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Creating the kitchen of my dreams

Updated: Nov 29, 2023

A Books and Boots Gift Guide - Creating the kitchen of my dreams

The Books and Boots Gift Guide is a practical list of things to consider when you are making your holiday wish list this year. I'm not affiliated with any brand, which means if I mention it, it's because I actually use it.

A wooden spoon stirring sautéed mushrooms in a cast iron skillet.

I volunteered to cook Thanksgiving for the family this year. And not in my own home. It wasn’t a reluctant volunteering. I enthusiastically and excitedly volunteered because I love cooking for people for the holidays.

It was a road game, people!

Other people do not enjoy cooking for the holidays. What usually happens is the person with the largest house always ends up hosting, and it doesn’t matter whether they like to cook or not. They have the space, they have to cook the biggest meal of the year for 20 people. No pressure. Last year I begged my sister-in-law to let me cook because, as I pointed out to her: I love to cook; you like to hang out with the family and host; I hate sitting around and making conversation — let’s play to our strengths! Despite all of her worry that I was not actually series or was trying to send some passive aggressive message, she eventually conceded that if I wanted to cook that huge meal, I could have it.

In the first email exchange about the event, she apologized because their “cookware doesn’t match”. I laughed when I read that and told her not to fret. I have never owned cookware that matched, but that’s never stopped me from cooking.

Don’t get me wrong. I get the appeal of the pristine matching cookware, bakeware, and dishware. When I worked at a gourmet kitchen store, I was tempted to use my store discount to purchase an All Clad set of pots and pans with all their matching lids and copper bottomed pots. If I hadn’t been so freaking broke at the time, I might have been able to justify it. I was spending my days binging Food Network and longing for Giada and Ina’s gorgeous kitchen set ups.

I owned kitchen things. When I moved into my first place, my mom and grandma loaded me up with cookware and appliances. Knowing it would be a while before I got married, which was their traditional time for ushering a young woman into her domestic goddess era, they instead presented to me “Santa” gifts of a dishware set, pots and pans, and a blender – that I still use. None of it was name brand. Most of it came from KMart and Macy’s. None of it matched. After I got married, I registered for a few things to fill it out – but it didn’t matter because most people ignored the registry and gave us towels from their “gift closet”. We had a hotel’s worth of towels, a Kitchenaid standing mixer, and a million picture frames.

As we moved around from town to town, my kitchens became smaller and smaller. I had to give away many of my small appliances because of lack of counter space. My cooking icon changed to Rachel Khoo, who opened a French restaurant that only seated two people in her tiny apartment in Paris.

After culling and curating the most essential items, I realized that even without the fancy kitchen, I was still able to cook an impressive meal. While it never looked like a Food Network show, I had eventually curated the kitchen of my dreams.

Over the years, I have built my kitchen with the necessary and multifunctional pieces to ensure my culinary success.

If I were to start over with a gift registry knowing what I know now, here are a few things I would make sure I had on it.

A cast iron skillet – I am obsessed with my cast iron items. I can take this skillet from stove top to oven. It’s actually fairly low maintenance, despite what the “seasoning” blogs want to tell you. It’s good for pretty much everything that I want to cook. No, I can’t flip and omelet with it, but I can make hearty scrambled eggs, biscuits, sear pork chops, and fry chicken with it. I honestly use it for all of my sauté needs.

A Dutch Oven – Another cast iron item – but coated in enamel. I use my Dutch over for nearly every day. Soups, stews, braising, boiling homemade bagels, baking rustic bread, and roasting chicken. It’s perfect. My only struggle is keeping the enamel unstained. I have failed at that. If ugly pots make the yummiest food, then that’s the secret of my success. While Le Creuset is the front-runner in brand recognition, it is also pricey.

To get the color and size I wanted, it would cost me $500. I went with much less expensive Lodge Dutch Oven, in the color I wanted. It was no where near the same price and I have gotten five good years out of it.

The Kitchenaid stand mixer – For me and this mixer, it was love at first sight. Cookies, breads, whipped cream, and with the right attachments, pasta and ice cream. It’s a comfort foodie’s dream. I had my first one for ten years and heavily used it until it broke. My latest one is a limited edition anniversary issue, and might have been too dazzled by the nostalgia. Nonetheless, it is a must have in my kitchen.

Heavy duty baking sheets. I have two large ones from Wilton, that are my little work horses. Cookies, cakes, bread, and I can fill one with water while baking to create a French steam oven. I’ve flipped them upside down to make an extension to my cabinets for kneading. And they are great for batch roasting veggies.

Wooden spoons. Seems simple. When I started outfitting my first kitchen, I didn’t realize how important wooden spoons were. I had only ever used plastic before. Here’s the problem with plastic – it melts. You can’t leave a plastic spoon resting on the side of a hot stove. And while I have a fondness for my silicone spatulas, they are not nearly as good for scraping the bottom of a pan as my wooden one. I did not care for the Bamboo ones. They chipped on me in mere months. I invested in a set of olivewood ones and they have been used frequently for three years now. You cannot put wooden pieces in the dishwasher. They have to be hand washed. And every once and a while I like to rub them down with a little Boo’s Block lotion. But it is worth it to be free from the plastic and know if I accidentally leave a spoon in the soup that it won’t melt.

A gorgeous kitchen doesn’t make the food – the cook does. And while I have thrown out a pot for sticking, an electric can opener for not opening cans, and a cheap cookie sheet for burning my cookies, I also know the only way I will learn what works for my way of cooking is to try it and see what works for how I cook. The ugliest pans can make the yummiest dishes.

Read Books. Wear Boots.




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