Kitchen Must-Haves: Tips From a Chef

Iva-Marie Palmer

Whether you've been in charge of your family's holiday meal a million times or are a newbie to hosting, your kitchen arsenal might benefit from a quick once-over before you get cooking this season. Chef Meredith Steele, author of the new cookbook 'Effortless Entertaining' (where she's put together several delectable menus for holiday dinners and brunches, like her White Wine Braised Turkey Legs recipe below), is not only a chef but also a frequent dinner-party host. Everything she recommends here is tested -- not only for her work but also by her life.

good kitchen knives are amust-have for the kitchen


  • Chef's Knife: "When I'm prepping for the holidays, I always make sure my knife has been sharpened recently," Steele says, Steele uses a New West Knifeworks chef's knife, available online. A good chef's knife is considered a kitchen powerhouse for doing everything from mincing herbs to slicing meats and veggies. Other brands that come recommended by home chefs we spoke to include Wüsthof and Shun Classic, both available at Sur La Table stores.
  • Pans: If you flip through Steele's cookbook, it's easy to see she relies on several go-to pans. She confirmed that she uses a number of well-seasoned cast-iron pans and her Le Creuset French oven. (Williams-Sonoma has cast-iron pans at a range of price points and sizes.)
  • Tri-Ply Roasting Pan With Rack: Steele trots out a heavy pan like this for several main courses. A high-quality one will have the mettle to hold not only a meat dish but also accompanying starches and veggies.
  • Slow Cooker: Don't think slow-cookers are only valuable for convenient weeknight dinners or potluck celebrations. Steele says she uses hers at the holidays to keep food warm (perfect if you're someone who finds yourself never able to get all the dishes done at the same time – and who can?) or as an extra oven, when she has many things going at once.
  • Microplaner: Don't be intimidated by these. Steele says she relies on her microplaner to grate fresh nutmeg for creamy bechamel sauces or pumpkin pie, and to grate fresh ginger for irresistible gingersnaps.
  • Grapefruit Spoon: "One of my most used tools is a plain old grapefruit spoon," Steele says. "It's a nifty little spoon that can de-seed a butternut squash or pumpkin in seconds and shave butter when you want fancy butter on the table."
  • Extra-Large Butcher Block: Steele uses a Boos Board for prep and finds it's a big help when she has a lot of things going at once. (Boos Boards are available at Williams-Sonoma.)
  • Brining Supplies: If you brine or plan to brine your turkey, Steele says brining bags and a good ice chest are a big help to save valuable refrigerator space.

OVERRATED (though sometimes necessary):

  • Stand Mixer: "It's a freaking monster!" Steele says. "Do they really have to be that big? I barely use it because I like to do everything by hand (like bread and pasta) but I break it out when it comes to those holiday cakes and such."


  • Multiple-Compartment Serving Dishes (which confound this writer, too): Steele agreed on their confusion-creating properties. "I never seem to actually use the ones I have," Steele says. "So awkward." The better option? Steele relies on lots of big bowls to pass around the table and a gorgeous water pitcher for holding a big-batch cocktail if the mood should hit you (or for, you know, water).


  • Whatever You Have: "For serving, I use whatever I have on hand from my prop studio so nothing ever matches," Steele admits. "If I do want to set a gorgeous table where everything does click, I find CB2, (an offshoot of Crate and Barrel, with a vast online offering and a few brick-and-mortar stores in the U.S.) has gorgeous. modern tableware for affordable prices."
  • Self-Serve Accessories: "When I do have a holiday party my two most favorite things to set up are an enormous charcuterie and cheese board on my Boos Board and a small self-serve bar with the essentials for mixing cocktails," Steele says. She has her bar stocked with funky and beautiful pieces, like a stirrer, glass mixer and jigger from Cocktail Kingdom.


  • Plastic Cylinder Containers: Steele doesn't get too trendy with containers for leftovers. Instead, she uses BPA-free plastic cylinder containers that they use in restaurants for prep. "I guess it's because my husband and I have been around commercial kitchens for so long but we just find they stack better than the typical grocery store brands, they hold a lot, and they are cheap, so you don't mind freely handing them out to your guests full of food when they leave," she says. "They also make freezing turkey stock that we make from the leftover turkey a breeze." The containers are easily found on Amazon.

White Wine Braised Turkey Legs

Recipe from Effortless Entertaining

Everyone fights over the turkey legs, so I never fail with this fool-proof recipe. These fall-off-the-bone tender turkey legs are incredibly simple to make and just require an overnight dry brine (optional but amazing), a quick sear and a few hours in the oven. With delicate flavors of pink peppercorn, coriander and orange zest, this recipe is irresistible.
  • Serves: 8
  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Cook Time: 2 hours
White Wine Braised Turkey Legs

Peppercorn Dry Brine
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 1 tablespoon pink peppercorns
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 2 whole star anise
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon grated orange zest
Turkey Legs
  • 2 tablespoon grapeseed or canola oil
  • 4 turkey drumsticks
  • 4 turkey thighs
  • 1 leek, sliced in half lengthwise
  • 2 carrots
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 2 cups dry white wine
  • 1 cup chicken stock
To Prep the Turkey
  • In a skillet, toast black and pink peppercorns, coriander seeds, anise, and bay leaves over medium heat until fragrant, about 3 minutes.
  • Transfer to a coffee grinder or food processor and process until fine. You can alternatively place in a plastic food-safe bag and crush with a mallet or rolling pin until coarse. Combine with salt and sugar.
  • Rub mixture over the turkey and place in glass dish and cover with plastic wrap.
  • Refrigerate overnight.
To Cook the Turkey
  • Preheat oven to 325°F.
  • Rinse the turkey legs completely with water and pat dry with paper towels.
  • In a roasting pan or large heavy-bottomed pot large enough to hold the turkey, heat oil over high heat. Sear the turkey until golden, about 3 minutes a side.
  • Remove turkey and add leeks, carrots, and garlic; sauté for 2 minutes or until lightly browned and remove. Add wine and bring to a boil.
  • Simmer until reduced by half, then add the chicken stock, turkey (skin side up) and vegetables; bring to a boil.
  • Immediately cover with foil or lid and place in the oven. Braise for 2 hours, or until the turkey is tender and falling off the bone, then remove the lid and allow to cook for another 15 minutes to allow the skin to slightly crisp.
  • Strain the pan juices from the vegetables and serve as a sauce alongside the turkey legs.
Suggested Wine Pairing: Chenin blanc or Riesling if you want white; keep it dry to off-dry. For reds, cru Beaujolais, Pinot Noir, or Spanish Garnacha are light enough to not overpower.

Suggested Beer Pairing: Saison, farmhouse, lager, wheat beers or even a Belgian wild ale.

Iva-Marie Palmer contributes to a number of websites and is the author of two young-adult novels, The End of the World As We Know It (Alloy Entertainment/Hot Key Books) and The Summers (Skyscape). She loves tasting her way through markets, exploring unique book stores and libraries, and weekends around Los Angeles with her husband and two sons. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @ivamarie.