First Apartment Kitchen Necessities! I need help please!
I'm moving into an apartment from my parent's house currently, and I'd like to know what kind of items I'll need for my apartment's kitchen.
Utensils? Cookware? Spices?
What would be YOUR needed items for a kitchen?
I cook somewhat. I cook alot of pastas and casseroles, and not alot of sweets. Mostly pancakes and frenchtoast, or cookies every so often. I grew up in a house where my mother replaced salt with garlic.
You need one 2-quart pot, 1 frying pan, a colander and a sieve. You need 4 plates, 4 bowls, 4 each of knives, forks spoons big and small. 4 glasses, 4 coffee cups. You need a spatula and a wooden spoon. Have you checked out IKEA's kitchen in a box?
A lasagna pan, mixing bowls, serving bowls and big spoons and another frying pan, big if you have a small one. Zip lock bags to freeze the pasta you will make in batches. A kettle and toaster would be nice too. If you have a Good Will or Salvation Army nearby you can get some of this for little money.
Best wishes for your new adventure.
I think eurocampbells has a good list, but maybe instead of two frying pans, you might be better off getting a larger pot, maybe 6 quarts or so. It'd be very difficult to make pasta or anything substantial in a 2-quart pot. I have a sieve, but I don't know how crucial it is if you have a colander. I pretty much only use mine when I'm making stock. I'd also lay off buying any serving bowls. A set of three mixing bowls will double as serving bowls (stainless steel, glass, plastic, your choice!).
I would also add:
Measuring cups/measuring spoons
A chefs knive, a paring knife, and a bread knife
A cutting board
Second the kettle if you drink a lot of tea, but if not, I wouldn't bother.
I also love my cast iron skillet (or more accurately, my roommate's), so I'd recommend that also.
I will be in a similar position as you in a few months, as my roommate is moving out and I will need to pretty much restock the entire kitchen!
Maybe take a look at this Mark Bittman list also. I think it's the perfect list: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/09/din...
The things in my kitchen that I consider essential would be:
12" cast iron (or carbon steel) skillet
10" nonstick frying pan (for omelets, fish)
8-quart stockpot with pasta insert and steamer insert
3-quart saucepan with lid
2-quart saucepan with lid
square casserole/baking dish
5- or 6-quart enameled cast iron dutch oven
3 stainless steel (or glass) mixing bowls (S, M, L)
chef's knife (or santoku knife)
wooden (or silicone) spoon
wooden (or silicone) flipper
wooden (or silicone) spatula
silicone pot holders
4 (or 6) dinner plates, soup/salad bowls, glasses, coffee mugs
toaster or toaster oven
rice cooker (if you eat a lot of rice)
People can live off with very little equipments and utensils if necessary. I remember I used to use a flatware spoon to cook and only had one bowl and one plate. I think you can figure out what plates and bowls you will need. What you need will depend on what you like to cook. I think you need at least one pot and one frying pan. In term of pot-like cookware, you can get a stock pot, a sauce pan or a Dutch Oven. In term of a frying pan, you can get a saute pan, a frying pan, a cast iron skillet or a wok. Basically, you need one cookware which can do high heat fast cooking and one for slow cooking.
In term of cooking utensils, you need a spoon and a spatula and a kitchen knife. I can go on and on about kitchen knife, but you need one.
In term of spices, you need to have the basics, salt, sugar, pepper, vinegar. You may want to cut down salt in your diet, but never try to eliminate it. It is essential for good health.
If you ever like to heat up food, then you cannot live without a microwave. It is pretty important.
10" non-stick pan
But I don't think that's a reasonable list unless you're under extreme conditions. Here's what I would quickly grow into:
6-8 quart pasta pot - a good one since you like making pasta.
10" non-stick pan - cheap, not ribbed or textured, heavy if possible.
10 or 12" stainless steel fry pan / skillet with a lid (can buy lid separately).
Smaller fry pan if you cook the majority of the time for yourself.
2-4 quart sauce pan.
Heat resistant glass and metal mixing bowls of various sizes. Good to have many small ones, several medium, and a couple large ones.
2 or 4 cup capacity measuring cup
set of stainless steel measuring spoons (make sure the numbers are etched into them)
Pot holders (not mittens)
Half-sheet heavy duty aluminum baking sheet. While it's called a half-sheet it will be the size that fits your normal home oven (not half your oven). Full sheets are for pro bakeries. Maybe get a quarter size as well.
Heat resistant silicone spatula
Silicone tipped tongs
Wooden spoon(s). I prefer flat-edged versions, never understood what the spoon types were good for.
Bottler opener (great if the can opener can do both)
Peeler - straight, not serrated.
Collander - get one with slots, not holes
Wire mesh strainer w/ handle - not essential but should fit in the collander and will be cheap
Pepper grinder (OXO or a Magnum if you can afford it, most grinders are very poor)
Kitchen shears - these should be hefty and double as scissors
Metal bench scraper
8-10" chef knife - you should get whatever is comfortable but a Victorinox/Forschner is cheap and good. I love bread knives but unless you bake you don't need it, most places will slice your bread for you. You don't need a pairing knife.
A wooden cutting board - I would spend some money on this. You can get terrific large, heavy ones for $40-$100. Bigger and heavier is better, thin is bad - you'll regret a smaller one. Buy a package of rubber grip feet stops at your hardware store and put those under one side of your board. Never dishwash it, wipe it down as you use it.
Food grade mineral oil to periodically season your cutting board.
Smoked paprika - personal favorite. A little dash will make savory dishes have that 'something'.
And add more as you shop. You'll probably top out around 2 dozen spices unless you really get into ethnic cuisines.
I would also would get soy sauce, (cheap) extra virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar, baking powder, baking soda, corn starch.
A few sets of some sort of tupperware for storage (glass is better but plastic is more practical). Aluminum foil, plastic wrap, parchment paper (not wax paper), rubber bands, some plastic clips, kitchen towels (microfiber is great), sponge, steel wool, soap dispenser, soap, paper towels.
Shop anywhere you like but I would buy at a restaurant supply store first, then online, then at a store. And you can always pickup great stuff at garage sales.
10" non-stick pan
Metal bench scraper
8-10" chef knife
Different strokes for different folks. We have been married for 38+ years, cooking for ourselves and each other all of that time, and ...
o Never have had a "non-stick" pan (other than seasoned cast iron).
o Never have had a pasta pot (we do have a 3.2 liter Demeyer "mussel pot" that we use for pasta). /**
o Do not even know what a metal bench scraper is.
o Bought our first chef's knife after we had been married for 30 years.
o Never have owned an electric timer.
o Bought some garlic powder about the time we were married, and, not wanting to waste it, finally finished it off last year. Whew! Finally! (We use only fresh garlic, as we have discovered.)
o What on earth is smoked paprika?
/** Very useful, by the way: http://www.kitchenclique.com/10821.html It will become the very most versatile pot you own if you get one.
This does not help papillone (the original poster), I know. But what some regard as essential, others may regard as space-wasters in the kitchen.
Whatever, and I'd regard my time as wasted without some of my core tools.
I don't care what you call your pasta pot. I cook soup, boil potatoes, blanch vegetables, and whatever else that requires more than a fry pan.
I assume you do know what a knife is.
Timer is for forgetful, busy cooks. I actually have 2 and want 3.
Smoked paprika is smoked paprika. Surely you know what paprika is.
What am I going to do with a pot that cooks mussels? I don't even eat mussels.
amokscience, you seem to have taken my comments personally; I assure you that my intent was not to be demeaning, but merely to make a casual observation on the broad variety of human experience as to what constitute "necessities" (the original poster's request). What you deem a necessity, we obviously do not, and beyond peradventure, your observations of what we would consider necessities would similarly find some of them quite unnecessary. (I regard a vacuum pot coffee maker and a burr coffee grinder as necessities, for instance; I would be surprised if you regard those as necessities.)
We are not Belgian, and so we have never cooked a mussel in our household, either. However, as I observed in our previous post, the Demeyere mussel pot is one of the most versatile pots in existence. Its utility partly comes from the unique domed lid, which is actually flat on the top. When flipped over and set on a counter, that flat then-bottom makes the pot's lid the perfect vessel for breading cutlets or chops, for coating slices of bread for French toast, etc. -- much better for those purposes than rounded bottom bowls. Also, because of the way that the edge of the lid sits very tightly inside the rim of the pot, it facilitates making pasta the Italian way, when one turns off the pasta immediately after the water has returned to a boil, places a very tight fitting lid on the pot, and allows the pasta to cook in the pot away from an external heat source.
We have about a dozen knives in our kitchen. My spouse and I share cooking duties, and I use just about all of those knives, each one about as much as each other one. Among them, the 8" chef's knife is the one that I probably use the least often, however. My spouse uses only one of those dozen or so knives -- a 6½" utility or "petty" knife -- for about 95 percent of all tasks, and pulls out our really big 11" cleaver-like knife for the 5 percent that involves dismembering a whole coho salmon, or cutting watermelons or acorn squash in half. Yes, we DO know what a knife is, but, clearly, an 8' to 10" CHEF knife does not make it to OUR list of "necessities."
I never have seen any recipe that called for smoked paprika. I never have seen smoked paprika on a store shelf. I have a hard time imagining what, if I were called upon to conjure a dish that required smoked paprika, that dish would be. I am approaching the end of my seventh decade on this mortal coil and have been privileged to travel more than most of us are allowed to do in our lifetimes, and my willingness to taste new food experiences is well known among our circle of acquaintances; still, I am pretty sure that in all those times and in all those places, I never have tasted smoked paprika even once. In short, when I saw that smoked paprika was on a list of "necessities," I was surprised and amused.
If you found my amusement insulting, I apologize. That was not my intent. Pax vobiscum.
oh man, I can't believe no one mentioned... a crockpot!
This is me jumping to conclusions, but I'm assuming that you're probably young and/or on a tight budget if this is your first apartment. A crockpot could become your absolute best friend- you can get a really reasonable model for under $40 and it makes the crappiest, cheapest cuts of meat into gourmet treats in mass quantities. I use my crockpot for virtually every dinner party that I have (as a recently funemployed back-to-college type, money is tight) and I've never had any complaints, including from the few I have who work for the food network! And a lot of crock-pot-able things are good frozen as well, saving you even MORE time!
Spend the $40. Trust me.
On a related note (and perhaps disregard if you're not going to be cooking on-the-cheap regularly) a pizza stone is worth its weight in gold when it comes to reheating and making frozen bread-type things. You said you don't bake often, but I use my pizza stone more than almost anything else in my kitchen. Its a little thought of kitchen gadget that I cant believe I lived without.
OH last one- an oven thermometer. I've never lived in a (rented) apartment that had a properly heating oven, and knowing that 50+- degree difference can make a drastic change in the quality of your food. And it's cheap, $3 or so :)
Here's a good way to determine what you need: Offer to make dinner and breakfast for your parents for 2 weeks. Write down everything you need--as you go--to make the meals. At the end of the two weeks, look at the list. That's what you'll need. And, your parents will probably be so happy that you cooked for them that they may even offer to buy it for you.
this is pretty much what i would have suggested as well. if you're already cooking and not looking to expand your repertoire extensively quite yet then this is the best way to understand what "basics" you personally require.
i'm also not a fan of owning more than you need.... i have a colander that i pull out maybe twice a year. instead i strain spaghetti by pouring off water from the pot and holding noodles back with a fork, if i need to rinse them with cold water, guess what... in a pot still! and one less thing to clean. large and shaped pasta, just offset the lid and hold on tight while pouring. tongs also make it easy to grab pasta in small batches for portioning and putting it straight into a pan or bowl with sauce. and tongs are so useful in so many other ways! sorry for the pasta focus, just trying to make it relatable.
as for the spices.... nip a small portion of your parents' spices... it'll give you a good starter base to work from so you're not buying large quantities of something you hardly use straight away. it can be a bit of an investment if you don't have a good bulk option nearby.
ha, so funny you write the above. I 100% agree in not getting more than you need- I've been sans microwave for almost 8 months (after giving up on emailing my landlord every two days with no response.) At first I was devastated- as a single gal, I cook in mass quantities and re-heat a LOT. I also couldn't fathom how to do everyday things without my micro- melting butter on the stove?! for shame! However, now I barely even miss it (and I've learned how to re-heat virtually anything in a skillet!)
I have crappy dollar store cuttingboards, cheap ikea spatulas and all of my "tupperware" is empty takeout containers. I don't own a zester and only recently bought a wisk. No hand mixer, food processor or kitchen aid... but I still manage to make every recipe I desire. You'd be surprised on how little you actually need.
However...I LOVE my colander and use it almost every day for various things (remember the lack of microwave? Defrosting with cool water in a colander is a lifesaver!) You'll learn what you need and can fit into your shared kitchen!
However, I stand by my crockpot and pizza stone. Your roomie will thank you for both!
can you give me more examples of what you use a colander for? i can't even fathom using it for defrosting with cool water... it has holes, it drains... where is this cool water being held?
because of the size of colanders and the size of the holes, as far as i can tell they're only useful to me in a clean sink or in a large pot where they have to be inserted first and cannot be an after thought. you're either trying to strain out liquid (down the sink) or strain to keep liquid (into large pot). if i'm defrosting, it either goes straight into the sink or on a plate on the counter.
i count a sieve and especially a finer sieve that fits perfectly into a number of my small/med bowls to be absolutely crucial to my own cooking. i use these to strain stocks and sauces and the finer one is so fine that i can use it to drain yogurt without having to insert a cheesecloth.
Disclaimer- I am a broke, single student living in a tiny studio apartment, so my cooking habits are probably different than a lot of people on here.
When I said defrosting, I meant for things like frozen veggies, frozen shrimp, frozen fruit (which I use for baking) etc. They don't take more than a few minutes to defrost (usually under a minute.) Sans microwave it can be difficult to defrost stuff like this if I don't plan in advance (which I usually dont!) I generally don't have enough room in my freezer to keep frozen meat, so most of that goes straight from the store to the table.
I eat a lot of pasta, so there's obviously that. I also use it to drain beans and to clean/drain veggies (I eat an inordinate amount of leafy greens such as kale and spinach, so I rinse everything in there.)
It seems to be in constant rotation, I don't know what I would do without it.
Honey, you ain't broke. You just don't have any money! Anyway, you don't clarify here or in your first post whether you put the colandar in another container to defrost things or if you just leave the water running.... With that said, *IF* you're letting the water run, you will get a much more even defrost if you set the colandar in a larger bowl or conatiner, fill, turn off the water and let things thaw that way. Not to mention conserving water. It's at least as quick, if not quicker, and certainly thaws more evenly.
I can't imagine life without a microwave. You can get a brand new very small (compact footprint) microwave these days for under seventy bucks, or under fifty if you shop well. Who knows what you could get as a demo model at closeout.
On the other hand, student cooking isn't easy. I had a friend years ago who put himself through med school on peanut butter and raisin on whole wheat sandwiches. Whatever gets you where you want to go. Good luck! '-)
Good suggestions.... here's a few more
1) A pepper grinder is mentioned - get one, even a cheap one from Ikea - and always grind fresh pepper
2) I love a salt pig - but basically, just get a box of kosher salt, stick a spoon into it, and keep it handy
3) The cutting board - I might get 2, both as big as will fit into your sink.. use one for meat, the other for veggies. The meat one should be some sort of plastic
4) IF you cook larger cuts of meat, get a digital thermometer.. you cook to temperature, not time
5) See if you can find a decent local knife sharpening service.. use it 1-2 times a year, if you cook a lot. Hardware stores can be a mixed bag here in terms of how well they sharpen
6) A fire extinguisher
7) A baking sheet or two and a cooling grid - I like to hit up restaurant supply houses for these
9) A citrus squeezer
10) A set of Pyrex bowls - big and small.... I have lots of small glass bowls for getting ingredients ready, but that's just me..
I'm the mom of two sons who survived cooking in college and lived to tell about it. Actually, today, both are the main cooks in their (married) homes, but that is another story. When I asked them what they considered to be their 10 essential kitchen necessities each replied that there is no one list for everyone but to be sure to tell you that whatever you have will be used by others. If it's really good (which it shouldn't be especially at the start) keep it in your bedroom, not in the kitchen.
I noticed that you were honest enough to say that you don't have a clue about how to equip a kitchen and are a pretty basic cook. I'd like to suggest that you find a copy of Lora Brody's "The Kitchen Survival Guide"? She wrote this book for her three sons when they were leaving home and it has excellent information from dead-basic (The refrigerator should be COLD, not cool but COLD) through 130 recipes and it includes how to equipe a kitchen. Amazon has this book used for $0.01 + shipping from several sellers. It may be the best $4 you'll spend on this venture.
You mention sharing your apt. with your best friend. Have the two of you discussed this topic? If not, why not? Does your BF have any kitchen wisdom/experience? Shouldn't you share the responsibility for equipping the kitchen that you'll both use?
Off the top of my head, here is a pretty basic list of what you may find helpful to get started.
A knife - you'll need to cut food.
A spoon to stir the food while it's cooking and to serve.
A pot of some kind. Thrift stores have pots for very cheap; leave this one in the kitchen and if your loving granny buys you something better, stash that in your bedroom - see above.
If you can swing it, a frying pan is also nice but you can cook bacon & eggs in a pot. Neither food knows whether it's being cooked in a pot or pan. If you buy a cast iron fry pan from the sporting goods store, I promise you that someone will put it in the dishwasher. See if you can score an inexpensive aluminum one.
You'll need a plate, a glass and fork for eating. You already have the knife and spoon (see above).
As you progress, you'll find holes in your kitchen. Need a bowl? Fine, buy one now. Another pot? Now you'll know if it should be bigger or smaller than the one you already own. Any piece of cook ware that only does one job ought to be bypassed in the early stages. Later on you'll know if you really want that ____________ (fill in the blank electric appliance) taking up counter space or could you spend the money on another knife/bowl/saucepan that you'd rather have.
As far as kitchen staples, those are also something you can accumulate as you go. There is no way for us to know what you'll need or want or use. But I promise that you'll never look at fast food condiments the same way again -- this is free food! A couple of packets of soy sauce will go a long way toward flavoring your vegetables stir-fry; McD's ketchup + mayonnaise + pickle relish = sandwich spread or base for making tuna or egg salad for sandwiches. Pretty soon you'll get the hang of this.
Some kind of fat is handy - this might be oil (EVOO or corn or peanut depending on what you cook and your budget) or butter.
I'm not certain that my boys ever bought S&P because my stash used to disappear when they were home and they'd augment with those FF packets between visits.
Eggs are cheap and very versatile. Fried or scrambled and wrapped in a tortilla you have a walking sandwich for pennies; add (cooked) potatoes and/or cheese and you've made a whole meal.
If you already cook pasta, you know that having something available to combine with the pasta is key to making a quick meal. Leftover vegetables work wonders and make quick meals for very little money.
Soup is your friend! A starch (potato, rice, noodle) + vegetable (A-Z, asparagus to zucchini) + liquid (water, milk, broth) = a meal. Add protein (egg, chicken, beef, fish, cheese) if you wish. The combinations are endless and does not take an advanced degree to make.
One thing my boys learned and what seasoned cooks already know is to think ahead. If you're going to bake a potato, bake a couple of extra. You can stuff them to have on hand later or make soup or toss them into a fritatta (fahncy name for baked scrambled eggs). Roast a chicken alongside and you're good for several meals.
Don't forget to budget for some dishwashing soap and fabric towels. Cleanup is part of the whole cooking gig.
If you will be living within driving distance from your home, ask your mom (assuming that she does the family cooking) to make extras of your favorites, freeze them in ziplock bags and you can benefit from eating things you enjoy without the work or expense. I did this for a couple of semesters, just cooked per usual, and froze the leftovers. What I didn't know was that my son gave them away to a young man in distress and later he told me that it made the difference between staying in school and having to drop out.
I've just realized that throughout this post, I'm working on the assumption that saving money is important. There is nothing you say to suggest that is the case, and I apologize for all my niggling hints if you don't need to economize. All the kids I knew had to be pretty careful so I just went on that assumption. I do know that everyone who successfully negotiates this exciting college path learns to guard their time, making it count where it needs to. Good luck on this great phase of your life.
If my extremely well equipped kitchen vanished today and I was left with a slim budget and/or cramped space, there are two things I would buy before anything else on the planet.
The first is a hand mixer. With it you can make cakes, pancakes, waffles, meringues, and even (if you don't overwhip and turn them to glue) whipped potatoes. No, I couldn't knead bread with it as I can with my ancient and much loved and still working masterfully KitchenAid K5A, but for the same price on today's market, I could buy a dozen or two electric hand mixers. Only later would I start thinking about blenders and food processors and planetary stand mixers and other stuff like that.
The other thing I would immediately acquire is a countertop microwave oven. They're good for more than reheating coffee, ya know? If I could stretch my budget far enough, I'd go for one that is a double threat, as in compact countertop microwave/convection oven. Then I'd have the best of both worlds. Not much you can't cook with one of those puppies!
You can stir things with a plastic take-out spoon, if you must, and mix them in a zip lock bag, if you must (well, maybe not using the hand mixer but you can use a super-sized plastic soft drink cup), but when it comes to making your own food, you just can't beat a mixer and a microwave oven.
And THEN... If I had a little money left, and if the place I was moving to did not have a proper kitchen with a cook top or stove, THEN I would get a single burner "hot plate." There are some great table top one burner propane "stoves" (hair spray size disposable canister of propane) for around forty bucks at most restaurant supply houses. OR.... If I could swing it, I would get an induction hot plate. Now they are a bit pricey -- a couple of hundred bucks I think -- but they are super cheap on fuel costs (electricity) and super fast on cooking (but don't buy aluminum or copper pots, or non-ferrous stainless steel to cook in). But I could get along quite nicely with just the hand mixer and countertop microwave.
To help you on your way, here's one of my "wing it" recipes:
.................Microwave Chicken Soup for One...................
Put the following in a Pyrex covered casserole:
1 chicken thigh (I love it with the skin on, but if you must you can take off the skin or even use a <shudder> breast)
1/4 diced yellow onion
1 whole clove of garlic unpeeled
1 tomato cut in chunks
1 handful frozen green beans
1 handful frozen corn kernels
4 or 5 baby carrots cut into thirds
1/2 rib of celery cut into chunks
1.5 inch wide wedge of green or red cabbage, sliced or chopped
1 small diced red potato *OR* scant handful uncooked rice
pinch of thyme
pinch of oregano
1 personal size can (5 oz?) of V-8 Vegetable Juice
enough canned chicken stock/broth to cover all of the above ingredients by an inch or so
Cover with casserole lid and nuke for 20 minutes or until done. (Microwave ovens vary) Remove garlic and either toss it or squeeze it out onto some bread, toast, or cracker and sprinkle with a bit of salt before eating. Taste soup for salt and correct if needed. I intentionally omit salt before cooking because the V-8 has a high salt content, not to mention the broth. You can remove the chicken now and break into bite size pieces before returning it to the soup without the bone. If you're really hungry, you can eat right out of the casserole, but there's enough for two or three people with sandwiches. It's also really good with a dollop of sour cream on top. And as you may suspect by now, there are endless variations on the combination of veggies you can use, as well as substiting other poultry or fish.
Enjoy, and happy new kitchen life...!
I would suggest minimalist style, I lean towards the chinese/asian style kitchen: or as Alton Brown would say, buy multi-taskers.
1. Chinese Chef's knife, chinese food processor.
1. small paring knife, this will take care of the rest.
1. cutting board, butcher block, end grain, or if you can get a hunk of tree trunk even better.
1 set of cheap super thin, disposable cutting sheets, to prep your raw meats or super pungent herbs.spices (garlic, ginger, ect).
1. wok set (ladle, turner, carbon steel wok, brass frying strainer, set of cooking chopsticks)
2. swiss peelers, one regular straight blade, the other one with the serrated edge which can make those thin julienne strips.
1. bottle/can opener
1. set of measuring spoons
1 set of mixing bowls
1 box set of ikea plates, cups, bowls ect.
1 set of ikea cutlery, spoons, forks, knives.
1. stock pot with lid
1. 10" non-stick or if you can season it, carbon steel pan (this will last several generations).
1. kitchen timer.
I don't bake but you do so some set of baking dishes/pans.
1. notebook so you can jot down all your recipes that you will making.
1. colander or other draining device.
2. metal wire screen strainer, one to use as a sifter which will never touch oil and one which you for everything else.
I think this is what i would want as a starter kitchen. if you go to a restaurant supply store, you can get most of these items which are going to more sturdy and usually pretty cheap as well.
Get thee to the dollar store. I have a small paring knife from there that I probably use the most often, even though I have a pretty decent set of knives, and I've had it for a few years. I have also bought silicone spatulas, plastic storage wear, wooden spoons (wood is wood whether it comes from there or C & B) dish towels (yes you need them) can openers and garlic presses and just about any other utensil you need and they're cheap enough that you can replace them when they break. And they do, regardless of from whence they came. The stuff there is not always cheapie-cheapie because they also buy rejects for REALLY MINOR things like a label typo or color flaw and sell them. While the pans are usually really cheesy and I wouldn't bother with them, you can also get dishes and glassware and it's often pretty cool. I have a set of champagne glasses that people think are Waterford that I wish I'd bought more of, but I haven't seen them since I bought them.
You also NEED (in addition to dish towels) pot holders or mitts, but these I wouldn't buy cheap either because they usually simply don't work as well, so the investment is worth not having fried fingers. Also, the first several jars you use, wash and save them. You can use them for food storage (this is even recommended for garlic and onion by none other than Martha Stewart), shaking flour and water to make a slurry and starting your first avocado plant (yes you will..). Besides, it's better for the environment.
Other than that, the ONE thing you NEED is a small to medium STEEL saucepan. You can cook almost anything in it if you have to.
Great advice throughout this thread. Just to pick up on the above, in addition to mitts the two things not to cheap out on are knives and fry/saute' pans. You need good thick pans (cast iron, if you want to save money), and you need one or two good-quality knives and something to keep them sharp.
Most household kitchens have dull knives. With a dull knife you can't chop well, and if you can't chop well your cooking is severely limited. One good knife, a simple chopping board, a couple of pans and you can do an immense variety of great food.
For other kitchen equipment plus cutlery and tableware, thrift stores and yard sales and discount stores will set you up for pocket change.
Lots of good suggestions and probably a lot more than you need if you're going away to college and will have a roommate who hopefully will be contributing to the pile. I don't know what "cook somewhat" means to you, but I'm guessing you won't have time or budget to be busting out gourmet dinner parties. Think about what you like to eat and cook now and purchase the bare necessities to accomplish that. Think multipurpose and improvise; you don't need fancy expensive equipment. I took my parents hand me downs and supplemented with pretty much eurocampbells guidelines or 4 plates, glasses, etc and for the most part that served me well thru college, grad school and my first apt with a job. A big pot for boiling pasta, and smaller one for everything else. A frying pan, a 9x 11 metal pan that worked for everything from baking chicken to making brownies, lemon bars and probably some cookies, but if you like to make those maybe pick up a cheap baking sheet. A glass covered casserole dish, some Tupperware for storage and basic utensils like a spatula, wooden spoon, veg peeler, can opener, etc. You can always add as you need. A toaster oven was a must and I still can't imagine not having one of those. More multipurpose than a toaster which I still don't feel the need for. A microwave is also a must for me for reheating, zapping H20 for tea/cocoa, steaming veggies and college age...yours might see more microwave popcorn and frozen dinners! A coffee maker if you drink it. Some people swear by a crock pot. I have one and have never used it. Everyone is different so think about what you or your family uses now. Most college students I know don't stay in the same apt every year so keep it light cuz you may be moving more often than you think! Good luck at school.
Great suggestions here. I'll second checking out Mark Bittman's list from the NYT. Another site to check out for recipes is 101 Cookbooks. Heidi Swanson has a thread about cooking in dorm rooms, which isn't your problem but is very useful, with recipes for rice cookers (very versatile) and slow cookers. Don't be scared off by the site's healthy, natural foods, vegetarian bent. The dorm room thread has everything from soups and stews to other things with meat.
I love my Crock Pot for slow cooking, but also love my electric pressure cooker for getting food on the table fast. Both do wonders with cheaper, tougher cuts of meat.
My Santoku knife is so wonderful that I gave one to my brother for Xmas last year. He and his family love it! They're kind of pricey, but they'll do anything you want. I think I got the 8 inch knives online for about half the price they were going for elsewhere. They're very sharp so you have to be careful when using them initially but once you get the hang of them you can make small diced onions in no time flat. You can mince fresh garlic in the time it would take to open once of those ghastly bottles of chopped garlic. They cut through meat like it was butter. If you splurge on one thing, make it a good knife (or set of knives).
Spices depend on what kind of cooking you do. I love my paprika, smoked, sweet, and hot. I also have many different types of chilis and chili powder. I bake a lot so have all the usual baking spices. Again, it all depends on what you like to cook. The suggestion of cooking at your parents hose for 2 weeks was positively inspired. You'll know much better what you use and, therefor, what you need.
Enjoy your new place and starting out on a new adventure!
Lot's of solid advice already I will join the chorus of both Bittman's list and hitting the restaurant supply houses first.
Beyond salt and pepper, check recipes of things you plan to make to aid in the building of a spice collection, no need to have everything at once. Highly used spices larger sizes are generally cheaper, rarely used, smaller will suffice and be more true for the time it takes to empty the container. Some things can be grown on the window sill. A little greenery never hurts.
Food isn't impressed by pretty cookware, mixing it up allows you to get the best that you can afford at that time. If your guests have problems with what you cook in then ask them to supply the cookware. The people at restaurant supply houses are generally very knowledgeable and helpful. If you don't see what you are looking for, ask, they may have it available at another location or order it and set it aside for you. Plates, bowls, utensils, everything you can think of you may be able to get there. If you and your guests have no problems eating in restaurants than no one should have problems eating off of what you can purchase there. Have fun.
+1 regarding the spice collection. I recommend finding a place (Fresh Market, Whole Foods, farmers markets) that sell spices almost in bulk, meaning you're buying little zip lock bags or plastic containers, rather than the regular McCormick bottles in Super Markets. You usually get more of a better quality spice at a fraction of the cost.