by Jo Ann Santangelo and Kate Payne
Because I write books and features about food, most people assume I’m solely responsible for all things food and drink that come from our kitchen. But the truth is, even though I can cook the daily meals, and am pretty good at it, that doesn’t mean I like to do it. Luckily, my wife and I are very different. When Jo Ann and I were dating and living together for the first time in our small Brooklyn apartment, she opened my eyes to the cyclical nature of the kitchen—transforming my bachelorette kitchen habits into the lifestyle of a cooking person—something I’d always hoped to be but never quite mastered. She’s the type of person for whom cooking is relaxing and enjoyable, and this relationship to food and cooking set the stage for our current roles. She’s the one who makes sure we eat, and I’m the special projects coordinator—the keeper of the breads, jams, pickles, kimchis, ice creams, bitters, liqueurs, etc. (and the one responsible for the supplemental pizzazz). Our essential tools reflect these general roles. —Kate Payne
1. Lodge 12” Cast-Iron Skillet. Simple, minimal, one-pan cooking is my kitchen MO, and a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet is so versatile that I cook almost all of our meals in it—from a weeknight chicken dinner to date-night seared duck breasts with marsala wine (a very basic, yet totally delicious way to cook duck; the recipe is from Eugenia Bone’s “The Kitchen Ecosystem”). The beauty of cast iron is that it can go from stovetop to oven. The most important thing to consider, though, is cleaning. Don’t let it soak in water or let it sit while still wet—this will cause it to rust. After cooking and scraping out the remains of dinner, I usually heat water in our teakettle, pour it into the skillet and gently rub with a pan brush to remove food debris. Then I dry it with a paper towel and add a few drops of neutral/high-heat oil (we use sunflower).
2. Boos Cutting Board. We inherited a vintage version of this board from Kate’s grandmother. I can’t imagine not having this beauty on our counter. I love the size and stability, and I like to lay out all the ingredients I’m about to use on it—it helps me see what I have and decide how it will be cut, sliced and diced, as well as think about seasoning and flavors. Being able to move the peppers to the left so that I can mince the garlic and then slice the zucchini, all on one board, is simply magic to my minimalist cooking heart.
3. WüstHof Classic 7” Santoku Knife. I love my knife—it’s super light, yet effective and versatile. I use this knife two to three times a day to slice, dice, chop and mince. I was recently over at a friend’s house preparing a meal, and all they had was a dull, cheap knife. After I finally sawed my way through the meal prep, I understood why she didn’t like to cook. A good, sharp knife makes all the difference in the world when preparing fresh ingredients, and is probably the most essential tool for any chef or home cook. Getting a good one doesn’t require a whole paycheck, and a whole set is not needed. Start with one great knife and add to your arsenal over time.
4. Wooden Scraper Spatula. Next to our stove, we have about 10 wooden cooking utensils (spatulas and spoons). By far, my favorite is the spatula. I use it for almost every meal. It’s an essential tool for cooking in cast iron or enameled cast iron (my other favorite cooking pan): It stirs, it scrapes (without scratching) and it stands up to high heat. A few nice burn marks on a wooden utensil give it character, and one never has to worry about it melting. Ditch that plastic black number acquired in college and upgrade to this classic version.
1. Breadman Bread Machine. I know bread machines seem like a cheater method—sucking the fun out of the art of bread-making—but when you bake a loaf of gluten-free bread every other week, it’s essential. I combine my dry flour blend in batches of three or four and store them in mason jars in the refrigerator. When it’s time to bake, I combine the wet ingredients, pull out a jar of the dry, add yeast and let two hours and 40 minutes elapse until that fresh-baked bread smell permeates the house. I’ve always used thrift-store machines and got hooked on a particular Breadman model I once found. When this one retires, I’ll happily purchase another—I’m very pleased with the functionality and final product.
2. Rubbermaid High-Heat Spatula. This might just be my desert island kitchen tool—provided one can make cakes, custards and jams on said island. I learned about the supreme usefulness of these spatulas from my mother, who was in the restaurant business for 30 years. They withstand about any abuse one can inflict, but I recommend dedicated spatulas for pickling and savory projects, because no one wants garlic or other spices (that the silicone can retain) in their strawberry jam or vanilla ice cream.
3. Wire Mesh Strainer. I use this strainer constantly for many of my kitchen projects. It’s a perfect tool for removing the fruit after the first stage of fermenting raw, live vinegars, or for straining the custard before adding cream in French-style ice cream. With other projects, I add a layer of filtration with a fine-weave muslin to strain whey from the yogurt I make (this produces a thicker, Greek-style texture), or I use a coffee filter inside the strainer to catch sediment from tinctured bitters, tonics, and other syrups and infusions.
4. Le Creuset 8-quart Stock Pot. This pot always seems to be full. I use it for the obvious stocks and broths made from saved bones and vegetable scraps that are kept in three freezer bins (one chicken, one fish and the “other” category that is mostly beef and pork, with veggie scraps distributed among each). When a bin is full, it’s time to make stock. I also use this pot for small-batch canning. A 9-inch round cake rack fits perfectly in the bottom, converting this pot into a small canning pot that can accommodate about as many half-pint jars as most of my canning recipes yield and as my home garden produces at one harvest. I pull out the 12-quart stainless steel pot, or the 14-quart lobster pot when I need to can taller jars like pints or quarts. Since this 8-quart pot works with my induction burner as well, I tend to take it with me when canning in the wild (libraries, bookstores and other places with a power outlet but no true kitchen).
About the contributors:
Jo Ann Santangelo
Jo Ann Santangelo is a photographer and filmmaker based in Austin, Texas, who specializes in long-term, in-depth documentary projects. Her work explores issues of discrimination, sexual identity and marginalized communities. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, Mother Jones, Texas Observer, The Advocate, Food & Wine, Edible Austin and in numerous international publications, and has been exhibited in galleries in New York, California, Massachusetts, Texas, Arizona, Connecticut and Oregon. See her work at joannsantangelo.com
Kate Payne is an author and freelance writer, and a frequent consultant for design, decor, cooking and crafting publications and sites. She lives in Austin and teaches classes on food preservation, liqueurs and bitters and other topics, both privately and at culinary centers across the country. Her books “Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking” (HarperCollins, 2011) and “Hip Girl’s Guide to the Kitchen” (HarperCollins, 2014) are available wherever books are sold. Read more about Kate on her blog: hipgirlshome.com and website: katepayne.net