“In Paris in the 1950s, I had the supreme good fortune to study with a remarkably able group of chefs. From them I learned why good French food is an art, and why it makes such sublime eating: nothing is too much trouble if it turns out the way it should. Good results require that one take time and care. If one doesn’t use the freshest ingredients or read the whole recipe before starting, and if one rushes through the cooking, the result will be an inferior taste and texture–a gummy beef Wellington, say. But a careful approach will result in a magnificent burst of flavor, a thoroughly satisfying meal, perhaps even a life-changing experience.
Such was the case with the sole meunière I ate at La Couronne on my first day in France, in November 1948. It was an epiphany.
In all the years since the succulent meal, I have yet to lose the feelings of wonder and excitement that it inspired in me. I can still almost taste it. And thinking back on it now reminds me that the pleasures of table, and of life, are infinite–toujours bon appétit!” ― Julia Child,
~The Simple Sophisticate, episode #109
Time spent in the kitchen can be a truly magical experience. I must admit the only time I look at the clock is if I am timing food on the stovetop or in the oven, and even then I am not really looking at the time but rather how much time has passed.
Cooking enables us to be present, to immerse ourselves in making food that serves as a form of expression towards those we are serving. And the more time we spend in the kitchen, the more learned we become in the techniques, the more magnificent the outcomes can be. Now, don’t get me wrong, just as in life, so long as we are choosing to grow, learn and attempt new things, we will have those cringe-worthy moments, but as someone who has been tinkering and exploring in the kitchen since I was a young girl, the outcomes become more and more successful, and along with them, more and more enjoyable.
I chose Julia Child’s quote above because while yes, it is this scene in the movie that introduces viewers to Meryl Streep as Julia Child in Nora Ephron’s lovely film Julie & Julia, she makes some very powerful observations that often are forgotten along the attempts for success in the kitchen: fresh ingredients, read the entire recipe before beginning and enjoy the process. Do not rush. As my aunt who is a caterer reminds, if you cook with love, your food will be filled with love, in other words exquisite flavor. Now granted, one must know what they are doing, but enjoy the process, don’t rush the chopping of the vegetables, sautéing of the garlic and shallots and resting of the protein. Such as in life, so too is it in the kitchen, gather the necessary tools, come with as much knowledge as you can always being willing to learn more and dive into the present.
Today, I’d like to help you gather the bare essentials when it comes to the necessary ingredients to be successful in the kitchen no matter how often you step into this magical space in the home. As far as the tools are concerned, I have broken down the necessary tools for bakers here and cooks here. And after reading a handful of cookbooks and compiled lists by trusted cooks such as Susan Hermann Loomis, Patricia Wells and Holly Peterson and perused their suggestions and then compared it to what I use on a regular basis without a second-thought, I made my list below. All of the food items below are those for the pantry, on the counter, in the freezer and the refrigerator to always have on hand. I am not including those weekly shopping items you pick up or daily items you pick up at the market. I’ve also included a few additional tools that are used whether you’re a baker or cook. In other words the absolute essentials that I cannot live without.
1. Fresh herbs
Grown in your garden during the warmer months or in pots placed near a window, there are a myriad of herbs to plant, so have fun choosing which ones you want. The few that I use repeated are basil, Italian parsley, rosemary, oregano and chives. The rest are from time to time, but oh, how lovely they look in the garden.
2. Cutting board (or two)
As I mentioned a few weeks ago, it was brought to my attention that having more than one cutting board is a good idea. One for nearly everything, and the other (perhaps smaller) for the items that bring a strong scent (garlic, onions, etc.) I found a Boos 24 x 18 maple cutting board at a yard sale years ago and snatched it up for $10, but these boards are worth having in your kitchen no matter what the price.
3. Two types of salt
Kosher salt and finishing salt such as fleur de sel. Kosher salt is for cooking and the finishing salts are just that for sprinkling on top of your dishes after they are done cooking to add an extra pop of flavor. There are many types of salts, so have fun selecting what works best with your dishes.
4. Pepper mill
One tool I did not have for quite some time was a pepper mill. But the freshly ground pepper allows the flavor and oils of the pepper to be readily present as soon as you grind the peppercorns. It’s well worth the purchase and can be a beautiful piece to have on your countertop. I am using and loving Peugeot’s.
5. Olive oil dispenser
There is never a day I do not use extra virgin olive oil, so having it next to my stove in a beautiful dispenser is a must. I absolutely love these dispensers from Chef’s Planet.
6. Balsamic vinegar
Never a salad dressing was made without some type of vinegar, and my favorite is balsamic. Always choosing a quality balsamic that has more viscosity than most vinegars (although you can always reduce it down over low heat), you can also use balsamic for finishing a favorite appetizer (a caprese bruschetta perhaps) or vegetable dish (this is one of my favorite dishes).
Having all of your cooking tools with in arm’s reach is a must for a seamless experience in the kitchen. Here are a few of the basics that I use regularly: spatula (metal & rubber), wooden spoons, zester, metal tongs, spider strainer, fish spatula, French rolling pin.
8. A tea kettle
Le Creuset is my go-to to begin the day, to end the day and everything in between. From boiling water for my morning steel oats breakfast to unwinding at the end of the day with a dark chocolate peanut butter truffle, a tea kettle is a must.
12. Butter (unsalted and salted).
I have recently started to use Plugra European Style Butter, but here is a list of 30 Great Butters as recommended by Saveur. Again, quality is key, but you really don’t have to pay a pretty penny for worthwhile butter.
13. Cheese, good cheese
Have on hand Parmigiano-Reggiano, as well as a soft cheese, a hard cheese, and if you like, a blue cheese.
14. Heavy cream
15. Steel oats
Maille is my go-to for mustard. Whether it is the classic Dijon or Whole-Grain or Honey-Dijon, there mustards are magnificent! In fact, they will be showcased in today’s Petit Plaisir recipe below.
20. For Baking: flour, sugar (brown & white), yeast
23. Semisweet or Dark Chocolate (minimum 70% cacao)
25. Canned tomato sauce
I recently have been enjoying a mango chutney and using with my shrimp. Oh my goodness, delightful. I have only touched the surface of appreciating what can be done with chutney, but I compare it to a savory jam. Yum, yum, yum.
27. Mayonnaise (top quality)
28. Freezer food: seafood (shrimp is my favorite), meat (chicken, sausage, beef, etc.), extra unsalted butter, ice cream or gelato (vanilla and chocolate at a minimum)
29. Additional oils & vinegars for your favorite vinaigrettes
31. Sliced & toasted almonds
For croissants on the weekends bien sur!
A white and a red I love because it you like to drink it, it will taste delicious in the food you prepare, as well as anything else I have discovered and enjoyed.
While the list may seem long, once you have all of these items stocked, it will take some time for many of them to run out and only a handful will you be restocking weekly or bi-weekly (for me that would be lemons, eggs, and sometimes butter). Knowing you have everything on hand for the basics of everyday cooking and baking will make it all the more enjoyable to step into your kitchen and get lost in the moment.
Recently, Giada de Laurentiis shared in an interview that we must “create a space in your kitchen that you enjoy being in”, and I couldn’t agree more. As mentioned in this podcast, allow your kitchen to be your sous chef. Organize it in such a way that it is easy to navigate, the necessary supplies are readily available, clutter is kept to a minimum in your cupboards and the counters are as clear as possible. When your space is inviting, when you have beautiful and highly functional tools to use, you will want to step into the space and work your magic.
~A HUGE Thank You to Erin Dahl of Hip Paris blog for including The Simple Sophisticate in their post, Paris Podcasts: The Best French Fixes
~SIMILAR POSTS FROM THE ARCHIVES YOU MIGHT ENJOY:
~Three Mustard Chicken – click here for the entire recipe.