Well Equipped Kitchen

To be able to cook efficiently, and with pleasure, you need good equipment in your kitchen. That is not to say that you should invest in an extensive and expensive collection of pots, pans, tools and gadgets, but a basic range is essential.

Buy the best equipment you can afford, adding more as your budget allows. Well made equipment lasts and is a sound investment; inexpensive pans and tins are likely to dent, break or develop ‘hot spots’ where food will stick and burn so will need replacing. Flimsy tools will make food preparation more time consuming and frustrating.

The following lists the basic essentials for a well-run kitchen. Depending on your preferences, you will no doubt wish to add other utensils to this list. You may also wish to add an electric mixer, a blender and/or a food processor to speed up various processes, but hand tools all do a fine job.

Essential utensils

Baking sheet: For cookies, biscuits and meringues. Shiny, side less one slightly brown.

Cake, bun and loaf tins (pans): To ensure even heat distribution, shiny metal (aluminium, tin or stainless steel) is the best material. Try to equip yourself with: 2 round cake tins (pans);20 cm/8 in or 23 cm/9 in round and square cake tins; a large baking tin (33 x 23 cm/13 x 9 in); a deep bun tin; a 23 cm/9 in spring form cake tin; a Swiss(jelly) roll tin; 2 baking sheets. Additional cake tins, round and square tins, spring form tins and tartlet tins in alternative sizes are also useful. Casseroles: A least 1 heavy bottomed casserole (round and oval are available)with a lid is essential for roasting, stewing baking and browning. Casseroles can be made of enameled cast iron, earthenware or ovenproof glass-ceramic. Buy a flameproof one if you want to start cooking on the hob then transfer to the oven.

Chopping boards: Use different boards for different uses, and keep separate boards for vegetables and raw and cooked meat and fish. In addition to wood, boards are often made in modern, dishwasher-proof materials, and often include anti-bacterial agents. A good quality board will last for years. Colander: For draining food.

Double boiler: In two parts, which can also be used independently, a double boiler will be useful for heating any render ingredients that should not be exposed to direct heat.

Flour sifter: For sifting and adding air to flour.

Food mill: Useful for pureeing food without destroying the texture. Will also mash and grind. Buy one that clamps over a saucepan or mixing howl. Frying pans: You need at least one small and one large frying pan, preferably with lids. Useful extras would-be an omelette pan, a pancake pan and/or a sauté pan. Frying pans should have a good, thick base, to allow the heat to spread evenly and maintain constant temperature, but whether you choose non-stick ones or not is a matter of personal preference. They make life easier for some recipes, such as egg-based dishes, as they are less likely to stick. However, it is harder to get good browning on foods as non-stick pans cannot withstand a high heat. If your pans come with instructions to season before use, do so, as seasoning helps to prolong the life of the pan.

Grater: For grating and slicing various vegetables and cheese. One that stands upright with several sizes of teeth and a slicer is most useful.

Kitchen scales: Essential for weighing larger amounts of ingredients. Balance scales give the most accurate readings. Kitchen scissors and shears: You will be surprised how often a pair of sturdy kitchen scissors are needed, whilst poultry shears are a useful extra for all types of kitchen cutting. Make sure the handles are sturdy and comfortable.

Knives: A good set of knives is most important in food preparation. Flimsy, dull or nicked knives can turn even the chopping of onions into an arduous task. Carbon steel knives can be given the sharpest edge, but they rust and discolour easily so must be washed and dried immediately after use. High-carbon stainless steel knives will take a sharp edge and resist discoloration, but are more expensive. Ordinary stainless steel knives are very difficult to sharpen efficiently.

Always use the right-sized knife for the job: a 18-20 cm/7-8 in-bladed knife is essential for chopping vegetables, meats and herbs; a small-bladed paring knife, about 7.5 cm/3 in, will do for trimming and peeling fruits and vegetables; and a flexible vegetable knife with serrated edge and pointedtip is good for slicing. A chef’s knife with 25 cm/10 in blade is also useful.You may also want: a filleting knife with a thin, flexible 18 cm/7 in blade and sharp point; a boning knife with a thin 15 cm/6 in blade; a 15 cm/6 in-bladed utility knife; a grapefruit knife with curved serrated blade; and a carving knife and fork. Store knives in a knife block or a magnetized bar and keep them sharp; more accidents occur with blunt knives than sharp ones.

Measuring jug (pitcher), spoons and cups: It is important to measure ingredients carefully when following a recipe, and good measuring equipment makes this easier. Buy a standard set of spoons (1/4 tsp, 1/2 tsp, 1 tsp and 1 tbsp) for measuring small amounts of liquid and dry ingredients. Measuring cups are also available for recipes using cup sizes; glass is useful for liquids and metal for dry ingredients.

Meat grinder: A sturdy metal grinder that clamps to the table can be used for grinding meat, nuts and vegetables. Metal spoons: Very useful, keep several in various sizes for general mixing, stirring and blending.

Mixing bowls: A graduated set of stainless steel, glass or glazed earthenware bowls will he adequate foremost mixing jobs; an unlined copper bowl helps egg whites to expand.

Palette knives (spatula) and slices: A palette knife with a flexible 25 cm/I0 in blade and a fish slice are probably the most useful to buy. Pastry board: Formica and marble arc excellent materials for rolling and kneading pastry, but a hardwood board will also do.

Pastry brush: A medium-sized brush with sturdy bristles for applying liquids(fat, milk, water) to studies.

Pestle and mortar: When using fresh spices, crush small amounts with a pestle and mortar.

Pie and flan tins (pans): These should he made of dull metal, glass or ceramic. Include a 23 cm/9 in pie tin, an oval or round pie dish and a 23 cm/9 in flan tin with removable bottom, or a flan ring in your collection. Additional pie and flan tins in alternative sizes will also be useful. Ring moulds are ideal for angel cakes.

Roasting tins (pans): These can beamed of any material but they must be sturdy and supplied with racks. Use assize in which the ingredients fit comfortably: if a tin is too full, the ingredients will take longer to cook; if it is too empty, they may burn.

Rolling pin: A heavy one is best, buy one about 35-40 cm/14-16 in long. Rubber spatula: For folding foods, but also useful for other jobs.

Saucepans: Buy heavy-bottomed pans with sturdy insulated handles and knobs and tight-fitting lids. Bear in mind how much the pan will weigh when full (a large pot for pasta or stock must not be too heavy for you to lift when full). Copper conducts heat best, but is hard to care for. Aluminium is good as is cast iron, although the latter needs scrupulous care to prevent rust. A vitreous enamel coating is a good compromise. Stainless steel is lightweight and durable but it conducts heat unevenly. One containing another metal can improve heat conduction.

You need a set of pans of varying sizes with at least 3 saucepans. It is especially important to have the right-sized pan when cooking soups, stews and pot-roasts; ingredients packed in a pan that is too small may overflow or increase the cooking time whilst liquid in a pan that is too big will evaporate, causing the dish to dry out. A large stockpot or casserole dish with lid is also handy. Sieves:1 metal and 1 nylon for general sifting and straining.

Thermometers: An oven thermometer is useful for gauging the degree unevenness of heat in your oven. Use a meat thermometer for measuring the internal heat of meat and poultry by inserting the spiked end into the thickest part of the meat without touching bone or resting in fat.

Wire racks: For cooling cakes, buns and bread.

For those who love cooking, good equipment or specialized items, such as a pasta machine, make wonderful gifts.

Wire whisk: One about 20-25 cm/8-10 in for beating egg whites and whipping cream, stirring gravies and smoothing sauces, and perhaps a large balloon-shaped one specifically for egg whites (it adds more air and increases the volume).

Wok: Essential if you enjoy stir-fried food and Asian dishes. Make sure you buy the right wok for your type of cooker (stove); if you cook on electric rings, you’ll need one with a flat base so that it comes into contact with the heat source. Consider also steamers for cooking vegetables.

Wooden spoons and spatulas: For creaming, heating and stirring.

Miscellaneous utensils

Everybody has their own preferences when it comes to extra tools and gadgets, but the following are probably on everyone’s list of kitchen-drawer essentials: can openers (wall-mounted and a bottle/beer can type, slotted spoon, potato masher or ricer, colander, sieve, bulb baster, metal tongs, juicer, corkscrew, vegetable peeler and kitchen timer. In addition you may want to include a meat mallet, citrus zester, cannelle knife, apple corer, melon bailer, pastry blender, pastry scraper, trussing needle, cherry stoner(pitter), pasta machine, salad spinner.

This stainless steel spice container is ideal for storing dried spices. The individual pots are sealed when the inner lid is closed: a second lid ensures that no light or moisture gets in.

Measuring techniques

Cooks with years of experience may not need to measure ingredients, but if you are a beginner or are trying a new recipe for the first time, it is best to follow instructions carefully.

Both metric and imperial measurements are given in this hook. When preparing a recipe, use all metric or all imperial measures. Eggs are size 3(medium) unless specified otherwise and recipes have been tested using a conventional not fan-assisted oven.

• For liquids measured in ml or litres(pints or cups): Use a glass or plastic measuring jug. Put it on a flat surface and pour in the liquid. Check that the liquid is level with the marking on the jug, as specified in the recipe.

• For liquids measured in spoons: Pour the liquid into the measuring spoon, to the brim, and then pour it into the mixing bowl. Do not hold the spoon over the bowl when measuring because liquid may overflow.

• For measuring butter: Cut with a sharp knife and weigh, or cut off the specified amount following the markings on the wrapping paper.

• For measuring dry ingredients by weight: Surprisingly useful in the kitchen, scoop or pour on to the scales, watching the dial or reading carefully. Balance scales give more accurate readings than spring scales.

• For measuring dry ingredients in a spoon: Fill the spoon, scooping up the ingredients. Level the surface even with the rim of the spoon, using the straight edge of a knife.

• For measuring syrups: Set the mixing bowl on the scales and turn the gauge to zero, or make a note of the weight. Pour in the required weight of syrup.