With the prevalence of convenience-based prepared food, cooking often has taken a backseat to, well, er, most things. For me, this was especially true when I was single and responsible solely for feeding myself. Mixed nuts for dinner? Fine. Bagel and cream cheese from the deli for breakfast? Yes. Custom prepared salad from the place downstairs for lunch? Of course. Then, my refrigerator was used as storage for white wine, Champagne, water, and chocolate. As decadent as that selection may sound, the reality is that my currently stocked refrigerator is more impressive–fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, basil, carrots, spinach, cheese, eggs, butter, apples, oranges, etc. And, yes, of course, a chilled bottle of Champagne.
As with many of life’s dramatic changes, my transition from non-cook to cook was a byproduct of life’s upheaval. I purchased heavy-bottom pots and pans, narrow metal measuring spoons, nesting metal measuring cups, and a high-end set of knives after calling off my first engagement. (I also purchased a potato ricer and a meatloaf pan; the former a waste of money, the latter a worthwhile purchase depending upon one’s fondness of the dish.) He had wanted me to cook; I had done so. He had the well-stocked kitchen filled with knives costing more than some people make in a month; I had a paring knife.
I purchased tongs, a metal whisk, wooden spoons, a sieve, a second sheet pan, and a stove top-to-oven pot after my second engagement went the way of my first. He was a great cook, inspiring me to cook by touch and taste rather than merely following a recipe. He taught me the fundamentals of cooking, explaining the reasoning behind the technique. He also sent me a Le Creuset pot as a housewarming gift post break-up.
Today, I have a wide array of kitchen tools at the ready. That is, in large part, because I married my husband in my mid-to-late 30s. (Really, what’s in a number?) Even post-consolidation of our kitchen items, we found one item missing: an immersion blender. Yes, one can blend soups in a blender, but it is easier–and safer–not to.
Now, with all the right tools at my disposal, I would much rather make chocolate chip cookies than buy them. Same goes for hummos (black bean or chick pea), chicken noodle soup, curries (Indian or Asian), butternut squash soup, etc. And, yes, I’m still using the same heavy-bottom pots and pans purchased all those years ago.
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RE:PRINT: The New York Times
Why think about it in advance? If you suddenly need a spatula, you can get one at CVS. Who cares if it’s plastic? The dollar store sells measuring spoons. Is it a problem that they’re shaped like the state of Texas?
Yes, it is.
It’s a lot easier to spend one afternoon buying the right stuff than to spend every morning you want to cook something in a sweat, trying to improvise a substitute for a rolling pin (an empty wine bottle?) or a bread knife (good luck).
To outfit your kitchen, go to the big-box store of your choice: Upscale places like Williams-Sonoma and Sur La Table are browse-worthy, but they often charge much more for the same basic tools. And don’t think you have to be completely sensible: Buy some crazy thing that appeals to you, like a set of miniature pie tins or a state-of-the-art meat thermometer or one of those old-school apple peelers. The things you don’t need but want are the things that will lure you into the kitchen.
To set up your kitchen for basic cooking (and some baking) tasks, you will need:
1 big (8-inch) knife
1 serrated bread knife
2 small paring knives
1 10-inch cast-iron skillet
1 small nonstick skillet
1 4-quart pot with a lid
1 9-by-13-inch metal baking pan
Metal measuring spoons
A metal whisk, long wooden spoons and a silicone spatula
A pair of sturdy metal tongs
Plastic or glass measuring cups (a 1-cup and a 2-cup)
2 13-by-18-inch sheet pans
A set of mixing bowls (plastic is fine)
And if you have some extra cash, buy some kind of chopping/mixing device — either a food processor with multiple blades or a hand blender with multiple attachments.
Finally, because someday you will give in to the voices that say you must learn to roast a chicken, do yourself a favor and buy some kitchen shears. Cooking is easy. Carving is hard.
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