Tools & Utensils

Minimalist Kit for the Beginner Cook

Minimalist Kit Header

The fall is near, students are going off to college, and young adults are moving into their first apartment.

Outfitting a kitchen for the first time can be daunting: there’s so much stuff available in cookware stores, what does one really need?

I have put together a selection of (what I consider to be) kitchen essentials for beginner cooks, allowing them to spread their wings and begin their cooking life on a solid foundation.

You will notice that I did not select the cheapest option for each item, but rather I picked models that will last a lifetime.

Certainly each cook will have to adapt the selection to their financial constraints and see what they can afford. But if you’re the parent, the big sister, or the older friend who wants to get them something nice as a housewarming present, this is what I would wholeheartedly recommend.

You’ll be giving them the gift of learning to cook with equipment they can trust, and these are pieces they’ll take with them from one apartment to the next.

They’ll hold that saucepan in their hand for decades, remembering the pasta days of their youth.

For the experienced cooks among you: is there anything you would add to my list? If you had to start again from an empty kitchen, what would you get?

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Froothie Optimum 9400 Blender: My Review

Froothie Optimum 9400 Blender

After years (and years) of yearning for a high-performance blender — to make really smooth soups, quick sauces and marinades, nut butters and milks, and of course smoothies — I finally got one.

Based on my research, I picked the Optimum 9400 blender, distributed by Australian company Froothie, as an alternative to the better-known Vitamix or Blendtec. It’s a vortex blender that’s just as high-performing, if not more so, and the 2-liter (2-quart) jug works for both dry and liquid ingredients.

I have been so happy with it I entered into a partnership with the brand and have a discount to offer. If you’re interested in buying a Froothie blender for yourself, use promo code CD-Optimum-Blender-20 to get $20 off your purchase of the Optimum 9400 or 9200A on the US store.

The same code will get you 20€ off on the French site, the Belgian site, or the Luxembourg site. You’ll get 15 CHF off on the Swiss site.

For my Canadian friends, the code is CD-Optimum-Blender-25 and you’ll get CA$25 off on the Canadian site.

Here’s my detailed review of the Optimum 9400 blender by Froothie:

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Inside Earlywood: A Q&A with Woodworker Brad Bernhart

Gorgeous utensils from Earlywood. Photography by Dan Armstrong.

{SCROLL TO THE BOTTOM OF THE POST TO ENTER OUR GIVEAWAY!}

I think about Brad Bernhart every day.

Every time I stir a simmering pot, scrape caramelized bits of roasted vegetables off a baking sheet, scoop granola into a cup, spread almond butter on my toast, cut up a piece of fruit, or ladle a chunky soup into bowls. I hold in my hand the beautiful, functional, durable utensils he has created, and feel lucky that I get to use them daily.

It’s not every kitchen tool that brings you joy, yet joy is precisely what’s at play here.

I told you about Earlywood a little while ago, and have kept in touch with Brad since, so when he told me about the new products he had designed — a set of mini cutting boards, slender tasting spoons, a tapered bread board — I was excited to try them out. Like all Earlywood products they are beautifully crafted, and I was especially taken with the miniature cutting boards and their one-of-a-kind wood pattern. Aren’t they striking?

Bread board, set of mini cutting boards, and set of tasting spoons from Earlywood.

Tapered bread board, set of mini cutting boards, and slender tasting spoons from Earlywood.

I have long been curious to hear more about Brad’s process, and he has agreed to participate in a little Q&A for our collective enjoyment.

Gift-giving season is around the corner and you’ll want to explore the Earlywood range, because any of Brad’s products will make an affordable yet truly special gift for the cooks you love. And as a gift to you, C&Z readers, Brad has offered a generous prize that you can enter to win at the bottom of this post. Happy reading and good luck!

Clotilde Dusoulier

Tell us a bit about your life path, and how you got to where you are.

In a nutshell, this is my life path: Kid, ski bum, student, engineer, husband, father, Earlywood!

Clotilde Dusoulier

Walk us through “a day in the life of Brad.”

My days are not consistent by any means. My wife is a nurse and works night shifts, so she is often in some state of preparing for work or recovering from work, but if I had to describe a “typical” day this would be it: If I have it in me, I try to get up before my kids do so I can knock a few things off my plate, like take a shower or drink some coffee in silence! Then, in come the kids. My little ones are two and three years old, and it takes them about ten seconds to go from 100% asleep to 100% fired up and rowdy. We cook some breakfast, get some clothes on and get ready for their day. That’s when I usually pass the torch to my wife and go to work.

I might spend a few hours in the office e-mailing and working on business stuff, then if everything lines up… I’m off to the shop to make some sawdust. I work as hard as I can for as long as I can, then it’s back into the hurricane of my children. We usually eat dinner as a family, do some kind of activity, then go through their bedtime routine. At that point, I finally have some nice quiet time to take care of myself, but as many parents can probably relate with… I just fall asleep!

earlywood_design

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Minimalist Kit for the Traveling Cook

I am going to be traveling these next few weeks, doing some simple cooking in a couple of rented kitchens, and I’ve had enough hair-pulling experiences with crappy, dull knives and flimsy plastic spatulas to be stashing a few key utensils in my luggage this time.

Because I am also traveling with a toddler and a baby who need their own minimalist traveling kit — including such essentials as toy diggers, special blankets, and stuffed monkeys — I really need to make my kit as trim as possible, and have elected to bring along:

~ My paring knife, freshly sharpened: rented kitchens are notoriously lacking in this regard, and since half of cooking is cutting, trimming, slicing, dicing, chopping, and paring, this qualifies as an absolute must-bring. I will be following this tip on how to wrap knives for traveling.

~ My vegetable peeler because, again, anything that’s supposed to be sharp is going to be dull in a rented house, and a dull vegetable peeler is worse than no vegetable peeler at all. Also, a good vegetable peeler allows you to cut vegetables into tagliatelle and papardelle to make all kinds of pretty summer salads such as this zucchini noodle salad.

~ A pair of locking tongs because it’s rare (especially in France) to find it in a home cook’s utensil drawer, yet I rely on it heavily for handling ingredients, for stovetop cooking, and for grilling. As a bonus, it doubles up as a toy for the toddler, who uses it to catch imaginary fish.

~ My Earlywood scraper made of bloodwood, sturdy and smooth with a thin and sharp edge, and a fantastic multipurpose tool that can be used for stirring, cutting, lifting, and scraping. I have written about Brad Bernhart’s handcrafted utensils before, and they’ve become cherished items in my kitchen that get used every single day (including his latest creation, the adorable coffee scoop, which I use daily to serve my paleo granola).

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The C&Z Shop is Open!

I have just added a new shop section to Chocolate & Zucchini featuring a careful selection of ingredients, tools, and books I use and adore. For each I explain why I love them and what role they play in my cooking life, so you can decide if they’re a good fit for yours.

I am not selling those products directly, but rather pointing you to the sites of their respective vendors. I am launching the C&Z shop with a very small selection to which I will add over time, so please check back whenever you like (it’s easily accessible from the top menu) and feel free to suggest the types of items you’d like me to recommend!

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