A blog about spending wisely in your twenties, with advice on everything from cooking to saving money on gas; how to teach yourself to save money instead of spending it, traveling without breaking the bank, and much more.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Use Your Kitchen!

And I don't mean to make instant ramen or a Hot Pocket, either. I would argue that one of the biggest leaks in our cash supply is food, and not just because we like to eat out with our friends. Most of us can't really cook anything that requires more than boiling water and a flavor packet. One of the great failings of school systems today is that "Home Ec" and "Bachelor Living," (as the male version was called in North Carolina in the 70s) are no longer required courses. The vast majority of twentysomethings have no idea how to make pancakes without a mix, or the basic construction of a casserole. Many of us were raised by parents who couldn't cook either, and it all adds up to a great, big waste.

I was lucky enough to be raised by a mother who wanted to be a chef (who eventually became one) and a stepdad who was part of a vegetarian collective in college, before he married into fatherhood. So, my parents can cook. My sister and I have a more advanced knowledge of how to move around in a kitchen than most people our age. So, in a semi-weekly series, I'll be writing a post about how to use your kitchen. Everything from basic tools, ingredients to have on hand, recipes for your own convenience foods, even making your own junk food. Most of these posts will probably involve a pretty hefty pick of my mother's brain, and this first one is no exception.

Before you can start using your kitchen to save money, it's got to be properly equipped. So here's a list of tools you should have in a functional kitchen. I'm not saying you need to run out and buy all of this right away, but keep at least a mental note of this list for when you're at Goodwill. These items would definitely count as a purchase with utility! And now, a list I got my mom to write for me:

General Use:

  • A paring knife and 8- and/or 10-inch french knives. Buy just the two or three of a good brand and you'll have them forever. Buying a whole set of a cheap brand may seem more useful, but the knives won't sharpen well, and might even bend. A few good knives are more use than any number of slicing and chopping gadgets and take up less room too. If you don't know anyone who can tell you how to use them properly, go here: http://usa.jahenckels.com/index.php?simple_view=88
  • A knife sharpener. Get one where you get the knives. Not a supermarket gadget.
  • A knife block, magnetic knife holder, or drawer inserts (Target used to have plastic version.) Please don't store them loose in a drawer with other items. Please.
  • 2 cutting boards, non wood can go in dishwasher, if you have one.
  • A grater. You can buy grated cheese, but block cheese is cheaper. Besides, you may need to grate vegetables or fruits or other things.
  • A set of measuring spoons and cups.
  • A strainer and/or a colander
  • A couple of mixing bowls and miscellaneous small bowls.
  • A veg. peeler, bottle opener and can opener
  • A couple of large spoons and spatulas wooden or high temp. resistant silicone.
  • A pancake turner/burger flipper/fish slice/spatula (I've heard this tool called so many names!) Heat proof plastic is best on your non-stick skillet.
  • A whisk.

  • Non-stick skillet, thick and heavy, the best you can afford, on sale.
  • 1 small and 1 large saucepan, thick bottom, can be found at middling prices.
  • Large pot for boiling water, can be quite thin and cheap--but will only be good for boiling water as anything else will stick.
  • 2 Heavy duty baking sheets for pizza, cookies, baking potatoes. Heavy means get professional half or quarter sized sheet pans from a professional supply store if you can. Otherwise, as heavy as you can get.
  • Heavy, non-stick 9"x11" inch pan for lasagna, roasts and cakes.
  • Casserole dishes. You know, Corningware ™. If you are buying this item in thrift shops, look for the brand name. Anything else you can't be sure if it is dishwasher and freezer and microwave safe, and there's usually plenty available at thrift shops.

in descending order of usefulness
  • A stick blender, the stick part should be metal not plastic. Try to get higher wattage.
  • Slow-cooker [Crockpot! -M]
  • Microwave
  • A regular blender.
  • A food processor.
  • Toaster oven/regular toaster
  • Coffee making equipment: if you really like coffee, splurge a bit for an espresso machine and bean grinder. It will save you money in the long run. [I use a french press for my everyday morning coffee. I'm convinced it tastes better, and it's easier to clean. - M]
If you like baking, add a scale, and baking pans of whatever sizes
suit you.
  • a 9" square, 2 8" rounds, a loaf tin, and cooling racks.
You'll also use the 9"x11" lasagne pan from the general list. Get pie
tins and a rolling pin if pies are your thing.

  • Minimum: enough plates, bowls, glasses, coffee cups, and cutlery for the number of chairs you have at the table. Useful are extra spoons and bowls. But, in general, nobody will wash dishes until every last dish is dirty, so don't oversupply yourself with plates and glasses and cups.
  • The mixing bowls can double as serving bowls. Extra plates are fine for serving platters, until you come across one in a thrift shop. A couple of serving spoons with and without holes.

I was lucky, I wound up inheriting a lot of my parents' old kitchen stuff so I got a lot of these items for free. In fact, it might do you well to see if your parents want to replace any of the items on this list- then you can take the old one! Yard sales & thrift shops are almost always guaranteed to have most of these items on the cheap. But please with pots, pans, baking pans, don't buy cheap just because it's cheap. Buying a cheap cookie sheet or saucepan will just end in misery, a cooking implement that's a pain in the ass to clean. It goes without saying that you shouldn't buy cheap knives. (Though we've said it twice now!) Bigger ticket kitchen purchases are investment purchases, if you shop for them wisely they can save you hundreds of dollars in the long run.


klm said...

1. if you pick my brain overmuch, what'll I put in my (still blank) blog?
2. about inheriting stuff: people definately should ask parents and grandparents, you know if you come from the sort of family that has duplicates. Beg. Or, simply offer to clean up and organize, then ask for the duplicates you find.
3. cheap cookware isn't only hard to clean, you stand a better chance of burning your food and ending up ordering pizza

Hava said...

Thank God both my parents were excellent cooks. I just inherited most of their cookingware! Wooooo.

DerekL said...

Having taken home ec back when it was mandatory - you vastly overestimate it's usefulness.

Margaret said...


Well, yes & no. I took Home Ec as well (I opted in, it wasn't required.) And for someone raised in a family like ours, you wouldn't learn much you didn't already know.

But you'd be surprised at the amount of kids who move out and the extent of their knowledge as far as cooking goes is microzapping a hot pocket or (if they're feeling up to it) boiling pasta and dumping a jar of Classico over it. They might not even be aware that pasta sauce can actually be made at home instead of being dumped from a jar - and even if they know that, they're too lazy to do it themselves because they've never been taught just how easy it is.

To be fair, this isn't everyone- but there is a significant portion of the 18-25ish population who don't even have a basic grasp of how to feed themselves without frozen & pre packaged foods.