Essential Arsenal for Eating In: Cookware

posted in: Ruminations | 17

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.

Food processor

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.

Dutch oven

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.

17 Responses

  1. Kate

    I love this list! I do think you should LOVE your good knife, though (since it’s the thing you’ll use most in your kitchen.) People might consider skipping a few more weeks of restaurant eating and spend the money on a chop chop they really like!

  2. Addie Broyles

    Hey, Cathy! I’ve already decided that doing this eating in challenge is a great excuse to spiff up my kitchen. I’ve been putting off cleaning up my pantry, and I really need a Dutch oven without legs (mine is meant for camping). One appliance I can’t live without is a toaster oven, but that’s probably because I melt cheese on waaaaay too many things.

  3. Jen

    Thank you for the tips! I just ordered a cast-iron casserole dish on Amazon for about the cost of two nights eating out. It’ll make my pledge to eat in more way easier!

  4. NicM

    Sounds like fun! I finally got my big stand mixer and next up on the wish list is a nice dutch oven.

  5. Kasey

    I’m excited to be doing this with everyone! Just got a copy of your book in the mail–can’t wait to read it!

  6. James

    My wildcard appliance is a bacon alarm clock. You’ve been warned.

  7. Anne

    My wildcard is a three cup rice cooker from the local hardware store. We eat a lot of dishes over rice, but it also does a fine job of cooking any other grain you can think of. We do cracked wheat, barley, and cracked oats for breakfast, clean it out, and then use it for quinoa in the evening.

  8. melissa

    I’m excited about the week of eating in! I actually cook every night already, but my challenge will be lunches (I usually go out for lunch every day). Time to rock Mr. Bento’s world!

  9. Teresa

    Great list! My wild card appliance is a bread machine. Love that dough setting!

  10. Not My Mother's Kitchen

    I LOVE this idea. My new mixer is an ice cream maker, but I’m also toying with the idea of making my own bread for the first time.

  11. Lorna Sass

    Everyone who eats in and is sometimes in a hurry to make dinner might want to consider buying a pressure cooker. The new models are 100% safe and cook food in 1/3 or less the normal cooking time. For recipes, you can check my books or blog: Happy cooking to all!

  12. claire

    Loved reading your equipment list, Cathy. I’ve learned that my food processor gets a lot more use if it’s easily accessible, so now it lives on the counter instead of buried in a cupboard. It seems like the height of laziness, but I really just couldn’t be bothered to get it down, I guess. Here’s my equipment list, if anyone’s curious.

  13. johnn

    BIG CITY people are time starved. Save time by
    ‘automated cooking devices’ including PRESSURE
    cookers. I invent things and the next BIG thing
    is a retrofit to over to AUTOMATICALLY TURN IF
    off after time of one hour.
    Most alarm clocks are poor for cooking purposes.
    Maybe best is computer software alarms to remind
    Alarms are required for those who MULTI-task,
    and who doesn’t?

    I prefer QUALITY (around the world cuisine)
    and will eat the leftovers for three days,
    so as to MINIMIZE time spent. Three HOURS
    for one GREAT QUALITY meal divide by 3 days
    equals one hour/day.

    Shop with a bicycle. makes it much easier to
    carry heavy loads back from Chinatown.
    I tie the heavy bags in the middle of the frame.

    Over 5 years, New York City, yet I see no-one
    else doing the same thing. Dumbing down of

    Have a horn/whistle. I walk fast and jog while
    pushing the bike. Can carry load of 60 to 80 pounds.

    The SOFT BENEFIT of cooking is that YOU BECOME
    A PRODUCER. You have IMMEDIATE feedback, unlike the ‘Wall Street computer jobs’ where you have little idea what the final result is.
    (P.S. All American banks are still NOT mark to market)

    Slow food movement. Slow ORGANIC GROW theme.
    Asian INdian say about America – New York
    Worry – will you be evicted?
    Hurry – faster or the DEADline
    Curry – no taste, no spice, too much fried
    potatoes (high on glycemic index)
    leads to cancer, heart attack, acid reflux,

    cheapo best QUALITY cookware is ESTATE SALES in Jersey, etc. Go only to houses worth
    more than 200 or 300 thousand.
    The OLDER generation, that’s me over 50,
    knows how to GOURMET cook.

    food poisoning cases and other UNKNOWNS are
    still on the RISE. Would you trust those
    who make MINIMUM wage and are possibly ‘illegal undocumented’ to wash their hands?

    Finally, as a male. THANK YOU. My standard
    ‘relationship test’ includes cooking skill.

  14. pg

    I have a food processor and a stick blender.

    The food processor is essentially a glorified hummus maker. I never puree anything (esp. not soup) in it as I have to do in batches plus annoying cleanup.

    A crummy $15 stick blender? Worth it’s weight in gold! It long ago replaced my normal blender (which went on to do crushed ice duty before being given away a few moves ago). Quick, cheap, and effective. Bonus points for being able to control how “blended” it gets. Also useful for: mixing salad dressing when I don’t feel like giving my arms a workout with a whisk.

    If you want to make lots of hummus or you will be making a lot of pastes –get a food processor (even then, I tend to make pastes in a mortar and pestle). Everything else it does -> get a stick blender.

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