Moving out of my parent’s house was a rude awakening in many ways, the least of which was the lack of Mom’s (and Granny’s) home cooked meals. Even though they both tried to stock my kitchen with what I would need, they came from the perspective of an established home cook, not a college student on her own for the first time. So, I decided to put together this post with a list of things I found invaluable to my starter kitchen. Please remember that while I may think I have great advice, I am still writing from my perspective. There are probably others that think I left something off or added too much. I just wanted to give you an idea of what worked for me and my roommates.
So, without further ado, the list…
You might know a saucepan as a pot, but if you google “pot” you won’t get many hits for cookware… Anyways, a good saucepan is invaluable for everything to boiling water for pasta, heating up spaghetti sauce, or cooking beans. A 2-qt. saucepan is the ideal size for just about any of your cooking needs.
I think we all identify a frying pan or skillet, but the trick is to get the right one. You definitely need to make sure that your pan is non-stick, because scraping your freshly cooked meal off the sides could potentially ruin your appetite. A good 8 or 12 inch non-stick skillet from Wal-Mart, Target, or TJ-maxx will serve your needs perfectly. If you are going to invest in something for your kitchen, this is the one thing to splurge on. Also, NEVER, EVER, EVER use metal on your non-stick skillet to cook or clean because you will quickly scratch and ruin your investment.
Spatula/Slotted spoon/Serving spoon
In order to cook, you will need these three basic implements. The spatula is very important for flipping grilled cheeses or eggs, which is why my family calls it a “flipper”. The slotted spoon lets you drain liquid, while the regular serving spoon is perfect for dipping spaghetti sauce or a casserole. If you have the money and/or inclination, you can buy a kit that includes those utensils plus a few others like a pasta spoon and whisk. While those tools are useful, they are by no means necessary. The important thing to remember is to go ahead and invest in either plastic or wooden tools so that you don’t ruin that nice skillet.
A good mixing bowl is invaluable to your kitchen, and it is also the cheapest to acquire. You can buy one at a store, find one at a yard sale, or swipe one from your Mom’s kitchen (with her permission, of course). Your bowl can be metal, plastic, or glass as long as it is fairly deep. You can buy them at a reasonable price as a set of three, but really, all you need is one decent-sized, reliable bowl.
Again, a colander is something that you can get cheaply and easily. I have found that plastic and metal (like the one pictured) work the best and are easiest to clean.
The important thing to remember about Tupperware, or plastic food storage, is to get a variety of sizes. You don’t have to spend a lot of money, and I would suggest not to if you have a habit of losing tops or whole pieces. If you eat sandwich meat, some brands come in little containers that work great, and they’re free-ish! Also, don’t forget that butter, cool-whip, etc. containers work well for food storage. Getting plastic food storage can be as expensive or as cheap as you want, just make sure you have it!
One sharp knife
What you get is up to you, but make sure you have at least one decent sharp knife. I would get a paring knife, as it is the most versatile of knifes and will allow you to do the most basic of kitchen cutting. If you don’t know what a paring knife is then please reference the enclosed picture. I have so far refrained from endorsing any particular brand, but I am going to break my rule here. The picture is of a Kuhn Rikon knife. I got mine at TJ Maxx for about 4 dollars and it’s the best knife I have ever bought. It is dishwasher safe, has a protective covering for travel, and never gets dull. I wholeheartedly recommend it.
Make sure you have a few good dish towels and rags, especially if you don’t have a dishwasher and have to hand wash everything. If you have decent towels you can use those instead of a drying rack for hand washing.
I prefer the kind that covers my whole hand, but I am also a pansy. The flat ones are nice for keeping hot plates, pans, etc. from scorching tables and countertops.
The only tip I have about a can opener is to not buy the cheapest one. It will rust and become stiff quickly and cause you much pain and suffering.
If you want to get fancy and learn the difference between dry and wet measuring cups you can here: http://www.seriouseats.com/talk/2009/01/measuring-cups-difference-between-wet-and-dry.html . Honestly, the difference only matters if you want to become a serious baker. So, you just need to make sure that you have measuring tools for ¼, 1/3, ½ , and 1 cup, plus ¼, ½, 1 teaspoon, ½ , and 1 tablespoon. As with so much else, you can get them as expensive or cheap as you wish.
Many of the first recipes that you will attempt that don’t involve boiling pasta will require a casserole dish. Fortunately, the best brand is also easily attainable and reasonably priced. Again, I have tried not to endorse brands in this post, but you absolutely cannot go wrong with Pyrex. Not only do they cook the best, but also they are virtually unbreakable. Investing in a good 9×9 or 9×13 casserole dish will reward you with a lifetime of use.
Everyone likes cookies, so getting a good cookie sheet is a good idea. You can also use it to cook bread or a frozen pizza. Just make sure you get a fairly thick one to avoid burning the bottom of whatever you are baking.
Microwave and Dishwasher Safe Dishes
Think of dishes as being the window treatments of your kitchen set. They can be utterly basic and practical or as fun and trendy as you want them to be. The important thing to remember is that they need to say microwave and dishwasher safe!
Flatware is the technical term for spoons, forks, and knives. They are usually sold in an 8-piece place setting which means that there are 8 knives, 8 forks, 8 spoons, etc. You can get them relatively inexpensive at a store, or you could look at yard sales and thrift stores for even cheaper ones. There is no rule that they have to match. Just know that you need them unless you want to eat with your hands.
Whether you get pretty decorative glasses to match your place setting or collect game day cups after a game at the stadium, make sure you have something to drink from!
Setting up my first kitchen was a lot of fun, and helped me become a pretty decent cook (although my love of eating probably helped more). Remember there is no right or wrong way of setting up a kitchen, and you should feel free to add to or take away from this list.
I hope you will discuss in the comments section and make your own suggestions.
À la prochain,