May 6, 2007


Having cleaned out my kitchen, it was time to replace all that kitchen gear, or in my case- upgrade the kitchen gear. I also had to establish a plan, and a color code. I love color coding things. Making kosher kitchen is great if you love to color cold and label, and helps justify OCD tendencies that one would usually have to hide away.

1. Color Code

I decided to go with red for meat, and blue for dairy due to the preponderance of supplies in these colors, and that I think this is an ISO standard somewhere. I also like these colors which helps. I sometimes use white for dairy and black for meat in cases where red and blue are not available. Green is pareve.

2. Buying Sets or Buying things As Needed

I looked around at my cabinets and put my thinking cap on. I don't have much space. I decided to keep the kitchen lean and mean- only bringing back the essentials, and then bringing in special tools and serving platters and such on an as needed basis. My plan was to start with the very basics, and figure it out as I go. I made having *just* what I wanted and used most the design goal here, and not minimizing cost. I had my limits, but I certainly didn't do this as inexpensively as one could have.

I am not big on getting "sets" of things. I would rather have 3 incredible Wusthof knives than an entire wooden block filled with average knives for the same amount of money. I would rather get just one amazing All-Clad pan and a single sturdy pot than get an entire 10 piece set of pots and pans that are of much lower quality. Given the size of my kitchen, it just makes sense. And I really appreciate selecting and getting just what I like.

But some people prefer the quantity, and are cooking for hordes of people. I can understand wanting a good value, too. IKEA offers "Kitchen in a Box" and there are many sets available at places like BJ's and Costco. They have entire KitchenAid utensil sets in black and red. Rachel Ray has orange and blue pot & pan sets. There are entire sets by other manufacturers in Red and White. I contemplated these, but given my budget and space, I decided to get the bare essentials, but to make them as high quality as I could afford. The question of whether or not to buy sets also connects to another concept. I have noticed a couple of different kosher kitchen modes of operation. When preparing to outfit my kosher kitchen, I examined the kitchens of people I know who keep kosher.

3. "Pareve by Default", or "Either/Or" Approach

I have noticed that people have different systems. I was greatly influenced by my sister. She has a policy of "Pareve by default". A utensil or appliance or what-have-you can then permanently become meat or dairy when needed- sort of called into active duty. Once the utensil touches the meat or dairy, it must stay that way, unless it is re-kashered (and some things can't be). Things will become meat or dairy, get labeled as such and stored in the meat or dairy cabinet. Some things will only touch pareve things and other pareve equipment (cutting boards, for instance). These things can stay pareve.

My mother-in-law, on the other hand, has almost no pareve utensils. Everything is either meat or dairy. Fish is always prepared as dairy. When she starts cooking, she breaks out all of one or the other, and the food is whatever equipment she prepared it with. She is a recipe cook. She has 2 huge kitchen drawers, and duplicates of just about everything. But this is simpler for her, because she snaps into either meat or milk mode when she makes a dish (or about 10 of them for a holiday).

She also doesn't get into a lot of fancy cooking gear, or overpriced, foreign ingredients like I do. She is a basic, traditional family cook- and an amazing one. I think her method makes sense for the way she cooks. I call this the "Either/or" approach. These are just two different kosher kitchen strategies, each with its own followers. "Pareve by default" and "Either/or" approaches work well for different kinds of cooks. They are also not mutally exclusive approaches. Following "Pareve by default", you may end up with everything divided into Meat & Dairy in a few weeks time, anyway!

Both methods have benefits for the kosher newbie. With "Pareve by default", you can learn what you need and establish it as you go. Your system can grow organically You just have to be incredibly fastidious about labeling and storing the utensil once it becomes this or that. "Either/Or" has benefits to the newbie as well, in that you can simply buy two of everything, store them separately and be done with it. It will make getting used to your new habits a little easier in the beginning (maybe).

I also think these two approaches are suited to different ways of cooking. Sometimes I like to do a lot of prep work. I dice up a big bunch of onions and freeze them for later use. I like to improvise when I am cooking. I want to grab a bunch of diced onions from the freezer and decide to make a spinach and feta pie, or maybe use them in a chicken dish I am making instead. I might want to use the left-over diced sundried tomatoes somewhere unexpected. I don't want to use dairy or meat equipment to give the onions an affiliation with either dairy or meat- I want to keep them neutral for future use.

I like the flexibility of being able to prepare snacks or side dishes ahead of time. I like making extra of things, like vegetarian side dishes or pareve desserts and be able to store them in pareve Tupperware or plastic bags, and then eat them later, whenever I want, with whatever I want.

Also for things like potato peelers and garlic presses, that can be limited touching pareve foods, even while they are preparing meat or milk meals. It is my understanding that these things can stay pareve, provided they don't touch milk or meat, or milk or meat equipment. I now have an entire pareve drawer with these kinds of tools, and flexible pareve cutting mats that I use with them, away from the milk and meat ingredients. This limits unnecessary duplication of utensils.

So I clearly have adopted a "Pareve by default" approach, and (so far) it has been working it me.
However, I showed a friend of mine my kitchen when I was done, and she said it took "too much thinking". But I think whichever method one uses will become natural to them, and will either suit them (or not) based on the way they cook.

I guess most people who grew up kosher probably registered for or bought what they saw in use growing up and didn't have to think about it this much. This was the case for my mother-in-law who grew up in a kosher home so it was second nature to her. But for people like me (who grew up in a house of boiling lobster pots), I think it helps a lot to come up with your overall strategy based on how you cook.

4. The Shopping List

I started with the things I knew I needed. I based this on what I needed to make my typical meals, minus what I had to toss. It helped to think up a 2 week menu plan and write it out, including all the ingredient preparation that would be required. Then list all the gear that would be in preparation and serving of the meals during those two weeks.

Everything I bought (in incredible detail) is the next post. I am separating it out for people care, to avoid comments that say "zzzzzzzzzzzz". It has details of what had to be replaced and why- but remember, your mileage may vary- you must consult your own local rabbi or kosher expert in residence if you are doing this... some things can be saved under certain circumstances in some communities, and some things I kept would have to go in others.


Safranit said...

One pots/utensils that can be easily re-kashered in the event of an accident.

ie: things with fewer nooks and crannies, and handles that can be easily removed.

Anonymous said...

The thing with pareve utensils is interesting...I'm also a kosher newbie, and I've been trying to figure it out. One book I read said that you can use milk/meat utensils without making the pareve thing in question meat/milk if the utensil and food are both cold. I.e. margarine, miracle whip on bread. But for things that are "hot" like garlic and onions, you can't, because the flavor transfers.

I haven't figured this out really, yet, so I have been using some pareve silverware (along with a great deal of plastic) but the pareve silverware is hard to deal with too. Can you put it in the sink or not? Do you just put it on a paper towel until you can clean it in a stream of running water? What happens if the pareve utensil touches a meat/milk plate or a meat/milk utensil?

cwexl said...

Hi Anonymous,

I can tell you my understanding and what I do- but I am encouraging you to check with your rabbi.

It is my understanding that if you have a pareve utensil that it must not touch meat or milk- period. The exception, I think is glass- which can touch cold meat or dairy. I think if the meat or milk is served warmed, the dish has been thought to have received that flavoring.

Right now I keep my used pareve stuff on a green washcloth by the sink. I plan on upgrading to a dedicated dish rack and sink guard (I use these for Meat and Dairy right now). I think most people wash their pareve dishes by hand, but I also know some people run a separate load in their dishwasher.

From what I understand, the dishwasher is a "hot topic". I went with the psak from my local conservative rabbi that allowed me to kasher my dishwasher (I will cover this more in an upcoming post about the details of how I kashered my kitchen).

P.S. I too have used a lot of disposable plastic utensils.

clkl said...

Here's what we do:

The pareve utensils we use are food preparation utensils, not eating utensils.

We don't have pareve silverware, because each meal is either meat or milk. If we are only serving pareve foods at a particular meal, we pick one "gender" and use those utensils for the meal.

It's true that one can cut the pareve margarine with a (clean) meat knife, and the margarine left in the container is still pareve.

However, for those food preparations that do "impart flavor", such as chopping garlic or onions, it is very convenient to use a pareve knife to prepare large portions in advance, without dedicating them to a particular gender.

There is a distinction between what is allowed lehatchila [at the beginning - before the fact] and bedi'eved [after the fact]. It can be likened (irreverently) to that old military proverb, "it's easier to get forgiveness than permission..."

This doesn't mean you should dip the spoon in the pig juice and ask questions later. This means, that if you ask,(lehatchila) "may I dip the spoon in the pig juice" the answer is NO. If BY ACCIDENT, UNINTENTIONALLY,(bedi'eved) you discover the spoon was placed in the pig juice, the remedy may seem more lenient and less onerous than the initial (lehatchila) NO might have led you to expect.

Let's say that, for some reason, you get a psak (halachic ruling) that for whatever your particular circumstances (bedi'eved), all you need do is clean the spoon in cold water and put it away, THAT DOES NOT MEAN that you can then use your spoons for pig juice (lehatchila) in the future and simply wash it off.

Because of these nuances and complexity they can introduce to everyday cooking, pareve preparation utensils and measuring cups/spoons are very handy. This is why I use the "Pareve by Default" policy.

(Please note: "pig juice" is my light-hearted term for something that is treyf. In our house, tomato sauce without a hechsher is called "pig juice". This term was not meant to imply anytihing about pork products, or imply that anyone on this list has any such thing in his house, or what the particular remedy for pork-related kashrut issues might be.)

DeisCane said...

I used the same color choices.

I think your thoughts on sets are noble and correct, but today, often, sets are cheaper than a la carte of the same quality. For Chanukah a few years ago, my wife bought us new fleishig pots and pans--Calphalon--and the entire 10 piece set was just about 2.5 times what the cost of one skillet of the same Calphalon line.

Deiscane said...

As to the parve equipment point, we have a pareve cutting board (wood) and pareve (glass) mixing bowls for cold ingredients.

Anonymous said...

I love your blog! May you grow from strength to strength!

I really like the idea of "pareve by default" and have started doing more of that in my own kitchen. However, I am now over-run with dishwashing apparatus -- 3 sets of drains and sink protectors, with sometimes two of them (pareve plus m or f) in use at the same time. (The dishwasher is out of the picture at this point, I am washing everything by hand.) I have a small kitchen with limited counter space and am constantly juggling things. Have you found a comfortable way to work with all three types of dishwashing gear (m/f/p) in one small space?

jabbett said...

Yeah, dishwashing is my biggest gripe (more accurately: my wife's biggest gripe) with keeping things pareve. We have two dishwashers, but our pareve mixer, food processor, pasta pot, etc., require hand washing.

clkl said...

@jabbett: We turn that upside down. When we acquire something that requires hand-washing, it is most likely to become pareve, for just that reason!

- - -

Another "default" we use is: "Pesach by default". Whenever we receive hostess gifts of platters or casserole dishes, or have any extra unused new dishes, I put them in the Pesach Stockpile in our basement.

If for some reason, we need that item, it can be retrieved and brought into daily use. Otherwise, if we never need it, it doesn't clutter up our kitchen.

It is amazing how fond I have become of some hostess gifts that were not my 'cup of tea', when Pesach rolls around. That same casserole dish that was tacky in December, inspires gratitude aplenty in on chol hamoed Pesach!

Anonymous said...

A question for those who cook pareve -- what is your method for getting food to the table? That is, the cooking gets done in pareve pots/pans. The eating gets done on either meat or milk plates. But how do you get the food from one place to the other? Do you only serve directly from the stove? Do you put the food in serving bowls/platters and bring it to the table? If you use serving bowls/platters -- what gender do you use (pareve?) Is it confusing for people to serve themselves with multiple "genders" on the table at the same time?

cwexl said...

CLKL- Thank you so much for clarifying "Pareve by default", and for the idea of "Pesach by default".

In answer to the last question-
If I make a batch of a pareve dish, and I plan on using it later, I immediately store half in plastic bags or pareve tupperware. Then, what I want to serve is either going to milk or meat anyway- and is served in milk or meat serving dishes. Any leftovers from the milk or meat serving dishes would have to be milk or meat, so I try and only put out what I think we'll eat.

Anonymous said...

RED = meat, due to most blood colors being red.

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