The best way to decide what you need in your kitchen is to first decide what it is you are going to be cooking in there. The best suggestion I ever heard on this matter is to find five dishes you really love. The dishes you like to find on menus at restaurants. The next thing you want to do is learn to prepare those dishes to your standards. This is going to take some time, and some research, but I promise you it is well worth the effort.
They say that professional cooks don't like to discuss the way they prepare a disk or recipe, and I find this to be a fallacy most of the time. People in general love to talk about what they do, and enjoy appreciation for their hard work. So don't be afraid to ask, politely, a chef how he makes a certain dish or what is in the recipe. Keep the question general, and you might be surprised about the tips you can pick up from a simple question. If she doesn't want to share her knowledge, thank her and be on your way. Its not like you can't find out from several other sources what is in a certain dish and how to prepare it. No harm no foul. Most of the time I get great results by paying attention to the chef if only taking a quick look at his pots and knives.
Each of our five dishes are going to have a few nuances regarding the items required in their creation. But there are some basics we want in our kitchen no matter what we are going to put on our home menu.
The first item on the list is a set of good cooking knives. You can't do much without chopping and slicing. A set of good knives is always worth the money. Generally they last forever. When ever I get offered something like a "life time warranty" I always wonder "whose life?" But in the case of a fine set of cutlery we don't have to worry about things like that. In the higher echelons of fine cooking, a chef's set of knives is part of the job interview process.
When you look at chef knives, you will notice they generally have a wide triangular blade which tapers to a "center tip", meaning both the back of the knife and the blade are gently angled to meet in a point at the tip.
This blade shape is perfect for allowing the blade to rock back and forth on the tip (using it as a fulcrum) when you are chopping. It is a great all-around, all-purpose knife for most of your kitchen. They tend to be a bit heavy, 6 to 10 inches long with the most popular being 8 inches. If you have never purchased or handled on on a regular bases, start with an 8 inch chef's knife and get used to how it feels before moving on to something bigger.
Another choice you will have to decide on is whether you want a French or German style chef's knife. The French version has a longer and thinner blade that is better for slicing while the German style is shorter and wider and better for chopping. To help you make this decision, check your list of five dishes and see what you are going to be doing the most of. Make sure the knife has a secure grip and a good feel in your hand, you're looking for balance. The handle should be riveted to the blade. Those would be real rivets, not the painted on kind.
The next items we are going to need are a good set of pans and pots. Which pots and pans can probably be decided by our list of five dishes we made before. However, the pans should be of good quality. We don't want a poor 'non-stick' application flaking off and ruining our dinner. There are plenty of things we can do to ruin our own dinners, we don't want to be required to worry about our Cookware.
You want pots and pans made of stainless steel or heavy-gauge aluminum with non-oxidizing surfaces. The base of the pan should be thick and flat on both the inside and out for better heat efficiency. You also want handles that are riveted to the pan not welded and certainly no plastic handles. The lids should fit snuggly. The most important aspect however is how they feel in your hands. Pick them up and handle them. Just because some bouncy gourmet said they were the best doesn't mean you are going to enjoy using them.
You probably want a good spice grinder. You might already have an electric grinder for your coffee beans and these are great, but don't use the same one for your spices. Mornings have enough surprises.
Once you have these basics, start going through your recipes and keep in mind the methods you have to use to get them prepared. The rest of your kitchen will fill out from there.
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