If you don’t know where to start when it comes to cooking, you aren’t alone. While the benefits of cooking are obvious (save money! eat better!) what isn’t so obvious is how and where to learn the skills that are required to turn a bag of groceries into a week’s worth of meals. It can also be daunting to try and equip a kitchen and pantry on a budget. No wonder so many people decide it’s not worth the bother and turn to fast food and frozen dinners instead!
Here are three tips to help inexperienced cooks find the right equipment, stock their pantries and find resources to help them learn how to prepare tasty, inexpensive and nutritious meals.
The Right Equipment Makes all the Difference
Cheap, flimsy cooking equipment can turn making an ordinary dinner into an exercise in frustration. Cutting with dull knives isn’t only difficult, it’s more dangerous as dull knives are more prone to slipping. Thin pots and pans have hot spots that scorch the food and make controlling the temperature difficult. That said, you don’t have to spend a fortune to get good cooking equipment and you don’t have to have a fully stocked kitchen to get started. In general, the middle of the price range is where you’ll find the most bang for your buck, stick with it instead of dollar store bargains or top-of-the line brands. Here are the basics that will get you started:
- Knives: a full set is nice, but a good chef’s knife (either traditional or Santuko blade) and a paring knife will take care of 95% of the jobs you’re likely to handle.
- Pots and pans: again, a full set is nice to have, but you can start your collection with 2 and 8 quart pots, 12 inch saute pan and 10 inch non-stick skillet.
- A medium sized roasting pan
- A cookie or jelly roll sheet
- A 9 x 13 baking pan
- Can opener (manual is fine)
- Spatula, flipper, wooden spoons and a whisk
- Various baking pans (muffin pan, cake rounds, etc) if you will be baking
- Two good quality cutting boards, one for meat, the other for everything else
A food processor, hand held or stand mixer or blender are all nice to have but not necessary for most cooking jobs. Be sure to check with relatives and close friends to see if they have extra kitchenware taking up space that you can have. You can also equip your kitchen for less by keeping an eye out for sales and coupon codes online.
Stock Your Pantry Little by Little
If you’re new to cooking, you probably don’t have a whole lot in the way of ingredients in your pantry. Don’t feel like you have to run out and buy everything all at once! You’ll have better luck buying things as they come up and making note of which ingredients seem to come up in most of your recipes, aka “pantry staples”.
Unfortunately, buying lots of new ingredients can be painful on a budget. Here are a few suggestions that should help:
- Shop at stores that sell spices and seasonings out of bulk bins. You can buy just enough for your recipe and save quite a bit of cash. This is especially good for flavors that you’re not familiar with or ones that you will not be using often.
- Mix up simple meals with ones that require a lot of ingredients. Don’t feel like you have to cook something big every night.
- Before you decide on new recipes to try, “shop” in your pantry to see what needs using up and look for recipes that use those ingredients.
- As you become more experienced, you’ll start to notice ingredients like tinned tomatoes, eggs or all purpose flour are used in many recipes. It’s worth it to buy extras of these commonly used ingredients when they are on special to save money.
Get Recipes and Instruction for Free
You don’t have to run out and buy a lot of cookbooks or spring for a cable package with the cooking channel to learn how and what to cook. Your local library has a wealth of cookbooks, magazines and videos to check out for free. Yard sales and thrift stores are also a good source for old cookbooks.
Thanks to the Internet, today’s aspiring cooks have a wealth of resources available for free. You can find step-by-step videos on YouTube, Chowhound, Serious Eats and hundreds of other sites. There are a wealth of cooking websites and blogs with recipes for every taste, skill level and budget.
Google search makes it simple to search for recipes. On the left-side of your Google search, you will see the “recipes” option. This allows you to search the Internet for recipes that include the ingredients you have on hand, cooking time and caloric content.
With all the high-tech possibilities, don’t forget to ask friends and family members to teach you how to make some of their specialities. Learning hands on from the experts is always the best!
Jacob Maslow is a writer and father of five who is determined to teach all of his children how to cook for themselves so that he can get a break in the kitchen. He works for Today’s Concept which sells a large assortment of cooking equipment, including the world-famous line of Ginsu knives.