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Starting from scratch: help me stock my kitchen!

I'll be starting grad school in August, which means I'll be moving from the apartment where I've been living since college, owned by my grandfather and fully stocked by him, to a new, empty place up in Connecticut. The new place has a stove, oven, and refrigerator, but that's about it, so I get to start from scratch. This'll be fun :-) So what should I get? If you were starting over, what would you do differently? Any brands/materials/gizmos I should seek out or avoid? I've done a little shopping recently and a little augmenting while I've lived here, so I already have:
-a basic set of plates, glasses, soup bowls, mugs and silverware
-wine glasses
-a 28-knife set with block (an early housewarming gift from my parents)
-a few hand-me-down spatulas and such
-a bread machine
-a hand mixer with immersion blender attachment
-a blender
-an electric tea kettle
-a few hand-me-down pots & pans and pyrex baking dishes

I know I'll need:
-a microwave
-a blender
-a cast-iron skillet
-a wok
-most spices
-a rack for said spices
-serving dishes
-more pots & pans
-metal baking dishes/cookie sheets

So what wisdom and advice can you pass down on filling out and refining that list? Anything you wish someone had told you when you were just starting out? Also, since I am on somewhat of a budget (the kitchen's not the only place I'm starting from scratch - I have to furnish the place too), and ideas on places either in New York or New Haven where I can find good deals on these things? Thanks in advance for your help!

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  1. geeze, that's a lot of stuff. I wouldn't bother with most of it. I've been doing a similar thing recently. Out of all that, I'd say a small set of pans (like 3 saucepans and a frying pan) and a baking tray or two.

    I mean my kitchen isn't massive, but I have probably a quarter of that stuff, and I'm pretty much set for my perfect kitchen.

    Oh, glancing back, the spices are good, but I get them as I go - no point in having them sat round going stale when you don't need them (if you live fairly near a store)

    2 Replies
    1. re: Soop

      There are a lot of threads on here that deal with this - some tied to wedding registries. There was also an articule by Bittman in the NYTimes about outfitting a kitchen for like $200. A lot of this depends on how you cook, but I would ask what kind of knives you have - a lot of parents give kids a crappy knife set with everything rather than 2-3 high quality knives that really help you cook. You need a good chef's knife, that's 70% of your knife need.

      You don't need a wok, at least, not for what a wok is designed for.

      Buy spices in small containers, get a good pepper grinder, and always grind your pepper fresh. If you cook a lot, buy basil, parsley fresh.

      Get the biggest cutting board you can fit into your sink. Buy a second plastic one for meat.

      Good luck..

      1. re: grant.cook

        that was a good article. Tell you what: "If you cook a lot, buy basil, parsley fresh." if you use a lot, and you have space (and you seem to!) you could buy live plants that you can just trim leaves off. Save you loads.

    2. Personally I think it makes more sense to start with what you have (as long as you have the bare minimum, which it looks like you do) and then see what you feel you *need* for the cooking you feel like doing. We can each tell you what we find indispensible, but that really depends on what you want to cook. Too many people feel that they have to have one thing or another 'cause it's on some list, then find they never end up using it. As a grad student I started with a few hand-me-downs and stuff from a good will store (great resource for getting some basics cheap) and built from there as time went by.

      for example, do you really need a blender? I've somehow survived almost 50 years without one :) you've got the immersion blender which is a good substitute in a lot of cases

      1 Reply
      1. re: DGresh

        Completely agree with seeing what you actually need. Since I'm a dinnerware junkie, and have an old house with a decent-sized but not huge kitchen, I actually do this even now when something bites the dust--I see how it goes without it before replacing it.

        You don't say what pots and pans you have ...

        I cook for myself and four dogs with a quite minimal (deliberately so) set of pots & pans. Two Dutch ovens, two sauce pans, and three skillets. One of the skillets and one of the Dutch ovens are for the dogs' food (though I occasionally borrow the Dutch oven). I could use an additional larger Dutch oven, but it's not a necessity ...

        You really need only three kitchen knives ... chef's, paring, bread. I have several paring knives, but it's just for convenience. I do have one that has a curved blade that's quite nice for slicing scallions.

        If money is tight (or even if it's not), it's best to buy spices in small amounts in the bulk department. I keep mine in a narrow basket in the spice cabinet in the bags they came in. Not perhaps the best system in the world, but my point is you don't have to spend anything on containers if you don't want to. I'm an intuitive cook, so I open the spice cabinet & look through everything for what I want to use when I'm cooking, so it works for me.

      2. I'd adopt a wait-and-see attitude. Start out light, and if you find yourself thinking you can't live without a grill pan, or a food processor, or something, only THEN think about buying it.

        I love my big Pyrex mixing bowls. I use them daily, and they are microwave-safe. Spices shouldn't be exposed to heat or light, so keep that in mind when buying a spice rack. A kitchen cabinet or drawer may make more sense for storing spices. Another thing I'd heartily recommend is a digital kitchen scale. It need not be expensive, and once you start using a scale, you'll wonder how you got by without it. It speeds up cooking and baking (and washing up!) and leads to more consistent results.

        1. The basics, to me, are--

          An 8" chef's knife and a paring knife
          Cutting Board
          A few stainless steel bowls
          A 4 cup Pyrex measuring cup
          A wooden spoon and a spatula
          One or two pans, like an 8" and a 12" or just a 10"
          A 2-3 quart saucepan
          An 8 quart pot
          A half-sheet pan

          Everything else is extra--get it as you need it. I've got a lot of kitchen stuff, but it pretty much all gets used, because most of the things I have, I got for a specific purpose.

          Spice rack? Just get what you need as you need it, and if you have more than you can easily access in your cupboard, get a two-leveled lazy susan.

          5 Replies
          1. re: David A. Goldfarb

            I'd add a saucepan (for simultaneous veg boiling) and perhaps subtract a mixing bowl and the measuring jug. Otherwise, I concur totally. You can knock anything up with that stuff, the rest is a luxury.

            That doesn't include eating-ware though

            *edit* oh, and you might need a bread knife

              1. re: David A. Goldfarb

                The mixing bowls (and small mise en place bowls) are a good add.. pick up some pyrex cheap and/or some stainless ones at a local Ace Hardware..

                1. re: grant.cook

                  I can't live without my Stainless steel Mixing bowls. I must have 6 or 7 total (2 different sizes) Especially useful when making bread.

                  1. re: Beamer2327

                    I don't use it all that often but when I NEED it, I'm very, very glad I have my old (circa 1980) Cuisinart food processor. For instance, try making ham salad by hand! Yikes...I diced for almost an hour, once, when I didn't have access to my food processor.

                    One thing I'd add: GOOD stainless steel measuring cups. It makes me sad to think how many years I fumbled around with plastic crap before my sweet hubby bought me a high quality set.

          2. Here's that Bittman article:


            I'd also skip the wok. They're designed
            for a particular type of Chinese
            stove, not an American range. A
            cast iron or carbon steel skillet
            will rork fine.

            2 Replies
            1. re: mpalmer6c

              I'd get a wok if I had gas, otherwise I would forgo it. And at that stage in my cooking career I would be scouring the yard sales.

              I notice there is no coffee maker in the list.

              I cannot live without a combination meat thermometer & timer. Mind you, when I was that age my memory was better.
              Peeler / whittler
              Oven glove / teatowels
              Lose the spice rack. It's a dead giveawa - especially pre-ground spices. Stick 'em all in a plastic bin and drag it out when needed. Far easier than trying to find something on a shelf crowded with bags of spice seeds and little bottles. And while you are at it get a spice grinder, or if you see a mortar and pestle in a yard sale then grab that.
              Silicon spatula.
              Cheap non-stick fry pan
              One good heavy duty multi-ply stainless steel frying pan. (not coated)
              Cheapo stainless steel stock pot (for boiling water)
              If you can afford it, get stainless steel baking pans - Ikea are relatively good / cheap.

              And well done for having the sense to get an electric kettle.

              1. re: Paulustrious

                The problem with a cheap non-stick fry pan is the black stuff starts breaking down after a lot of use and then you have problems, Personally, I'd invest in one or two Cast Iron Skillets with lids. Used them for about 20 years after My grandmother used one of them for about the same amount of time. After they are properly seasoned, get a good stiff nylon brush, add some water to the pan, boil the water, scour with the brush, Discard, and repeat. Keeps the non stick process working great when it comes time to clean up.

            2. Thanks all for the suggestions! To respond to some of the questions:
              -My new place does have a pretty big kitchen. Or at least after 2 years in my tiny manhattan apartment, it looks huge to me. Pantry and everything. I can't wait.
              -Most spices I'll definitely get as I go, but a few - cinnamon, cumin, cayenne - I use regularly enough that I want to have them from the start. Is Penzey's my best bet? Consensus seems to be that the spice rack is unnecessary, so scratch that from the list.
              -My new knife set is actually 22 pieces, including a sharpener, cleaver, poultry shears, fork, and 8 steak knives. Farberware, so not super-high-end but pretty solid at least. It's a little excessive, but all I owned before was a 4' paring knife. (The I used my grandfather's chef's knife, bread knife, etc that came with the apartment.)
              -I've been cooking a lot of Asian food recently using my grandfather's wok, but you're right that most of that can just as easily be done in a regular pan, so scratch that one too. Does that apply to the cast iron pan as well? (re: Paulustrious - I will have a gas stove.)
              -I'll have backyard access and plan to bring down a lot of my potted herbs with me, so hopefully I'll only have to buy parsley & basil in the winter.
              -I actually use my blender almost daily, since I like to make smoothies for breakfast (frozen berries + oj + blender = delicious). But that one I own already :-)
              -No coffee maker on the list because I don't drink coffee. I go through plenty of tea though. The electric kettle's a holdover from my college dorm room, and probably my most-used kitchen item after forks.
              -I'll definitely take a look at that Bittman article; I like his style.

              Thanks again for the tips. I'm excited about putting together my own place for the first time; it's a fun project.

              7 Replies
              1. re: Emmmily

                Good luck - and I like the avatar. Good to have someone wining rather than whining.

                1. re: Emmmily

                  If you can swing it, try to get a ceramic tea pot. I have a plain white oriental one that works great. You might also want to think about a Pur water filter or water filter pitcher. Helps the tea a lot.

                  1. re: Emmmily

                    If you think you might have any friends over at any time, the coffee maker will be good a good idea, Emmmily. It doesn't even have to be a big one, if you're not a big coffee drinker. An 8-cup one would be fine, or for starting out, Farberware does an electric percolator in two sizes...once upon a time I had the smaller one; I think it did about six cups.

                    Also, a little thing, but I'm not sure I saw any kind of grater on your list or others. Oxo makes a couple of inexpensive hand graters that are very durable and take little storage space. They make one with a flat grating blade and one that's curved. The blades are about four or five inches long. I'd suggest that curved one, first. It's sharper, IMO. I use it to grate small amounts of cheese, citrus peel for dishes, chocolate shavings if I'm making a dessert, fresh nutmeg, carrots, and to squeeze lemons through so the seeds don't get in the food.

                    You might also consider a small vegetable brush, if you like potatoes, celery, carrots, parsnips, etc. You certainly CAN do without one by using a rough terry washcloth, but a brush gets the crud out.

                    Wishing you luck, btw! Congratulations on grad school!

                    1. re: Normandie

                      Another small essential- don't forget the can opener

                      1. re: capeanne

                        Omigosh, yes! You're absolutely right, capeanne.

                      2. re: Normandie

                        i'd be tempted to get a large french press rather than a coffee maker. cheaper and more multifunctional since you can steep anything in there and have large quantities for dinner parties.

                      3. re: Emmmily

                        My fantastic solution to a spice rack are the individual magnetic spice containers. In my kitchen, they're on the side of the frig that gets no direct sun. I just LOVE how they're never in the way and organized. I use a silver metallic Sharpee to write the name of the spice on the magnetic side. If I change the name, all I need is nail polish remover to get the ink off and start over. You can get them at Cost Plus (stainless only) or the Container Store (stainless or white plastic ) for $1.99 each but they also have them at BBB for $2.99 (stainless only). http://www.bedbathandbeyond.com/produ...

                      4. To add to the 'gadgets' side of the list...

                        3 things I use almost daily, (or at least a few time a week):
                        - stand mixer (which does everything my hand mixer can, and much it can't. I have a Cuisinart brand stand mixer, which also has a food processing attachment, so that saves me counter space, as well, although I don't think it's quite as versatile as a real higher end food processor)

                        - immersion blender (or 'stick' blender)
                        The best, and really *only* way, IMO, to get many sauces and most soups nice and creamy

                        - Magic Bullet
                        Yeah, I know...bring on the hate, but I really am addicted to this thing.

                        I'll be adding an electric kettle to my kitchen this month, as the enamel is starting to come off of my stovetop kettle. I'd definitely like the energy savings of an electric kettle, as well, as I tend to keep water heated/heating all day.

                        I'm also considering getting an AeroGrow herb garden...expensive-ish, but convenient and healthy.