It’s been nearly a decade (oh god, there’s a mental crisis if I dwell on that one too long!) since I’ve been out on my own, so I’ve had some time to figure out what constitutes an essential in the kitchen, and what constitutes a money-wasting, space-eater. With the fall coming on and the young kids going off to college or first apartments, I thought I’d help the younger generation out with a list of things that every kitchen needs. (Also useful for gadget addicts who want to pare down or those of us who are moving on to new kitchens). (By the way, all the products I’m “showcasing” here are from www.ikea-usa.com, so everyone can find these everywhere for a good price…if you hover over the images with your cursor, it will tell your product name, capacity, and price).
The Pots & The Pans:
Keep it simple here kids. Space and cash are at a premium, so let’s go with a few versatile, high-quality pieces. Save the expensive specialty stuff for your wedding or commitment wish-list (let your rich relatives buy it for you!) Let’s talk about pots and pans for a minute before we get into which ones you need and want. There are a dizzying array of materials, sizes and colors out there. Don’t get something flimsy (aluminum is out). Don’t get something with a non-stick coating that’s going to flake off into your food (disgusting! And it will probably take a few days of your life. Teflon is out). Don’t get something high-maintainence (copper is out– are you really going to polish it every time you use it? Doubt it.). What does that leave us with? Two beautiful, useful options– stainless steel and enameled cast iron. Either one is a good choice, but I’d recommend the enameled cast iron. Why’s that? It’s going to last you three or four lifetimes (yes, LIFETIMES) with proper care. And proper care is easy– you wash it after you use it. Don’t gouge sharp knives into it (why the hell would you do that anyway?) Don’t throw it at your boyfriend during an argument (and why the hell would you do that anyway?). There you go, proper care. What’s the downside? It’s pricey. But since we’re going to just buy a few essential pieces to start with and be frugal where we shop, we can swing it. 🙂 Le Creuset is the queen of enameled cast iron. Retail prices will kill you- we’re talking a tuition payment for A PIECE. But check this out– Le Creuset has outlet stores all over the country where you can find deals (find one at http://www.outletsonline.com/lecreuset/lestores.html). You can also find it on Ebay, Amazon and if you keep your eyes peeled, your local thrift stores (true story- I’ve seen decent-condition pieces in several Chicago thrift spots for dollars. It’s a rare find, but when you see it, you better grab it fast!). Our overlords at Ikea have also started selling enameled cast iron too, so that’s an even better steal. Oh, another cool benefit of enameled cast iron– it can go from stovetop, to oven, to table. How cool is that!? Even more bang for your buck! But enough already, what pieces do you need? Just three. Seriously.
— A medium-large Dutch Oven (aka stockpot, big pot, large cooker, casserole, etc.): You can do soups, stews, roasts, sautes, braises, casseroles, sauces, stocks and even bake in these. They are the workhorses of cookware. It looks like this:
— A Saucepan: It’s a smaller pot that’s good for sauces (as it’s name implies) as well as cooking/heat up side dishes and whatnot. Ikea doesn’t currently sell an enameled cast-iron version (boo) but they do have a nice stainless-steel model. It looks like this:
— A Saute/Frying Pan: Now, there is a difference between a frying pan and a saute pan. A frying pan is smaller with sloped sides. A saute pan is larger with straight sides. But I’m going to tell you to get the saute pan, because it can do double-duty as your frying pan. You’ll appreciate the extra room and a capacity it offers. It looks like this:
That’s it for your cookware. Nothing fancy, but you can make anything with these three pieces. Not bad, eh? Now, on to bakeware:
Same considerations apply here. Good quality, versatile stuff. These are the basics:
— The Pizza Pan: For pizza of course. But you can also bake cookies, free-form pies (also known as galettes or tarts) and other tasty little bites on these. It look like this:
— The Cake Pan: Great for cakes, brownies, casseroles, lasagna, whatever. It can be round or square, and the one pictured here is a spring-form version. It means you can loosen the side and lift it off your creation (making it easier to unmold in one pieces). This one also comes with two bottoms– the decorative one shown, and a plain one. It looks like this:
That will do it for the bare bones, since you can also use your Dutch Oven to roast stuff and make larger casseroles. But if you really like to bake, you might to add a muffin tin (for muffins!) a pie pan (for pie!) and a loaf pan (for breads!) to your set.
The Gadgets & Necessary Accessories:
I’m not big on gadgets and you shouldn’t be either. Let’s spend our precious funding on other things! What do you need to get by? I’ll just list these out for you, since you’ll know what these look like:
– A Slotted Spoon
– An Un-slotted Spoon or Ladle
– A flexible Spatula
– A few Wooden Spoons
– A Whisk
– A flat Spatula (aka Pancake Turner, Flipper, etc.)
– A manual or hand-held Can Opener (Works even when the power goes out!)
– Colander (aka a Strainer) (For draining pasta or rinsing veggies)
– A few Pot Holders (So you don’t burn your hands!)
– A few kitchen Towels (To clean up your messes)
– A Corkscrew with Bottle Opener (So we can enjoy a good drink after all the cooking)
– A veggie Peeler (For peeling your veg! You can also use it to make garnishes like lemon peels and pretty designs in your food- you know those vertical line in your cucumber slice? Veggie peeler did that!)
– Knives: This one requires a bit more information. Despite the popularity of huge knife sets, you’re really only going to use two, maybe three, knives in your kitchen with any regularity– the Chef’s knife and a pair of kitchen shears will really do it for most people. If you’re big into baking bread, or buying uncut loaves, throw in a serrated bread knife. Leave the rest of the crap at the store. You just don’t need it. You might want a tiny paring knife. I don’t know why though, my chef’s does it all for me, and if you know how to use it, it will for you too (do yourself a favor and get Jacques Pepin’s Complete Techniques while you’re at it if you’re new to this whole cooking thing. He shows you how to do and make everything, including how to use knives- and everything has step-by-step photos. This should be your starter cookbook!) Anyway, back to knives. Get the best you can afford here- your chef’s knife is an extension of yourself. You want something heavy for it’s size (that makes it easier to control) and full tang (that means the metal knife blade should run all the way through to end of the handle, and not just be attached to it– that makes it sturdier and it will last longer). You also want the blade to have enough depth so your knuckles aren’t knocking into the cutting board or table every time you make a cut– it’s uncomfortble, inefficient and dangerous. Get a knife that feels good in your hand.
That’s it kids, those are the basics on the cooking end of things. Not to much stuff to pack and unpack or take up space in your miniature-sized first kitchen. And you’ll use it all, so you’ll get your money’s worth. Now you just need some stuff to help you serve all the good food you’ll be cooking up.
Really simple here. Get 6 place settings. If it’s just you and room mate you can eat more than one meal without having to wash everything. If you have some friends over (dinner party, anyone?) you can serve up to six people at the same time. 🙂
– Dinner Plates. Six white ones.
– Salad Plates. Six white ones.
– Cereal Bowls. Six white ones.
Done. Not to bad, and you’re almost done!
You can go crazy here, especially if you like the mixed drinks- it seems like every drink has it’s own damned glass. But we’re starting with the basics here. I’ll give you pictures again for reference. 🙂 And let’s do this in sets of six again, so your dinner-party friends can all have a beverage at the same time.
– Regular tall Drinking Glasses. You can serve every kind of drink in this if you have to. It looks like some version of this:
— The Basic Wine Glass: Looks like this:
— The Cocktail/Martini Glass: For cocktails! Looks like this:
— The Mug: Coffee, tea, hot chocolate– for all your hot drink needs. Looks like this:
Okay, anything else? Don’t forget a set of cultery (aka silverware) that includes forks, spoons and butter knives. Throw in a white tablecloth and a set of white cloth napkins for when mom and dad come to visit or when you’re making a meal for a special boyfriend-material someone. For basic appliances, you’ll want a small microwave (you don’t need one big enough to roast a turkey! Something small will do!), a small crockpot (you’ll thank me later for getting one, I promise) and a small coffee maker or tea pot (depending on your preference for morning beverages). If you eat toast like there’s no tomorrow, by all means get a toaster. If you don’t, don’t buy one! Everybody seems to have a toaster, and I don’t know a whole lot of people who eat the toast. Toasters aren’t prereqs to adulthood, so don’t feel obligated to throw one in your cart. That’s it. That’s really all you need to get started. Now faithful pupils, go forth and cook! No matter where you are or who you’re with, cook and eat the best that you can. We are what we eat. 🙂