There was a time that I didn’t eat anything that I couldn’t cook in the microwave or toaster oven. That time spanned roughly 1999-2013. I ventured to the Oven & Stove Territory in 2013-ish when I moved cross-country to live with my (now) fiancé and spent a few months as an unemployed house-girlfriend who felt that she had to earn her keep by supplying him with batches of homemade plantain chips and meals that required recipes and prolonged heat. As a result, I learned my way around such fancy kitchen items as the oven, a knife, and a couple of pots and pans.
Here I am now, in 2016, sharing my high-level expertise with you and showing you that basic kitchen skills should not be the reason that you don’t eat healthy foods, especially veggies.
Without further adu, here are my top kitchen essentials:
A sharp knife and cutting board
I’ll be honest. I consider the cutting board optional, but I know that it’s frowned upon to cut directly on your counters. If I owned my house or had nicer counters, I’m sure I would care more. As is, I’d say about 20% of the time, I don’t feel like having to wash the cutting board for just one zucchini, so I go without. Don’t tell my landlord. And do as I say, not as I do, and get a cutting board.
The knife situation, though, is non-negotiable. Having a sharp knife really will improve your life. This is coming from someone who is very unskilled with a can opener and has, on (several) occasion(s), opened a can of soup with a knife, thus dulling it basically beyond use.
When I took my knives to Max the Sharpener at the farmer’s market, I thought it was a joke that he gave me a stack of band-aids when he returned them. It was not a joke. I have used them all. Anyhow, no matter what you are trying to cut, having a sharp knife will make it much, much easier. (Stay tuned next week for some veggie-chopping video tutorials right here on the blog).
Even if you have nothing else at your disposal, you can make do with just the microwave. No, I don’t know if the radiation is going to make your great-great-great-grandchildren radioactive. I don’t think so. Ideally don’t microwave plastic but if you don’t have any other options, don’t stress yourself out too much about it.
You can cook most veggies in the microwave by steaming them with a little bit of water.
You can cook baked potatoes by stabbing them a bunch of times with a fork and microwaving them until they’re soft.
You can cook a spaghetti squash by microwaving it for a few minutes to soften it, cutting off the ends and then slicing it in half, scooping out the seeds, and placing face down on a plate to microwave again until it’s soft. (Basically the exact same way you would in the oven, just much faster).
Don’t let a lack of other equipment hold you back from eating healthy. You can buy just about any veggie under the sun in a frozen, steamable bag and the only thing you have to do is figure out which side says “THIS SIDE UP” and how to set the microwave for 5 minutes.
I usually line mine in aluminum foil so that they’re easier to clean but you don’t have to do that. I chop up a ton of veggies, distribute them on as may trays as I can fit in the oven, sprinkle (douse) them with Mrs. Dash, and roast them for ~45 minutes until I decide they’re done cooking.
Big pot (optional steamer basket)
Just like you can steam veggies in the microwave with a little bit of water, you can do it on the stove top in a big pot. Put some water in there, then the metal thing (I had to look it up to learn it was called a steamer basket), then dump the veggies. This is how I cook all my dark, leafy greens (kale, spinach, etc) or if I buy a bag of frozen veggies that aren’t in a steamer bag already.
This is my preferred method of cooking small quantities of veggies. I toss them in my pan with some cooking oil (usually olive oil) and toss them around until they’re cooked. (I like mine soft, so that takes a little longer). This is also the easiest way to cook a couple of servings of protein. I do all my ground meats in the pan with some Mrs. Dash. Basically the only way you can mess up is if you walk away and come back to a charred ____ and cloud of smoke. So stay in the kitchen and just keep moving the stuff around in the pan so that you can keep an eye on its level of done-ness.
I don’t even know if this one should be on the list, since these probably came with your kitchen if you’re not living in a closet studio walk-up in Manhattan for $4,000 a month. Obviously you can’t do the things mentioned above if you don’t have one. You could make do with just the stove top, for the most part. You just couldn’t cook in as much bulk as you can when you utilize the oven, as well.
My apartment came with the stove/oven and microwave and I’ve found about most of my favorite trays/pans/pots at the thrift store so if you’re going to splurge, do it on a nice knife (or set of knives, though I never know what to do with most of them and just develop a favorite that I use 90% of the time).
Any kitchen faves that aren’t on the list but you wouldn’t want to live without? Share below.