had.  It's beautiful, comfortable in the hand, and easy to sharpen, especially if you use the hand-held Rollsharp Ceramic Knife Sharpener especially recommended for MAC knives.

If  you don't want a knife that's this expensive, you can't go wrong with the Wusthof 8-inch Classic Chef's Knife if you can - and will - take it somewhere to get it sharpened twice a year and in between use an AccuSharp knife sharpener to keep its edge straight. Cookware & More sells Wusthof seconds, and if this is the knife you want, it would be worth checking out their supply to see if the 8-inch Chef's is in stock.  

AccuSharp Knife Tool - Inexpensive, Easy to Use, and Effective

On September 1, 2013, the always trustworthy Cook's Illustrated most highly recommended the Victorinox 8" Swiss Army Fibrox (not Classic) Chef's Knife.  I have not personally used this knife, but Cook's said it is "Still the best - and a bargain - after 20 years…"  Absolutely a knife to consider.  I was in J.B. Prince just yesterday, and someone - presumably a chef - was buying the 12-inch version of this knife, and it was sitting on the counter as I made my own purchases. 

The MAC is made in Japan.  It's thin, light, and very sharp; the Wusthof is made in Germany.  It's strong, heavy, and functional but not as easy to keep sharp as the MAC.  I believe the Victorinox, which is a fully forged knife made in Germany, will be light as I have a Fibrox slicing knife and a Fibrox salmon knife and a Fibrox boning knife, all of which are easy to grip, fine to use, and light. 

An off-set bread knife (never to be put in the dishwasher)

You will use this for more than bread, especially for slicing tomatoes. There are two good choices.

 The first is an  F. Dick Offset Bread Knife.  This is the knife that Anthony Bourdain praised in Kitchen Confidential.  

The second, is a Wusthof Gourmet Offset Bread Knife, which is not a forged knife but does not have to be.  The New York Times recommended this knife in October 2002. 

I use them both interchangeably and never sharpen them.  I have had them for years and never felt the need to replace them.  I reach for this knife a lot - for instance, when I'm cutting lemons or limes in half, this is the knife I grab.

An inexpensive serrated paring knife (can be put in the dishwasher)

This is a great little 3-1/4-inch "wavy edge" (serrated) paring knife made by Victorinox;  it is Number 40603.  One is a necessity, but because you will reach for it a lot, two are even better.  

Knife Storage

A magnetic rack is nice for holding your knives as they will be out of the way and safe but also accessible any time you want to reach for one; however, you might not have a place for it or the inclination to hang it, so you would need at least a protective cover for the chef’s knife. Messermeister makes them.  I believe they make it in red too, which might make it easier to find in a drawer.

Kitchen Scissors

The Joyce Chen Scissors are small and versatile.  I use them all the time, and wash them in the dishwasher; they come in other colors - but for me it's only blue, always blue.   You will be surprised how handy these are.

Regarding Pots and Pans

Because of its tri-ply construction of stainless steel/aluminum/stainless steel, pans in All-Clad's basic stainless steel line distribute heat over the surface of the entire pan, cooking on the bottom AND up the sides.  I have - and like - lots of different pots and pans - Mauviel copper and stainless, Bourgeat copper, deBuyer carbon steel, Lodge cast iron, LeCreuset enameled cast iron, All-Clad Copper Core, and All-Clad 5-ply, etc. - but what I love about All-Clad's basic tri-ply stainless line, made in the USA, is I can cook well in it, it cleans up easily (it can even go into the dishwasher), and it's not uncomfortably heavy, which most of my other pans are making them difficult for me to heft around.

Having said that, I am not crazy about using stainless steel skillets as the oil splatters up onto the sloped sides and sticks, making it very difficult to clean, so I usually fry in carbon steel, cast iron, or a black porcelain-lined Le Creuset skillet, which I recommend below, as you can make a pan sauce with acidic ingredients, such as tomatoes or vinegar, which you cannot in cast iron or carbon steel.  

Stainless Steel Frying Pan Before Splattered Oil is Scrubbed Off the Sides

I am recommending two Farberware Classic pots here - a three-quart, and a four-quart because they work well for boiling water. However, as they have plastic handles, they can't be used on large, high-BTU cooktops, such as Wolf or Viking, or go into an oven above 350 degrees.  So if this were a list of suggestions for someone who might want to eventually cook on one of those cooktops, I would recommend All-Clad stainless steel pans in those sizes instead.  Other than that, everything here will last pretty much forever (and so will the Faberware if used properly - in the City where I cook on a Gaggenau cooktop, I still use the ones I got at my bridal shower,  and, Francie, you know how long ago that was). Although this list can, obviously, be added to, nothing on it would need to be discarded to upgrade.  

Check out the prices for All-Clad pans at Cookware & More.  Their prices for All-Clad irregulars are excellent, and the irregulars are excellent too.  They have sales twice a year, giving an extra 20 per cent off to their already very discounted prices, and if you buy four pieces anytime, you get an extra 20 per cent off.  

One Stainless Steel All-Clad 2-Quart Saucepan - a must have

This is a versatile, all-purpose pan that you will use for many things - making rice, oatmeal, soft and hard-boiled eggs, etc.  It is such a workhorse that it's truly worth having this pan be of very high quality.  

One Farberware Classic 3-Quart Stack N' Steam Saucepot and Steamer

This nice-size pot comes with a steamer, which makes it especially handy.  You can forget about this pan and get a folding basket steamer instead, but since this is so inexpensive and such a useful size, it's worth having.

All-Clad Stainless Steel All-Clad 3-Quart Saucier - a must-have

You will use this to make pasta sauces, cook broccoli and asparagus, poach eggs, etc.  Some of these are things you might not think you will do, but you will once you have this in your hot little hands.   

One Farberware Classic 4-Quart Saucepan

This is an all-purpose pan you can use to blanch vegetables, boil small amounts of pasta, make soup.  You can use the cover to put over eggs that you are frying in your Le Creuset frying pan to self-baste the tops so the white sets.  You will also use this to make a very easy, just-pop-everything-in-the-pan-and-stick-in-the-oven beef stew as the handles are good up to 350 degrees.  

Buying this pan may seem especially extravagant, but its usefulness cannot be overstated.  You can use it to braise meats and wilt spinach, as well as all greens.  There is bound to come a time that you want a large pot.  If you're going to have only one, this is it.  (You will also use it to boil spaghetti as you can put the strands in lying flat.)  It's a toss-up between this and the three-quart saucier for my most-used pan.  Even though this is called a "stockpot," it is not a classic stockpot as it is wider than it is tall. 

One Le Creuset 11-3/4-Inch Signature Skillet

Expensive but worth it if you don't have a stainless steel sauté pan. Obviously, you can fry in it, and  you can also add tomatoes and/or vinegar to make a pan sauce, which you cannot do in an cast iron skillet because cast iron reacts with the acidity in the tomatoes and the vinegar .  

Everything Else

2-quart glass casserole

This is a good size for casseroles, such as macaroni and cheese.  I like this shape, but you can always get a rectangular 2-quart Pyrex glass casserole in the supermarket.  The shape doesn't really matter.

Zucchini Parmesan

Two Microplane zesters

A classic Microplane for grating Parmesan and Romano cheeses, citrus rinds, etc.

A medium-ribbon Microplane because it works in both directions and is excellent for grating onions when you want the flavor but not perceptible pieces of onion (as in meatballs); also good for cheeses like Manchego or Cheddar.

Tongs - plain ones; you can probably get them in the supermarket for a pittance.

Or you can get Rosle Locking Tongs - tongs to die for.  They work by gravity; hold them by your side, and press them gently - they open.  Hold them up, and press them - they close - and they stay closed.  Mine are 9-inches long, and I like that length.  They are easy to use and easy to store, no mean feat as most tongs of this design are a pain to put away because it's difficult to keep them closed.

Stainless steel skimmer

Stainless steel slotted turner

Stainless Steel Serving Spoon, Stainless Steel Perforated Serving Spoon, Stainless Steel Soup Ladle -  you can most likely pick these up at the supermarket.

Salad servers - check out Crate & Barrel or Pottery Barn for nice, practical ones

Salad spinner - I have a Zyliss salad spinner, which I have been using for years.  I don't believe it's made anymore; however, the Oxo Salad Spinner has good reviews on Amazon, and David Lebovitz uses one.  I haven't used it myself so I can't personally recommend it, but I can recommend that whatever you get, you get the large, rather than small, size as you can spin a lot of greens dry and save what you're not using in a sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator for later use.

Zyliss Salad Spinner

A good splatter shield - I like this one by Oxo.  It works well and cleans up easily; you can put it right in the dishwasher.

A hand-held whisk

Juicer -  this kind or this kind, or both.

A box grater

A large colander - This is an excellent colander because of all the perforations, but it cannot go in the dishwasher because the handles are glued, not riveted, to the body.


I am not crazy about stacking bowl sets from largest to smallest because most are stacked so tightly they are difficult to get to, say, the second one down, so I recommend that you get two 3-quart Mason Cash bowls from the incomparable La Cuisine in Alexandria, Virginia.  You will reach for both of them a lot and can add more or other sizes as - and if - you find you need them.

A little stack - four to six - of small bowls, like the classic one-cup Mason Cash Pudding Basins, which you will use to mix ingredients, heat things up in the microwave, or, even, eat from.  

A little stack of 6-ounce Pyrex or Anchor Hocking custard cups, which you will use for your mise en place.  These are available in the supermarket, and you will reach for one often so keep them where you can get to them easily.

A large stainless steel bowl for tossing salad - it's light, holds a lot of salad, and cleans up easily.

Vegetable Peeler - I like a Y-shaped one.  This one, a Zyliss Vegetable Peeler, is good and inexpensive.  However, this is the Rolls Royce of peelers.  Amy gave it to me last Christmas, and I wouldn't be without it now.

Two quarter sheet pans and racks that fit inside - these fit inside the quarter sheet pan and are cooling racks too.

If you don't have the the Farberware Classic 3-quart pan with steamer insert, a folding-basket vegetable steamer.  

Silicone spatula - it won't melt so you can use it to get ingredients out of a bowl and also to stir hot foods.

Peppermill - if you are so inclined, there is a matching salt mill.

If you want a wooden pepper mill, J.B. Prince is now stocking a lovely brand from Germany, Lidrewa, which they now prefer to the specific Peugeots that are not made in France anymore.  They feel wonderful in the hand, and the grind mechanism goes from very fine to very coarse.  Unfortunately, they do not stock the matching salt mill.

Peppercorn funnel - sounds silly, but it the opening is large enough for peppercorns, and it does keep peppercorns from spilling all over the place.

Egg piercer

Glass sugar shaker - to fill with kosher salt so you have it handy to use; just don't make the mistake my father did and put it in your tea!

FYI - the small 3-cup Chemex with a handle is my favorite individual coffee maker.  It's beautiful, and there is no plastic to pour water through when making drip coffee; you do, however, have to use Chemex filter papers.

A Kettle - this Simplex Kettle is the one I use.  It boils water quickly and is very beautiful.

You don't want to buy, own, or wear an apron, but it is a must, and the best apron I have found is the striped apron from Williams-Sonoma.  It is great fabric, available in good colors, practical, and comfortable.  The waist ribbons are long enough to tie in the front, and you can sling a kitchen towel through one at your waist and wipe your hands as you go along.  (I also keep my iPod Touch in a pocket because I am often listening to an Audible book through my ear buds as I cook.)  I couldn't be without one and pack one when I go off to visit any friend who is likely to let me cook when I get there.

Leighann Cooking in her Yellow Striped Apron

 An 8-inch square aluminum baking dish

Two 9 x 13-inch baking dishes, one glass and one aluminum (you don't want to put tomato-y things, like lasagna, in aluminum)

A set of stainless steel measuring spoons

A set of stainless steel measuring cups for dry food

Two glass measuring cups for liquids - 1 cup and 2 cup

Waiter’s corkscrew or bottle opener - I like this one.

Can opener

A glass butter dish with a cover

This might not seem necessary, but if you drink fizzy water at home, a SodaStream is a great investment because it eliminates lugging water bottles back and forth from the store.

If you want to add a fourth All-Clad pot to the mix (perhaps to get an additional 20 per cent discount at Cookware & More), an All-Clad 4-quart Braiser  is a good choice.  However, keep in mind that, Cookware & More has an additional 20 per cent discount for even one pan twice a year - in the spring and in the fall - and it's worth waiting for those times as you build up your arsenal of equipment.

Not necessary, but I can't imagine having a kitchen without:

A nutmeg grater

A digital kitchen scale,

A round cooling rack,

An 8-quart stockpot,

An 8 or 9-inch springform pan,

A 2-inch 8 or 9-inch aluminum cake pan (non-stick or not),

A 13 x 18" half-sheet pan (absolutely NOT non-stick),

A potato ricer

A spaetzle maker, 

but since this is a list of kitchen stuff for people who don't cook much or want to cook much, I guess I can't consider these necessities.  

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Francie and Vic 2014


  1. Wow! This is fantastic. I think couples preparing wedding registries should be acquainted with your very complete list. Thank you. I just stumbled across your blog. It's a pleasure.

  2. Your kitchen is a dreamboat of a kitchen. I love how you talk about cooking. Although I've never eaten at your table, you are without doubt a great cook. It shows.

    I hope anyone starting out takes your advice to stock their kitchen with the best. The details matter. Not only does it make cooking - and therefore, eating - a pleasure but this equipment lasts forever and becomes as familiar as old friends.

    Three cheers!


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