18 Things Professional Chefs Say You Must Have in Your Kitchen

shironosov/iStock via Getty Images
shironosov/iStock via Getty Images

It’s time to take stock of what’s in your kitchen. If you’re still using a hand-me-down cutting board and those cheap knives you found on sale at Bed Bath & Beyond when you graduated from college, you're due for an upgrade. We spoke with two professional chefs—Culinary Institute of America Culinary Arts Associate Professor Lance Nitahara, and Sabrina Sexton, the former lead culinary instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education—about their kitchen must-haves.

1. Three Knives

Three chef's knives
Wustof, Amazon

Both Nitahara and Sexton agree you can skip the full knife set (you know, the one that comes in a fancy wood block) and instead invest in a few essentials. According to them, all you need are a chef’s knife, a serrated bread knife, and a paring knife. “To me, these three knives would cover basically anything you would need to cut,” Sexton says. “And if I was stuck on a desert island, and I could still cook, these three knives would be what I would need.”

Sexton also recommends going with forged knives over stamped knives because they are higher in quality and will last longer.

Find it: Paring and chef’s knife, Amazon; bread knife, Amazon

2. Chantry Knife Sharpener

A Chantry knife sharpener
Taylor's Eye Witness, Amazon

The best way to increase your knives’ longevity, however, is to keep them sharp. Precisely how much sharpening this will require depends on your use frequency and menu. “I would say sharpen your knives when they get dull,” Nitahara says. “If you’re using your chef’s knife on a daily basis, I would say once every week to once every two weeks, depending on what you’re cutting as well.”

While experienced chefs have mastered the art of the sharpening stone, Sexton says that a chantry knife sharpener—one of those gadgets you stand up on your counter and slide your knife through—is easier for beginners and gets the job done.

Find it: Amazon

3. Cutting Board

Celery and bell peppers sitting on a wooden cutting board
Utopia, Amazon

While glass or stone cutting boards can be pretty, Sexton says wood or plastic is your best bet. “I have a very pretty little marble board that sits out on my kitchen counter, but it’s more for show. Those are going to dull your knives, so I wouldn't recommend doing heavy duty chopping on glass or stone,” she says. “I think the main thing is that you want something that's hard enough that you don't wear it out and get grooves in it all the time.” The grooves can lead to a buildup of bacteria—which is why, Sexton says, you should replace your cutting board every couple years.

Find it: Amazon

4. Nonstick Pan

Two nonstick pans with eggs and meat cooking in them
Euro-Home, Amazon

“I wouldn’t recommend getting an entire set of non-stick pans,” Nitahara says. But “one non-stick pan might be good if you do a lot of egg cookery.”

Find it: Amazon

5. Cast-Iron Pan

A cast iron skillet
Ewei's Homeware, Amazon

In addition to your one non-stick pan, you’ll want to get a cast-iron pan. “Cast iron is an inexpensive way to get a pan that really conducts the heat really well, so it's really good if you want to cook a steak or get a nice kind of sear on a chicken breast or something like that,” Sexton says. “If you're trying to caramelize the surface of something, which really develops flavor in something like a piece of red meat or poultry, [a cast-iron pan is] the best sort of go-to thing.”

“They're a little more work, but they last forever,” Sexton says. That work is a process called seasoning your pan—or adding a lubricant so your food doesn’t stick to it.

Find it: Amazon

6. Stainless Steel Pots And Pans

A stainless steel pot and pan set
All-Clad, Amazon

But for most of your cookware, Sexton and Nitahara agree that stainless steel is best. “For the most part, when we’re talking about pots and pans, you want to get something that is a heavier-gauge stainless steel pan,” Nitahara says. “They’re a little harder to wash, a little heavier, but they’re going to last longer. They have better conduction if they are stainless steel.”

Find it: Amazon

7. Rondeau Pan Or Dutch Oven

A round Dutch oven
Le Creuset, Amazon

“A rondeau is kind of like what a lot of people refer to as a stew pot,” Sexton says. “It has a fairly wide surface area, but also reasonably high sides—somewhere between 4 to 6 inches high. It’s good if you want to do any braises or stews.”

Find it: Amazon (Le Creuset, $320) or AmazonBasics ($45)

8. Blender

A blender
Blendtec, Amazon

For making soups and purées, Nitahara says a blender is a must. When choosing a blender, he says, it’s worth saving up and shelling out a bit more for something higher quality. “The cheaper you go on blenders and food processors, you get what you pay for,” he says. “If you try to get it on a budget you might be buying [a new] one sooner than you think.”

Find it: Amazon

9. Immersion Blender

An immersion blender
Cuisinart, Amazon

For making smoothies, frothing up drinks, or chopping onions and garlic, Sexton says she relies on an immersion blender (or handheld blender). “It’s a good jumping-off point for a blender because it doesn't take up any particular space; it doesn't have to sit on your counter. It's pretty versatile, pretty inexpensive, so I just think that's a good go-to tool for things.”

Find it: Amazon

10. Food Processor

A food processor
Cuisinart, Amazon

When asked if he recommends having a blender or a food processor, Nitahara tells us you should invest in both. “If I had a choice I don’t know which one I would choose because they both are essential,” he says. While a blender is great for smooth purées, a food processor allows you to chop things coarsely.

Find it: Amazon

11. Pressure Cooker

An Instant Pot
Instant Pot, Amazon

Top Chef fans know that a pressure cooker can be a chef’s best friend when they’re strapped for time (or their worst enemy, if they don’t know how to use one!). “It can be a little intimidating, but once you learn how to use them they’re so great,” Nitahara says of the appliance. “I make wild rice in 20 minutes, whereas if you make wild rice in a pot you’re looking at cooking it for over an hour.”

Find it: Amazon

12. Digital Thermometer

A meat thermometer
ThermoPro, Amazon

For novice cooks, Nitahara and Sexton recommend a digital thermometer. “If you want to roast a chicken or you want to cook meat to a certain done-ness or whatever, an instant read is great,” Sexton says.

“A lot of digital thermometers you don’t have to calibrate,” Nitahara adds. “I love digital thermometers that have a probe with a cable so that if I’m roasting something, I put that thermometer into the roast, throw that in the oven, and keep my thermometer outside the oven and set the alarm to go off when I have a target temperature that’s reached. That way it’s brainless and I don’t have to worry about it.”

Find it: Amazon

13. Microplane

A Microplane grater
Microplane, Amazon

“Microplanes are awesome,” Nitahara says. “They’re really great if you want to grate things really finely, parmesan cheese and things like that. It was originally designed for woodworking.”

Find it: Amazon

14. Wooden Spoon

A wooden spatula
Helen's Asian Kitchen, Amazon

Since plastic can melt and metal will heat up, Sexton says you’re best off using a wooden spoon when stirring something over a hot stove. Nitahara recommends purchasing a wooden spoon with one flat side, which will make it easier to scrape the bottom of your pan or bowl.

Find it: Amazon

15. Whisk

A whisk
OXO, Amazon

Look for thin wires when choosing your whisk, Nitahara says. “If you’re going to be making emulsions like vinaigrettes, hollandaise sauce, and a few others, if you get your wires too big and thick … you’re not going to be able to emulsify liquids like that as well,” he says.

Find it: Amazon

16. Rubber Spatula

Three red rubber spatulas
Di Oro, Amazon

Heat-resistant is the name of the game when looking for a quality spatula. “Get a good high temp silicon spatula that can stand temperatures upward of 375, 400 degrees so that you’re not melting your spatula in the pan,” Nitahara says.

Find it: Amazon

17. Salad Spinner

A salad spinner
OXO, Amazon

Despite its name, a salad spinner can do a lot more than dry your lettuce. Nitahara also uses his after washing herbs, and “whenever I wash mushrooms I always put them in the salad spinner as well,” he says. “They soak up a lot of water.”

Find it: Amazon

18. Vegetable Peeler

A y-shaped peeler
Kitchen Craft, Amazon

For a better grip, Sexton says she prefers the Y-shaped peelers to the more traditional straight ones.

Find it: Amazon

Bonus: Basic Utensils and Small Wares

Tongs, mixing bowls, and a serving spoon
Amazon

In addition to the above, Sexton and Nitahara recommend having some basic necessities on hand, including: metal tongs, a ladle, a slotted spoon, measuring cups and spoons, a corkscrew, potholders, mixing bowls, a can opener, and baking sheets.

A version of this article first ran in 2017. It has been updated for 2019.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don't return, so we're only happy if you're happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

5 Trouble-Shooting Tips to Keep Your Houseplant Alive

iStock
iStock

Maybe you’ve heard that houseplants can help improve indoor air quality. Perhaps you’ve read that looking at plants can help you focus. Or maybe you just really like how that ficus looks in your living room. But buying a plant and keeping it alive are two different things, and the answer to your botanical woes isn’t always “don't forget to water it.” Here are five green-thumb tips to make sure your plant stays as leafy green as it was the day you bought it.

1. Don't overwater your houseplant.

You don’t want to neglect your plant, but it’s easy to go overboard with the watering can, and that can be just as harmful as forgetting to water your plant for weeks. A watering schedule can help you keep track of whether or not your plants need attention, but you shouldn’t water just because it’s Sunday and that’s when you usually do it. Before you go to water your plant baby, make sure it actually needs it.

Your plant’s water needs will vary based on the type of plant, its location, how old it is, and plenty of other factors, but there are a few rules of thumb that can put you on the right track. Lift the pot. If it’s heavy, that means that the soil is full of water. If it’s light, it’s dry. Dig a finger into the soil around its roots, making sure to feel beneath the surface. Still damp? Hold off. Dry? Grab the H2O.

If you really struggle to strike the right balance between too much and too little water, consider a smart plant system. And regardless of how often you water, make sure to use a pot with good drainage to prevent root rot.

2. Watch the temperature of the room your houseplant is in.

Be aware of where your plant is situated in the room, and whether there might be any temperature extremes there. Is your fern sitting right above the radiator? Is your peony subject to a cold draft? Is your rosemary plant stuck leaning against a window during a snowstorm?

As a rule, most houseplants can handle temperatures between 58°F and 86°F, according to a bulletin from the University of Georgia. The ideal range is between 70°F and 80°F during the day, and between 65°F and 70°F at night. Below 50°F, sensitive plants can suffer damage to their leaves. However, as with most plant advice, it depends on the species—tropical plants usually do well in higher temperatures, and some other plants are happier in colder rooms.

If your sad-looking plant is sitting in the middle of a cold draft or right next to the heater, consider moving it to a different spot, or at least a few inches away. If it’s near the window, you can also draft-proof the window.

3. Maintain humidity for your houseplant.

Be mindful of the kind of ecosystem that your plant comes from, and know that keeping it happy means more than just finding the right amount of sun. A tropical plant like an orchid won’t thrive in dry desert air. According to the Biology Department at Kenyon College in Ohio, a dried-out plant will look faded and wilting. You can immerse it in water to help it bounce back quickly. (Warning, though: A plant that’s getting too much moisture can look that way, too.)

If your home gets dry—say, when you have the heater on full blast in the winter or the AC on constantly during the summer—you’ll need to find a way to keep your plant refreshed. Your can buy a humidifier, or create a humidity tray by placing the pot on a tray of pebbles soaked in water. The plant will soak up the humidity as the water under the pebbles evaporates. You can also get a spray bottle and mist your tropical plants periodically with water. (But don't mist your fuzzy-leafed plants.)

Not sure how humid your house is? You can get a humidity gauge (known as a hydrometer) for less than $10 on Amazon.

4. Look out for bugs on your house plant.

Even if you do all of the above correctly, you can still struggle to keep a plant healthy due to infestations. Keep an eye out for common pests like spider mites, which will leave brown or yellow spots on leaves or make the plant’s color dull. If you discover these tiny mites (you may need to use a magnifying glass), wash your plant immediately with water to knock off as many mites as possible. Wash the plant with an insecticidal soap, too, but make sure the label says it’s effective for mites.

5. Repot your houseplant.

Healthy plants often outgrow their homes. if you notice that there are roots coming out the drainage holes at the bottom of your pot, or that water sits on the surface of the soil for a long time before draining down, or that your plant’s roots are coming up out of the soil, it’s time to upgrade to a bigger pot. Signs of a “root bound” plant whose root system is too big for its container can also include wilting, yellowed leaves, and stunted plant growth.

No matter what the size of your plant, it’s good to repot it once in a while, since the nutrients in the soil deplete over time. Repotting creates a fresh nutritional start and can help perk up unhappy plants.

If your plant looks unhealthy and you're still stumped, try consulting the website of a university horticulture department for other signs of plant distress and potential solutions.

Yale Is Offering Its 'Science of Well-Being' Course for Free Online

Chainarong Prasertthai/iStock via Getty Images
Chainarong Prasertthai/iStock via Getty Images

Even if you’ve heard that money or career success won’t necessarily make you happier, it’s still hard to resist the impulse to correlate your own well-being to external factors like those. Why are we so bad at predicting what will make us happy, and how can we figure out what actually does the trick?

These are just a couple questions you’ll be able to answer after completing “The Science of Well-Being,” a Yale University course currently being offered for free on Coursera. According to Lifehacker, the 10-week course consists of about two to three hours of reading and videos per week, and you can work at your own pace—so you can definitely take advantage of a free weekend to fly through a few weeks’ worth of material at a time, or postpone a lesson if you’re swamped with other work.

The class is taught by Yale psychology professor Laurie Santos, who will lead students through relevant research on how we’re wired to think about our own well-being and teach you how to implement that knowledge to increase happiness in your life. Since the coursework is task-oriented and the course itself is aimed at helping you build more productive habits, it’s an especially good opportunity for anyone who feels a little overwhelmed at how vague a goal to “be happier” can seem.

As for proof that this is definitely an undertaking worth 20 hours of your time, we’ll let the previous students speak for themselves: From 3731 ratings, the course averages 4.9 out of 5 stars.

Though the course is free, an official certificate to mark your completion—which you can then add to your LinkedIn profile—will cost you $50. Enroll on the Coursera website, and check out 23 other science-backed ways to feel happier here.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don't return, so we're only happy if you're happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

[h/t Lifehacker]

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