Conservative Cooking: The Resourceful Kitchen

by Laura Pilati

I was once talking to a friend, recently married, who had tired of all of the typical post-wedding questions. “People are always asking me: ‘How’s married life?!?'”, she explained. “I came up with a great response: ‘Exactly the same as life before the wedding, but now we have better kitchen stuff.'”

Now planning my own wedding, I laugh about her comment often. One of the things that my fiance and I have looked forward to most during the planning process is the chance to do a little bit of kitchen fantasizing. We’re both avid cooks and eaters and have wanted to upgrade our kitchenware pretty much since the day we got any of it. I know lots of other 20-somethings in the same situation. We stocked our house with whatever we could get our hands on at the time–grandma’s 1970s pyrex, our cousin’s chipped and mismatched dinnerware, cheap plastic cooking utensils from Bed, Bath, and Beyond. Matching silverware? Maybe in 10 years. No, 20.

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A pox on both of you plastic spoons!

Eventually, the plastic spoons started to disintegrate while I was frying eggs one morning…the non-stick plans started to stick…and all of the little forks went missing after a big house party. But somehow, we still made it work. Isn’t that funny? As we went through the aisles of Crate & Barrel and Williams-Sonoma, oohing and aahing at all of the beautiful stainless steel pots and obscure gadgets that perform a single, well-executed kitchen task, I thought to myself: we don’t really need this.

It’s nice. And I’d treat that All Clad pan like my first-born. But we don’t need it.

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Currently, my best cooking utensils.

In my time spent living as an independent, yet student-debt-sticken adult, I’ve discovered that there are ways to be a good cook without being a wasteful one. There are things that you can do without and there are workarounds. So, as I swap out my 8″x12″ plastic cutting boards for wooden slabs and graduate myself from 1980s Corelle, I give you my lessons learned as a resourceful cook–most of which I will take with me and my new All Clad pots:

  1. Whenever possible, avoid plastic. Opt for wood and metal–even if it’s not Sur La Table quality, it’ll last longer.
  2. As a general rule, choose bigger over more. If you have the choice between one deep saute pan and a bunch of fry pans, choose the deep saute pan. You’ll be able to cook anything with it no matter how many guests you have.
  3. You can do everything with a single utility knife.
  4. Got one pot, two boiling water needs? Cook everything together. Lots of Italian recipes actually will tell you to do this: “Boil the pasta and add the asparagus near the end of the cooking time.” Bonus: everything will be done cooking at the same time.
  5. Tiny cutting boards can be a pain, but they’re not the end of the world. If worse comes to worse, stash everything you’ve already chopped in a temporary bowl or clean off your counter top and treat it as a gigantic cutting board. Who cares?IMG_2556[1]Happiness is: a pot with built-in strainer.
  6. There’s literally no reason that you have to have a microwave. Even frozen dinners have conventional oven cooking directions. But seriously, heating up leftovers in an oven vs. a microwave? So much tastier.
  7. Avoid appliances in general. Chances are, there are other, simpler ways to cook it (rice = covered pot, toast = fry pan, coffee = french press, moka pot, etc.), and in a small apartment or house with limited counter space, it’s just not worth it.
  8. Along the same lines, limit the number of items you own that have a single use. Example: mango slicers.
  9. Ten items no kitchen can be without–period: a utility knife, an oven, a large pot, a large pan, a cake pan (doubles as a cookie sheet), measuring cups/spoons, a spatula, a silicone spatula or large spoon, a large bowl, and a grater.
  10. And finally…ask before you buy. Even if you don’t have a large family, extended relatives may be trying to replace some of their own kitchenware and will be happy to pass their used stuff down to you. Remain open to possibilities. Used doesn’t necessarily mean cheap or broken! Sometimes you can get a real deal. If you have to buy, look at yard sales and thrift stores–these can be goldmines as well.

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I see All Clad in my future…maybe yours, too.

So, what are your tips for cooking resourcefully? What are your favorite (or most fantasized) kitchen tools?

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3 responses to “Conservative Cooking: The Resourceful Kitchen

  1. I personally find kitchen shears are more useful than utility knives. I use them to “chop” herbs, open bags, cut up cooked flank steak, and even carve a chicken. And there’s less chance of hurting yourself. ~M.

      • I chop them up with knives. Having a good knife with a sharpener are really good items to have in the kitchen as well. As I write this, it occurred to me that maybe you were referring to utility knives as what I call a standard kitchen knife. Haha… I was thinking utility blades – like the ones that you push up and break off when you need a fresh one. Oops! ~M.

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