Cooking on a Budget : Your Basic Kitchen Equipment
Just starting out with your own kitchen? Here are some lessons that could be of value to you . . .
When I moved out of my mother’s house twelve years ago I also moved out of her kitchen and into my own. And mine had absolutely nothing in it, no appliance, no utensils – nothing. At the time, I wasn’t thinking about all the great things I could cook for myself or the different innovations I could have from the latest equipment designs or new foods I always wanted to try out. No. my mind was on two things : First, I had very little money. And second, I’ve got to eat.
Most of my cash (and some of my credit) went to two key appliances. A refrigerator and a two -burner stove. The refrigerator to store food and prevent spoiling and the stove for cooking. That’s two basic functions and two appliances to meet both. If there was one appliance that could store food and cook it too I would have bought it, but no such gadget exists – at least not yet.
In retrospect, the two-burner was a good call. I chose between that and a one-burner but decided to go with the two burner in case I wanted to cook two things at the same time. Guess what? This never happened. What I used the second burner for was to put very hot cooked dishes to cool off for a bit while I cooked another meal with the other burner. It saved me from having to put down very hot pots and pans in other surfaces which might get damaged by the heat. It seems trivial, I know, but you’ll appreciate this too if you get a two-burner.
With the refrigerator I have some regrets. I decided to go cheap and get a one door refrigerator where the freezer is on the inside with its own small plastic door. I also went for a model where I had to defrost the freezer. The freezer door tended to ice up and not close properly necessitating the use of an ice pick to chip at the creeping ice so I could close the door. And yes, sometimes I would miss with the pick and hit the freezer lining damaging my appliance. Because I had to defrost the freezer I would unplug it once a week, usually while I was out doing groceries. I could have spared myself all this with a no-defrost freezer or a two-door refrigerator. So that’s the right call : No defrost two-door fridge. If you are stuck with defrosting, don’t forget to empty the water tray behind the fridge from time to time. I forgot this initially, and water spilled on the floor.
Alright, now that we’ve got the core appliances out of the way, let’s talk about basic cooking utensils (I won’t go into eating utensils at all except to say to go for the microwaveable plateware and cups even if you don’t have a microwave because someday you will have a microwave).
For my first purchase I asked myself, ‘What is the easiest way to cook?’. Answer : Put some oil in a pan and fry stuff. So that’s the first thing – a frying pan. Once again I made a mistake and bought a regular pan instead of a non-stick pan. A non-stick pan is pricier but it will allow you to save a bit on groceries because you’ll be cooking with little or no oil and it will take a smaller amount of dishwashing agent to clean out; not to mention less effort during dishwashing. If I could do things over again I would buy just one high-quality pan and take care not to scrub off the Teflon when dishwashing instead of skimping on quality and having to buy multiple pans over the years.
Next, you need a covered pot. It has to be large enough to cook pasta in, that is, you have to be able to put a length of spaghetti without it falling out of the pot. You’ll also be boiling food in there like beef shank for stews or potatoes for mashing. Buy one with a thicker bottom for even heat distribution. Here’s a tip: Before buying one, go look at the pot covers they sell without the pot; be sure these covers fit the covered pot you are buying. Why? Because your pot cover will get damaged or lost at one point and you want the simple convenience of buying just the cover.
Next buy a knife. You’re going to use this knife for all your cutting – meat and vegetable. In the absence of a garlic crusher or mortar and pestle, you should be able to crush garlic using the side of the knife against a flat surface – so take that into account too. Highest quality affordable please. In my case I bought a knife set but just one really good knife will be fine.
Buy a good size cutting board.
Buy a spatula. Remember that a metal spatula will damage the non-stick pan, so if you have a Teflon pan go with a rubber or soft spatula. I also recommend slotted spatulas to allow liquids to slough off. I did damage my first non-stick pan with a metal spatula so I bought an all rubber one. This spatula I left on the side of a hot frying pan and the handle started to melt. Best spatula : slotted rubber head and grip but metal stem.
Next you’ll need kitchen tongs. Buy one you’re comfortable holding – I wasn’t happy with the kitchen tongs available because of the unwieldy grip so I ended up using metal ice bucket tongs in the kitchen. No problems and cheaper too.
Lastly, a ladle for handling soups and stews. I initially bought a ladle that was so short it sunk inside the stew in my big pot. Get a ladle and put it in your big pot; the head should rest on the inside edge and the handle should project from the rim on the opposite side – that’s the right length.
And there you have it. A kitchen which will allow you to cook on your own. Cook means frying, boiling, braising, stewing, soup making, and salad making. Some of the major things you can’t do is baking and grilling, blending and microwaving but you can build up your kitchen going forward.