5 Things Your Kitchen Can’t Do Without

January 14, 2020 | by nicole yurko

The kitchen can be an intimidating place, cloaked in mystique, leaving many to incorrectly assume that if they aren’t professionally trained, they aren’t qualified to cook even the simplest family meal. Even those who open a cookbook and follow a recipe tend to think that because the dish wasn’t organically thrown together like a contestant on Master Chef, are convinced they lack real culinary knowledge and skill. However, just as it has been said that there is nothing new under the sun, even the recipes in a cookbook aren’t completely innovative. Even the best chefs follow other recipes as guides when creating their own. This is good news for everyday people, like you and me, who may be reluctant to try our hand at made-from-scratch meals. Here are five kitchen essentials that can help you harness your inner Julia Child and give you a great foundation to be well on your way to creating Food Network worthy dishes.

1.       YOUR FAVORITE MOOD MUSIC. Music is a form of artistic expression. So is cooking. The medium for musicians is their instrument, and for cooking, it is the food. Pick some music that helps you get into an artistic frame of mind so that you can create freely in the kitchen.

2.      THE ESSENTIAL FLAVORINGS. Contrary to the ready-made spice racks that house countless jars of options, you really only need three to guarantee your dish will have rich flavor. First: salt. If you’re like my mother, this seasoning scares you, so you tend to under-salt everything. This is a mistake. If you use salt wisely, it will bring out the boldness of the natural flavors in the ingredients by enhancing their sweetness and taming their bitter qualities. Second: pepper. Pepper creates a backbone for those softer flavors to “stand on”, that would otherwise be lost to the tastebuds. Third: garlic. This one creates an experience just upon smell alone. If you want to convince yourself, and others, that what you’re cooking will taste divine, throw in some fresh garlic. Garlic also has strong anti-fungal properties that make it a powerhouse health ingredient, making it a true winner!

3.      SHARP KNIVES. If you want to get serious in the kitchen, make the splurge on good, sharp knives. A sharp knife is more delicate to food while cutting, keeping the ingredients looking fresher, longer. A dull knife can crush the food cells around the cut, accelerating wilting and discoloration. A sharp knife is also much, much safer. A sharp knife will more easily slice through ingredients and fall straight down to the cutting board, where a dull knife makes cutting cleanly more difficult, which in turn increases the chance that you will cut yourself in the process.

4.      GOOD FAT. Fat is not the enemy, but not all fats are created equal. You want a good fat in your kitchen to add richness, flavor, and texture to your dish. Many of the elements we love in our favorite foods are created by fat. The light, silky flavor in a pesto comes from oil. The flakiness in a comforting pastry comes from the butter inhibiting the proteins in the flour from developing. A satisfying crispy crust in a pie, panini, or pizza comes from the fat present. Fat is also necessary for our bodies to absorb vitamins that are only fat-soluble. If you make sure to take your vitamins, but try and avoid fat at all cost, the fat-soluble vitamins will never be absorbed by your body. Fat is necessary for many reasons! Here are some examples of a quality fat to have at hand for adding flavor, texture, and for using as a cooking medium for sautéing or searing: butter from grass-fed cows, olive oil, coconut oil, lard, ghee, and sesame oil.

5.      A WILLINGNESS TO TRY AND JUMP IN. Just like anything in life worth doing, you’ll get better with practice. Don’t expect to be flawless and fully confident in the kitchen right away. The more you open a cookbook and work through different recipes, the more you will understand food pairings and what ingredients go well together, eventually giving you the ability to open your fridge or pantry and “whip up” your own creative dish without having to consult a recipe. 

Experiment with different cultural ingredients, different cooking methods, and different cookbooks. Keep notes on your experiences right next to the recipes, documenting which ones were winners with your family and which ones flopped and why. As time goes on, your mental framework of the “rules” of cooking will expand, while your confidence grows. The mystique that so often surrounds cooking will dissolve over time, and you’ll be left with solid experiential knowledge of the science of food.

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