I’m so thrilled to be back with The Chopping Block’s fabulous blog team yet again! During my hiatus, I’ve been taking lots of pictures of food and cooking up a storm as per usual. Since the last time I wrote for this blog, life has opened up quite a bit, and I’m once again hosting friends in my home and traveling to visit loved ones around the country and the world. One constant in all of these adventures? Yep, you guessed it: cooking. There’s nothing more wonderful than gathering with friends in the kitchen, handing everyone an assignment, and spending time cooking dinner together.
My friends and family have a wide range of experience and comfort levels in the kitchen. I have friends who I would consider far more skilled than I am, and I have friends who don’t quite know the difference between a shallot and an onion, and I have friends at literally every level between those two extremes. And I love them all! My friends who are less experienced in the kitchen (but just as game to try new things!) always ask one of two things:
- How can I become a better cook?
- What kitchen tools am I missing out on?
The answer to the first question is: take The Chopping Block’s Culinary Boot Camp, of course. There’s no better way to learn than a concentrated dose of knowledge taught by seasoned professionals! And if there’s a specific skillset you’re looking to hone, search for a class that best fits your goals and dive in. Easy as pie! (And yes, they probably have a class for that.)
The second question is harder to grapple with. I think it’s possible to make good food with the simplest of tools, yes, but I also know that there are a few things I’ve splurged on over the years that have made a huge difference in my cooking. Below, I present to you my list of kitchen “essentials” — the four things I would buy if you’re looking to invest some time and (minimal!) money into being a better cook.
1. Good Knife
Does this feel like a cliché answer? It should. The sharper the knife, the easier your prep, the more flavorful your dishes, the better your knife skills — although The Chopping Block has a class for that too: Knife Skills. You don’t have to shell out for a whole block set, though. Just get one good knife and learn how to keep it sharp. You’ll be surprised at how much easier cooking becomes once you have a sharp knife at the ready.
This may sound silly. It may even sound flippant. But the single tool I reach for most often to elevate dishes in my kitchen is the Microplane my mom gave me during my senior year in college. This little powerhouse of a tool is a superfine grater — think what you use for shredded cheese, but much, much smaller. Having this handy tool at the ready has helped me to elevate flavors in nearly everything I make, from grating fresh lemon zest onto salad greens to adding a hit of ginger to my chicken noodle soup. This tool doesn’t make you a better cook so much as it forces you to think about the subtlety of flavor and how to bring it out by grating secret ingredients into easy recipes.
3. Cast Iron Skillet
If you know me, you’ve already heard me talk about my cast iron skillet. I bought it at Target my senior year of college and never looked back. Now, I have three in different sizes to fit any need that comes up. If there’s one pan you have in your kitchen, make it this one. The way that the cast iron captures heat, goes in and out of the oven with ease, and dances between savory and sweet usage will help you in your quest to get more comfortable in the kitchen.
4. Bottle of Wine
I bet you’re thinking that this last item is a cop-out, something that I wrote because I was out of ideas. Think again! First off, I’m a firm believer that becoming a good cook has a foundation in loosening up and actually enjoying improvising in the kitchen. And if a glass of wine helps you do that, you go drink a glass of wine! (Pick one out after a sommelier-lead tasting at The Chopping Block!) Once you’ve loosened up, try adding some wine to your soups or sautes to add some flavor. Drain the bottle? Use it as a rolling pin.
Are you feeling loose yet? Ready to take on some additional cooking challenges with your new tools? What are your kitchen essentials? Stock up today at The Chopping Block, and ask the experts there what they reach for every night.