From pie weights to Pyrex, each of us considers a different set of elements to be crucial to our cooking, and we often have strong opinions as to why. In this column, I will ask chefs, foodies, and restaurateurs from across the borough for the top ten necessities—both edible and utensil—that they keep stocked in their home kitchens.
Rebecca Lando doesn’t own a farm-to-table restaurant in Brownstone Brooklyn. She’s not a home pickler, selling her wares at the Brooklyn Flea, nor is she a locavore caterer, urban farmer, Bell House cookoff winner, or Bed-Stuy beekeeper. A screenwriter and producer, Ms. Lando has forged a different sort of path for herself in the food world as the writer, producer, and co-host of Working Class Foodies (Hungry Nation/Next New Networks), a weekly webseries that creates affordable meals from locally-grown, seasonal, and sustainable ingredients. The show is mainly shot in Brooklyn, in Ms. Lando’s Fort Greene kitchen, or the kitchens of collaborating chefs around the borough.
Working Class Foodies works with a number of Brooklyn-based farmers, artisans, and purveyors, as well as others in the greater New York area. Ms. Lando and director Kit Pennebaker, who shoots the four to ten-minute films, have posted a new recipe every week for the past 15 months. The fast-paced and down-to-earth videos are budget-conscious and informational, and have covered everything from homemade seitan (cost breakdown: $2.00 per person) to pumpkin waffles ($1.50 per waffle).
“For years [Kit and I] tried to have a food blog, but it's so hard to write well after a long day at work, cooking dinner, and doing the dishes,” Ms. Lando says. Not that the videos are a piece of cake — it takes the two about three days to put an episode together, from recipe testing to shooting, editing, and posting. “I knew going in that the most important things to me were that the show was accessible and that it focused on showing how to affordably cook with sustainable, seasonal ingredients,” she says. “In college I always had a farmer's market outside the door and a dorm room with a kitchen, so I became really good at cooking with farmer's market ingredients on an undergrad's budget.”
In addition to recipes, Working Class Foodies has also covered oyster farming, pig butchering, and basics like “How to Stock a Pantry”, embedded below. Continuing the theme, Ms. Lando shared her top ten kitchen must-haves with us.
Dry Lentils: Nothing is more comforting in winter than a big bowl of warm lentils. They cook up quickly and go well with just about everything: I never make them the same way twice. They can go Italian, French, Indian; you can add meat or a poached egg on top, or scramble in an egg. They reheat well and can be cooked twice. They're healthy. And they're great to sop up with a nice hunk of bread.
Szechuan (Sichuan) Peppercorns: Tiny, wrinkly little peppercorns that make your tongue go numb! They have a unique, sour-hot taste and are an integral part of my favorite spice trifecta: garlic, Sichuan peppercorns, and plenty of dried, hot pepper. With a little rice wine vinegar and some soy sauce, they make for a great stir fry with anything — I'm especially big on these flavors with spinach and Chinese broccoli.
00 Flour and Bread Flour: 00 flour is hard to find, but they sell it at The Brooklyn Kitchen. It’s a really fine flour perfect for making delicate homemade pasta, which is a great way to make a mess of your kitchen and surprisingly easy to do at home. I also make a lot of bread, so I use a lot of bread flour. I like the whole wheat bread flour from Cayuga Pure Organics in upstate New York and King Arthur's organic bread flour, nationally distributed.
Local Honey: I try to use honey instead of sugar or corn syrup whenever possible, which is frequently, because I bake a lot. Honey is much healthier than sugar or corn syrup; it has nutritious enzymes in it. The difference between honeys is incredible once you stop buying it off the shelf at the grocery store; it's a little like wine. Some are floral, some citrusy, some intensely sweet, some almost smoky. Some are very wet, some are thick, some almost grainy. I really love Bee's Needs Honey from Sag Harbor, NY.
Cast Iron Dutch Oven: I use an enameled Dutch oven for everything, from making candy to braising lamb shanks.
Eggs: I'm not a vegetarian, but I don't eat a lot of meat. I buy a dozen eggs from a different vendor at the Greenmarket roughly every 12 days. A poached egg with a salad is a quick, filling lunch when I'm working from home or when a friend stops by. I bake bread with an egg in the dough and my boyfriend and I will use leftovers and fresh eggs for a breakfast scramble or an omelet on the weekends.
Canned Whole Tomatoes: I like the ones from Muir Glen Organics. Their tomatoes taste fresh and bright and are really versatile. We use them for everything from homemade pasta and pizza sauce to a base for beans, lentils, or eggs.
French Press Coffee Maker: I work from home, and I drink a lot of coffee, so I brew four cups at a time in my French Press. It's my favorite morning ritual (much better than walking the dogs in the snow and wind). We keep a couple different types of whole coffee beans around so we can change up the flavor whenever we want.
Citrus fruit: Growing up in Florida, we had a kumquat tree and a Ruby Red grapefruit tree in the yard. In winter, I crave citrus for breakfast: Half a red grapefruit is like a dose of sunshine on a cold, gray day. Lemons and limes get used a lot in my kitchen, from brightening up curries and stir fries, to adding flavor to the gravy for a roast chicken, to baking.
Microplane: Essential for everything, from grating nutmeg and hard cheeses to zesting citrus or even a really fine zest of hard vegetables (think carrots grated super-fine for carrot cake). For my birthday my boyfriend took me to dinner at Blue Hill Stone Barns, and they used a Microplane to grate an air-dried egg yolk onto our salads. It was strange, but delicious and completely inspiring.