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First apartment - best cookware to purchase

Having survived most of the first year in a half-furnished off campus apartment, living with little more than a can opener and a pot, It's time to get the oldest child some more *advanced* tools for the kitchen. We are a foodie family, and cook and eat well, and from all over the globe. She has missed some kitchen groceries - excellent soy sauce, salami, brie - that aren't so easily available at the corner store. But, that's not a worry because she knows what she wants and, eventually, as she branches out, she will find the foods she's been missing.

However, her tools are another story.. she was gifted with many cast-off pots and pans, most of which are of little value. Some are falling apart. No tea kettle (that's a pot of water on the stove), no dutch oven (too big.. she would be overwhelmed by the cook-now-eat-later concept), no coffee press (she doesn't drink coffee)... much of what is standard in my tool-heavy kitchen is still somewhat useless to her.

I'd like to do some investment shopping for her - stuff I know she could use. What I am thinking of getting: an enamel cast iron skillet (probably no bigger than 10"), a juicer (she loves fresh juices and frequently eats raw for days at a time... until she gets hungry for a tuna sandwich!), a blender to make smoothies, a small food processor. Also, there is always the threat that a roommate might explode or destroy a piece of equipment: I'd like to buy mid level equipment that she can use for several years until she can afford to upgrade if needed.

So, I'd like suggestions for first time cooks. She is serious about her food, so i know that eventually she will be a good cook, but right now is not the time for the perfect pizza set, the special espresso machine that wakes you up in the morning.. In other words solid, serviceable kitchen workhorses. I would appreciate any and all suggestions for the first apartment for a new cook, especially tools that do double duty - such as a blender/processor combo with one base. (I know space will be at a premium in her kitchen!) I've already got great cookbooks put aside for her, so I've got at least one base covered..

thanks for your suggestions!

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  1. marisco, Hi and welcome to the big Catch 22! We just had our daughter move out so I know what this can be like. She actually bought some time ago a cheap set of pans and other kitchen items that was all in one (even a corkscrew) for about 100$. Now having said that, I think maybe the New LC Heritage DO (WS) and 1 20$ cast-iron fry pan and 3 or 4 Cuisinart Chefs Classic pans ought to do the job. Have fun!

    1. Forget the enamel and get her a 12-inch cast iron skillet. This is the work-horse -- mine has been for over three decades now. Once it is seasoned it can be used for almost anything and it goes into the oven as well.

      Buy one-quart, two-quart, and maybe three-quart saucepans with lids and heavy bottoms -- flatter lids are easier to store, especially if she places the saucepans inside of eachother for more economical storage. Avoid those with a screw that tightens the handle, as it will loosen over time.

      My main knife that I use for 95% of my cooking is a santoku -- the MAC which long was best-rated by Cooks Illustrated was 69.95 list when I bought it and still should be well under $100. She'll need a steel and a couple sizes of cutting boards.

      These are the essentials.

      2 Replies
      1. re: nosh

        all great choices - thanks for the ideas! i love my one MAC knife! i use it daily...
        and, here's the thing with the cast iron: i was thinking of enameled cast iron because i thought it would be easier for her to deal with in the long run. My 12" cast iron skillet IS a work horse, but it does need to be seasoned now and again. i know to an experienced cook that is no big deal BUT... i was thinking she might get frustrated with it and choose to use her crappy non-stick pan over a nice cast iron, just because it is lighter and easier to clean (and maybe prettier!) i thought enameled cast iron comes in pretty colors and is easier to clean..

        1. re: nosh

          Wait a minute on the cast iron skillet! Roommates have the very predictable habit of leaving dirty pots, pans and dishes in the sink, or worse, putting everything in the dishwasher. While I agree that this is my favorite kitchen basic, and couldn't imagine living without mine, water and laziness are the enemy of cast iron. The thing will surely rust, or worse, someone may put a hot pan in the sink and turn on the water and damage it. It is indestructible only in the hands of people who know a few basic things for caring about them, and who also care about taking care of someone else's things.

          Enameled cast iron is safer, but that can chip when piled high with other stuff in that full, dirty sink too, so I would recommend saving your money on this and buying a non-stick skillet. That can only be ruined by scraping. Another option is one of those "green" pans with a smooth enamel interior, but don't spend a ton of money because the roomies are going to be clueless and undoubtedly be kitchen equipment challenged. I know, hard to believe, but think back -- what were YOUR roomates like? All I ever remember about my kitchen was the smell of the dirty pots and dishes after 24-48 hours of sitting there until I couldn't take it anymore.

        2. My first big purchases were a set of Le Creuset, some stainless steel bowls, wooden spoons, stuff to make cakes, and a Sabatier chef's knife. I'm still using all but the knife, though I would only purchase a French oven instead of a whole LC set if I were to do it all today.

          1. If you worry about cookware being destroyed (a realistic chance), then you should limit to low to mid range price cookware.

            For cookware, if she does not mind stainless steel surface cookware, then get a Tramontina set:

            http://www.walmart.com/ip/Tramontina-...

            Get a bare cast iron Dutch Oven (like Lodge) is a good choice too.

            5 Replies
            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

              hey that 's a nice looking set! and you are happy with the quality? it's heavy enough?? that would definitely go on my short list..

              1. re: rmarisco

                Actually I do not own this set, but I have seen it in action. Tramontina is widely considered one of the best value cookware out there. You can look up a few of the Tramontina reviews here:

                http://www.chow.com/search?query=tram...

                Yes, it is considered fairly thick and heavy.

                If in doubt, makes a new post on Tramontina and read the responses.

                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                  I second Chemicalkinetics choice. I've had this conversation with many new grads who end up ruining expensive cookware or buy pieces which are not functional. I don't reccomend a cast-iron at this time as of the care needed to preserve the skillet/dutch oven (most recent grads probably want something to throw in the DW). I would reccomend a half-decent chef's knife as they probably won't ruin that completely.

                  Let them beat up the first set, then they can start investing in better pieces.

                  1. re: atg106

                    Oh yes, a decent chef's knife is a must.

                2. re: rmarisco

                  While we do not have this set weI do have a 12" Tramontina tri-clad SS skillet and a 5 quart saute pan. Both are durable and our only regret is not buying them sooner. We used to use mostly teflon cookware (like a lot of people) and while I have never been worried about using teflon like some I am happy with using SS pans as they will last basically forever with proper care. We still have a small teflon pan for eggs and a larger one for things like frying potatoes and the rare occassions when we make pancakes.