Cooking and baking in the time of the pandemic has not been without its revelations.
Perhaps you’re among those who have discovered that you actually own more than a dozen cake and tart pans. Or that you possess multiple whisks, tongs, sieves, rolling pins and potato mashers. Even worse: Are there useless gadgets — avocado slicer, asparagus peeler, strawberry huller, corn cobber, herb scissors — clogging your kitchen drawers?
If it at all concerns you that you once invested in a silly quesadilla-making machine or a never-used gizmo that creates an Egg McMuffin, food writer Lisa Chernick feels your pain.
The author of the new book “Your Starter Kitchen,” published next week, has written a user-friendly guide to setting up a beginner kitchen and how to intelligently expand on existing kitchen formats. The book covers must-have kitchen tools, pantry essentials and even offers classic, go-to recipes.
When Chernick began writing the book last summer, COVID-19 wasn’t in the picture; there wasn’t a hint that how and what we cook would be upended by a pandemic. But the book’s publication months into a global shift in our foodways has made “Your Starter Kitchen” exceedingly relevant. Home cooks everywhere have had to confront the challenges presented by the pandemic — food acquisition, meal planning, cooking and baking without ready access to ingredients and tools. And along the way come to a new understanding of the deficiencies and perhaps overabundance of the kitchen.
This is where Chernick’s book makes its mark. Organized in three sections for the beginner kitchen, intermediate and advanced, the book’s advice and checklists can help home cooks assess their kitchens and cupboards — something already happening months into the pandemic.
“People are spending a lot more time in a space they used to breeze in and out of and are much more intimate with their kitchens now,” she said. “Now, by virtue of this unfortunate circumstance, we’re all really familiar with some of the minutia of the kitchen.”
Her book, Chernick said, is a pair of fresh eyes on the kitchen.
And those eyes are no doubt apt to see unnecessary duplication and unintended overabundance where tools are concerned.
“One of the things that has struck me in my own kitchen during this stretch is just how much I like things to be simple,” she said. “I felt I was revisiting the need for simplicity and paring down. The book does that — it gives you a good blueprint for simplifying.”
That begs the question: Do you really need three potato mashers? Chernick says no. Pare down your cupboards and drawers to the essentials, she advocates.
By Lisa Chernick
208 pages, $16.99
“If you have a lot of stuff and you feel cluttered, you’ll never be able to find the things you need,” she said. “When things get cluttered, people buy that tool again. It’s a terrible cycle that goes round and round.”
True: While making a cherry pie, I recently discovered I own three cherry pitters — different sizes and makes of the same tool that does the same thing. In Chernick’s case, she recently ran into her asparagus pot — a cooking utensil whose sole purpose is for steaming asparagus spears.
Single-use tools — consider the hard-boiled-egg slicer, for example — are superfluous, she said. Instead of multiple tools, buy those that perform multiple tasks. Though “Your Starter Kitchen” is much more nuanced, Chernick said kitchen essentials are just that: It’s all about one good knife, a heavy enameled cast-iron pan and that one great stainless-steel skillet.
“Sink it all into that enamel cast-iron pot that will take you through your cooking lifetime,” she said. “Splurge on that.”
Re-evaluating and reorganizing your kitchen and pantry may require some effort, but it’s time well spent, Chernick said.
“This is a reality check for the kitchen,” she said. “Maybe it’s a little hand-holding, but hopefully it’ll help you see clearly to make you feel you’re at your best in your own kitchen.”