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Your Kitchen Starter Guide

Tools, Foods, and Recipes for Rookie Cooks

Between traditional media and digital resources – think Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook – we are inundated with beautiful photos of food, along with videos of people cooking wonderful dishes and complete meals. If you’re just starting out, it can be a little overwhelming, especially if you didn’t grow up in a home where cooking together was a thing.

How do you actually get started with cooking good food? Here are a few things to consider.

Get the Tools

Make sure your kitchen is stocked with the basics. Let’s consider cutlery first; a chef’s knife and a paring knife should do it. Keep these knives well-sharpened for safety and ease of use. A small sharpening tool is great to have on hand. When you shop for a cutting board, look for a medium to large bamboo or plastic one. Keep it clean, and dry it well after each use. 

Pots and pans can be added as you develop skills and build your repertoire. The basics include a large pot to boil pasta, a sauce pan, and 8-inch and 10-inch skillets. You should also have a baking sheet, preferably one with a jelly roll or 1-inch sides. Basic tools for your kitchen include tongs, a flat spatula for flipping, a rubber spatula for mixing, a whisk, and a wooden spoon. You’ll want a strainer or colander for draining pasta. Measuring cups and spoons are crucial for proper dry measuring. A liquid measuring cup gives a more accurate reading when measuring liquids.

Stock the Pantry

Have basics on hand to help you become a better cook. Most of these recommendations will store for a long time. 

Dry goods: olive oil, vinegar, kosher salt, pepper, hot sauce, soy sauce, honey, peanut butter, canned beans, rice, pasta, pasta sauce, canned tomatoes, canned tuna, dried fruit, nuts, flour,
and sugar

Basic storage: bread, onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes, garlic, apples, bananas

Cold storage: butter, cheese, milk, eggs, yogurt, jam, condiments, carrots, celery, mini peppers, frozen fruit, frozen veggies, meats

Spices: cumin, cinnamon, oregano, smoked paprika, ginger, chili powder, garlic, and onion powder

Find the Recipes

When looking for recipes, choose wisely. They should be easy to prepare and not take up too much time. Make sure you have most of the ingredients on hand or that the ingredients are easy to find. Check the tools it may require to ensure you have what you need. When reading the recipe, note that the ingredients usually have instructions written into them, i.e. 1 onion, diced. When preparing the recipe, you will need to consider this. Following the recipe will be easier if you have all the ingredients ready to go before you begin.

Go ahead and get started right now with these recipes! Remember that some recipes will be successful and some won’t work as well. The important thing is that you are trying. Bon appétit! 

Spaghetti Carbonara

3 eggs, at room temperature
1½ cups finely grated parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
6 strips thick-cut smoked bacon, diced
Kosher salt, to taste
1 pound dried spaghetti
Freshly ground pepper, to taste

In a bowl, whisk together the eggs and cheese. Set aside. In a 12-inch skillet over medium heat, add the bacon and cook until it is browned and the fat has rendered (fat is cooked slowly and becomes a liquid), 8 to 10 minutes. Set aside.

Bring a large pot of heavily salted water (2 tablespoons of kosher salt) to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente (tender but firm to the bite), according to the package instructions. Reserve about 1 cup of the cooking water and drain the rest.

Slowly whisk 1/2 cup of the reserved cooking water into the egg-cheese mixture. Return the skillet with the bacon to medium heat and rewarm. Add the pasta and 1/4 cup of the reserved cooking water and toss to combine. Remove the pan from the heat, pour in the egg-cheese mixture and toss well to combine. Season generously with pepper. Serve immediately and add extra parmesan cheese to plates. Serves 4.

Mediterranean Salad 

20 cherry tomatoes, halved
½ cucumber, halved and sliced
½ cup feta cheese, crumbled
¼ cup kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
15-oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed


3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 garlic clove, smashed and minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon dijon mustard
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
⅛ teaspoon pepper

In a medium bowl, combine tomatoes, cucumber, feta, olives, and chickpeas. In a measuring cup, whisk together olive oil, red wine vinegar, garlic, oregano, and dijon. Season with salt and pepper.

Pour dressing over the salad and toss lightly. Taste and add salt and pepper if needed. Serves 4.

Sopa de Lima
Tomato, Lime, and Tortilla Soup

3-4 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped coarsely
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon oregano
Black pepper to taste
2 teaspoons salt
1 fresh jalapeño pepper, chopped finely
32-oz can diced tomatoes
3 cups vegetable stock
1-2 limes


Grated Monterey Jack cheese, cilantro, and tortillas

In a large pot, sauté the onions, 1 teaspoon salt, garlic, and spices in the olive oil for 4 to 5 minutes on medium heat. Add the jalapeños and sauté for another 3 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt. Cover the pot and cook on medium, stirring frequently, until the tomatoes begin to release their juices, about 10 minutes (depending on the tomatoes).

Add the vegetable stock, bring everything to a boil, and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the lime juice and serve immediately. Garnish with grated Monterey Jack cheese and cilantro (optional). Serve with tortillas. Serves 6.

Simple Granola

4 cups old-fashioned oats
½ cup unsalted butter
½ cup honey
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Add oats to a medium bowl; set aside. In a small pot, melt butter over low heat, and add honey. Cook for 4 minutes, stirring frequently until bubbly and well-combined. Add cinnamon and salt; pour over oats stirring well until all coated. Pour onto a sheet pan with edges and spread out into an even single layer. Bake for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool completely. Store in an airtight container. Serve with yogurt and fresh fruit. Serves 6.

Photos: Jenny Tremblay West

Jenny Tremblay West began her career as a pastry chef and currently teaches cooking in Richmond. Jenny, her husband, and their two young boys live in Church Hill. She has worked in food for more than twenty years and is part of the team at Mise en Place.
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