Are you about to stock your first kitchen, or one for your child? Are you feeling a little overwhelmed after pricing kitchen cookware sets? Don’t be. I’ll show you how to adequately furnish a beginner’s kitchen with good quality tools for a song.
I’ve been cooking for 40 years and own all kinds of nifty cooking gadgets and beautiful equipment. But I prepared some of the most delicious and interesting food of my life in a 10’ X 7’ galley kitchen with a small, white 1950’s refrigerator and matching gas oven and range. The white tub sink hung above its exposed drainpipe and drab linoleum covered the floor. Cabinet space and countertops were limited, but I happily discovered that a 2-foot deep and 3-foot wide, built-in maple chopping board pulled out from a 1/2” slit between the counter top and drawers. How handy!
The walls of my 3rd-floor walk up efficiency apartment had been painted institutional green about 20 years before I took occupancy. But the hardwood floors were barely worn and the small living room was well lit by a cozy bay window. For the first time in my life I had a space all to myself. I loved it!
My entry-level professional position paid accordingly, so furnishings and kitchen tools tended to be of the hand-me-down variety. A second-hand sofa wore a blanket to cover the cushion that pet claws had shredded. A tiny black-and-white TV, complete with broken antenna, perched atop a wobbly coffee table. I lived shabby chic 2 decades before its heyday.
I didn’t need much kitchen cabinet space since I only owned a few chipped stoneware place settings (compliments of my late grandmother’s kitchen,) some old stainless silverware and an impressive assortment of beer steins lifted from college watering holes. And, of course, my cookware: a covered pot, a wire mesh colander missing one of its 3 legs, an old black skillet, a decent chef’s knife, and a few assorted tools like spatulas, a potato peeler, and pot holders. I did splurge on one thing: a brand new, hard-cover, glossy-paged, fully illustrated copy of a gourmet cookbook simply called “The Cookbook” by Terence and Caroline Conran. Long before Julie cooked Julia, I made just about every recipe in that book in my tiny ill-equipped kitchen. And the meals were delicious! We’re talking Filet de Boeuf en Croûte, Veal with Apples and Cream, Gnocchi Romana, Paella, and Hare in Sour Cream. I confess to skipping the sweetbreads and tripe dishes, but I did make a mean Pâté de Campagne.
When a recipe called for a rolling pin, I used a glass as I’d seen my grandmother do to roll out biscuit dough. My chef’s knife became my best friend, saving me from the expense of a food processor, grater, zester, and mandoline. Forks ran a close second standing in for whisks, reamers, pasta rakes, and tongs. Although I coveted the beautiful equipment I saw in cooking stores, I spent my money instead on cooking courses. And I noticed a funny thing. Lots of instructors used a fork for a whisk too when they cooked in a hurry. Today I love and enjoy all of my cooking stuff. But I know from experience that it is all “nice to have” and not necessary to preparing fabulous food.
Learning to cook is like learning to play golf. You don’t need all of the fancy clubs to play a decent game—especially at the onset. I got the urge to learn golf after seeing a set of Lynx Tigress woods. They were a beautiful royal blue and came with a matching bag. My heart sank a few minutes into my first lesson when the pro told me that the only club I’d be using for weeks was a 5 iron. I thought I had clearly picked a poor pro. What would I do with the adorable skirt and shoes I’d bought to go with my set? But as we went through our lessons, I came to grasp his wisdom. Mastering the most versatile club taught me the basics without overwhelming me with too many options.
What do you need for a beginner kitchen? Surprisingly little. Here’s what I call my
“5 Iron List”:
- Chef’s Knife ($14.99)
- Cutting Board ($1.49)
- 10” Covered Frying Pan ($14.99)
- 2-Quart Covered Saucepan ($10.99)
- Dutch Oven ($14.99)
- Mixing Bowl Set ($4.99)
- Liquid Measuring Cup ($4.99)
- Dry Measuring Cups ($3.99)
- Dry Measuring Spoons ($2.99)
- 13 x 9” Baking Pan ($8.39)
- Flipping Spatula, Cooking Spoon ($0.79)
- Mesh Colander ($3.99)
- Vegetable Peeler ($4.99)
- Can Opener ($1.99)
I found the prices listed above at IKEA and Target.
The cookware is stainless steel. I chose that over aluminum and non-stick surfaces for two reasons. Stainless steel is known to be a stable metal whereas some concerns about the potential harm to health by aluminum cookware exists. Some questions about health risks caused by nonstick surfaces exist as well, and once they are scratched they should not be used. Plain old stainless steel is the safest way to go.
Why IKEA and Target? Because they both have brick and mortar stores as well as ecommerce sites, and both maintain a consistent stock over time. I often pick up great deals on cookware and kitchen items at stores like Home Goods and Tuesday Morning and recommend popping in to take a look if there is a store near you. But their models are such that the merchandise available can vary from day to day. Your local supermarket or membership warehouse store may have some affordable options too. And, if you are willing to surf online, you can find lots of great deals. Keep shipping costs in mind, though, and try to buy from one seller to keep them low.
Cook every recipe in your Easy Weekly Meals touchscreen cookbooks for either College Students or Moms on the Go with these 15 tools.
What if a recipe from another source calls for cookware that's not on this list? Check back soon to find out what to use!
Photo Courtesy of Gualberto107 / Free Digital Photos