I recently wrote about the things a kitchen really doesn't need, but who am I kidding? For us Americans, the real fun is talking about what we do need. If you're reading this, you already know you need a good knife, but why stop there? Here are five more things your kitchen needs if you want to make cooking and cleaning up a lot more enjoyable.
1. Multiples Less is more, unless you need more. And you probably need more measuring cups and measuring spoons and ramekins and whisks and spatulas and strainers. These are the things that are dirty just when you need them. If you're baking, you need to measure multiple things before you even get started, and if you're cooking, you want to grab what you need when you need it. So be prepared. Have at least two sets of dry and liquid measuring cups and two sets of measuring spoons. Hang them on hooks so they're out of the way. Keep lots of spatulas and whisks within reach so you don't have to go rummaging around in drawers and dirty dishes when you need them. Once you get rid of the excess kitchen crap you don't use, you'll have room for these things you really do use.
2. Cutting Boards Note the plural. This is a multiple worthy of its own kitchen category. Most people have one cutting board in one place in the kitchen. And that works. But what works even better is to be able to cut something where and when you need it. A thick slab of wood on either side of the stove will serve you better than glossy granite any day. You can chop your ingredients at the very spot you'll be standing when you cook them. A cutting board on every counter, or hanging from the wall above every counter, increases your efficiency and makes it easy for others to join you. And it helps separate the multiple dishes you may be cooking simultaneously. Cutting boards can be pricy, but there are all kinds out there so start with what you can; just be sure you have at least one that's excellent and roomy.
3. Stations Professional kitchens have them, and you should too, even if it's just a corner for the baking stuff and a tray of oils by the stove. Keep the mixer, mixing bowls, measuring cups and spoons, flour, sugar, baking powder and vanilla in one spot -- your baking station. You'll find it much easier to throw together a cake or pan of muffins when you want them, and even easier to clean up, if you don't have to get anything out because it's already there and waiting for you to get started. Create your own mise en place (French for "putting in place" and "foodie" for "putting inferior cooks in their place by showing off the fact that we have sense enough to get our act together before we fire up the six-burner professional range and have at it"). Next to the stove set a small tray of the oils, soy sauce, vinegars or whatever it is that doesn't need refrigeration and you use often and spontaneously. Put a bowl of kosher salt, a pepper grinder and some garlic right where you'll have them when you need them. Don't overcrowd it; if it isn't something you use often, put it in a cupboard or on a shelf. But have the condiments and spices you use regularly within arm's reach, as well as space you where you can set the ingredients to whatever you're making in ramekins, bowls or small piles, right beside you.
4. Canisters It's amazing how much wasted space there is inside those boxes and bags you have shoved inside your cupboards. Get decent clear containers that can be stacked side-by-side on your counters and shelves and in the cupboards. Don't limit them to flour and sugar; use them for pastas, beans, rices, cereals, and fruits and nuts. You'll see what you have and what you need at a glance, there won't be so many oddly-shaped boxes and bags taking up space, and it will look much nicer. Just make sure they are easy to open and close and scoop or pour from. And if you're broke, buy your food in big jars and use those.
5. Quality Tools Read the reviews. And read the one-star reviews even if 99 percent of reviewers give it five. Not just for appliances, but for little things as well, like tongs and measuring spoons and graters. Get the best you can afford and that meets your own needs, not a professional chef's unless you are one. And when you do upgrade, pass the other one on to someone who would love it. It's good karma and keeps the clutter under control.
These are just five things to get you started, but setting up a kitchen can be like a crack habit; that first salad spinner was so cheap, before you know it, you're contemplating $200 crock pots and $2,000 dollar coffee makers. Watch yourself; there's no slow-release patch for this one. The truth is, there's really only one thing that your kitchen needs, and that is people. Food tastes better when it's shared, so even if you are an agoraphobic hermit, next time you make something fantastic, knock on a neighbor's door and offer a taste of what you've cooked up. Just don't make it peanuts, just in case you kill them.
Next up: five things to give your kitchen soul. Stay tuned.