You Should Know All About Unexpected Kitchen Essentials


When I got married at the tender age of 22, I got all kinds of beautiful gifts. Some, I’d registered for—like the Baccarat double old-fashioned glasses I still love (though, sadly, only one remains of the set of 6 we received)—and some I hadn’t, like this Circular pan in the kitchen.

When we un-wrapped the stir-fry pan, I remember thinking it was a particularly boring gift. Mine isn’t even as attractive as the one pictured above—in the handle was covered in clunky rubber. I definitely had some spoiled-brat thoughts about the relatives who bestowed this rather blah piece of cookware upon us and yet nearly 19 years later, I’m STILL using these pans at least three times a week.

It’s the perfect size for stir-frying anything, well balanced, easier to clean than a traditional wok, the ugly handle doesn’t get hot, and the non-stick coating hasn’t worn off. I can honestly say it’s the most useful gift I’ve ever received, and each time I pull it out of its drawer I think grateful thoughts about the relatives who bestowed this beauty upon us.

Thinking about my favorite pan made me consider the other items reach for again and again. Most of these I’ve owned nearly as long as my Circular pan; others are newer additions. They’re not particularly sexy, but they work. And I expect to love them just as much 20 years from now as I do today.

My other favorite kitchen essentials:

 Have a bowl that’s very similar to this one. Also a wedding gift, I believe mine came from England, but there’s no mark on it. Unlike wood bowls that are made from many pieces joined together, this one, like mine, was turned from a single piece, and you can see the undulating grain of the wood across the surface of the bowl. I love the way my salad bowl gets more beautiful as it ages—probably from all the olive oil that’s absorbed into its surface over the years.

When the delicate wood servers that came with my salad bowl broke, I replaced them with a pair of bear claw servers (actually, I’ve always thought of them as “salad hands”, but it’s good to know the official name). Mine isn’t as curvy as these, but they’re also Acacia wood, which is not just lovely for its dynamic grain pattern, but for its sustainability.

My knife set (see below) didn’t come with steak knives, so a few years ago I asked for a set of Claude Dozorme knives. I’d seen them in the Birch Store, in Keene Valley, NY, and fell in love with the delicate shape and faux mother-of-pearl handles. I chose ivory for my set (ever-practical, I know), but they come in a gorgeous range of colors as shown here.

I don’t usually go in for single-use tools (I even scoop ice cream with a regular spoon), but if you bake at all you’ll appreciate the precision of a cookie dough scoop. I use it most at holiday time when for some reason I descend into cookie-making madness, but it comes in handy the rest of the year too. Just this week I scooped up perfect mini-meatballs for my favorite minestrone soup with this handy helper.

Coffee is my weakness. I drink cup after cup each day, most of them made in a very basic Mr. Coffee model that does a decent job of brewing up a pot, but also drips all over the counter every time you pour from the carafe.

But when I want a really, truly delicious espresso or a superlative iced coffee, I use our Espresso Essen. My husband bought it three or four years ago and it quickly rose to “essential” status. We even took it on vacation with us for one year! If the pods were less expensive, I’d use this machine exclusively.

Chefs prize their knives. I’m no chef, but I agree that a good knife is the most important tool in the kitchen. I got these knives and a slightly different block than the one pictured as shower gifts (even though it’s supposedly bad luck to give knives as a wedding gift) and after much use and many sharpening, they’re just as well balanced and comfortable in my hand as they always were.

My mom gave me this Dutch oven for Christmas many moons ago. It’s big and heavy, with a non-stick interior—so even after braising boeuf bourguignon for hours on the stove, it’s a cinch to clean. Bonus: The glass lid fits perfectly on my Circular pan…

This is a kitchen icon for a good reason. I can’t even begin to imagine how many batches of mashed potatoes I’ve made in this workhorse. I’ve had mine for at least 15 years, but if I were buying one now I’d buy one of the larger models in a great color, like Tangerine.

I don’t know if I’d have spent $22 on a whisk for myself, but a friend gave me this with words akin to “this whisk will change your life”. I was dubious, I’m sure, but she was right: The twirl whisk is the ultimate antidote to the lumpy gravy and clumpy money sauce and perfect for emulsifying vinaigrettes essential most definitely.

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