Cooking Sucks.

Fast, easy recipes and kitchen tips for those who hate to cook, but feel like they have to anyway.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

The Bad Cook’s Kitchen

Setting up a kitchen when you think cooking sucks is painfully difficult. The Bad Cook’s kitchen generally comes in two types.

1. The “I never even think about my kitchen” kitchen

2. The “If I buy more stuff, my cooking will improve” kitchen

The first template is often to be found in the home of the single person, or the home of a couple who are married/ shacked up, and have no kids, but you can find it in any home. These are the kitchens of those of us who are sublimely unprepared to so much as hard boil an egg. These are the kitchens with jelly jars for drinking glasses, one skillet with the non-stick coating coming off in the middle, mismatched silverware, and an unused toaster oven from the wedding 2 years ago.

The second paradigm is what I think of as the “tool-oriented” kitchen, which can be great for a creative cook who loves the art, but is crippling overkill when you hate to cook. Here, you’ll find too many pots and pans for the cupboard and 18 small appliances that allow you to create anything from sandwich pockets to riced potatoes to perfectly poached chicken breasts. Bad cooks in this category will rarely ever ask themselves if they actually need to shoot salad ingredients from a gun, or if they really need a special device just for making perfect pats of butter. They love to shop for the kitchen, and will buy a special counter-top grill that is strictly for making quesadillas without a thought to where they will store it when they get it home. They’ll buy a rotating, countertop pizza oven that collects dust while they continue to order from the local Pizza Kiosk because it turns out that cleaning the home pizzeria is a total bitch. They’ll pick up automatic garlic slicing doohickey, even though they never think to by garlic by the clove. Why do they make all these purchases if they hate to cook? Because they are on the hunt, my friends, for that perfect doohickey that will finally make cooking a tolerable exercise. If you have a whole cabinet or shelf devoted to bagel toasters, cotton candy makers, counter-top grills, and pineapple slicers, then this category is yours. Admitting you have a problem is the first step.

When you hate to cook, you have to supply your kitchen in such a way that you play to your strengths and admit to your weaknesses. On the one hand, cooking will never become something you will tolerate if you have to brown hamburger meat for the spaghetti in the wok that your brother picked up for you in Korea. Likewise, your family or loved one will never enjoy breakfast at home if they have to eat their cereal out of the blender jar. Extreme minimalism will kill the desire to cook and mutilate your attempt to serve a meal at home. Ironically enough, kitchen supply overkill will only do the exact same thing. Having too many dishes to eat and drink from will only give you the opportunity to put off doing the dishes for two weeks. 62 small appliances designed to only do one thing will take up too much space, overwhelm your meager creativity stores, and very likely only get used once.

Here are some basic concepts to help you supply your kitchen with what you need.

* If you hate to cook, you probably will not enjoy cleaning up the mess afterward either.
* If you don’t entertain often, you really only need enough plates and cutlery for yourself and your family.
* A huge variety of small appliances will not make you enjoy cooking all of a sudden, and the chances of your using a Tortilla Press on a regular basis is pretty slim.

Below, I’ve compiled a list of minimum essentials – designed to allow you to cook adequately for yourself or family.

Cutlery Forks, Spoons, and Butter knives. Buy enough to serve your family twice before you have to wash the dishes. One spoon size is plenty – you don’t need all those different sizes.

Dishware Large plates, small plates, cereal/ soup bowls. If you drink coffee, get two mugs for each member of the family that drinks it. Most department stores these days allow you to buy individual dishes instead of the boxed kit that always comes with coffee cups that are too damned small and saucers that you’ll never put your coffee cup on. You will, however, blithely eat an egg off of said saucers instead of washing the dishes. You know who you are.

12 ounce glasses, 2 for each member of your family.

Knives One decent chef’s knife (8 inch should do); a small paring knife; a serrated edge bread knife, and a set of steak knives.

Pots and Pans One skillet, 10 inch or so, non-stick. 2 quart saucepan; one Dutch oven, one egg pan.

1 casserole dish that is 9" x 13" is great – you can use it for casseroles, or the odd cake you may need to bake.

Coffee maker, toaster, can opener, microwave and Foreman Grill (the big one). I’ve owned several table top grills in my life, and I do suggest you splurge for the Foreman. Last but not least in the appliance department, pick up a good waffle iron. It will change the way you think about Sunday breakfast.

Linens 4 dishtowels, 2 rags, 2 potholders, 4 plate scrubby thingies.

Kitchen timer, meat thermometer, spaghetti server; slotted spoon; ladle.

Now I understand that the above list may seem rather minimal, and in fact, you may already have ten times this much in your hellhole, erm, kitchen. If you truly hate cooking, I strongly suggest you pare down your collection (give it away, eBay it, yard sale, whatever). You’ll appreciate the sense of liberation that comes with knowing that your kitchen is not glutted with wasted money in the shape of useless gadgets. It’s truly a great feeling to know that every dish in the house can be dirty but you still only have one load for the dishwasher. In all of this you have a single goal – to turn your kitchen into a nice, inviting destination, as opposed to a sinking pit of despair. The less clutter, the more goal oriented the better.


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