So, you think you can eat in for a week? Let me tell you, after two years of doing so, you can! Plus, you’ll have the support of many others doing so at the same time. The Week of Eating In challenge, hosted by Huffington Post Green, will take place from February 22-28. If you sign up to join, it’ll be a test of your will and home cooking know-how, but most importantly, it should be an interesting way of discovering what resources you might save besides your own money from cooking instead of taking out, and to become a lot more aware of your food.
I’ve pledged to take the challenge that week, and I’ve even suckered some of my favorite food bloggers to join me, too. Addie, Marc, James, Kasey and Ulla, I can’t wait to see what you make. Take a look at their videos to see what they’re thinking so far. And don’t forget, you can blog about your experience, and read the stories of many others on Huffington Post, too.
But before it begins, I wanted to share some tips in order to prepare. It’s a series of two posts on essential arsenal (next one coming up: pantry staples!) that will help you gear up for eating in. Leaving aside easy targets for the moment (like a cutting board, above), here’s a quick look at other eating in accoutrements. Whether you’re joining us for a straight Week of Eating In, or just hoping to cook more for yourself, you can run through this checklist of what I’ve found most beneficial to keeping the food flowing at home.
A large, heavy bottomed pan with a lid
Call it a covered skillet or saute pan, a “chef’s pan” or wok, as long as this thing has its own lid, and is hefty on the bottom, you can make almost anything with it. I owned one while in between apartments and barely used anything else to cook with for years. An advantage is to have a piece that can go into the oven, if need be. Better yet, get one made of copper, or with a thick copper bottom, which is one of the best conductors of heat.
It might seem unwieldy, but if you find yourself spending tons on tubs of hummus, a food processor is a good investment. Not only hummus, you can puree soups, make pestos, chop, shred and slice vegetables. You can get a mini-sized one or a large one, depending on your needs. Mine also has a blender that can swapped in, but I barely use it.
A cast-iron, enamel-coated pot works wonders on your sautees and braises, because it heats so evenly on the bottom. If you get a large enough one, it can double as your essential stockpot. It tackles so many tasks, from the stovetop to the highest temperatures your oven can muster — and it looks attractive enough to serve from, oven to table.
A good knife
One good knife is what you need, and don’t forget to sharpen it as time goes by. A chef’s knife or the increasingly popular Japanese Santoku (similar, with rivets on its side to repel chopped vegetables) are wide, large knives that allow you to scoop up ingredients to toss into a pan. They’ll tell you certain brands are best, and to spend upwards of $100 on one, but if you live in New York, I think most of us know (thanks to Mark Bittman and this Minimalist piece — a humble nod) that good knives can be found on the Bowery for incredibly cheap, around $10).
Mixing bowls that can stand in for serveware
Why buy mixing bowls that are unworthy of serving with, too? Ones that look like they don’t belong outside the kitchen, with spouts on the rim (not necessary, unless you don’t mind a little spill sometimes) are just not worth your money. Get a few nice, sturdy bowls that you like, or that are totally neutral (like this glass one, which I serve salads in all the time). These are going to take up some serious real estate in your cupboards, so best to get ones that stack together, too.
A couple good roasting/baking/cookie trays
This can be a confusing task, because most manufacturers specify exactly what this tray is to be used for: one of the options above. If you get one that’s deep enough, it won’t be a “cookie sheet,” but you can use it to bake lasagna and cookies in, too. You can also roast vegetables like butternut squash or peppers in a cookie sheet, or even a casserole, as above. Clean it well, baked-on caramelization from almost anything you’ll roast in it will stick, and check your labels to make sure that if you get a non-stick pan, it’s safe to get as hot as at least 450 degrees, which you’ll need for something like these peppers.
A high-heat silicone spatula
This is an essential. If you have any spatulas that melt when it hits a hot pan, give them up. They’ve been updated with a superior material, and there’s nothing a non-high heat-resistant spatula can do that it can’t. They come in all shapes and sizes, so pick one that’ll suit all your tasks — scraping down the sides of a mixing bowl, stirring a bubbling sautee. Clean them well each time afterwards, as scents tend to linger. I’ve mixed one too many cake batters with a spatula that smelled like garlic.
The wildcard appliance
Finally, cooking should be fun for you. This is your kitchen, and these are your homemade projects. Everyone has different penchants; if you’ve got one for baking, then go for that big, huge, expensive stand mixer. (I’ve never owned one.) If you want to drink smoothies or fresh juices every morning, then get a blender or juicer. Is there a dish that you want to make your own, make your calling card? Mine would be ice cream, and my wildcard investment, an ice cream maker. Now that everyone knows I love making ice cream, they ask for it all the time. Everyone screams for it, as the saying goes. And it’s been a huge source of home-kitchen pride. I’m actually having a bowl of ice cream right now, the sweet corn and honey one left over from the summer, which some friends nearly polished off the other day.