Kitchen equipment - new cooks only

I remember the first time I scraped out a cake-mixing bowl with a spatula designed for that very activity. It was a revelation - truly, a marvel. If I had been a cartoon character, a small light would have pinged on over my head.

Up until then I had gone at a smeary cake bowl with wooden spoons, teaspoons, my own fingers and there had always been stuff left on the sides, which had to be swilled down the sink in gluey clumps. But with a slim, springy spatula, there's none of this waste and sadness, just clean bowls.

It was then I realised the importance of having the right kit in your kitchen. And when I say right, I don't mean expensive. So this is a guide to the most useful things that I have in my kitchen. I've called this post kit for new cooks only because it's really only for people just starting out. If you've been a cooking enthusiast for a while, you'll have our own treasured stuff - (Nigella Lawson swears by her microplane and Delia Smith declares that she couldn't cook without a skewer) - and just be annoyed by my recommendations.

So, the above photo, starting at the top, going clockwise shows:

1 A timer. My first teenaged attempts at cooking were cursed with my thinking that cooking was too easy for words. I never timed anything and it was always either charred and alight or scarily pink. I now time everything - and I mean everthing. If a recipe recommends letting something stand for 2-3 minutes, on goes the timer. And it has made cooking at least 50% less stressful for me. It's in use even now, in the photo - I am timing the dough which is resting in the bowl (3).

2 A knife. I think most people think that a kitchen knife has to be some giant, terrifying thing, with which you chop things up very finely, very fast. I do have one of those. In fact, it belongs to Giles and it is a huge, very sharp Japanese sushi knife purchased, I think, in Tokyo itself. Anyway, this is not a knife I reach for very often; the knife I reach for is my paring knife made by Victorinox (the same company that makes Swiss Army Knives). I'm sure it's not the right knife to use for all sorts of things I use it for, but I'd be lost without it and its dainty serrations and pointy end. They are available from John Lewis and cost about £9.

3 Stainless steel mixing bowls. I am very clumsy, but you don't have to be especially malco-ordinated to drop things in the kitchen, especially if you are doing something under time pressure or having mixed yourself, and then drunk, a too-large 'calming' drink. What I like most about these bowls, which cost about £4 each (again, these are John Lewis, but I think you can get them in most kitchenware departments), is that they are indestructible, light and very easy to clean. The downside is that they don't exactly scream 'Kitchen chic', but then neither do I, so we get along very well.

4 A plastic chopping board. (Only just seen in the picture - it's a rather similar colour to my worksurface.) I resisted getting one of these for a while, because I don't like the way they look. Yes, that really is how shallow I am. But it had got to the stage where if I had to wash up another wooden chopping board that smelled strongly of onions and garlic when I applied the hot water tap to it, I thought I might be sick. So I bought two of these anti-bacterial plastic chopping boards and have never looked back. They are just great and you can sling them in the dishwasher and boil the shit out of them and there'll be no more scrubbing stinking wooden boards.

5 A pair of tongs. I feel like Doc Ock from Spiderman 2 with a pair of these in my hands. They are basically an extendable pair of flame-proof, heat-proof fingers for turning things, poking things, picking things that have fallen into other things, out. When it comes to tongs, I find that the cheaper they are the better. I've got a pair of very snazzy ones with rubber grips on them and stuff, but they're just not as nimble as these, which come in a packet of 2 and were £3.99, made by a company called "Kitchenware" and purchased from a hardware shop very near Tufnell Park tube station.

These are my top five most useful things but when it comes to kitchen stuff I always think the more the merrier. There's nothing better than coming to the point in your life where you don't actually need to go out and buy a massive roasting tin because you've got one already, and you don't have to skip over recipes which call for measuring out anything, because you haven't got a set of scales, or stewing anything, because you haven't got a casserole.

Coming soon: chilli hot chocolate.

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