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What to buy for grads setting up their first kitchen
Despite the fact that I've spent a lifetime collecting kitchen gadgets from around the world, I have to say it really doesn't take too much equipment to start your cooking life. Especially if you take advantage of the timesaving options such as precut vegetables and individual portions of meat and seafood sold in today's supermarkets. A decent dinner can be on the table with one good knife, a nonstick skillet and a saucepan. Cook pasta in the saucepan while you saute meat and veggies in the skillet and garnish with some chopped fresh herbs.
For the new cook setting up a household, the college grad, the newlyweds, starting slow is smart. If you plan on a life of cooking, gradually add to your kitchen collection by investing in quality rather than quantity. True, you can cook in the lightweight pans sold in the grocery store or at the flea market, but using tools you love will mean you want to use them often.
•A nesting set of glass mixing bowls (microwave-safe), a wooden spoon, a heatproof rubber spatula, a set of measuring cups, spoons and a glass liquid measure will get you through just about any recipe.
•Fill a small canister or a large can with a wooden spoon, a rubber scraper (spatula) and a heatproof spatula near the stove. You'll use these tools to make batter, flip pancakes and scrape the last bit of sauce from pans.
•Add a large cutting board and two basic knives — a small, super-sharp paring knife and a medium size chef's knife (usually an 8 inch blade), one that fits comfortably in your hand and that you feel confident using.
•Kitchen shears are so versatile and they can prevent common accidents when knives are used inappropriately. I use my shears to cut up chicken, to remove elastic bands from produce, to cut open pouches and to snip herbs.
•One 8-by-8-inch baking pan means you can roast a couple of chicken breasts or bake a pan of brownies. Ovenproof glass or ceramic prove most versatile because they can be used in the microwave to reheat things.
•Purchase the best-quality nonstick skillets that you can afford. The heavier the skillet, the less chance things will scorch. I like a 10-inch skillet for everyday cooking and a small 6-inch skillet for cooking eggs on the weekend.
•For other cooking, pick a large, not-too-heavy pot for boiling water for pasta and vegetables and for making the occasional pot of brothy soup. Throw in some good pot holders.
•Buy a colander that won't tip over in the sink when you pour the boiling water off of pasta or blanched green beans.
•For small appliances, a rice cooker means foolproof rice and grains every time. Add an inexpensive blender suitable for smoothies and pancake batter.
•Spring-loaded tongs just may be the tool that elevates the novice to a more accomplished cook. Like an extension of my hand, I use then to turn shrimp in the pan, lift asparagus from the boiling water to check doneness, flip meat and poultry on the grill, toss salads and remove hot potatoes from the microwave. Test them out in the store for comfort before you buy. Store them in the canister near the stove.
•Add a vegetable peeler, garlic press and Microplane grater to the kitchen tools drawer to make fast work of many kitchen tasks. Likewise, a salad spinner takes the chore out of rinsing garden-grown greens and lettuces.
•Adding another knife or two, such as a serrated bread/tomato knife and a long slicing knife for carving meat, proves a good idea when you are cooking more often. A second cutting board that can be designated for raw meat use is a smart idea.
•A heavy-duty, enameled cast-iron Dutch oven comes with a hefty price tag, but your stews, braises, pasta sauces and hearty soups will thank you. No more scorched chili or burnt tomato sauce. You can even use the pan to bake bread or roast chicken.
•I recommend investing in a small covered grill (charcoal takes more commitment, but the food always tastes better than on a gas grill) for quick-cooking meats and vegetables before adding roasting pans and more skillets or a slow-cooker. (Especially if you already have a Dutch oven.) Grilling makes cooking fun and nearly everyone loves the flavors that come off the grill.
•A santoku knife or a second, larger chef's knife will give you more options. If you don't like chopping, invest in a small food processor to do the work for you (and allow a little extra time for clean-up).
•Add some kitchen appliances such as a powerful blender for super smooth soups, chili sauces and batters. A stand mixer will make easy work of cookie doughs, breads and beaten egg whites and cream. I love my stick blender for pureeing soups and sauces right in their pot and whipping small quantities of cream. I use my larger food processor most in the summer when I want to make fast, tender pie crusts, big batches of pesto, herbed butters and vegetable slaws.
•A digital scale helps when I buy vegetables at the farmers market or bulk flours, grains and rices.
•Cast-iron skillets make browning a snap — the perfect pan for crispy potatoes, crusty chicken and great cornbread.
•Holiday cooks will need heavy duty baking sheets for cookies and flatbreads. Pie plates, Bundt pans, muffin tins, cookie cutters and loaf pans all come in handy and make welcome gifts.
•Most kitchens welcome a basic cookbook that offers recipes for the simple, everyday items like scrambled eggs, meatloaf, salad dressings, simple soups. I am partial to the "Joy of Cooking," by Irma S. Rombauer, for guidance and inspiration.