Best Gifts For The Home Cook
You're just starting out on your own. Your first apartment. Your first time away from Mom & Dad. You're planning your wedding registry. So what do you actually NEED to be a decent cook? I'll tell you. Here are my recommendations for the best gifts to give someone who is just starting out in the kitchen.
1. A chef's knife. Let me re-phrase that; a GOOD chef's knife. I prefer the Santoku style blade which has a rounded front instead of the traditional chef's knife with a pointed end. The rounded side makes it easier to control and less likely that you'll hurt yourself. But make sure that the knife is sharp and that you take good care of it! Knives should be hand-washed and dried immediately. Regular sharpening with a piece of steel, or by a professional (some stores will do this for you for free) is a must.
2. A cast-iron skillet. You can literally make anything in a cast iron. From pancakes to grilled cheese to chicken to home-made bread or pie. They go from stove-top to oven without a thought and when seasoned properly, become the best non-stick pan you'll ever own. They also last generations and are inexpensive when compared to other cookware. Again, caring for it properly is the key. Most care recommendations say not to use soap, however, this grosses me out. I hand wash with warm, mildly soapy water, dry and then use clean oil to re-season and place the pan in the oven until it reaches 350° to make sure the oil sinks in and no water is left. Let the pan cool before storing.
3. A multi-pot. This is the best way to boil - anything. With the strainer built right in it's easy to get the food out without worrying about possible steam burns from dumping gallons of boiling water down the sink. It also makes it incredibly easy to go from boiling pot to fry pan when transferring food.
4. A wooden cutting board. If you only get one, make it a big one, with grooves for carving juicy meats on one side and flat, for chopping and dicing, on the other. Wood cutting boards are more sanitary and will last longer than plastic ones. They also double as a rustic serving tray. Once again, maintenance is critical here. Wood boards should be hand-washed and occasionally treated with a mineral oil to keep the wood soft and prevent splintering.
5. A food processor. I haven't met a recipe yet that my food processor can't handle. From dough to batter to soup, even chicken salad - if it needs to be blended, it goes in the food processor. A high quality one with a few attachments will double as a blender, a mandolin, some can even grind meat and make pasta. In my opinion this is the best countertop appliance to invest in for starters because it will cover a LOT of ground.
6. A long, wooden spoon. If you watch the Cucina, you can see I keep a stash of wooden spoons of varying length next to the stove. But for starters a nice long one will cover you. This is because it can handle any sized pot. From the above mentioned multi-pot, which is deep to any sauté pan a good wooden spoon will go a long way in the kitchen.
These are the items I use day in and day out in my house and I know I couldn't possibly cook without them. I think this is the best place to start for a new kitchen. Of course you may want to build from here as you go. Make sure you buy high-quality (which doesn't necessarily mean high-priced) kitchen items. They should last you! Take good care of your kitchen and it will take good care of you. Happy cooking! Happy Holidays! Buon Appetito!