Know Your Way Around a KitchenIf there remains a lingering sense among older generations of men that cooking is “women’s work,” I would think it is probably fading greatly among the younger set. True, for much of human history men did the hunting/farming and women did the cooking, and this arrangement continued to work well into the 20th century. Young men made a quick transition from living with their flapjack-flipping mother, to settling down with a meatloaf-making wife. Or, he lodged at boarding houses that provided victuals along with a bed.
But those days are long gone; accommodations that come with a cook are now virtually non-existent (although it lives on in fraternity houses), and men are remaining bachelors longer – well into their late 20s and early 30s. As all modern men still need to eat virtually every single day, the only choice that remains is either starving…or being completely dependent on restaurant meals and take-out food.
Maturing into a grown man means becoming self-sufficient, so daily dependence isn’t an option. Further, not only does learning to cook help you become more independent, it offers other benefits as well:
Keeps you healthy and strong. When you cook for yourself, you know and control exactly what you put in your mouth. Almost anything you make for yourself, even the same dish served at a restaurant, will have less salt, fat, calories, and additives than the commercially-made variety.
Saves you money. Sure, it is possible to eat cheaply by ordering all your food off the dollar menu, but while fast food won’t clip your wallet, it will take a toll on your health, which will cost you big bucks down the line. When it comes to making real, wholesome food, cooking at home is generally cheaper than eating out.
Impresses the ladies. As a young man, you’re going to be dating, and nothing impresses a gal like a man who can invite her back to his place for a home-cooked meal.
Gives you enjoyment. No, I don’t always enjoy cooking. But when you have time and are in the right mood, it can be very satisfying to create something tasty for you and for your friends/family.
Now, I’m not a home cooking zealot. Sometimes the way I feel about cooking can be summed up in this comic from The Oatmeal; it can seem like it is more hassle than it’s worth, and when you’re super busy and stressed, the convenience of take-out is a lifesaver. The key is striking a balance, and you can’t do that if you can’t cook anything beyond toast and ramen.
The good news here is that while gourmet chef-ery takes a lot of training and practice, simple cooking can be learned by anyone who knows how to read. So in this post, we cover many of the basics a young man who’s never cooked for himself needs to know to get started. First we’ll talk about how to stock your kitchen with equipment and your pantry with staple items. Then we’ll talk about a few basic skills and bits of know-how you need to learn in order to cook edible, hopefully delicious, food. Finally, because you don’t need to amass the kitchen equipment listed below all at once, we’ll talk about some things you can cook when your options and tools are limited.
Let’s get started.
Stocking Your Kitchen: Essential EquipmentFor this section, I had AoM’s food writer, Matt Moore, give us the lowdown on how to outfit your kitchen. Here’s what he had to say:
For me, it’s always about quality over quantity. Instead of investing in specialty garlic presses, zesters, or other gimmicks – just give me a killer knife that’ll do all those jobs and not get lost in my junk drawer. Less is always more.
For that reason I’ve put together my list of essential kitchen equipment needed for every guy. You don’t need to go out immediately and stock your kitchen with everything listed here. You can acquire this stuff over time. Be resourceful and check yard sales, flea markets, or online outlets that offer these items at great deals. Meanwhile, improvise and make the most of what you have.Hardware: Pots/Pans/Baking Dishes
- (1) Small 2.5-qt Pot with Lid - terrific for making sauces, steaming veggies, or heating liquids.
- 1 Large 6-qt Pot with Lid - perfect for boiling pasta or potatoes.
- 9×13 Pyrex Baking Dish - a must have for baking or roasting.
- 12-Inch Cast Iron Skillet - cast iron cookware is inexpensive and will last a lifetime. On top of that, it cooks evenly, retains heat, and is also believed to keep you healthy by supplying a steady dose of iron to your diet. For more tips on use and care, check out my post from last month!
- 12-Inch Non-Stick Skillet with Glass Lid - the non-stick surface makes cleanup quick and easy.
- Dutch Oven Style Pot with Lid - enameled cast iron is the best option; however any pot with a heavy bottom will do the trick. Great for making soups and braising meats.
- Grill Pan - a fantastic substitute for a grill. I prefer cast iron grill pans over the non-stick versions.
- Non-Stick Baking Sheet - super cheap, and probably one of my most utilized items in the kitchen.
- 8-Inch Chef’s Knife with a Sharpening Steel - a chef’s best friend. Don’t go cheap here.
- Can Opener - I prefer the manual ones – still never figured out the electronic versions.
- Box Cheese Grater - I like these because it provides several different options in one; a slicer, a rough grate, a fine grate, and an extra fine grate for harder cheeses. Choose one with a large base to provide more stability.
- Food Processor/Blender - the workhorse of the kitchen. Great for saving time and creating specialized dishes.
- Pepper Mill - indispensable for any kitchen. Fresh cracked pepper is worth the extra effort, and this tool makes it easy to always have it on hand.
- Measuring Cups and Spoons - these will be absolutely necessary to make sure you are getting the right measurements when following recipes.
- Pot Holder/Oven Mitt - because I don’t know anyone who likes to burn themselves. A folded towel will also work.
- Spatula - my preference is stainless steel slotted spatulas.
- Tongs - great for when you need a more precise touch.
- Vegetable Peeler – fantastic for peeling fresh vegetables or shaving cheeses.
- Wine Opener - I prefer the ones that also have a bottle opener. A drill, drywall screw, and pliers will do the trick if you find yourself in a bind. Trust me.
- Potato Ricer/Masher - a ricer is a great tool for making silky smooth mashed potatoes. A masher is an even cheaper and more versatile tool that will provide a more rustic consistency.
- Digital Meat Thermometer - a useful tool to make sure your meat is always perfectly cooked.
- Cutting Board - I prefer a large wood cutting board over any other surface. Make sure it has a solid footing, so as not to slide while cutting.
- Whisks - extremely versatile; fantastic for making vinaigrettes, dressings, or even a roux.
- Wooden Spoon – heatproof and durable, I like having these in several different sizes.
- Colander - a must-have for draining, washing, straining, or rinsing.
- Assorted Serving Plates or Platters
- Assorted Mixing/Serving Bowls
- Storage Containers
- Storage Bags
- Plastic Wrap
- Aluminum Foil
- Wax/Parchment Paper