The Beginner's Kitchen: 5 Tools for the New Home Cook
As someone who doesn't cook often, I view my kitchen as that place at home where I carry out every task except the one for which it's intended — cleaning, organizing, reheating leftovers. Or I write and work in it. So whenever I do attempt to make food in the kitchen, I feel like a beginner, time and time again. Thanks to my uncanny ability for avoiding intermediate levels of cooking expertise, I know that starting out can be a discouraging and even bewildering experience, and not just for the obvious reasons, like mistaking salt for sugar or accidentally setting off the fire alarm because you broiled cinnamon toast instead of baking it ( true story).
Though mistakes are hard to avoid, I've learned that it helps to start with the right tools. Considering the overwhelming number of kitchen gadgets and varying price points, I narrowed the list down to the absolute necessities without sacrificing quality. When it comes to building your arsenal of cooking equipment, you'll want to spend a little more on some things to ensure they do their job properly. After all, there will always be opportunities to cut corners, but a chef's knife is not the place to do it. For under $200, here are five tools I recommend for starting your own Beginner's Kitchen.
Call it the Little Frying Pan That Could. For around $30, a stainless steel frying pan gives you the ability to cook, sear, roast (make sure it's oven safe) and fry nearly any ingredient. They come in several sizes so pick one that fits your kitchen; an 11-inch pan usually does the trick for me. A frying pan is essential for scrambled eggs, the star ingredient in the latest episode of Stupidly Simple Snacks: Breakfast Tacos. Pro tip: Check out restaurant supply stores near you or look online for commercial-grade frying pans. They cost less than ones you'll find in retail shops. Plus, they're built to last.
Growing up in a Chinese household, I watched my parents make soup nearly every day, so my idea of soup was based on traditional Chinese recipes that call for chopped vegetables and meat in broth or stock. The soups were never blended. Thus, for most of my 29 years, I thought blenders were only used for making milk shakes and smoothies, pureeing fruit and breaking ice down to size. I've since learned that blenders are integral to making many popular soups, like cream of broccoli, gazpacho and butternut squash, just to name a few favorites. For about $25, get an everyday blender to make healthy fruit smoothies for breakfast, and use it again later in the day to make Stupidly Simple Roasted Cauliflower Soup for dinner!
There are many, many knives to choose from, but a good chef's knife is a home cook's best friend and standby. You get what you pay for here; the quality of the blade will directly impact your experience. At its worst, chopping can feel like a chore, but at its best, repetitive actions like slicing, dicing and mincing feel fast and mesmerizingly efficient — the most fun parts of the cooking process. I used a dull hand-me-down for most of my twenties and frequently wondered why I couldn't get a clean cut when chopping tomatoes. Eventually, I realized it's an easy problem to fix. For about $90, the 8-inch Global Chef's Knife is a worthy investment. Learn from my mistakes and save yourself from haphazardly cutting meat and veggies!
Cutting boards come in a range of materials, shapes and sizes, but the main decision to be made is between wood and plastic. While there's no "bad" cutting board, a wood cutting board is more forgiving to a chef's knife, providing a sturdy but soft surface to receive and absorb the shock of each cut, chop and slice. (Also worth noting: Kitchens feel more inviting when they contain kitchen equipment, especially wood cutting boards that look broken in.) I use a thick wood cutting board that I bought 10 years ago for $45 and it's still going strong. Plastic cutting boards are less expensive, but only just. Whether you go with plastic or wood, be sure to clean both thoroughly after use.
… are better than spatulas for tossing stir-fries and turning meat over while cooking. (My boyfriend, Chris, first taught me this tip.) Now I think of tongs as extensions of my hands/bionic fingers that you can use to do everything from stirring ingredients in a hot pan to serving food at family-style meals without the mess of maneuvering oversized spoons. Best part? Basic tongs cost less than $10 each.
For sandwich lovers, grilled cheese fiends and aficionados of warm pita, few cooking tools exemplify the Stupidly Simple Snacks spirit as well as the panini press. Transform ordinary sandwiches into hot comfort foods in minutes. Think: a warm Nutella and sliced banana sandwich…
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