Star-Bulletin Features

Photos by George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin

kitchen basics

By Cynthia Oi / Features Editor

New beginnings mingle optimism with uncertainty. The chance to start over brings with it the excitement of the new but also the pressure of making the right choices -- this time.

What are we talking about here? The kitchen and the basic things you should have in it to cook efficiently, cook well.

We talked to Kelvin Ro, chef and owner of Kahala Moon; Randy Francisco, a culinary expert at Kapiolani Community College; Vicki Kaleopaa, manager at Executive Chef; Cheryl Much, a home cook who also works at Williams Sonoma at Ala Moana Center; and Mimi MacNaughton, senior manager at Compleat Kitchen at Kahala Mall.

We asked them each to come up with a list of 10 basic pieces of equipment needed in the kitchen.

The informal survey of these foodies reveals this: No one agrees on all the same things. The reason is, cooking is an art form and each artist creates differently. Most, however, agree on these 10.

Kitchen Basics

1. multi-purpose pot with steamer basket and pasta insert

Kaleopaa finds this to be a versatile product. You can use the pot for stews, soups, chili and the like.

The pasta insert is essentially a colander that fits into the pot, making draining pasta easy. The insert also is good for steaming vegetables. It can even be used to warm bread or leftover rice by wrapping the food tightly in foil and placing them in the steamer over boiling water.

Kitchen Basics

2. measuring spoons and wet/dry cups

Measuring ingredients for recipes is important for the novice cook. But even experienced cooks who put together dishes with a pinch of this and a splash of that, need these utensils, especially when baking. MacNaughton says beginners often don't realize that one cup of dry ingredients, such as flour, isn't the same as one cup of wet ingredients, such as milk.

"You need to have both kinds of measuring cups to get the best dish," she says. "These aren't inter- changeable."

Most of the foodies suggested stainless steel products, mainly because they last longer.

Kitchen Basics

3. spoons, spatulas, tongs

These implements, called cook's tools, are essential to cooking well.

Wooden spoons are durable and safe to use on nonstick surfaces. They can be used to stir while cooking and to dish up foods for serving.

Francisco suggests two spatulas, one slotted for cooking such foods as pancakes or hamburgers, and a flat, unslotted one for serving cakes, pies and quiches and for removing cookies from sheets.

Tongs are also handy for cooking and serving. Need to grab pasta and ears of corn from boiling water, remove vegetables from the steamer, turn the frying chicken or the slices of teriyaki on the barbeque grill? Tongs will do all of these and will even serve salad at the table.

"I couldn't cook without my tongs," says chef Ro.

Kitchen Basics

4. chopping and slicing knives

All of the food experts we consulted suggested at least two knives in the cook's kitchen, one with a 6- to 8-inch blade for chopping and slicing, and another 3- to 5-inch blade for paring and small jobs.

"A good cook needs a good knife. Without a good knife, food preparation can become tiring," says Francisco. When that happens, a novice can become discouraged and give up cooking.

Kaleopaa recommends buying good quality knives even though the cost will be higher initially.

"I've seen so many people buy 10 cheapie knives when one good one would have lasted longer," she said. She tells customers to buy carbon steel instead of stainless for a better edge and to maintain sharpness.

5. cutting board

Plastic or wood, the kind of board chosen is really up to the individual, MacNaughton says.

"It really doesn't matter. Just follow hygienic rules. Use one side for cutting meat, the other for vegetables."

That way, you don't contaminate vegetables, which may be eaten raw or after minimal cooking, with possible bacteria from flesh products.

Ro prefers plastic because they can be more easily cleaned and sterilized with hot water. Wooden ones need oiling and more care in cleaning, but are kinder to your knives, Kaleopaa says.

6. mixing bowls, small and large

Although many mixing bowls come in sets of small, medium and large, all you really need is the large and small.

"Those two sizes will take care of most of your needs," MacNaughton says.

Again, our consultants suggest stainless steel or bowls made of non-reactive material.

"Aluminum will affect the taste of the food," Ro explains.

7. skillet or frying/sauté pan

That this is a necessary piece of kitchen equipment is undisputed among our experts. What kind, however, gets all kinds of discussion. Kaleopaa suggests the Calphlon brand because it conducts heat well and evenly, making for a better food product. Cast iron skillets -- despite their need to be seasoned -- won several raves because of durability and again, for conducting heat well.

Kaleopaa also says a wok may be an option for a fry pan, especially for those who like stir-fry dishes and because almost everything you cook in a skillet can also be cooked in a wok.

8. saucepan

From boiling water for tea to mixing up the morning oatmeal to concocting a Veloute sauce, you gotta have a saucepan. None of our food experts argued about this.

The size, again, depends on what you cook and how much of it you're going to make. The larger one may be the better choice; you can always cook a little bit in a larger pot, but not visa versa.

Kitchen Basics

9. baking, broiling pan

A medium-size baking pan allows you to roast beef, bake a cake and broil fish or chicken with one piece of equipment.

Before you buy one, however, check the oven in your stove. Most come with the pan and a broiling rack and it's usually sized to fit.

10. can opener

Price range and quality of can openers vary greatly. You can pick one up for $1.50 on sale or spend up to $18 for the top-of-the-line Oxo brand. If you have arthritis, the Oxo will ease your pain when cranking the top off a can. Needless to say, it will also last much longer than the cheaper kind and will be less frustrating to use.

but wait, there's more . . .

Some of the experts suggested other products that may be essential.

One is a rice cooker. MacNaughton says if rice is a part of your everyday diet, you ought to get a rice cooker. These can be had for as little as $15 at sales and discount stores or as much as $250 for the ones with the floral decoration and warmer capability.

Pot holders also were suggested, but kitchen towels will serve the same purpose and dry dishes, too.

Storage containers for keeping pasta, rice and beans, as well as staples like flour and sugar should also be considered.

If you love toast, get a toaster. If you like to bake cookies, get cookie sheets. If garlic plays a big role in your dishes, get a garlic press or peeler. All of this is to say you should tailor your kitchen to your own style and tastes.

A cookbook may be the most important "extra," especially for the novice. A good one with information about ingredients, substitutions and definitions will guide the novice through tricky territory.

"You shouldn't have any fear when you cook," says Kathy Rueter, marketing manager at Compleat Kitchen-Kahala. A good cookbook will help you understand food, she says.

She recommends "The Kitchen Companion," by Polly Clingerman. If you plan to get seriously into food, "The Joy of Cooking" may be a good buy. It contains almost everything you'll ever want to know about food --and recipes, recipes, recipes.

and another thing . . .

One of the most often-used descriptive words from all of our kitchen experts was "non-stick." Pots and pans with Teflon or other such coatings make cleaning up a breeze.

Says Francisco: "I make cooking as easy for myself as I can. If you don't have fun cooking, you don't cook."

Do It Electric!

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