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Empty kitchen

My name is Felicia and I am a 23 year old woman that has always been known to NOT cook. I am moving to the San Diego area with my boyfriend at the end of the month and I want to try cooking. Only problem is I'm on a tight budget and will have absolutely nothing in my kitchen. I need the help of you all to get me started on being a cook while staying in budget. Thanks ahead of time :)

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  1. How exciting! You have more than one adventure ahead of you. You'll find lots of answers here, and as you might expect, these kinds of set-up a kitchen and/or learning to cook questions are not uncommon.

    We've had some recent discussions covering some of what you ask, and others will chime in with newer answers specific to your situation. In the meantime, reading these other discussions may give you some ideas as a starting-point.


    Also, it will be helpful to us if you let us know what kind of cooking you'll be doing; in short, what do you and your boyfriend like to eat? Will he also be in the kitchen?

    1. San Diego is full of farmer's markets, Asian and Hispanic markets and stores like Henry's and Trader Joe's where you can buy all sorts of awesome groceries on a budget.

      1. equipment and dishes - this is why the heavens gave us thrift stores and garage sales. if it falls apart or turns out to be NOT what you want? who cares? it was $1.50 so just wash it, chuck it into the goodwill collection box and buy something else.

        and you might find the coolest things if you can beat the hipsters to them.

        1 Reply
        1. re: hill food

          yep cause I'm always in there looking-are you willing to share contact info (email address) I wanna offer you something

        2. Felicia, some of the newbie cooks on here have suggested YouTube videos to help them learn techniques. A good basic website for recipes that won't overwhelm you is allrecipes.com. They've got recipe and technique videos there, too.

          1 Reply
          1. re: kitchengardengal

            And don't overlook the library as a place to find cookbooks. If there's one you find you love, order it used from Amazon.

            And, as above, try the thrift shops for basic kitchen wares.

            Does the boyfriend cook at all? Do ya'll like to grill (S.D. is great 'cause of year-'round grilling)? Tell us what kinds of food you guys like and maybe we can suggest more detailed ideas.

          2. For basic gear you can get by with the below. Check out thrift shops for dishes - they won't match, but you can get plates and cutlery and mugs dirt cheap.

            Most of the gear below you can buy the cheapest stuff you can find, with the exception of pots and knives. I will spring for a decent can opener, because I hate the hard to use cheap ones.

            - a non stick frying pan, one decent medium sized pot and one cheap medium pot (by decent I mean fairly hefty with a thick bottom - thin bottom cheap pots will burn anything sauteed or stewed, but are fine for boiling pasta), lids for the pots and pans, a medium casserole dish, a cookie tray. If you like cooking in big batches, get a big pot.

            - a cutting board, a medium sized knife, a paring knife and a bread knife, a cheese grater, a vegetable peeler

            - a long handled wooden spoon, a spatula (for scraping out bowls), a spatula (for flipping stuff) a pair of tongs, a garlic press, a large metal spoon with holes, a colander, a ladle.

            - a couple of cheap metal mixing bowls, a 1 cup glass or plastic measuring cup, a set of measuring spoons.

            Plus a can opener, some tupperware, oven mitts, something to put hot pans on (trivet, wooden board), dish towels, a kettle.

            For basic foodstuffs to start out with, it depends on what sort of stuff you like to cook. The list below is what I would start out with after a move. I've added a * to ingredients that are mainly for Asian cooking, which I do a lot of.

            Liquids: vegetable oil, olive oil, sesame oil*, distilled vinegar, red wine vinegar, rice vinegar*, soy sauce, fish sauce*, lemon juice, rice wine*

            Pastes: dijon mustard, ketchup, hot sauce, miso*, chili paste*, honey,

            Spices and Herbs: Salt, pepper, Basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, cumin, coriander, cardamon, paprika, bay leaves, cayenne pepper, ginger, sage, cinnamon, cloves, garlic powder, boullion powder, chili powder, hot pepper flakes

            Dried goods: Pasta, thin Japanese noodles, rice, oatmeal, chickpeas, lentils, beans, walnuts

            Canned Goods: tomatoes, tomato paste, coconut milk*, canned beans, chicken stock,

            Baking staples: flour, baking powder and baking soda, white sugar, brown sugar, corn starch,

            Other: parmesan cheese, butter, olives, coffee, tea,

            In general, I find farmer's markets tend to have nice stuff, but are not particularly cheap. Ethnic markets (start with Chinatown if you've got it) are good for cheap and interesting. Look for bulk herbs and spices (the jarred stuff is ridiculously expensive). Trader Joe's is good for budget gourmet (cheese and wine tend to be good deals), Costco is good for stuff you use a lot of (I buy olive oil and canned tomatoes there in large quantities).

            1. Thanks for the advice so far. it will be just me that I'm cooking for since he will be on a fishing boat most of the time. (reason we are moving) I'm not so much of a "green healthy" person but am down to try something new.

              3 Replies
              1. re: Newtocook2009

                Hi, good luck in your new home! I recently read Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything - The Basics, prior to sending it to my niece who is leaving home for college, and I thought it was an excellent cookbook. You might take a look, i bet your local library has it or can get it on interlibrary loan so it won't cost you. I'm a pretty accomplished cook and it taught me some things for sure. Very clear and lots of pictures.

                1. re: Newtocook2009

                  given the variety of fresh (and relatively cheap) produce in the SD area you sort of owe it to yourself to try 'green' cooking at least every now and then instead of packaged supermarket stuff. alternate that with the corndogs and It's It's's (OK I'm projecting here a little bit) wow I haven't had a good corndog in...

                  1. re: Newtocook2009

                    Don't even buy cookbooks just yet. When you settle in, find the nearest local library and look at the cookbooks they have in the stacks; tell the librarian what you're about and they'll help you. You can copy a recipe or two to try them out, then decide what cookbook you might want to buy to have on hand. They also may have cooking magazines in their reading section; ask about those, too. You can sometimes borrow one as long as it's not this months issue.

                    As others have said, don't go buying pots and pans (and definitely not sets) until you know which you'll get the most use out of. When I had my first apartment many moons ago, I got by with just a wok for quite awhile. (I love Chinese food, so did stir-fry most every night, alternating with the occasional deli roast beef sandwich. YMMV)

                    All that said, a basic cookbook will be useful to learn from, and you should certainly get one, but as you'll be cooking a lot just for yourself, see if the library has a copy of The Pleasures of Cooking for One by Judith Jones, or Cooking for One: A Seasonal Guide to the Pleasure of Preparing Delicious Meals for Yourself by The Culinary Institute of America, Mark Erickson, Lisa Ericsson.

                  2. A blog I like is Budget Bytes... she gives the cost breakdown of every meal, and they're all pretty simple to make with minimal equipment: http://www.budgetbytes.com/

                    Obviously the costs will vary a bit depending on where you shop but overall I've found it to be pretty accurate.

                    1. Don't buy anything.

                      Not yet, anyway.

                      First figure out what you like to eat.

                      Then figure out if you can and want to cook those things that you enjoy eating.

                      If the answer is "yes" then figure out out how to make those things.

                      Once you've done that, then start stocking your kitchen with cookware.

                      Build your kitchen arsenal around what you like to eat and cook. Don't build an arsenal based on some Home and Garden magazine spread.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        List the foods you enjoy eating.
                        BUT if the list is mainly foods with mostly made with salt/fat/sugar that's a problem.
                        IMO most really good food is made with less of the above and more towards the fruits/veg/protein/carbs.
                        Asian food is a great direction.
                        The Joy of Cooking is a good basic 'should have' in every kitchen.
                        Let us know how you're making out.
                        Good luck.

                      2. Dive in and start swimming. It will be fun. Scan the internet, there are plenty of cookbooks and magazines you can pick up for dirt cheap also recipes on websites. You'll learn from your mistakes and success. Soon you will learn to cook a couple dishes and the rest is history.

                        1. I recommend this cookbook: http://5ingredients10minutes.com

                          I use it so often, and all the recipes truly are 5 ingredients and ten minutes. The best part is that it lists a lot of variations and ratios so you can substitute in whatever you like, so each recipe is more of a template than a strict guide. Eg it'll say "2 cups of green vegetable" or "1 cup rice, quinoa, pasta, any starch" so you can make things over and over and they're always different. The addictive green soup really is addictive, I taught it to my 18 year old brother when he moved out and wanted to "cook like me"

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: mariathewholefoodie

                            Here's another 5-ingredient book:


                            It provides a list of staples in the front (olive oil, flour, eggs, etc.) then all the recipes only require five or less additional ingredients. It could help stock your pantry with basics as well as providing easy recipes.

                          2. This. It will get you started. And when you have a bit of experience you can get something more challenging.


                            1. Welcome to Chowhound, Felicia!

                              You might want to check out Salvation Army and Goodwill for decent, non-scratched pots and pans. You can buy piecemeal now - couple of skilets (nonstick and regular stainless steel), 2 qt. and 4 qt. saucepans.

                              OR if you have a Restaurant Supply place nearby, check them out for very inexpensive equipment. Yup, you do! Not sure where they are in comparison to where you'll be living, but they've got a retail location open to the public:


                              As for cooking - I strongly encourage you to check out the cookbooks in the library. Spend an afternoon browsing through ones that look interesting. Take a couple home and try a few recipes. And don't be afraid to fail - it's how we ALL learned to cook!

                              Check out the local markets - ethnic and regular. Buy something you're unfamiliar with - ask someone in the supermarket or at the farmers market how to use the ingredient. People are really willing to help if you express interest in their product.

                              Chowhound is a great resource - the Home Cooking board inhabitants have a wealth of knowledge - so just ask! And remember - no question is stupid. The answer is just not yet known - by you.

                              1. What's the consensus on the inexpensive ceramic knives one finds in the discount stores these days. A dull knife can be discouraging (not to mention dangerous) for a beginner cook but I hate to recommend something I haven't tried. Or any other cheap knife that will hold an edge for a good while.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: ennuisans

                                  I would not recommend ceramic knives to an inexperienced cook- there are too many things that you CAN'T do with them. They are very brittle.

                                2. I used to live in San Diego, and here are some of the things I did to survive on a tight budget:

                                  Frequent the 99 Cents Only stores! You can get all of your basic spices along with kitchen gadgets there. No, it's not the greatest quality, but when your are stocking a new kitchen from scratch, spices alone could cost a small fortune! I've gotten plastic cutting boards, veggie peelers, measuring cups & measuring spoons, plastic ladles, spoons, spatulas (all great to use with non stick pans), cupcake tins, etc.

                                  Sprouts has "double ad Wednesdays" where you can take advantage of both week's sale fliers. There prices on produce are excellent. Even though it's just the two of you, don't be afraid to buy a "family pack" of whatever meat or poultry they have on sale. You can portion it out and freeze. That's what I always do with their chicken, even though I live alone.

                                  There is a Crate & Barrel Outlet at the Carlsbad Outlet Stores. I got all of my dishes there dirt cheap a few years ago. There is also a World Market Outlet in San Diego pretty close to downtown, if I recall. I used to find good bargains there.

                                  If you know someone who has a Sam's Club card, they have a decent restaurant supply area for things like sheet pans, pots, even non stick pans.

                                  Don't skimp on cheap knives, you will get frustrated and could also get hurt.

                                  What area will you be living in?

                                  1. Welcome Felicia! My daughter packed up a few things and moved to Arizona a few years ago. She had basically nothing when she got there. We spent a few days rummaging through thrift shops and flea markets and ended up nicely equipping her kitchen for less than $100. And, it was fun!

                                    As for stocking your kitchen with food, check out places like Grocery Outlet, Fresh & Easy, Big Lots, dollar stores and local ethnic markets. Then fill in what you need at Trader Joe's or a regular supermarket.

                                    While you are at thrift stores looking for kitchen equipment, also look for cookbooks. They often have copies of basic cookbooks like Betty Crocker, Good Housekeeping, Better Homes and Gardens. If you get lucky you might be able to find an older copy of How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman.

                                    I really like a cookbook called "How to Cook Without a Book", It is by a food writer named Pam Anderson. You can pick up a used copy through Amazon. It's a great starter book for learning to cook with some really good simple recipes.

                                    Good luck on your new adventure.

                                    1. since you'll be cooking for yourself a lot, do some meal planning so that you'll have either leftovers for another meal [lunch at work?], or basics to make another meal from. Example: if you're making chicken breasts, one night, think about making an extra one for chicken salad for lunch, and an extra piece so you can turn it into - chicken soup, enchiladas, quesadillas, chicken pot pie, whatever.

                                      efficient use of time, energy and ingredients!

                                      1. food.com has a LOT of recipes that are rated. Pick recipes with the highest ratings - they're much more likely to actually work than recipes that aren't rated or aren't highly rated.

                                        Cooking pots/pans/tools - definitely go secondhand from garage sales, goodwill, whatever. You don't need good cooking pots and whatnot in the beginning. Wait to spend the money for when you really actually do know what you want and why you want it. I've lived in four countries in the last decade and I've been cooking for four decades and I *still* haven't spent the big bucks like a lot of others here seem to and I can manage just fine.

                                        Don't buy cookbooks unless you've used them already (ie, from a library) and you *know* you'll use them a lot. Go the library instead and use those cookbooks to learn from.

                                        Don't rush yourself. Learn how to do one thing at a time. Or four things at the same time if you must, but work on that one or four things until you've got the technique and times and everything worked out. Then move on to the next. Rome wasn't built in a day. Neither are anyone's cooking skills.

                                        1. so many trips to thrift stores to drop off a multitude of kitchen stuff-

                                          1. Hello Felicia: It will help you stay on budget if you plan, roughly, a week's worth of meals at a time. See what day your local supermarkets start their sale week and look at their sale ads (most of these are online now) so you can take advantage of sale specials, especially in meat and chicken etc. Get a general idea what you will fix for dinner each night and do this in a chain fashion so you can use up leftovers. For example, if whole chicken is on sale for 88 cents lb when it's usually $1 .99 lb, you might fix a whole chicken baked in the oven on Sunday then take the rest of the meat off the bones and fix chicken and noodles for, say, Tuesday night. If you have a lot of that, enough for a second meal, wrap it air-tight and freeze it and present it in a couple of weeks. Figure out how much bread you need---does your BF take a lunch on the boat, and does that mean sandwiches? And how many eggs---do you eat them for breakfast, are you making deviled eggs, are you planning any baking?Write down a rough sketch of every day's meals and any baking you plan and buy everything at once. Don't wing it one day at a time.

                                            Try to shop just once a week because the more times you go to the store, the more money you will spend.

                                            And find out what your BF likes and doesn't like.