By Simi Dube
Are you shopping for a beginner home cook this holiday season? If so, this guide is for you. The journey of cooking at home is just that, a journey. My own path to becoming an avid homecook started at the beginning of my relationship with my now-husband; early on, I wanted to impress him with my mad cooking skillz. I invested in a few tools to help jump-start my kitchen and to get me motivated to cook more regularly. Six years later, I'm happy to report that my passion for cooking has deepened into one of the great joys of my life. I'm finally the person my parents hoped I would become: someone who cooks more often than ordering take-out. I wanted to share a few products that propelled this journey; my go-tos. These are the tools I bring with me when we rent AirBnbs, I can't (cook) live without them!
First things first, a good set of frying pans is essential. I love this set of All-Clad pans - these aluminum-core, stainless-steel-clad pans conduct heat quickly and evenly. The small one is perfect for frying an egg, and the larger one is my go-to for sauteing or searing everything else. Most importantly - they're light! Their lightness is probably why I reach for them the most for everyday cooking - I get really happy and excited to pluck them off the shelf and get some onions and garlic going!
Sharp knives surprised me as the single biggest game-changing piece of equipment I purchased early on. First of all, I didn't know that very sharp knives are actually safer -- they slip less, so lower likelihood of "missing" and cutting oneself. They also speed up the process of prep significantly, cutting an onion is much faster with a sharp knife. Once you go sharp, you never go back. All this being said, a beginner cook doesn't need a wildly expensive knife - I like this simple chef's knife from Wusthof and use it every day. It's the knife in my hand 90% of the time.
I get anxious if my bench scraper isn't close at hand in the kitchen. I cannot cook without this handy transport and clean-up tool. I use it to quickly scrape ingredients off my cutting board and into another container or the pot, keeping my mis en place clean and orderly. I love love love this inexpensive tool!
Another inexpensive, but essential tool is a silicone spatula. The child-of-immigrants in me cannot bear to leave one drop of sauce uneaten, so I use these spatulas to scrape every last morsel out of my pans. I particularly like the ones with the angled tips, as they're easy to maneuver into the corners of pots and pans.
If you want to cook meat regularly, an instant-read thermometer is the single best tool for ensuring your meat is properly cooked. This Thermapen model is the top of the line, and is a magical helper in the kitchen. There would have been a lot of overcooked fish, poultry and beef in our house without this guy! Pays for itself a hundred times over.
Finally, hear me out on this last one, it's a splurge. Let's talk Le Creuset. I know, I know, they're expensive. There are other options on the market. Can you find Dutch ovens that are more economical? Sure. Will they last you a lifetime? Maybe. Will they light up your heart when you look at them, and compel you to get that delicious stew simmering? I'm not so sure on that one.
A Le Creuset Dutch oven is a thing of delight and inspiration. Yes Marie Kondo, it sparks joy for me and will stay in the prime real estate spot on my stove forever. Even earnest, novice cooks need moments of thrill and imagination in the kitchen, and this classic Dutch oven is that for me. It has inspired dozens of hunts for Ina Garten and Julia Child braises to honor its history as one of the most prized cooking vessels of all time. It's worth it. But maybe just one (or two, tops).