Tips + Tricks: Starting Up Your First Kitchen

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After years of living at home with my parents, I finally was able to move out on my own in 2018.

It took months of searching and Googling, but I eventually found the perfect place. The lease signed, the checks cleared, and the apartment had a fresh coat of paint to do away with the god awful colors and weird Dr. Suess quotes. Yes, Dr. Suess quotes.

I was ready to “make it on my own.”

Or was I?

I had to make my new apartment liveable basically from scratch. While I knew I needed items like a couch, new tv, and other furniture necessities, I had no idea how to put together a kitchen.

Sure, I would need pots, pans, and utensils, but beyond that, I was a bit clueless.

Also, I had never really been a whiz in the kitchen, and luckily I had parents and a boss who spoiled me for years.

However, when I moved out, I knew I would have to fend for myself, and that takeout and microwave meals weren’t going to be the answer to a well-balanced diet.

Now, after living in the apartment for almost a year, I can safely say I have a decent startup kitchen with all the necessities and a few other fun pieces that help me explore my new hobby of cooking.

If you’re in my position or looking to up your kitchen game, check out some of my tips and recent experiences.

Starting out

I want to say this didn’t all happen in one fell swoop, but it kind of did.

Before I even turned on the oven for the first time, I was already off to a running start.

Sara, being the awesome boss/BFF she is, went ALL OUT on a Brandless shopping spree. She gifted me a laundry basket full (literally) of utensils, plates, knives, and other accessories I didn’t even know I needed.

NOTE: If you’re not familiar with Brandless, it’s incredible. Everything is $3, sometimes for more than one item, and the quality is way more valuable than the price tag suggests. Plus, your purchase helps them donate meals — AND they now offer subscription boxes you customize yourself! [Ed. note – they also *just* launched baby, pet, and baking lines!]

One time I had to open a can of tomatoes for a new recipe, and I thought I was stuck. NOPE!

Sara had the forethought to get me a can opener. Other items you never think of are a potato peeler, paring knife, measuring cups, and the list could keep going.

Oh, I do need that: 

My tip: Be smart, save your money! Check out Brandless to get the necessities all with a few clicks, and ask your family/friends if they have anything they aren’t using. I’m sure they have a lot they would like to donate to the cause.

Upping my pots + pans

My Faberware non-stick pots and pans set that I had when I first moved in got me by for a while, and I do still use them on a regular basis now. They are perfect for making pasta, heating soups and sauces and other day-to-day kitchen tasks.

But I wanted to keep learning and expanding my kitchen and skills.

Cast Iron Skillet

I LOVE having a cast iron skillet in my kitchen. It’s probably the single thing I use the most when making meals.

To a newb in the kitchen, it was a bit intimidating to use it at first, but I did my homework and quickly realized I was overreacting.

Also, I thought the skillet was going to come with a hefty price tag but quite the opposite. I got a Lodge 10-inch skillet at Target for $25.

You can go a little more upscale if you’d like, but the one I have sears and cooks with ease. If you do get one, be sure to check out the seasoning, cooking and cleaning instructions before you get going.

Dutch Oven

You can place a dutch oven into the category of things I never knew I needed, but the boss knew I would.

Surprisingly, or maybe unsurprisingly to those of you familiar with the magic of this place, I found my Crofton Dutch Oven and ceramic sauce pot (another Sara gift) both for under $25 at ALDI.

NOTE: ALDI is another fantastic place to look for kitchen and home items at a discounted price. Oh, and their snack game is pretty on point as well. 

I’ve seared and braised seven-pound pork butts for pulled pork all in one pot. It helps contain the mess, and it makes it easy to serve out of as well. This has also come in handy for some one-pot pasta meals as well.

I’m all for containing the mess and making the cooking process just a little bit less complicated, so this has been aces.

My tip: While a cast iron skillet and dutch oven don’t need to be at the top of your list, they should be near the top of your next kitchen additions.

A good chef’s knife

I’ve heard that having a good chef’s knife is a necessity for a complete kitchen.

Paring and bread knives are great additions, but I’ve found that a chef’s knife can tackle loads of different tasks.

Since Christmas wishlists post-college have become more about what I “need” than what I “want,” this was the first thing on it this year.

I still didn’t need anything high-end, but I did want to upgrade.

After months of being served ads on Facebook for a Misen knife, I decided to dig deeper. I found that not only was the knife affordable but it was also high quality.

My tip: Find a good knife, take care of it. This is another “down the road” investment, but it will be vital to helping you chop, dice, and cut your way through any recipe. You SHOULD have at least have something similar when you first move out though. What’s up, Brandless?

A killer playlist

My kitchen is not close enough to my living room that I can turn the volume up on the TV and listen in to PTI while I cook so I needed something to keep me entertained.

The sounds of searing meat, the crack of a vegetable, and the pop of the knife as it hits the cutting board are a nice symphony, but you need something to fill the void.

I have two go-to playlists while cooking.

One is the soundtrack from the “Chef.” The tracks range from jazz renditions of “Oye Coma Va” to a big brass version of “Sexual Healing.” This is the one I crank up when I want to cook and dance by myself because no one should ever see that.

Bon Appétit’s Cooking Jams is the other playlist I gravitate towards and its full of all genres from classic Kanye West to classic rock faves.

Keep it clean

Seriously, it’s not that hard. A clean kitchen will make you want to cook more. You don’t want to look at a full sink or dishwasher and think, “not today, bud.”

My tip: Clean while you cook. Clean that cutting board, knife, measuring cups, and mixing bowl while your food is cooking. It helps so much especially when you’re done eating.

A clean workspace makes it that much easier to get back in the kitchen the following day to tackle another recipe.

Now sear that steak, cut those veggies, and enjoy creating your own meal.

Sara Bozich
Author: Sara Bozich

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