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    6 Must Haves for Summer Cooking: Kitchen Essentials Part 1

    Do you want to spend less time in a hot kitchen and more time having fun with family? Do you love spending time enjoying the season, playing with your kids and gathering with friends and family? Assuming that you said “yes” a moment ago, and wish for more time outside your kitchen, it’s well worth a small amount of organizing time. Summer cooking is so much easier with a well-organized and optimized kitchen!

    I got the itch to organize my kitchen a little late so Spring Cleaning is a stretch, but better late than not at all! This year as I was purging, I was careful to do some serious “does it bring me joy” soul searching and wow! I was able to make so much room for the things I do regularly (which boosts productivity). I also had plenty of room for a couple of new additions and replacements for worn items.

    Today let’s talk about the 6 bigger items every kitchen needs.

    Must-haves include:

    • Great quality coffee maker. One of the best buys I’ve made in a very long time is the coffee maker on the picture below that makes both traditional and cold brew coffee automatically. It’s seriously so A-MAZ-ING that I want to shout about it from my rooftop: a hot and cold brew Breville coffee maker. Now you might ask, seriously?!? What’s the big deal? Well, this little baby is so advanced that you can brew the perfect cup of either style brew for your tastes, and it doesn’t require a PhD to use. I found this glorious (and pretty) machine seriously kicks butt over the last pretty high end machine that we had and, although not a mega bargain, will save me lots of $$$ in the long run now that I’m not buying it at Starbucks all the time!!! I’m in ♥! Side note: I know that Keurig and Nepresso are super popular but compare their flavor to this and you will be converted. It’s a world of taste difference AND you aren’t adding to the plastic in landfills or having to buy expensive pods.
    Photo by Angela Carlyle
    • Cast iron braising pan or dutch oven. Advice given to me ages ago when I was a manager of Macy’s Bridal Registry is that it’s best to invest in a few great quality pots and pans than buy big sets, and to get pieces that serve many purposes plus can be both stovetop and oven-friendly. Some of the best kitchen advice I’ve ever received! Another best buy of the year for me has been a Le Crueset Braiser. It’s become a primary work horse in my kitchen. If you don’t have a cast iron Dutch Oven or braiser, I’d strongly recommend adding one. I chose this large one in lavender but most folks probably can get the smaller version. It’s proven to be incredibly multi-purpose and I love the way it browns on the stovetop as well as slow roasts in the oven. There’s a huge range in price with Cast Iron from those in the $20 range up to some in the $500+ range. Which you choose is frankly a personal budget decision. I went for more middle of the road and spent a bit more because I loved the idea of stove to table that you get with Le Crueset plus I’d lusted for a piece for years. The suggested $39.90 cast iron Dutch Oven gets nearly perfect reviews from over 950 people.
    Photo by Le Crueset
    • High grade 10″ non-stick pan. Our old non-stick had seen better days so I headed to the Sur La Table store in Seattle to get advice on which brand I should get. I’ve found that I churn through the lower quality brands because the coating gets chipped and ruined so easily, plus the browning capability if often less than great. They recommended the Scanpan Non-Stick Skillet with Lid and I’ve found it to be fantastic in every way: high quality will last for ages, browns well and lightweight.
    • Sturdy baking sheets. When I did my big kitchen reorg a few months ago (which will be featured soon on the blog), I tossed all of my flimsy cooking sheets that had seen better days. What a difference! The perfect assortment has proven to be: 2 large sheet pans, 1 jelly roll large pan, 2 half sheet pans, pizza pans with air vents for crispier crusts, and if you bake cookies often, add 1 large air cushioned flat style cookie pan.

    Pro advice is that knife sets can be a good value depending on the maker and line, yet you really only need a 3-5 knives. Less is more!

    • High quality knives (just a few!). This is one thing cooks get super passionate about. A friend posted on Facebook that she was going to get a new set and WOW—it was one of the most engaged, passionate, and varied conversations I’d seen in a long time! When knife shopping, you really need to try them in person at a nicer cooking department or store. The most important thing is that they feel balanced and comfortable for your hand so test driving is a MUST. I’ve heard endless raves about some of the high caliber Japanese brands like Miyabi or Shun, as well as the Bob Kramer by Henckels and if they fit in your hand and budget by all means, go for it!! For my little hands (I’m only 5’1”) the best balanced brand for me is Wustof Classic. For you, it may be something totally different. Look for a full tang blade, forged steel that need occasional sharpening and, as I said, great feel and balance. Complete knife assortments have 1 each:
    • Limited selection of kitchen electronics. Emphasis on the word limited! The two things that are my absolute go-to’s in summer are the high grade blender shown below for smoothies and a great slow cooker with timer to avoid turning my oven on. The slow cooker especially crucial so that I can start dinner and take off to the beach all day with the kids! Depending on what, how often you cook, and for how many, consider: toaster (I have a Smart Breville model—it’s AWESOME!), stand or hand mixer, and food processor. I’m sure there are others that you’d list as “needs” or those like Instant Pots and Air Fryers that are super popular. The Instant Pots and Air Fryers are also great for keeping heat down in your kitchen so definitely worth a look, but before you buy electronic items, consider these points:
      • If you don’t keep it on the counter (or very easy to pull out), you won’t use it.
      • If an item is super specialized or hard to clean, you won’t use it. Read reviews carefully and know the pro’s and con’s before spending hundreds of dollars.
      • Consider your lifestyle and kitchen size ahead of time.
      • Know thyself here ladies…for instance if you almost never bake, don’t waste money (or precious counter space) on the top of the line stand mixer!

    Again: less is more and quality over quantity! One great chef knife that fits your hand well is far better than a big, lower quality set of knives.

    Know that this list is geared towards having your dream assortment so you may not be able to replace everything at once and that’s totally fine! This time of year most of our budgets are stretched between camps, vacations and home remodeling projects. Thus, pick and choose carefully and add to your sets or replace things over time.

    In Part 2, I’ll give you a complete list of gadgets and smaller tools to make your life easier in the kitchen.

    This series will help you get your kitchen organized and efficient once and for all! Also, I’ve got a series on Streamlining Your Kitchen in the works so stay tuned for it. But in the meantime, use the above guide to be your most productive!

    Photo by Angela Carlyle

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    Feature photo by Nicole Vaughn