There are a few things you need in order to Work It at once-a-week cooking. Don’t worry, I think you probably have a lot of these things already. You will need: basic kitchen tools, skills, spices, and stock (pantry, fridge, freezer). I’m not an expert cook. I’m all about what’s fast, delicious, easy, healthy, cheap. So if you like my way, then make sure you’ve got these things to get started.
1. Basic 7-piece set of pots and pans, with lids. You don’t need the fancy stuff: I use Rachel Ray’s nonstick set (because I thought it was cute) and it works just fine. It’s $130 on Amazon. Anything that gives you a big stock pot (that’s the big pot with two handles on the sides), a big frying pan, and the saucepan (that’s the little pot with a long handle on the side) should be good. I know you can find these at Macy’s Home, IKEA, Marshall’s, Target, Walmart, Amazon, Bed Bath & Beyond… or probably your own kitchen. You can spend anywhere from $40 to $700+.
If you are going for a good, cheap set, I recommend T-fal Nonstick 12-piece from Amazon. It’s $80. (This way, you get a big nylon spoon, slotted spoon and turner, AND your grill pan, which are coming up!)
If you want to do your research, get the All-Clad top of the line 10-piece set or whatever: have at it. I’m sure it’s better. Just make sure you’ve tried lifting it first because you actually have to lift that pan – not only when empty, but when it’s full of food.
2. Basic set of kitchen utensils. You buy the cheap-o plastic ones and you’re set: just make sure they’re pretty heat resistant up to 400 degrees! You are cooking, surfaces are hot, and you don’t want your utensils to melt. Buy them individually. Buying the set will get you several pieces you don’t need.*
I say you need a big, deep spoon (Oxo, $7, Amazon), a wooden spoon (Oxo, $7, Amazon), a turner or two (the flat one used to flip things; Norpro, $4, Amazon), tongs (Farberware, $8, Amazon), and a pasta server ($1, IKEA). You also need a can opener (Progressive, $10, Amazon), pizza slicer (Pyrex, $9, Amazon), bottle opener ($3, IKEA) and meat thermometer (Taylor Classic, $5, Amazon). Again, these are found anywhere. And basically cheap. I just added up those items and it comes to about $60, plus tax. And these will (probably) not melt or warp.
NOTE: If you have nonstick pots/pans, make sure you have nylon or wooden utensils so you don’t scratch your pans. DOUBLE NOTE: wood cannot be put in the dishwasher.
*If you have to buy a set, I’d say the Farberware 17 piece set for $20 on Amazon looks to be the most useful. You’d still have to buy a pasta server, tongs, bottle opener, wooden spoon and little spatula. And you get a few things you won’t need. Cross your fingers they don’t melt.
3. Basic appliances. Stove. Oven. Microwave. Fridge. Freezer. I think that pretty much does it.
5. Slow cooker. The things I make in the slow cooker, you can make on the stovetop. But trust me when I say that if you buy a slow-cooker, you won’t regret it (start it in the morning and it cooks itself). They’re between $40-$50 on Amazon. We have the Hamilton Beach set ‘n forget, and for the most part, we like it (although the cooking temp runs high).
6. Square Grill pan. This is an accessory to the pots and pans set, but you’ve gotta have one. Grilling is so healthy and delicious. I have the Calphalon grill pan ($40, Amazon) and it’s great.
7. One good 7″ Santoku knife. That’s the 7″ chef’s knife with the little indentations on the side so that your food is less likely to stick. Ok, this one is not cheap. But, save your pennies, put it on your Christmas list… your life will be so much easier if you have this knife. It’s the only one you need: from tomatoes to potatoes to beef, it cuts everything and anything. Keep it sharp so you don’t cut yourself. I use the Wusthof Classic Ikon Santoku knife (which runs about $100), but Cutco also has good stuff. Shun is top-of-the-line. Do your research, and find the knife you like. Buy it.
8. Mixing Bowls. You need a 3-piece set of mixing bowls. Cheap. That’s all you need. I use Pyrex ($15, Amazon) and love them, because they have lids. But I’ve also used the Oxo good grips ($25, Amazon), and love those. And I’ve used Walmart’s cheapest ($5 in store), which work just as well.
9. Baking sheet (also called a jelly roll pan). Get one with little edges so you can roast things or cook a frozen pizza. And you can always use it to bake cookies! Don’t buy the cheapest one because it may warp or rust. Nordicware ($15, Amazon) and Farberware ($14, Amazon) are both ok.
10. Spatulas (also called “rubber scrapers”): 1 regular, 1 small. The small spatula is used every single week. You use it to scrape out the insides of those cans and jars. The big one scrapes off your pots/pans. When you’re as cheap frugal as I am, you don’t waste a drop! *Note: I like plastic ones, because wooden ones warp and cannot be put in the dishwasher. Progressive has a good 3-piece set ($17, Amazon) As does Oxo ($12, Amazon).
11. Measuring cups, measuring spoons, and a liquid measuring cup (1-2 cup liquid measuring). For these, like mixing bowls, buy the cheapest ones you like. They very rarely break. Norpro has a set of cups and spoons ($9, Amazon), but again, buy any kind you like. Pyrex is the go-to for liquid measuring ($10, Amazon). Or, head over to IKEA or Walmart.
12. Cutting boards – 1 large, 1 small. Maybe 2 large and 1 small, if you like to have a cutting board dedicated to meats. I don’t care. Do your research and choose the cutting board you like because it will affect your really expensive knife (the one expensive kitchen item you own) and you want to take care of your knife. Progressive has some ok ones ($15 each, Amazon), but it’s really your preference.
13. 9 x 13” casserole/baking dish. I use the Pyrex glass one. It’s great and it’s all I need. This Pyrex set ($17, Amazon) is good because it comes with storage containers (up next). Your only decision is: do you want handles to get it out of the oven, or do you not care?
14. Good set of storage containers. You’re only cooking once a week, right? So you need a good set of storage containers. I like Pyrex ($17, 10 piece set) because it’s glass and I feel better about leaving my food in glass. But we also have two large Rubbermaid ($26 for 12-piece set, Amazon) and those are good. You need at least two large and 3 medium containers. Just see what works for you.
15. Two oven mitts and dish towels(or an oven mitt and a pot mitt, the one that’s like an oval with a pocket). Don’t burn yourself – this will ruin your day. Get the ones with some rubber on them. And don’t put them on when they’re wet: you’ll burn yourself. We have an oven mitt like this one ($9, Amazon) and a pot mitt. IKEA sells them too ($4). Do I even need to mention dish towels? IKEA ($4/2pack).
(For your curiosity, in total, if you buy everything: your new, functional kitchen costs about $360, plus tax. That’s for brand new everything that will be functional. Not bad, eh?)
**BONUS: Luxuries that I have**
1. Bread maker. I love using this to make bread and pizza dough. Totally luxurious. We have Oster ($70, Amazon).
2. Rice cooker. Plug it in, load it up, and forget about it. Makes rice all by its lil’ self. Black ‘n Decker ($15, Amazon).
3. Pizza stone. Great for pizza and cookies. Totally unnecessary, but great. Wilton ($25, Amazon).
4. Hand blender & whisk. This works as a blender, whisk, mixer, potato masher… and it’s tiny and easy to clean. Love this thing. Cuisinart ($40, Amazon).
5. All the other knives. Steak knives. Chef’s knife. I love these knives, but I definitely don’t use them as often as you might think. We have Wusthof Classic Ikon ($400, Amazon).
6. Ladle. This is nice for soups, but not necessary if you have that big, deep spoon. IKEA ($1).
**Double bonus: Luxuries that other people have**
1. Cheese grater, zester, peeler. All things for tasks that I never do, at least not for once-a-week, no-brainer cooking. I buy pre-grated cheese. I don’t zest. The skin has all the nutrients, so I don’t peel. If I ever need to peel, I use a knife. Also, your neighbor probably has these things. *Note: a cheese grater is actually helpful, and the one from IKEA ($5) is very nice because it comes with a container and a zester cover.
2. Kitchen aide. My mom has one. People love them. I don’t have room for it and can’t figure out it’s purpose outside of baking and making pasta. Not necessary for once-a-week cooking.