A Pared-down Kitchen

Pizza fixings in a pared-down kitchen

Recently, we lived for six months in a fully furnished house.  Fully furnished, that is, except for all linens and all kitchen goods.   The move was a bit sudden, and was over 2,000 miles away, so there was no opportunity to ship any of our stuff, even if we could have known what we'd need.

The linens were not much problem, as we put together a small group of sheets and towels, pillows and blankets.  Without much effort, we were good to go on that front.

The kitchen, on the other hand, was a bigger deal.  I cook. A lot.  And in my kitchen at home, I have pretty much all I need that I've collected over the years.  My mother-in-law started me out with so many goods that I still use today:  Corning ware, baking dishes, bowls, grater...  The list goes on and on.  Being faced with outfitting an entire kitchen was a bit daunting!  I knew I didn't want to spend a fortune, but needed enough to get by at least in the short term.

So, in case anyone's interested either in starting a new kitchen collection, downsizing to just a few things, or setting up an additional kitchen, I've put together a list of essentials (what I found to be essentials, anyway).

Bread baked in a bowl
Essentials for a Pared-down kitchen:
  • flatware
  • set of dinnerware (I found a decent Pfaltzgraff 8-piece place setting at Big Lots for a reasonable price that included dinner and salad plates, mugs, and bowls)
  • small and large glasses (or mason jars that double as storage)
  • a few good, sharp knives
  • peeler
  • kitchen shears
  • steak knives
  • 2 large, oven-safe bowls (good for mixing + baking bread -- see above photo)
  • 1 large metal mixing bowl
  • 2 Pyrex dishes: 1 square, 1 rectangle
  • baking sheet
  • Food storage containers (I copped out and used some plastic, but glass with re-closeable lids is so preferable; especially ones that double as bake-ware; this was a pain, as I couldn't store hot leftovers in the plastic)
  • 1 skillet, preferably with lid
  • 1 saucepan, preferably with lid (these pans also both came from Big Lots >> Big Mistake)
  • cutting boards (get something sturdy with good grips that won't slide around as you cut)
  • colander
  • measuring cups (both glass and cups) and measuring spoons
  • whisk
  • silicone utensil for stirring
  • spatula
  • can opener (manual)
  • grater
For the appliances, I got only a few things:
  • toaster oven 
  • slow cooker
  • coffee maker (though, with space - and taste - considerations, I would also consider just an espresso pot or french press)
I ended up also buying a much-appreciated:
  • hand-held lemon squeezer (we had a lemon tree in the backyard)
With which I made:

Lemon / Almond Bars
Homemade lemon curd
(still looking for a better recipe than the one I used here)

I didn't have, and it would have been nice to have:
  • an immersion blender
  • a hand-mixer
  • a food processor, for occasional chopping or sauces and dressings
  • tea infusers
  • a few small multi-purpose bowls for mixing / cereal / snacks
  • mason jars

After a brief visit home, I also brought back my zester, (mostly because of the lemons).

Here's what I'd do over.  I ended up returning and replacing a few items, and regretting some others.  So, I would get better knives to begin with.  I would get sturdier cutting boards.  I'd opted for the cheap plastic sheets, and these were terrible.  I would get a better skillet and saucepans; I picked up some at Big Lots, but was not happy with the skillet at all.  I ended up getting a replacement skillet from Target,  and I returned even that, with a constantly loose handle.  So, just for the sake of avoiding hassle and frustration alone, I'd get better ones up front.  I would get some better storage containers, as well.

A good outcome from this experience is that I ended up focusing more on preparing whole and simpler foods.  We ate lots more veggies and salads.  And lots of winter squash, beans from the crockpot (see below).   And quesadillas, with homemade re-fried beans and veggies, and awesome uncooked tortillas (with only basic ingredients) by Tortillaland.  Yum!

In in the end, we got by fine.  I cooked most every meal at the house, still.  I made bread from scratch; I chopped things manually.  I missed my hand-mixer, but got by with a whisk.  I won't say it wasn't nice to get back to my own kitchen, with all my familiar tools.  It was; it felt like a dream!  But we managed  with only a subset of my regular items.

It was an interesting experiment, and I hope if we do a similar thing again, I'll be armed with more knowledge of the necessities (for me) of a functional kitchen.