Meet Tonya. She’s a newlywed, full-time working, hungry to learn home cook in Summerville, South Carolina. And like many newlyweds, Tonya doesn’t have much experience in the kitchen. YET! You see, Tonya has already set herself up for success… an opportunity that I missed out on when I married 10 years ago. And so it’s in her very first kitchen that we discuss what every new home cook needs to know.
1. Starting from scratch is a blessing.
Many of you might carry some sense of inadequacy into your first kitchen. Maybe your counters seem lifeless because they’ve only seen microwave dinners? Count it as a blessing, my friends, to start out with a clutter-free kitchen. You might not have all the stuff but your journey starts best with a clean slate. All the women I know who have had the same space for 10+ years wish they could have an organizational do-over. It’s a hidden luxury to find time to clean your drawers out of completely useless gadgets which increase exponentially year to year. My dear sweet Tonya is rocking a small apartment kitchen as a total newbie yet she made it both functional and beautiful. Since she started out this way it makes it easier for her to maintain this simple and fuss-free kitchen. So give yourselves a pat on the back if you’re turning on your oven for the very first time. You’re already on your way to success!
2. Good knives are worth it.
I registered for cheap knives. Tonya registered for quality knives. Guess who started their culinary journey first? If you’re thinking this sounds bogus, I’ve been there. But the first time you slice into an apple and there’s little to no resistance you’ll remember what I said. Good knives are worth every penny. And you don’t even have to break the bank to get decent ones. You don’t even need a whole set! Just get an 8 inch chef knife like this J.A. Henckles one from Bed Bath & Beyond and you’re golden.
3. You don’t need every kitchen appliance out there.
I started out with an oven, hand held mixer, and a microwave. I pretty much never used the mixer and was busy nuking leftover Rice-A-Roni on a regular basis. BUT my kitchen only overflowed with dirty dishes and not underused kitchen clutter. Thus, it was easy to maintain and find storage despite my painfully tiny quarters and serious lack of counter space. Fast forward a couple years and my second kitchen housed items I hardly even touched which left me depressingly defeated. You wouldn’t think “having it all” could do that to you but it can! The more you own the more you have to take care of, find a place for, and clean on a regular basis. As a new home cook, that’s the last thing Tonya needs. She’s got the basics, she is learning to use them properly, and that is enough! Sure, everyone wants a KitchenAid stand mixer, and I highly recommend getting one when you can. But it’s certainly not essential, nor is it easy to store when you have no counter space. Check out this post on making space for things that matter and you might even find yourself ditching your microwave!
4. Slow cookers are miracle workers.
If there’s one kitchen appliance I DO suggest you get right away it would be the slow cooker. Whether you’re new to the kitchen or have been the family cook forever, there’s no denying how much the infamous slow cooker can help you out. The ease of dumping a whole pre-prepped frozen dinner into your slow cooker and then hours later scooping dinner onto your plate = priceless. And for you newbies it means what normally would be a multi-stepped nightmare could be a 3 step culinary win. Seriously, does the idea of making “Thai Peanut Chicken” make you cower in fear? What if I told you that with only 5 minutes worth of prep you could throw several ingredients into a slow cooker, run a few errands, fold all the laundry, pour yourself some wine and then BOOM! Dinner is ready? It’s true! Tonya remains hesitant since her failed slow cooker roast. But you can’t let one mishap deter you! Everyone has a hilariously sad kitchen-fail story to tell. Overcome your fears, embrace the slow cooker and all the crazy cool new recipes that come with it, and reap the timesaving rewards.
5. Fuss with the prep and you’ll be fuss-free later.
You may have heard the term “mise en place” before but it basically means to get all your ingredients measured and ready before you start cooking. It will save you time and your sanity, especially if we’re talking about a recipe you’ve never tried before. As many of you already know, once you start cooking it can be a whirlwind of chaos in the kitchen. The last thing you want is to be dicing onions mindlessly as your chicken breast burns a hole into your dinner plans. To my amazement, Tonya kept her counters tidy and ingredients organized throughout her taco-making process when she had me over for dinner one evening. Just look at Tonya’s cute little bowls that perfectly house the taco toppings! This small effort made way for a seamless start to finish system with minimal frustration. I am only just realizing the true value of prepping beforehand and I have to do it with whiney kids at my feet. I tell you ladies, the earlier you can incorporate this habit into your cooking process, the better.
6. Don’t forget to add your own flair.
Cooking takes time, folks. We’re talking hours per week in the same room struggling with technique, time, and taste. You might as well make that room as pleasing as possible to be in. Do yourself a favor and take a moment to give your kitchen some style. You don’t need to go overboard (hello, limited counter space!) but maybe pick a few things that bring you joy. Tonya rents her apartment. This means she has limited options for styling her small kitchen. Yet, with this incredibly beautiful piece behind her stove she is able to add her own flair easily and on a budget. Think about how many hours she’ll be facing that direction as she whips up new creations! Make it pretty. Make it yours.
I just want to give a big shout out to all the NEW home cooks out there who are giving their kitchen a chance. It’s hard to break from the convenience of frozen or fast-food, but just take one night a week to try something from scratch and a whole new world will open up to you. And for realzies, break out that slow cooker!