Mailbag – Monday!

Question: What are the 10 must-have items for the well-stocked kitchen? Do not be shy about sharing brand names, too.  AJ, Phoenix

Answer: This one is tough, I’m a kitchen gadget junkie! And believe it or not, I actually use my various culinary toys! But to answer your question, I’ve compiled the following list with brief explanations.

The 10 MUST-HAVES in Patrick’s kitchen are as follows:

  1. Knives – Chef, vegetable cleaver, boning, paring, and serrated – Just make sure you purchase knives that have quality tines/blades and are balanced/comfortable for your hand. I have Gold Hampster knives which are German made – expensive, but very nice.
  2. Pots and pans – Grill, saute, sauce, and stock – I own pans from Belgium called Demeyere, truly a pan geeks dream. The important thing in pans is good layered construction for heat conduction and even cooking. All-Clad and Cuisinart are both nice brands.
  3. Mortar & Pestle – Not only are they cute on your kitchen counter, but you will love them once you get used to how great they are for crushing and muddling things. For instance – peppercorns that go through a mill tend to be hotter, and peppercorns cracked/crushed in a mortar & pestle tend to be sweeter – it’s all about the oils and how they are released. Mine is marble, rather than wood. Marble is stronger and cracks/smashes/muddles things better than wood.
  4. Pepper Mill – And more then one if you love pepper like I do. There’s a whole world of fun peppercorns out there! Black, White, Mixed, etc. Of course the main mill should have black pepper in it, and you can always use the Mortar & Pestle for all else. Peugeot is the most respected maker of good mills.
  5. Kosher Salt & Salt Cellar – I know this may sound odd on the top ten list, but my salt cellar is one of the MOST used things in my kitchen. I always keep kosher salt in it. Sea Salts for finishing can come later, but kosher is a mainstay.
  6. Mise en place bowls – These are simply small glass bowls (or ramekins, or whatever you like) that are used for transferring ingredients into once you’ve prepped them for the recipe. Having an assortment of these small bowls will make your cooking experience so much more efficient and enjoyable.
  7. Mandoline slicer – Sounds weird I know, but this is another of my must haves. A good one has several different blades for creative slicing. This tool helps you slice onions paper thin, and julienne cuts with precision, and has all kinds of cool cuts like gaufrettes, etc. But if all you do is use it for slicing onions, zucchini, etc, it will be well worth it! The best ones are French made, and the best brand (in my humble opinion) is Bron.
  8. Olive Oil – Good extra virgin cold-pressed only! If it doesn’t say that on the bottle then it was probably made with the fruit left over from the initial pressing and will not be nearly as good. Olive oils are like wine, there are lots of different kinds, flavors, etc. Once you start tasting them, you’ll find your favorites. I have about 10 different bottles on my kitchen counter! I know, I know, I truly am a culinary geek!!!
  9. Stand Mixer with pasta attachments – I’d go with Kitchen Aid, they are iconic, and beautifully made. And they come in so many fun finishes. The Pasta attachment is WAY cool, and when you’re ambitious enough to make your own pasta, will make it soooo much easier to roll out and cut.
  10. And finally (and possibly should be the number one item) an endless bottle of good wine and  nice wine glasses for the cook to stay hydrated while cooking. Even if you can’t justify really nice lead crystal glasses for entertaining, I’d say splurge and get two Riedel Vinum series glasses – one Sancerre, and one Bordeaux  just for you in the kitchen – drinking wine out of one of these glasses is an experience in and of itself… they can make cheap wine taste so much better!

Hope this helps. And for all you readers, I’d love to know what Item/s is on your must-have that I missed, and why! This is just too much fun, don’t ya think?

Cheers, Patrick


22 Responses to “Mailbag – Monday!”

  1. January 4, 2010 at 1:40 pm

    Great post. I was going to suggest wine for the cook, but you have that covered!

  2. 3 AJ
    January 4, 2010 at 4:23 pm

    Thank you! My birthday wish list just got 10 items longer!
    Love, AJ

  3. 4 Patrick Bartlett
    January 4, 2010 at 5:06 pm

    @AJ – I’m glad I could be of service!

  4. 5 Kevin
    January 6, 2010 at 12:29 am

    Golden Hampster? I had one of those as a pet when I was a kid! :-)

    Many of the implements you’ve noted can get expensive, but for those on a budget (aren’t we all these days?), you don’t necessarily need to buy all your knives or pots and pans at once. Here are some of my own experiences:

    My poor mother had been using the same set of crappy knives since the ’70s, and I decided to finally replace them for her birthday. I didn’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on a set, and I didn’t want to settle on knives of inferior quality. So, after reading reviews in Consumer Reports and Cook’s Illustrated, I hopped on eBay and found four individual Henkel “Twin Professional S” knives from different sellers up for auction — a chef’s, boning, paring, and large serrated. And I think I paid about $175 total. They were enough to get her started, and she was able to go out on her own and buy a knife block she liked. Later, I gave her a 5″ serrated utility knife, which she loves.

    For our own kitchen, I found similarly priced Henkel Twin 4 Star II knives on eBay, and bought three of them at huge discounts by purchasing them separately. Later, I also bought a santoku-style small chef’s knife from the same collection, which has become our workhouse. To round things out, I’d read great things about the Victorinox Fibrex knives, so I went to Cash & Carry and bought a set of three paring knives and a serrated bread knife — for something like $35 total! They’re awesome… not the most beautiful knives, but super-sharp and easy to use. I love the weight and feel of the forged-steel Henkels, but for slicing bread and peeling fruits and vegetables, the Victorinox are just as valuable in the kitchen.

    Love the blog thus far, Patrick!


    • 6 Patrick Bartlett
      January 6, 2010 at 4:04 pm

      Hi Kevin! Wow, great suggestions! Like you, my knives are a compilation of different brands, and price points. The most important thing is making sure they are comfortable in your hand (balance, weight, etc)and you take good care of them! NEVER PUT THEM IN THE DISHWASHER!!!

      One of my favorite knives (and most used) is my Global Vegetable Cleaver – beautiful design, light weight, and nice blade – it falls in the family of your santoku-style knife!

      I totally agree that building a good kitchen tool set shouldn’t be rushed. I love one new toy at a time, then I concentrate on learning how to use it, playing with cooking techniques etc. The most important aspect for me, is – does the tool I’m using actually enhance my cooking, or is it just a vanity/geek must-have? :-)

      • 7 Kevi
        January 6, 2010 at 4:11 pm

        One of my favorite knives before the santoku was the Martin Yan Chinese cleaver my dad got me along time ago (he was at a conference where Martin Yan was the entertainment). Pretty fun, whacking the garlic cloves just like Martin Yan! Speaking of Chinese cookery, I’d add a well-seasoned wok to my list of essential kitchen tools, along with a well-seasoned cast iron pan. Cast iron griddles are also awesome for making pancakes.

        • 8 Patrick Bartlett
          January 6, 2010 at 5:40 pm

          LOL… I struggled with the cast iron pan… I use mine almost every meal. I’m also a freak about how it’s cleaned – don’t want to ruin how beautifully it’s seasoned! I think maybe I should figure out a way to create a permanent list of kitchen essentials that anyone can visit and get ideas. I’ll talk to my IT master about setting this up!

  5. 9 AJ
    January 7, 2010 at 7:49 am

    Thanks, Kevin, for the good advice about knives (I can relate to your Mom’s crappy collection…) I didn’t know Victorinox made anything but the Swiss Army knife and good travel bags, so I will seek out a set of those for my kitchen.

  6. 12 John Pierce
    January 11, 2010 at 9:02 am

    Ok this maybe a bit more mundane but i feel a quality vegetable peeler is essential. Our friend who just moved in has a Wilton, its the first peeler that fits in my hand with a good weight. Its solid and glides over everything i have tried it on (including rutabaga’s). She doesn’t know it yet but she donated it to me.

    • 13 Patrick Bartlett
      January 11, 2010 at 9:18 am

      Yes indeed! After years of trying to learn to peel vegetables with a right-hand oriented peeler, I finally found a vegetable peeler that works for a lefty (yes, I’m as right-brained as they come)so I bought two to be safe. Maybe you should gauge your friend’s true awareness of her Wilton, find a suitable replacement she won’t notice, and do a neat swap :-)

      • 14 Kevin
        January 11, 2010 at 11:18 am

        I’m a big fan of the Oxo peelers. I’ve bought two for relatives who’ve had old and horribly dull peelers — after I’ve had to use them to peel potatoes for Thanksgiving dinner! Some people just aren’t aware that there are sharp and efficient peelers on the market for less than $10.

        • 15 Patrick Bartlett
          January 11, 2010 at 12:35 pm

          To be honest, mine aren’t even that hi-tech. Oxo peelers are nice because they’re ergonomic, and if you do a lot of peeling (potatoes, carrots, root veggies, etc) it’s nice to have a handle with a comfortable grip! Do you ever just stand and gaze at the wall of gadgets in a William Sonoma or Sur la Table store? So much fun!!! The Sur La Table near Pike’s Market is so cool!

  7. 20 Kevin
    January 11, 2010 at 2:55 pm

    It’s something entirely unique from Japan, and it’s not meant to peel items, but to more like to “unravel” them into one enormously long strand. If I remember, I’ll try to find the brand… it’s probably something like “Super Lucky Mr. Happy Vegetable Tool.”

  8. 21 Kevin
    January 13, 2010 at 12:55 pm

    You’ll just have to wait and see!

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Patrick Bartlett

A conversation about food, wine, and the art of living well!


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