Home cooking Part I – Tools and Equipment

June 25, 2020
Cooking equipmet

My partner can attest to the elevated gastronomic experience he has been partaking as I graduate from an amateur cook to a better home cook.  And in this journey, I have acquired and also retired some of my cooking tools and equipment.  Now, if it’s of any comfort, my learning curve was extremely linear…I mean it’s closer to a 0.1 slope kind of linear, as it started when I was in college.  

I was fortunate enough to have an internship at a very reputable financial firm from high school through the middle of my college career.  I was also one of those students who worked full-time and went to school full-time at the height of the first dot com boom (and the bust as well). With work being in downtown San Francisco, a simple sandwich would cost 7-8 dollars.  And I’m like “I didn’t work and take out student loans just to spend 7 bucks for one meal a day, as that would mean 35 bucks a week, 140 each month.  I was sharing a room with another person at the time, so I think my rent was probably 200/month for my part.  (I know…right?) But even that, I’m not going to spend what would have been my rent money just on sandwiches!  That’s when I began to cook at home. 

As a reference, I graduated from high school the same year as Google was incorporated as a company.  Needless to say, there isn’t such thing as YouTube to learn how to cook all these beautiful cuisines.  So, I was doing really simple cooking – what I could remember from what my dad would make growing up in Macau.  I was also not the most patient person (meaning not someone who’ll consult a recipe or follow a recipe for example), so what would come out of the kitchen was…let’s say experimental!    

Fast forward 10 (cough…13) years, I somehow thought I had already elevated to a much better cook.  Coincidentally, that was also around the time the country was crawling out of its second dot-com bust.  What brought forth was the emergence of gourmet food trucks in San Francisco (along with coding boot camps).  I’m not talking about the hot dog stands that set up to work late at night for bar crawlers, I’m talking about popular restaurants like Curry Up Now (and there were many famous ones that fizzled out as we transitioned back to a dot com rebirth) that many people follow on Twitter to find out where they will set up shop that day.  My roommate at the time was “The Gumbo Guy.” Looking from the outside in, I found that lifestyle super intriguing and was hoping to enter the race.  Thinking through all the food I love to eat the most, I thought “soy sauce chicken wings!”  So, I cooked at batch and let the climber dude I was dating at the time taste the fruit of my labor, and stoically he remarked, “meh.”  

Although that wasn’t really the turning point of my culinary motivation, I have thought about offering that dude the food I make now as a form of giving him my middle finger.   

One of the books that sparked my interest in cooking and making everything at home was “Make the Bread, Buy the Butter.”  I looked through everything the author attempted to make and her assessment of whether one should make or buy based on ease and price/unit.  The one recipe that really sparked my interest was Ginger Beer. I didn’t know that making a simple ginger beer was so easy.  So, I tried it out and the result was FANTASTIC!  From ginger beer, it grew to make probiotic ginger beer to making sourdough bread.  The rest is history.   

I’m breaking up this article into two parts.  This one will only be about tools and equipment; the following article will only be about ingredients I think every home cook should have to whip out any last-minute miracle dish they want.  Here we go: 

Kitchen Aid

Once you have a standard Kitchen Aid, the culinary world really opens up for you.  When I started, I use my Kitchen Aid to make ice cream, whipped butter, and mix my bread dough.  As I grow in my culinary ability, I built out my Kitchen Aid family by adding different pasta attachments, meat grinding, and sausage making attachments and a juicer.  Now, I’m able to make all sorts of pasta dishes, sausages, and even hard apple cider at home. 

To start out, just invest in the $200 version.  It comes with different basic attachments like a dough hook, whip, etc.  Once you’re able to commit to more serious cooking, then consider purchasing more attachments to expand your recipe potentials.  I’m not sure if you’re able to pass on a Kitchen Aid from one generation to the next, but as a reference, I’ve already had mine for 6+ years and I haven’t even had to bring it to the shop for repair. Not even once!  It’s a great investment. 

6 Quart Instant Pot

Tl;dr: The AirFryer lid only fits in the 6-quart pot, not the other ones. 

I used to live in a 350 sq ft loft apartment in San Francisco with my partner.  Having a 5 quart Instant Pot at that time feels like a stretch considering the real estate we’re working with.  Then the shiny object called 3 Quart Instant Pot came along and my partner was like “can you imagine how much space it will save?”  Sold.   

Like any careful person, I don’t get rid of something that has been working before knowing that the new purchase actually works.  So, for a period of time, we have both the 5Q and 3Q sitting in our 350 sq ft studio.  My partner suddenly changed his mind and wanted to keep both.  Long story short, he won.   

Now that we are in a condo that’s 3x the size of our studio, we can happily use both of our Instant Pots.  But wait, Helen, you said 6Q.  What’s up with that?  Well, have you been swept by the AirFryer wave yet?  May I tempt you with the option to make [air] fried chicken at the convenience of your home? How about sweet potato fries?  Fries?  The Instant Pot AirFryer Lid was sold out for a while until we found one place that has it. So we got it.   

I had so many recipes in mind I wanted to make with this beautiful Air Fryer.  So, I immediately unboxed it and tried putting it in my 5Q Instant Pot.  But the basket would keep sticking out, making it virtually useless for us.  I was so upset that I started writing my seething complaint email to the Support Team until my partner said that we actually need a 6Q Instant Pot.  So, here we have it.  Our third instant pot.

Cast Iron Skillet

If you live in a tiny apartment or studio like I did, and only have room for either a cast-iron skillet or a non-stick skillet, I’ll always pick cast iron for its diverse use.   

If a cast iron is well seasoned and maintained, it serves as a non-stick.  Unlike non-stick that can be damaged, resulting in inconsistent cooking performance, cast iron skillets can be salvaged even if it’s damaged beyond what one can imagine being repaired, it can be with some tender loving care.  Additionally, you can use it in open-fire cooking, regular stove, and high heat oven.   

Mason Jars

As I experiment with more complex flavors, I noticed an increased use of mason jars to ferment my vegetables and “harvest” their delicious vinegar brine.   

For most dishes, a splash of vinegar balances out the fattiness and saltiness of the dish. When you use the vinegar brine from your fermentation, it adds a layer of indescribable complexity to it that will only wow you and your dinner guests in the end.   

Now, rather than spending money on vinegar, I have been using my vinegar brine to accent my dishes.  The best so far is the vinegar from my fermented garlic…oh, that aroma!  

Honorary mentions:

It will be remiss of me to not mention the following:

  • Good knife 
  • Block cutting board

Those are just some of the ones I can think of.  How about you? As you improve and grow as a home cook, are you adding or replacing your kitchen tools/equipment?  Do you agree with the list above? What will you add to them?