Eating In: Cooking Basics for Every Kitchen

cooking basics

Maybe you love it. Maybe you loathe it. Either way, kitchen duty falls on everyone from time to time. With the right tools (and attitude), even the most novice chef can find joy in cooking.

Why Eat In?

Looking for a good reason to eat at home? Here are three:

  • It’s fun. You don’t have to host an elaborate dinner party to make a memorable event out of eating in. Ask a friend over for drinks and dinner that you make together. You’ll have a blast catching up over risotto and rosé, and they’ll likely be on board for clean-up, too.
  • It saves money. No matter how casual the restaurant, eating out adds up. Plan for at least a few homemade meals a week, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by your bottom line.
  • It’s healthy. Or, at least, it can be. If you cook your own food, you know what’s in it. The description of a dish on a menu reveals only so much. Choose nutritious ingredients at the grocery store or farmer’s market and a fit, healthy body will be your reward.

Tools of the Trade

You don’t need a KitchenAid mixer or a Vitamix blender to make a tasty meal. Stock your kitchen with a few key (affordable) items and you’ll be in good shape.

  • Measuring Cups and Spoons: Make sure you have a cup for measuring liquid (spouted rim for easy pouring) and dry (straight rim for easy leveling) ingredients. Three teaspoons equal one tablespoon, but if you have a ring of spoons of various sizes, you won’t have to remember that fun fact.
  • Mixing Bowl: A glass, plastic or stainless steel bowl that holds 3 to 5 quarts is perfect for potatoes, cake mix, or eggs destined for quiche.
  • Baking Dishes: At a minimum, you will want a rectangle (13×9) and square (9×9). Glass is best for monitoring progress, and lids make potlucks and storage a cinch.
  • Knives: Use a sharp, 8- to 10-inch chef’s blade to chop meat, slice vegetables, and mince herbs. A paring knife will peel and seed fruits and vegetables and prepare garnishes like a pro.
  • Utensils: There is an endless number of utensils available that range from basic to specialized, but don’t get overwhelmed. Here is a good place to start: tongs for turning meat and tossing salads, a large spoon for scooping and one with slots for straining, a ladle for serving the right amount of soup, a whisk for mixing, and a can opener.
  • Pans: One to fry an egg and another to heat sauce—a non-stick surface is the way to go.
  • Cutting board: Wooden is best for your knives, but plastic is easiest to clean. Whichever you choose, one for meat and another for veggies is the safest route. (Cross-contamination is no fun.)
  • Colander: There’s no better way to drain pasta or rinse fruits and veggies.
  • Baking sheet: For cookies and bread, of course, but choose one with rolled edges so you can roast veggies and meat, too.
  • Thermometer: How else can you tell if the turkey is REALLY done?

ESL Picks: Faberware Nonstick Aluminum 17-piece Cookware Set; VonShef Premium Stainless Steel Mixing Bowl Set; Faberware Measuring Spoons; Ginsu Essential 10 Piece Cutlery Set; TTLIFE Silicone Utensil Kitchen Set

Herbs and Spice Make Everything Nice

Flavor. That’s the secret to a delightful dish. When seasoned just right, a meal can go from meh to marvelous. When stocking your spice shelf, keep these showstoppers in mind.

  • Kosher Salt: This coarser, no-iodine version is better for cooking than its generic table cousin.
  • Peppercorns: The best pepper is freshly ground.
  • Garlic: Fresh, minced, or dried, garlic is often a good addition to any meal.
  • Basil: It’s chock-full of vitamins, and you can’t make pesto without it.
  • Oregano: A must-have for anything Italian or Mediterranean.
  • All-Purpose Seasoning: Check out Cavender’s or Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute.
  • Olive Oil: Dress a salad or sauté veggies with this liquid gold.
  • Apple Cider Vinegar: Touted for its health benefits, apple cider is the most versatile vinegar and a good substitute for most others.
  • Cumin: This aromatic spice is amazing for Middle-Eastern, Indian and Mexican—try adding it to salsa.
  • Cinnamon: Warm and earthy, cinnamon is at home in dishes both savory and sweet.
  • Rosemary: Said to improve memory, a sprig will make most any dish delish.
  • Chili Powder: Gives a kick to Mexican and Southwest fare.
  • Chipotle Powder: Like chili powder, but smokier.
  • Vanilla Extract: Used in plenty of baking recipes — choose pure over imitation for the best flavor.

ESL Picks: McCormick Gourmet Spice Rack; Mantova Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil; Kitchen Lovers Salt and Pepper Mill Set

What’s for Dinner?

You have pots and pans a plenty and your cabinets are sufficiently spiced. Now it’s time to put your well-stocked kitchen to work. Need some DIN-spiration? Whether you’re celebrating Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday or Breakfast for Dinner, let Pinterest be your gastronomic guide — or pick up some new skills with Skillshare’s cooking videos.

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