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Equip your kitchen for $200...

So says Mark Bittman in today's NYTimes...


(this is a cross post...hope it's not against the rules but I wasn't sure whether this would go here or in media)

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  1. Hooray for Bittman! I think you can do it even cheaper if you bide your time, buying only the things that you really use and have space for. Some of my favorite things are also quality pieces I picked up for a song at estate and rummage sales - people downsizing and disposing of excellent items.

    1. Bittman is absolutely right -- and I think he even overspent in some cases. I've found terrific kitchen supplies at both Target and T.J. Maxx/Home Goods. They have an ample supply of brand names at low prices.

      I disagree with him on a microwave. I could not get along without one. I also love my boiling water pot, which I purchased after living in Japan. It provides hot water at the touch of a button and that speeds and simplifies cooking. I agree that the rest of the gizmos are superfluous unless you truly want to make bread or pasta yourself.

      11 Replies
      1. re: brendastarlet

        After years of having a microwave, our latest apartment doesn't have one - and there is no room for one. And I have to say, the only time I miss it is when I want to defrost something quickly.

        1. re: MMRuth

          MMRuth, I didn't have a microwave for the first 3-4 yrs in my current apt and I was fine. My mother assumed i wanted one and bought one for me. I use it from time to time, but wouldn't much miss it if it was gone.

          1. re: MMRuth

            The only times that I miss having a microwave is reheating coffee (I tend to drink it slowly) and reheating leftovers (it's a lot faster in the microwave).

            1. re: JasmineG

              I totally agree about the coffee. I long for the "one mug microwave" that will take up virtually no room on the counter but let me nuke my coffee or tea quickly.

            2. re: MMRuth

              The most useful function on my microwave is the timer. It will go weeks without being used for anything else. My toaster oven has a defrost function that takes a bit longer, but does a much better job than the microwave ever has.

              1. re: Megiac

                I'm the least "gadgety" person alive, but I'd sure hate to live without a microwave after having one for so many years. Just the savings in time & water washing the pots you reheat things in on a stove, the fast defrosting, the sanitizing of dish cloths & sponges, the cups of cold coffee and tea I'd have to throw away if I couldn't zap them.

                My excellent little Samsung compact microwave cost me $70 (on sale plus senior discount plus $10 factory rebate). So I'll have to be content with Equipping My Kitchen for $270. (plus tax :o)

                1. re: PhoebeB

                  Feeebeebee, how do you sanitize stuff?

                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                    Rinse out your dishcloth/sponge and put in the microwave for a minute and a half at high power. It will kill everything .

                    Little bonus: leave the door closed for ~5 minutes and then use the cloth to wipe out the interior of the microwave. The condensation from the cloth will have loosened the baked-on spatters and it will come clean as a pin with a couple of swipes.

              2. re: MMRuth

                I have a one-person (or 2 intimate people!) sized kitchen so I have so far not replaced the small one that died going on 10 years ago, but I did really like not having to mess up pots or pans just to heat up a can of soup or reheat a couple of different frozen or leftover foods at once... (Basically, the m/w would take up a lot less space than the dishwasher I can't have anyway and eating canned soup or frozen chili out of the pot is sinking pretty low in my view. LOL)

                For most things, I'd tend to agree that one of the newer immersion blenders probably do as well as most regular blenders, but disagree that blenders and processors are really interchangeable at all. You can "force" them to serve as stand-ins for each other, but the things they do well are really very different IMO.

              3. re: brendastarlet

                When I moved into my last apartment one of the first things I wanted to get was a microwave oven. However I just kept putting it off and never got around to it. 6 years later I can't even remember why I wanted one.

              4. I think Bittman did a good job putting together the absolute essentials for the most part. I'd have to add only one item, a 4qt (or so) non-reactive pot for tomato sauces and bolognese and the like. Ideally, it'd be an enamled cast iron pot (in which I could also roast chickens and make braises and stews). As brendastarlet pointed out, T.J. Maxx or Target or Marshall's would be great places to hunt for such a thing for something probably in the $40ish range as a second quality item.

                1. "the fear of buying the wrong kind of equipment is unfounded. It needs only to be
                  functional, not prestigious, lavish or expensive."

                  The should be posted at least once on all those "All-Clad, LTD or stainless?" threads.

                  1 Reply
                  1. Food processor? Huh? And why bother with a bottom-of-the-line HamiltonBeech unit? I mean seriously, if you are attempting to prepare something that in a large enough quantity then get a better/bigger device. ( and for even slicing he does have a mandoline... for puree a blender/stick mixer will always be better)

                    And a WHETSTONE for $6 is only going guarantee that you hack the heck out of whatever crummy edge your crummy knives might have had from the factory...

                    Rest of the list looks pretty much like what I would have at a vacation rental or cabin --cheap, disposable, but more than capable of living with indefinitely.

                    I can't see why you would not want a microwave, in fact with the price of several name brand convection microwaves now under $250 I would not consider NOT equipping every food prep spot with these. HUGE time saver, much more versatile than non-convecting type, a BRILLIANT marriage!

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: renov8r

                      I have a $6 whetstone from the hardware store and it does a fine job keeping an edge on my Wustoff's

                    2. So now he can stop using expensive equipment in his videos (all-clad cookware, 500$ blender, enamel cast iron pieces, expensive knives...) and start cooking with the items on the list. We'll see if cheap equipment will produce consistently tasty minimal food.
                      He admits it himself in the video, the aluminum pans will only last a couple of years. So why invest in durable cookware when you can just pollute your way toward culinary heights using aluminum and Teflon?

                      1. I think some of the items on one's list depend on your definition of "essential". To me essential means a thing that does a task you can't use something cheaper, simpler or more versatile to do. Convenience aside, and even if you use them every day, I can't think of a single dish you absolutely need a microwave oven or a mandolin for. Other items (e.g. loaf pan, skimmer, ladle) may or may not be essential depending on what you cook. And if you have a stick blender you probably don't need the stand blender or the food processor (at least I don't).

                        There's only one item where Bittman is way off base. I think if we voted on the single most essential or most often used tool, the chef's knife would win in a landslide. Maybe he found a really great restaurant supply place, but he suggests you pay $9.95 for one? Say it ain't so, Mark! Hell, why even bother to pay that much? There are hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of $9.95 knives in the dark recesses of kitchen drawers across the country, their pathetically dull edges and bent tips awaiting your futile efforts to restore and maintain a proper edge with your $6 whetstone. I'm sure several of your friends and coworkers have one they'd be happy to part with. Seriously, you don't need to spend $200 for the celebrity chef-endorsed, damascus steel model, but $20 will buy you the same Victorinox/Forschner knife the pros use.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: Zeldog

                          The knife he recommended is, I believe, this one: http://www.dexter-russell.com/Search_... It's every bit the equal of the Victorinox/Forschner. I've never seen either for $10 dollars but I've seen both for $20. To be fair to Bittman I have not been to the specific store he mentioned for at least a year so the price very well could have come down.

                          1. re: inuksuk

                            My brother in law who is a professional chef gave me a bread knife by Dexter Russell a few months ago. It's not the most prettiest knife with white plastic handle but the funny thing is, i always find myself using this old knife and not the brand new Wustof knife purchased through his wholesale distributer. LOL
                            and it was funny that this same knife was mentioned in the New york times article as a bargain buy.

                            1. re: Monica

                              I have one of those Dexter Russell bread knives. Definitely not pretty but it does a great job. I LOVE stuff like that - reasonably priced tools that really work.

                        2. my take is that this was one of those easy, peasy columns.

                          let's review: basic stuff at cheapo prices and, oh, by the way, only go for the cast iron if you're ok with a few bucks more and don't mind the weight.

                          bittman mailed this in.

                          8 Replies
                            1. re: steve h.

                              This was targeted at beginning cooks and people with a very tight budget. He wasn't offering incredible tips for those with a fairly well equipped kitchen. It might not be a difficult thing to put together, but I expect that many people find it helpful and informative.

                              1. re: ccbweb

                                agree. my take is that the basic setup is so important that bittman could have done better. 12" cast iron pans? yes. that was easy. two, maybe three graduated stainless sauce pans are enough. three-four graduated bowls work for me. oxo pairing stuff is good. measuring tools, both spoons and cups, should be clear and concise.

                                bottom line? i think he could have done better. worst case, he mailed this column in. i suspect the latter.

                                1. re: steve h.

                                  I'm not sure where you think he should have done better from what you wrote?

                                  1. re: ccbweb

                                    cast iron. it's a staple in my humble house.

                                    1. re: steve h.

                                      He noted the many laudible properties of cast iron in the video and mentioned it in the article, he just disagrees with you when it comes to choosing for the beginner cook. The key thing is that its just a point of disagreement, he didn't fail to consider cast iron entirely, he just felt that the non-stick pans were the way to go.

                                      So, I wouldn't say that he mailed in the column based on his reccommendation of non-stick pans instead of cast iron.

                                      1. re: ccbweb

                                        respectfully disagree. the topic is a simplistic one. mark chose to "pick the low hanging fruit." that's my point, nothing more, nothing less. my take is that mark knew this (as i) and mailed it in.

                                        1. re: steve h.

                                          We'll agree to disagree on this one. From a journalistic perspective I think what shows some thought is including some of the options and making his call about which he reccomends. If he had just listed the items with no real explanation and no mention of the trade offs (ie, stainless bowsl a bit thin, cheap pans wearing out, etc) I'd agree that it was just a 5 minute effort. We are both, of course, entitled to our takes :)

                            2. I have to fully agree with Bittman. My only exception is the inclusion of two good double-sided whetstones, giving me four honing grades, and a decent steel-- all to keep my good but inexpensive knives sharp.

                              1. Funny, just opened on CH what can only be considered an ad for Staub 5-quart coccote for $190. The ad equated buying one with becoming an adult cookingwise. No thank you.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                  Well, i don't know that it has anything to do with becoming an adult in terms of cooking...but my brother, who works in a kitchen supply shop, got me one for Christmas last year. I love the pot. Abjectly love it.

                                  1. re: ccbweb

                                    I'd love one too, but your brother, alas, is not mine. I recently did a pheasant en coccote in a $20 pot, came out fine (albeit don't tell your brother in case he would want to give me...).

                                2. I liked the article and I don't want to quibble about one type pan or one type knife over another. I do, however, disagree with Bittman's basic strategy for stocking a beginning kitchen. Rather than go out and buy a basic set of inexpensive but adequate equipment I would suggest buying a few good pieces, say a more expensive 12 inch skillet and a small enameled cast iron pot, and buying more good pieces as you can afford them. I've actually had to do this a couple times when for one reason or another I've lost most of my cookware. You have to choose the pieces carefully; they set the limits of what you can and cannot cook but there are advantages to this too. After six months or a year cooking everything in just a few utensils you can get quite creative as to what you can do with them. It forces you learn new things. And, finally, when you can afford a new item you really appreciate it. In the end you wind up with a set of cookware you know intimately and not just a bunch of stuff you are waiting to replace and upgrade.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: inuksuk

                                    I like your strategy much better than Bittman's. It's pretty much what I did after getting out of school and equipping my first kitchen. My only pan for a while was a 3.3 qt. Sitram Catering saucepan, which also served as my frypan, saute pan, and stock pot. Not too bad, since I was cooking for one. Still one of my most used pans, 15 years later.

                                    1. re: a priori

                                      Funny - me too! Then I got a Sitram saute pan, then my Le Creuset.

                                  2. I enjoyed the article, and I am a restaurant supply store nut, but I have to disagree with him on the aluminium pans. I know they are ubiquitous in restaurants, but there's a health concern in preparing anything acidic in aluminium. I don't want traces of aluminium in my food. Then again, I use foil a lot, so I'm a big hypocrite.

                                    I bought very cheap copper bottomed stainless pots and pans from a Paul Revere outlet when I was outfitting my first college kitchen, and twelve years after graduation (fifteen years after I bought them) I still use the same pots and they show no signs of quitting on me any time soon.

                                    And I recently spent about $60 on a chef's knife, and you'll have to pry it out of my hand when I die. Before that I had a cheap restaurant supply store knife, albeit unsharpened in a donkey's age, but I never realized what a chore chopping everything was until I made the investment.

                                    1. The joy of cooking would be greatly diminished for me without a pizza stone. No, it is not "essential" to cook beautiful artisanal breads and homemade pizzas, but this is an area where even a beginner like me could pick up easily-learned techniques to produce items that dazzle friends and family and fill the house with unbelievable aromas. I'll put that at the top of my "non-essential, but highly recommended" list.

                                      1. I liked Bittman's article as a reply to the many high-handed recommendations to purchase ridiculously expensive cookware for brand-status. Still, I wouldn't follow his advice. I'm very hard on cookware, and I'd damage his "set" in a heartbeat. My more expensive cookware (amalgam of All-Clad pieces purchased over three years' time), Wusthof knives, and other items accreted through gifts (Le Creuset Dutch Oven, Cuiinart blender, etc.) have been used daily with great satisfaction. My rule of thumb was to avoid sets, and purchase items on sale. If cheap stuff works for Bittman, fine; but I'm happy with my decision, too, and think it a very fine investment.

                                        1. I think it's a good starting place for someone setting up a kitchen for the first time. Then as they learn what they like to cook and how they like to cook they can augment and replace items.

                                          On the stand mixer, I requested and received one for Christmas and I must admit I haven't gotten a lot of use out of it. But before when I tried to bake with only a manual mixer, as he suggests, it was hell. Mine broke from the strain. So I'm hoping that now that baking is much easier I will do it more often. Only time will tell. I certainly have no excuse not to bake my son's birthday cake (note to self).

                                          1. I like that Bittman points out that the bells and whistles of high-end cookware can be over-rated, but he ignores a few-things. For one, cast-aluminum pans are reactive. For sauces, anything acidic, etc., it's not a bad idea to stay away from aluminum as a surface (stainless/aluminum clad pans are great for this reason -- non-reactive and sensitive to heat, but pricey.) I'm surprised he doesn't suggest one splurge -- an enameled cat-iron dutch oven (see his bread recipe for a not-so-obvious use).

                                            A cheap food processor will have a cheap motor... I'd rather be sans food processor than have paid for one that'll die chopping almonds. Especially if he's suggesting a Japanese mandoline -- that and a knife or mortat and pestle make an adequate substitute. I have had great luck with cheap immersion blenders -- but they're just puréeing soup.

                                            Lastly, copper is "more trouble than it’s worth, unless you have a pine-paneled wall you want to decorate"? I always think that copper maintenance myth is funny. Given, it is soooo expensive. But really amazing. And doesn't need polishing, it really doesn't. I have a friend who has copper, I've used it, and it's phenomenal. I'd get one copper sauté over a set of decent cookware if I had the choice.

                                            1. I got thinking about not spending a lot on a kitchen. Then I got to thinking about this:

                                              For $80 you can get 2 fairly serious pots, a non-stick skillet, many many utensiles and a whole bunch of other useful items. There are tradeoffs versus Bittman's choices; namely, some plastic ware where he went for stainless (mixing bowls, for example) but in many cases, the items from Ikea will work just fine. not to mention, you'd still have $120 leftover so you could fill in with a couple of other things. He really could have mailed this one in, on a post it note :)

                                              3 Replies
                                                1. re: ccbweb

                                                  Wow. It's nice to get started cheaply but man, that Ikea set just screams
                                                  out "Crap-O-Rama!" Please do not get this for your young aspiring chef.

                                                  What's wrong? Let's start with three pairs of scissors. You can actually get
                                                  pretty far in your cooking before scissors overtake the knife. And I can't think
                                                  of any situation where you'd need more than one pair at a time.

                                                  Four different-but-basically-the-same plastic spoons? One would suffice. And
                                                  a wooden one wouldn't melt as fast. Is that a wisk? Imagine the nightmare of
                                                  whipping a merengue with that wisk in one of those plastic bowls? Especially
                                                  if anything the least bit oily had ever touched the bowl.

                                                  Search this board for reports on Ikea pots. Not good. Handles fall off. Bottoms
                                                  separate and warp. Good for a light-duty year at best. Crappy stamped steel
                                                  knives that won't stay sharp and there's nothing to sharpen them with. Is that
                                                  a zester??!? If measuring spoons are not all attached together, the one you
                                                  need will get lost. I don't even want to think about the prospects of that non-stick,
                                                  lid-less frying pan.

                                                  This is the other side of the Bittman article. It's graduation week and around the
                                                  country millions of high school and college seniors are moving out on their own for
                                                  the (in many cases) first time. Lots of them are terrified at having to cook for themselves.
                                                  And while the jewelry-store-like displays (and prices) of cookware at the SLTs and
                                                  WSs of the world are intimidating from the high end, imagine the psychological
                                                  damage a young cook will undergo trying to cook anything at all with this
                                                  collection of crap.

                                                  You could take Bittman's collection and pair it with, say, Julia Child's "The Way
                                                  To Cook", and give them to someone and expect that they could successfully
                                                  cook their way pretty much all the way through without having to buy anything
                                                  more. And by that time they'll have a clear idea what to get next.

                                                  1. re: Chuckles the Clone

                                                    Not everything that would go into a kitchen is simply for cooking. A few pairs of scissors are handy for opening packages, cutting up plastic soda can packages, etc.

                                                    Of course this isn't the definitive set. Its $80. My point was that Bittman chose lower cost and lower quality in many instances and that some of the same sorts of things can be had even more inexpensively than what he got. He chose "crappy stamped knives," a "non-stick, lidless frying pan" and the like. Measuing spoons that are attached, I find, are incredily annoying to use, I keep them in a drawer, haven't lost one yet.

                                                    Finally, as I pointed out, there are things one would need to add, but not many. A whetstone, a stainless bowl, a baloon whisk. But all of those could be had for $20 and you'd still be out for $100 total.

                                                    The point I was trying to make was: if you're going to do it cheap (and that's what Bittman was trying to show people) you can actually do it cheaper. I've been using many of the items in this set for a few years now. The plastic bowls are good for everything except, as you not, whipping egg whites. The spoons haven't melted yet and I cook with high heat on a fairly regular basis. I also haven't had any trouble with the more recent versions of Ikea pots and pans. The older versions were terrible, but they seem to have rallied of late.

                                                    Bittman wasn't telling anyone how to get All-Clad and Henckels on the cheap: he was saying to get the cheap fry pan that he notes you'll have to replace, aluminum sauce pots that one would have to be careful using acidic ingredients in and the cheapest knives one can find. So, I tossed this out as yet another, even less expensive but overall simlar choice.

                                                    Personally, I think along the lines of what you note about getting a new cook or new grad something (and you noted the absolutely perfect cookbook, its the one I'd take if I could only have one) I'd go for one serious knife, a 3qt saucier and a 10 inch non-stick skillet.