Outfitting a kitchen doesn’t need to break the bank, but investing in some basic tools and equipment makes it easier to stay on track with preparing homemade dishes as opposed to living on microwaveable meals. It also makes sense to coordinate with roommates about what kitchen equipment they are planning to bring, because cabinet storage will be at a premium.
If you’re living in campus housing, find out what appliances you can have; some universities, for instance, prohibit toasters and toaster ovens.
Small appliances that can come in handy include an electric blender – useful for making smoothies, of course, and also invaluable for whipping up sauces and soups. An easy-to-clean nonstick rice cooker can make rice in 20 minutes, and, if it has a steamer basket insert, can cook veggies and tofu, seafood or chicken cutlets at the same time. If you and your roommates like to plan meals together, a slow-cooker can be a great way for everybody to come home to a hot meal that’s ready to eat, such as a hearty lentil stew or chicken enchiladas.
At a minimum, a standard 18-by-13-inch sheet pan, a 12-cup muffin tin, a 4- or 8-quart stockpot and a 12-inch frying pan can be used in multiple ways. Besides baking cookies, a sheet pan can be used to cook an entire meal in the oven, while a muffin tin can make individual grab-and-go options for both breakfast and dinner. A stockpot can be used for pasta, soups and stews, and it can go into the oven for baking casseroles. A simple frying pan, whether cast iron, stainless steel or nonstick, can help you cook quesadillas, fried rice, scrambled eggs and more.
A lot of items seem absolutely logical – can opener, box grater, colander, flexible spatula, 8-inch chef’s knife and 4-inch paring knife, measuring spoons and cups, cutting board – but a few that are less obvious will help take even simple cooking to the next level.
For instance, although your pantry might consist mostly of canned or frozen items, plan on keeping lemons and limes on hand, and buy a Microplane grater so you can add fresh zest to sauces, pasta, pancakes and yogurt; that small hit of citrus will add a noticeable pop of flavor, a common trick in restaurant kitchens.
Fresh garlic also can have a big impact, so buy heads of garlic, as opposed to garlic powder, and add a garlic press to your utensil drawer.