- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 1, 2005

Setting up a kitchen for the first time can be overwhelming. Shelves and shelves of pots and pans alone greet shoppers at any local cookware store. Not to mention the rows of gizmos and gadgets and the avalanche of appliances available to beginning cooks.

To prepare more than ramen noodles and macaroni and cheese, basic cookware pieces are essential in the kitchen. Although each cook may have unique culinary goals, all will benefit from having some fundamental cooking items. Outfitting a kitchen can cost from $150 on up.

The answer for many cooks has been to buy a “kitchen in a box,” says Janice Simonsen, design spokeswoman for Ikea in Plymouth Meeting, Pa. There are local Ikea stores in Woodbridge, Va., and College Park.

“We always look at how our customers live and how to provide solutions for them,” Ms. Simonsen says. “We realize that a lot of our customers are in different stages of their lives; perhaps they are just starting out. We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to put everything they would need in one kit?’”

Depending on their needs, new cooks can purchase Ikea’s Start Box 1 or Start Box 2, Ms. Simonsen says. The kits, which cost $79.99 each, also may be useful when outfitting a vacation home, she says.

The first box is a 44-piece kitchen utensil set with items such as mixing bowls, mixing spoons, cutting boards, knives, storage jars, pots, a frying pan, oven dishes, a wine opener and measuring cups. The second box is a 60-piece dinnerware set with items to set a table for six, including cutlery, dinner platters, side platters, bowls, drinking glasses, coffee mugs and wineglasses.

“These are the everyday basics that you’re really going to need,” Ms. Simonsen says. “Later, if you realize that you do a lot of baking, you can always add onto it. It’s just a matter of adding one or two items to expand upon your cooking needs.”

Susan Doktor, a spokeswoman for Toledo, Ohio-based Calphalon, suggests buying four pans as a cookware base: a nonstick fry pan, an infused anodized saute pan, a stainless-steel saucepan and a stockpot with any of those three surfaces.

A pan with an infused anodized surface is best when searing steaks or sauteing vegetables, Ms. Doktor says. The proprietary process of anodizing aluminum with other materials makes the substance harder and less porous than stainless steel, which allows for a good cooking surface.

A nonstick fry pan, sometimes called an omelet pan, is best for delicate foods or when cooking without fat, Ms. Doktor says. A stainless-steel saucepan is useful when cooking sauce, to see how the color of the food is changing. For example, when making caramel, the cook has to pull the sauce from the stove just before it burns, she says.

Because a stockpot is so large, the surface isn’t as crucial. For making creamy soups, a nonstick surface might be a plus. Because tomato sauce has an acidic base, stainless steel might be helpful for making it.

As far as cutlery is concerned, a large knife, a small knife and a steel on which to sharpen them are key. Although knives can be expensive, a paring knife is a good substitute for many other gadgets, such as a vegetable peeler, Ms. Doktor says.

Because the majority of the budget goes toward pots, pans and knives, buying cheaper, smaller utensils, such as measuring cups, peelers and graters, can be a way to save money. Ideally, a budget will stretch for a microwave oven, a blender, canisters for flour and sugar, and a mixer, says Rosemary Molle, family and consumer sciences teacher at Yorktown High School in Arlington.

“KitchenAid mixers have strong motors,” Mrs. Molle says. “If you buy a small hand mixer, they tend to burn up the motor. The beaters get tangled. You end up buying several of them. So you should just go ahead and buy a good stand mixer.”

Other items on her list of kitchen essentials include a can opener, mixing bowls, a colander, a silicon rubber scraper, a wooden spoon, a whisk, a 12-by-18-inch baking sheet, a 9-by-13-inch casserole dish, potholders, dish towels and storage containers. Depending on how much a person bakes, cake pans and muffin tins would be helpful. For all those pizza lovers, a pizza cutter and rolling pin might be handy.

Purposely setting up a kitchen saves times and money, Mrs. Molle says. With a little thought, cooks usually end up with better products than if they buy things randomly. For her college-age son, she bought a box of 48 kitchen essentials.

If everything can’t be bought at once, it’s probably better to buy disposable or less expensive items until good-quality cookware and accessories can be purchased, she says.

A toaster oven is a good suggestion, especially for people who live alone, says Mary Rodgers, director of marketing communications for Cuisinart and Waring in Stamford, Conn. Instead of heating the oven, it’s easier to reheat items in a toaster oven, she says.

Food processors also are helpful for myriad functions, including making bread dough and chopping vegetables.

Depending on how much coffee someone drinks, a coffee maker may be a must-have appliance.

“If you are currently spending $10 a day at Starbucks, you want to buy a coffee maker,” Ms. Rodgers says. “You will pay for it in the first month that you use it.”

Cooks with an ill-equipped kitchen will figure out by trial and error what they need, says Alex Lee, president of OXO International in New York City.

Although an ice cream scoop and a corkscrew may appear last on people’s lists, they could become important when one is craving treats.

“If you cook at all, in about a week, you’re going to figure out that you’re missing things,” Mr. Lee says. “When you get to the point that you aren’t constantly figuring out that you are missing something, then you have the basic items.”

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