Category Archives: Kitchen Essentials

Kitchen Essentials – Sharp Things

What would a kitchen be without knives?

I couldn’t imagine cooking a meal without having a knife close to hand. In general I’ve found that there are two schools of thought when it comes to knives. The “Each knife has a purpose” school and “The one knife suits all” School. Both have their own merits, so I’m going to give details on both.

Knives
Knives

I subscribe to the “Each knife has a purpose” school while Elly is more of a “The one knife suits all” type of gal.

“The one knife suits all” school, I think has a lot of “this is what I’m comfortable and happy with” about it. Which is good because the one thing you should never be is uncomfortable with a knife in your hand, you’ll only end up cutting badly or cutting yourself. Elly uses her large Kitchen Devil for almost all cutting and slicing jobs and it works for her, if I’m honest she’s far quicker at slicing and chopping than me.

The “Each knife has a purpose” school that I subscribe to means I generate more washing up to be done, but that’s a small price to pay. I use a selection of Sabatier steel knives, there are six in total, ranging from a small paring knife, up to “Mr. Choppy II, The Cleaver”. OK, so maybe I have a bit of a thing for knives, but each one really does serve it’s own purpose.

The two smaller paring knives I use mostly for fruit and I find them great for really fine slicing and dicing of garlic and chilli. My vegetable knife, is appropriately used for almost all my veg chopping requirements these days, with the exception of butternut squash (which I despise preparing BTW) the only thing for those beasts is Mr. Choppy and a good swing followed by a reassuring thud, I find it helps relieve the stress of dealing with squash.

While we’re on the subject of Mr. Choppy, cleavers are the ideal tool for slicing raw meat. Provided he’s sharp Mr. Choppy will slice through almost any meat by simply dragging the blade across it, without any downward pressure.

Next up is the bread knife which does what it says and really if you bake your own bread or buy any type of bread that isn’t sliced a bread knife is the only way to slice it without squashing the bread into a doughy icky mess.

Lastly is the carving knife, this is the least used as we don’t cook whole poultry or large joints of meat too often and in the modern world is probably the least essential knife that we own. For most people carving is almost a lost art and with electric carving knives being so cheap and easy to use why would you want to learn the art of carving?

Outside of knives we also use three other sharp things in our kitchen, a mezzaluna, a peeler and a julienne peeler.

Peelers
Peelers

A mezzaluna is basically a large curved double blade with a handle on either end, that is ideal for chopping fresh herbs and with the amount of those that we use in our cooking we would be lost without it, yes I can chops herbs almost as quickly with a vegetable knife but it takes more effort and concentration, so why not take the easier option?

I’m hoping that I don’t need to explain the use of a peeler to anyone, but a julienne peeler may be a bit different, this looks almost exactly the same as a regular peeler except that the blade has teeth which slice vertically while you’re peeling, it’s great for julienne carrots but also for finely dicing them for a risotto, simply julienne first then hold the bunch and dice them quickly and easily.

The most important thing when choosing a knife or set of knives is that you feel comfortable with them, I like mine because they are exceptionally well balanced so you only lift the weight of the knife you’re not “holding up” the tip you’re simply holding the knife.

So which school do you prefer or currently use?

Kitchen Essentials – Bowls and Jugs

So Bowls and Jugs, they’re maybe not as essential as ingredients and pots and pans but as you start to cook more and more, you will begin to find that for some recipes (particularly baking) they are a big help at the least and in some cases essential (measuring jug).

We have a selection of mixing bowls and measuring jugs but I would recommend 4 mixing bowls and 1 measuring jug as a minimum.

A selection of Bowls and a Measuring Jug
Our essential bowls and jugs

The first of the bowls is a very large plastic mixing bowl that Elly picked up in “Homestore and More” for less than a tenner and I use that for making pizza bases, bread and salads. As it’s plastic it’s great for dough, if some sticks just rub it and it rolls up and falls back into the bowl to be mixed back in.

We also have a set of 3 Pyrex bowls that stack neatly inside of each other in the press and these get used for mixing everything and anything. They can go in the dishwasher so we don’t have to worry about cleaning them and because they’re different sizes it means we don’t have to use a huge bowl unless we need to.

As for a measuring jug these are so useful I honestly could not cook without one. Ours is, again, a Pyrex half litre measure but it also has imperial and cup measurements on it as well.

Pyrex bowls and jugs are great because they are heat resistant so you can pour boiling water in without fear of the glass shattering, which is a major added bonus :)

Kitchen Essentials: Herbs, Spices and other things in the press

One thing that I’ve found makes cooking regularly a lot easier is having a “stock” selection of certain items close to hand in the kitchen at all times. I’m going to list the ones I always have some of below.

I’m going to start off with dry herbs and spices. If you have these to hand in the kitchen you can almost always make something from the odds and ends in the fridge, what to do with them has come with experience for me but I hope I can prevent some people from having the kitchen disasters I’ve had with my experiments over the years, Citrus stir-fry anyone? that’s how I learnt that tasting as you’re cooking is essential.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand, first up the essential dried herbs and spices in no particular order…

  • Table Salt
  • Rock Salt
  • Pepper
  • Black peppercorns
  • Oregano
  • Basil
  • Rosemary
  • Thyme
  • Cumin Seeds
  • Ground Cumin
  • Coriander Seeds
  • Ground Coriander
  • Chilli flakes
  • Ground Ginger
  • Sesame seeds
  • Paprika
  • 5 spice
  • 7 spice

I keep others as well but these are the ones I use the most.

Next, the bottles…

  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil (usually a generic brand, I gave up on buying separate Olive Oil and Extra Virgin Olive Oil a long time ago, as Olive Oil seems to be only available in the supermarkets from the premier brands so why pay €10+ for 1L Olive Oil when I’m paying a quarter for the Extra Virgin Olive Oil)
  • Sesame oil
  • Balsamic Vinegar
  • White Wine Vinegar
  • Red Wine Vinegar
  • Dark Soy Sauce

When it comes to Vinegars I just can’t get enough, I’ve listed the essentials above but we have a broad selection of Balsamic vinegars, thick ones, thin ones, mature ones, regional ones I’m estimating about 10 different Balsamics in the press, cause I’m too afraid/embarrassed to count them all :)

So what about fresh stuff, I’ve listed the ones I try to always have below, it’s not always possible but these are rarely off the sopping list.

  • Basil
  • Rosemary
  • Thyme
  • Chilli
  • Chives
  • Celery
  • Carrot
  • Parsnip
  • Potatoes

And yes feel free to point and laugh because I buy fresh herbs instead of growing them in a pot but truth be told I’ve never managed to keep them alive for terribly long, any gardeners out there fancy sharing some hints and tips I’m all ears.

Other Items I like to keep handy are…

  • “Ready for the oven bread rolls” (Fresh bread + selection of oils, vinegars, cheeses and dried meats = ultra quick meal)
  • Fresh Pesto
  • Italian Tomato Sauce
  • A Jar of Pickles or Cornichons
  • Eggs
  • A few different Cheeses
  • Dried meats (Salami, Chorizo, Pancetta, Parma Ham)

Now I know this is a long list but if you are cooking regularly, it won’t be long before you find that you have most of these already, so rather than rush off to the shops and buy them all in one go, build them up as you use them, but once they’re in the collection don’t let them run out :)

Kitchen Essentials: Pots and pans

As a companion series to our recipes, I decided it would be a good idea to take a look at some essential kitchen equipment that I’ve gathered up over the years, to try and explain why the pieces are so useful.

First up is saucepans and frying pans. We were lucky enough to receive gifts of Jamie Oliver by Tefal pans for our wedding which have proved to be of excellent quality. The type of pots and pan you buy will be dictated by the type of cooker hob you have as noted below:

  • Gas and radiant spiral hobs: Any pan types.
  • Ceramic hob or solid hotplates: Choose pans that have flat bottoms.
  • Be careful to lift pans and not drag them on ceramic or halogen hobs, as this can scratch the hob!
  • Induction hobs: Pans suitable for this type of hob must be made from magnetisable metal such as cast iron or steel. Pure aluminium or copper pans will not work with this type of hob unless the base is bonded with a magnetic metal.
  • Solid fuel / Aga: Choose pans with thick bases which can withstand the high temperatures produced.

It’s also a good idea to look at the symbols on the pans and manufacturer descriptions before you buy. If your pans can go from hob to oven and are dishwasher safe, then you will get a lot more use out of them over the years.

In our house, we have 4 frying pans of various sizes, up to a 26 inch – which admittedly is rarely used. The two smallest sizes are the ones we reach for most often. They are all non-stick (Teflon) which makes our food healthier as you don’t need as much oil or butter when frying and it also makes them easier to clean.

However, with non-stick pans, there are a few rules to remember! Never use anything more than a plastic scrubbie & washing up liquid to clean them, as other cleaning products could scratch the non-stick surface. If you do leave the pan to soak for more than 10 mins, just fill it with hot water, don’t add washing up liquid, as again, this could damage the surface.

As for saucepans, it’s a good idea to have at least 3 of them (perhaps more if you have a large family) for basic cooking tasks. They should be sturdy with reasonably thick bases to ensure even transfer of heat to the contents. Don’t pour cold water into hot pans, as this could warp the bottom of them and make the pans unstable on your hob.

In addition to our basic pots and pans, we also have a few “specialist” pots. One of them is a large stew pot that holds about 5 litres. This gets used for big batches of tomato sauce, soups, stews and risottos. Again, it has a non-stick interior, and can go directly from the cooker top to the oven, which is perfect for slow-cooking of stews to soften and break up the meat.

Finally, we also have a Jamie Oliver Tefal pasta pot which has a removable Stainless Steel Strainer and Glass/Stainless Steel Lid. This one was a little treat for ourselves, as the same job can be done with a large pot and a colander, but it’s the kind of thing that makes a perfect present for someone who loves their pasta!

George says…

A pasta pot is a lot easier and less messy than the alternative, plus it’s really handy for boiling the spuds 😉

The main thing to remember when buying yourself pots and pans is to choose known brands of good quality. You’ll get many years of use out of a good pan set, but a cheap one will rarely last more than five years if you’re lucky. Consider the types of food that you cook most often, and try to match these with suitable types of pans.