Although the Los Angeles restaurant scene continues to grow and chefs and restaurateurs continue to dazzle us with innovative cuisine in inspiring new spaces in new parts of town, we can’t eat out every night — even if we want to. And with the remarkable surfeit of farmers market produce available at our fingertips year-round, it's kind of nice to cook at home anyway. Cheaper too.
So in an attempt to dust off that stove, turn on that oven (in the brief moment when it's not insanely hot) and start chopping, here are ten things that everyone in L.A. should have in their kitchen. Nothing fancy, just old favorites — because sometimes we all need a reminder of what's in our own backyards.
10. (Vitamix) Blender
Even if you consider yourself more of a juice-cleanser than a home cook, you’ll need this one. Believe it or not, 8 ounces of puréed fruit doesn't have to cost $8! At least if you have a blender it doesn't. Imagine the feeling of empowerment when you make your first banana, coconut and kale smoothie at home. And sweetening it with dates instead of agave won’t cost you extra. If you’re not ready to give up your local juice shop habit (These things have social purposes as well, we understand), a blender will have you whipping up homemade soups, pesto and sauces in no time.
9. Santa Barbara Pistachios
Obviously, this is not a tool but a nut. A local nut, no less, that when not acting as a simple snack or hors d'oeuvre at the fabulous dinner parties you’ll be throwing, will enhance salads, flavor pesto, and inspire ambitious desserts.
8. Orange X juicer
In a town where citrus fruits like Cara Caras, blood oranges, Oro Blancos, lemons and limes abound like aspiring young starlets during pilot season, there is no question why you need a citrus juicer. Whether you love the fantasy of drinking fresh squeezed orange juice every morning with your breakfast, making gin gimlets after work, or are just sick of panicking when a recipe calls for ½ cup of fresh lemon juice, a good old-fashioned hand cranked juicer will rock your world, (and tone your biceps a little) in the best way possible.
7. Mortar and Pestle or Molcajete
Perhaps the most excitingly primitive of cooking equipment, the mortar and pestle (or molcajete) is essential for the California home cook. You’ll need it for making guacamole. You’ll also need it for pounding garlic with salt and anchovies for Green Goddess and other salad dressing you’ll be making for those farmers market-inspired salads you’ll be eating. And although these can weigh a ton, you don't have to spend a ton for a good one — shop for one in Thai Town or at a Mexican market, like maybe the Alameda Swap Meet, rather than a fancy culinary store.
If you don’t have a lemon tree, we recommend always having a few lemons on hand. They are crucial to the California home cook. Though most citrus is a winter crop (you won't find blood oranges or Meyer lemons right now), lemons are available year-round in L.A. The zest with herbs will help to marinate fish. You’ll need them to squeeze in sauces, over seafood, salad dressing and aioli. And if any of this sounds too complicated, don’t forget the simple and delicious pleasure of fresh squeezed lemon juice in your cocktails.
5. A Grill
Los Angeles is the city of year round outdoor dining. And if the fun of cooking outside isn't enough for you, just remember that nothing tastes better than that smokey grilled flavor.
Again, these are not a tool, but a fruit — although if you have a dog and an avocado tree, they can double as dog toys, as do lemons. These creamy California gems are typically a summer menu item, though you can find them at farmers markets from early spring through late fall. A few slices of the nutty and decadent fruit will make your sandwiches superior and your salads succulent. And in the interest of impressing guests and friends, keep them on hand for fresh guacamole.
3. A Cooler
Summer's not over in Southern California — often October is our hottest month (sorry!). The kids might be back in school and The Hollywood Bowl might be wrapping up its season in a few weeks but that doesn’t mean it’s cooling down or that we won’t be packing picnics, going to the beach or eating outside in the Silver Lake meadow for a while. And everyone needs some way of keeping those rounds of Cowgirl Creamery Mt.Tam and bottles of rosé cold on a hot day.
2. California Wine
In a state that produces ninety percent on the country’s wine and certainly some of the best, it seems apropos to always have a bottle of red and a bottle of white on hand for cooking, drinking and hosting.
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1. Great Cookbooks from Local Chefs
After all, there are so many. There are the old olive-oil-stained favorites — Suzanne Goin's Sunday Supper at Lucques and Nancy Silverton's The Mozza Cookbook and, more recently, Ludo Lefebvre's LudoBites, Valerie Gordon's Sweet and Roy Choi's L.A. Son. And then there are some brand new books that, if you don't have them already, you probably need to get — Zoe Nathan's Huckleberry and Hans Röckenwagner's Das Cookbook, out in a few weeks from local Prospect Park Books. Because you can support your local chefs by cooking at home too.