I strive to be a minimalist in every area except the kitchen. I don't have a huge kitchen but I'll admit to a slight obsession with kitchen gear and it's gradually been indulged over the years. Here's a list of my favorite kitchen items and some thoughts on each item. You definitely don't need all this stuff to cook with but it sure makes it more fun.
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Big ticket workhorses:
Food processor - Can't live without this one. I researched the Cuisinart when I was making this purchase but ultimately settled on the KitchenAid 12 cup model and I love it. I use it for making pie crusts, biscuits, shortcake, pesto, salsa, crumble toppings, chopping nuts, etc.
KitchenAid mixer - I actually own the one that I grew up with but it's most similar to this one. It dates from the 1970s and it's still going strong. I use the scraping blade attachment and the juicing attachment regularly. I have three back up bowls, which saved my life while I was making all those cookies for my sister's wedding.
Knives - Our knives were expensive and as soon as we got them we realized we were crazy for not getting them sooner. If you cook a lot, make your knives a priority. You don't need many. You can absolutely survive with just an 8" chef's knife and a small paring knife. Done. We opted for a couple extra (specifically, a 7" santoku knife and a 6" utility knife) since we both like to cook at the same time. And a bread knife is always handy. We have the Shun classic line and they're beautiful and functional.
Pans - I posted about our stainless steel pots here and I still love them. I'm so in love with the saute pan that I recommend it to everyone and I bought one for my dad one Christmas. It does the heavy duty work in our kitchen. There are lots of wonderful articles recommending how many pots and pans you need. I'll just say this - we use our smaller frying pan and our large saute pan almost daily and that's about it. I do like having at least three pot sizes, a small one (1 qt) for pudding (I eat a lot of pudding, so a pudding dedicated pot might not be something you need but it's also good for sauces) a medium 3 or 4 qt one for pasta and a large 6 - 8 qt one for steaming and larger amounts of pasta.
Smaller machines that make life easier:
Vegetable spiralizer - My big long post about the spiralizer is right here. I use it at least once weekly because I'm obsessed with sweet potato noodles.
Tribest personal blender - This was a wedding gift and I'm so grateful for it! It is tiny so it can live on the counter and I use it for smoothies (comes with multiple cups so I can quickly blend up smoothies for both of us and we can head out the door), SALAD DRESSINGS (it has totally revolutionized my salad dressing life), chopping small quantities of nuts and herbs, sauces, etc. They also have this one that works with mason jars which would be pretty great.
Cuisinart immersion blender - I use this exclusively for blended soups and sauces but I still think it's worth it. I hate pouring hot liquid into the food processor or the blender. This saves dishes and barely takes up any space.
Sunbeam handheld mixer - for whipping cream, mostly. Oh my god. As I write that I realize I have an appliance that I almost exclusively use for whipping cream. I still wouldn't get rid of it. I'll also use it if I'm making a cake or a frosting and don't feel like getting the KitchenAid down but that doesn't happen very often. Not strong enough for most cookie dough, in my opinion.
Little tools that everyone should have:
Shot glass mini measures - we use these every single day on something. So much better than trying to use spoons with liquids. So much more accurate for mixing drinks. They eventually lose their markings but it takes years of hard wear and they're inexpensive. I have three, wouldn't want fewer than two. You can also pick them up at Crate & Barrel.
Mandoline - inexpensive, doesn't take up much space, makes it simple to get perfect slices of vegetables. I use it for my favorite potato salad and for all kinds of veg pizza toppings. I am still slightly afraid of taking off my finger but I'm very careful with it. There are tons of different styles available, but I've been perfectly happy with my cheap one.
Scale - if you are living without a scale, STOP. In my dreamworld all baking recipes include scale measurements and I think we're starting to get closer. It makes life so much easier. My favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe uses a scale and I think that's part of the reason I love it so much and make them so often. We've had this OXO scale for 2 years and it's been great.
Triple timer - it's ridiculous how much we love this timer. I tend to have multiple things going on at once and this is the perfect solution.
Salad spinner - duh. But really, I love it. I buy lettuce from the farmers' market, chop it, rinse it right in the bowl of the spinner and then spin it down, drain the water and store the whole thing in the fridge. Lettuce stays fresh all week. I'm tempted to get this mini herb one as well, but I think that might be overkill?
Measuring equivalents magnet - I refer to this any time I'm scaling up a recipe.
Thermometer that can handle candy temperatures - for swiss meringues, fudge, stained glass windows in gingerbread houses. I have a digital one like this but the old fashioned ones work as well. Update - on the recommendation of Cooks Illustrated, I purchased this thermometer and I've been really happy with it, although it took me a while to realize that you should turn it off when you aren't using it because this sucker burns through batteries.
Pastry cutter - sometimes I use this for pastry (I always used it before I got my food processor) but it makes the most perfectly textured guacamole and it's also good for egg salad. Random. You can get one of these just about anywhere, I think.
Scoops for measuring cookie dough!!! - life changing, at least in the sense that your life is improved by easy cookie making. I would love to have every single size but having three pretty much covers the bases. I use a #50 scoop (0.64 oz, 1.28 tbsp) for regular cookies and mini cupcakes, a #16 scoop (2 oz, 4 tbsp, 1/4 cup) for larger cookies, smallish muffins and meatballs and a #12 scoop (2.67 oz, 5.33 tbsp, 1/3 cup) for ENORMOUS cookies, cupcakes, muffins and ice cream (this is the size recommended by the NYT famous chocolate chip cookie recipe - it's insanely huge and I'll admit that I prefer the #16). I'm sharing links here so you can see them but it might be easier to pick them up at your local Smart and Final or restaurant supply store. That way you can see what sizes will work best for you. I'd like to add a #30 or a #24 to the collection but I'm trying to restrain myself.
Pastry rolling cloth or mat - I used to use the traditional canvas mat, but it's less appealing in an apartment. I don't have a yard to shake the flour out and I don't have a washing machine so I try to avoid making more laundry. So now I have the magic dough pastry mat and it works pretty well. If I were going to replace it, I'd get this silicone one that has better reviews, though.
Silicone baking sheets - I'm not sure how anyone lives without these. I specifically use the half sheet size Silpat ones, which I snapped up on Amazon when they were having a 4 for 3 type deal.
Nordicware half sheet pans with lids - Not fancy at all, but functional workhorses. Make sure your oven can handle a half sheet pan before you buy them. I have 8 of them (I know) because I bought them when I was doing the desserts for my sister's wedding and I needed them to transport mini cupcakes. I thought I'd rehome some once I was finished but it turns out having more baking sheets is AWESOME. I have a couple set aside for roasting and they get the heavy duty wear and tear. I don't bother to put down foil or try to keep them perfect. And when I'm making gingerbread houses it's so helpful to be able to have four sheets with cutouts chilling and two in the oven and two cooling. I never have to transfer cookies and it makes it go much faster. I only use the lids for transport, so I could live with only 3 lids, but they came as a set. Again, I waited for a 4 for 3 deal on these.
Pyrex pie pans - I have four, but I admittedly come from a pie family. I pick them up from thrift stores.
Aluminum cake pans - I only use the giant pans for wedding cakes, so you might not need the whole set, but I'd argue that having a 6" pan is highly useful. Tiny cakes!
Tart pan with removable bottom (10") - Using a pie pan is just not the same, especially with my favorite key lime tart recipe.
Offset spatula - crucial if you want to do any cake decorating.
De'Longhi EC155 espresso maker - This was another wedding gift. We didn't register for it but our friends are geniuses. We've been using it daily for almost 2 years and we almost never buy overpriced lattes anymore.
Cuisinart Grind and Brew coffee maker - we don't drink drip coffee anymore since we have the espresso maker but this machine is great for when we have guests over and for holidays. Making multiple cups of espresso is a pain if you don't have a professional machine. I picked this model out because I didn't want the hassle of grinding a single pot's worth of beans on the sporadic occasions that we need them.
Electric kettle(s) - so critical that I have two, this fancy Cuisinart one at home and this one at the office. Honestly, they're both equally good despite the price difference. You can usually find them at Cost Plus as well. Neither one whistles, which I would like, but they shut off automatically which will prevent me from starting a fire.
Not in daily use, still love them:
SodaStream - totally indulgent but I love being able to make sparkling water whenever I want. I turn in my used cartridges at Sur La Table and pick up fresh ones. You can also do that online. Edit - or at Staples, apparently!
Crockpot - I don't use this as often as I used to but I still wouldn't want to get rid of it. During the winter there are few things more glorious than coming home to a house that already smells like dinner. I have a big one (3.5 qts) without any fancy settings and it's super inexpensive. Sometimes I think a programmable one would be cool, but I can't justify it.
Random bits and pieces:
The best metal spatula - sharpest edge ever.
Gorgeous salad tongs from Heath
My favorite glasses, which show up in a lot of posts - they're a really basic glass but I love that all three sizes have the same diameter base, which make the proportions a little unusual. The small ones are perfect for cocktails or wine, the middle ones are great for beer or juice and the large ones are for water or a full 12 oz beer.