This list is of the things that I think are vital to a kitchen. As with all things, there maybe things that you have that you feel you can't do with out, or there may be things that I use, that you don't. And that is fine. These are the things that I must have in my kitchen, whatever brand or style.
I have lots of aprons. Some I made, some were gifts. Half aprons tie around your waist, and hang down from your waist. A full apron goes around your neck, and covers the front of you as well as your lower half. Now any time I have had food splatter, or had something spill, it wasn't my lower half that got dirty. I have had more food get on the top half of me, so I much prefer a full apron. If grease splatters from a skillet, I don't want it getting on my clothes and ruining them.
Aprons seem so old fashioned, but there is something wonderful about tying one on and getting to work in the kitchen....or anywhere else. (I have a work apron that I wear when painting or gardening too. Keeps my clothes clean!) So I highly recommend having one. They even seem to be "in" again.
Mixing bowls come in every size shape and style imaginable, but there is one thing you should take into account when picking one. The design. If a bowl is wide and open like the nesting set I have shown, they are great for mixing things by hand. But when it comes to beating things with an electric mixer, you want a bowl that is deep with higher sides, like the other two shown. The electric beater will sling ingredients against the side of the bowl, and if the bowl is too shallow, you are going to be wearing your food.
An Electric Mixer.
My husband gave me this mixer many years ago as a birthday gift. It is a standard hand-held mixer. There are also stand mixers, the most popular being the Kitchen-Aid mixer. I do have a stand mixer (A Bosch) but I primarily use it for bread-making. This hand-held mixer is used for everything from whipped cream to cookie dough and everything else in between, and is very versatile. You can use it for beating both large and small quantities of ingredients.
I have a couple sets of measuring cups. The White, Metal and Blue Ceramic ones are for dry ingredients like flour, sugar, etc. You scoop your ingredients and then level them off with a scraper or knife, even with the top of the cup. A set generally includes 1 cup, 1/2 cup, 1/3 cup, and 1/4 cup.
You want a set that is durable. Sadly, while I love my blue ceramic set, because they are so darn cute, they are not very durable. I have only had them a year, and they are badly chipped from being knocked against my flour & sugar canisters, dropped on the floor, etc. Also, they are not an accurate set. Like I mentioned, dry ingredients are normally leveled from the top edge, but those blue ones have a line inside them that you measure to, so they aren't a good set for a new cook either, because you have to "eye-ball" the line.
The clear glass measuring cup is specifically for measuring liquids, like oil, milk, etc. You use the lines on the side to see how much you have measured, and the handy spout is for pouring. Every kitchen should have both wet and dry measuring cups.
Measuring spoons also come in every shape and design. I have a couple sets, because there are times when I have lots of dishes going, and one set might already be dirty, and I need to measure something else, and not want to take the time to wash in between (like Thanks Giving.) Here you want to be careful. I bought a set several years ago, that looked great. It was metal, sturdy, and inexpensive. But after I took them home, I got to looking at them. Their measurements didn't look accurate to me. So I measured out some salt with the new teaspoon, and compared it to another teaspoon I had, and the new set was WAY off on the measurements. 1 "teaspoon" was actually 1 1/2 teaspoon. All of the new measuring spoons were drastically off on their measurements. So the "Dollar Store" is probably not the place to get something like that. Spend a couple dollars, and get a good set. They don't have to be expensive though, just accurate. I have had the metal set there for 20 years, and it is probably my favorite set. The white ones are handy, because they are adjustable, but are only good for measuring dry ingredients. Vanilla will run right under the divider.
There is nothing better for scraping around a bowl to get every last bit of something, or to make sure everything is mixed. I think having one large and one small is a good idea.
Whisks are use for combining ingredients that are thin, and perfect for "whipping" things that you are trying to incorporate air into. The wires break up food bits, like flour in gravy. I have a regular one that I use the most, and a mini one for mixing up small batches of things like barbecue sauce.
There are many kinds of pastry brushes out there. These are the two I have. The one on the left is a bristle brush. It is ideal for putting thin, even coats of something on - like brushing milk on a loaf of bread, or coating a pan with grease. But the silicone brush is ideal for things like barbecue sauce on ribs. It holds thicker things, and is easier to clean. If I could only have one though, I would choose the bristle one. You can't use a silicone brush to give a nice, even coat of milk on bread dough. It simply doesn't hold the milk, and the "bristles" are too thick.
Every kitchen should have three basic knives. A chef's knife (top) for cutting & chopping, a serrated knife (middle)for cutting things like bread, and a paring knife (bottom) for doing small work, like peeling apples, or cutting up strawberries. Knives should be sharp. You are more likely to cut yourself with a dull knife than a sharp, because the dull knife will require more effort, and can be hazardous.
I like cutting things up with a chef knife, because the blade can go all the way across the food item, and cut completely. When chopping things like carrots, I keep the tip of the knife on a cutting board, and use the blade of the knife in a scissor action. It keeps everything stable, and reduces the risk of cutting yourself.
Now, this isn't something that I personally consider vital, but many people do. I do have a pair, they are like very strong scissors. They are designed for cutting through meat and bone. I mostly use mine for cutting open food packages and snipping herbs from plants, but have been known to cut a cornish hen in half with them. You don't have to a have a pair, but they are very convenient.
A Vegetable Peeler
These are self-explanatory, and really make peeling easier. You can take the peel off a potato or apple, sparing as much of the "meat" as possible.
A sieve (pronounced siv)is a metal strainer with very fine holes or mesh. They can not only be used for straining out liquids, but also used for sifting flour and other dry ingredients.
The fine mesh.
I also have a very small one. This one is really handy if you have a tea bag break.
A Pastry Blender
A pastry blender is similar to a whisk, but is used for "cutting" butter or shortening into dry ingredients. You would use one of these when making things like a pie crust, or biscuits, or scones.
A Cutting Board.
Cutting boards also come in all shapes, sizes and materials. I have several.
Clockwise from the top left - Butcher Block wood, Tempered Glass, Bamboo, and plastic
Now the "kitchen police" will tell you to have one for cutting raw meats and such, and another for cutting vegetables and fruits. That you don't want cross-contamination. But I will be honest....I don't do that. I cut everything on which ever board I want.
The white ones are made of a type of plastic, and are dishwasher safe. I usually use one of those when I am cutting up fish....just because I think that fish is gross. But most often I use my butcher block one.
I think the thing about a cutting board, is you want it to be easy to clean. You don't want a soft wood one either. Wood cutting boards should be made from hard wood. If you can easily cut your cutting board, it is too soft. As long as the surface of your cutting board is smooth, it is easy to clean. But as it wears out, and gets rough, that texture can hold bacteria, and the cutting board is needing replacing.
Food poisoning has never occurred in my kitchen, but YOU do what YOU are comfortable with.
A Rolling Pin
This is my rolling pin. Rolling pins also come in many styles. Everyone has their favorite. I like this one because it is one piece, and it is sturdy. I use it not only for rolling things out, but for bashing meat to tenderize.
This grater belonged to my grandmother. I love it. I think of her every time I shred cheese or zest an orange. A grater should be sturdy, not bend easily, and have a handle for stability. There are many styles to choose from.
I will post the rest of my "essentials" in the next post.