Kitchens are the heart of a home – whether for postsecondary students finally out on their own, fledgling condo owners or anyone getting a fresh start in a new space.
They can also be intimidating. Many of us can empathize with students settling into their first apartments – and gazing at an empty kitchen with both fear and anticipation.
As with cooking, setting up a kitchen from scratch takes a little bit of planning and imagination.
Emma's grandmother owned a kitchen store for 30 years. The one lesson she always wanted customers to take away was that a good knife, skillet and pan are worth more than a few substandard ones. Take our advice: Stocking kitchen cabinets with a few quality items is better than cramming in a bunch of family rejects.
If we could surround another piece of advice with blinking lights, it would be this: Stay away from pot and knife sets. The first are always filled with useless pots that will just take up cupboard space. The second are usually made up of substandard knives that cannot be sharpened, making them dangerous and difficult to use.
Most of the following items are available online or at department stores, but a good kitchen store is the best place to get advice. It will also have a good selection of knives and offer the chance to pick tools up to test weights and see what feels best in your hand.
Our picks for pots and pans
10-inch (25-cm) deep-sided skillet with a lid: This should be your non-stick pan. It's not just a frying pan: It can also boil water quickly and is great for small-batch spaghetti sauce. It makes a good mac and cheese pan, fries chicken and is perfect for eggs. An all-metal pan can also work as a 10-inch cake pan in a cake emergency. Avoid the thin non-stick pans with the red dot.
12-inch cast-iron skillet: This is the workhorse of any kitchen. It goes from oven to stove to table and works perfectly for roasting a chicken, making a stir-fry and even as a rustic baking pan. If it is treated properly, it will become non-stick. We like the mid-price Lodge pans.
Pasta pot: Look for a little bit of weight and a well-fitting lid. Stainless steel is a good choice, and Ikea has some decent ones. This will be for pasta, big pots of soup and sauces. It also makes a good punch bowl.
Sauce pot: If you can only get one pot, get a two-litre; if you can afford two pots, add in a one-litre as well. Pots should not be non-stick.
Chef's knife: A good knife can be purchased for less than $80. When at the store, lift a couple of knives and check for grip and weight. Lucy and Emma both seem to choose their Japanese knives the most often. A sharp knife is a safer knife.
Two paring knives: At least one should have a serrated edge. These knives do it all – our family is partial to the red-handled Victorinox knives.
Bread knife: A long serrated knife. It breaks our rule that everything should be multifunctional, but it is a must for bagels and baguettes. It is also good for cutting cold meats.
Kitchen scissors: Not just for opening bags, good scissors can cut through raw and cooked chickens, mince bacon and cut up herbs. These will be in use multiple times a day.
Wooden spoons: Never plastic or stainless steel. Wooden spoons are a must.
Spatula: A silicone spatula can withstand high heat, scrape the inside of a mayonnaise jar and flip a stubborn pancake.
Fish spatula: This utensil is our favourite "flipper" for meat, fish and bacon.
Lockable tongs: The most-used item in the kitchen. Buy two and never regret it.
Colander: Buy a medium-sized one that can hold a box of pasta.
Microplane: This grates everything. Everything.
Glass measuring cup: For measuring liquids, but also for melting items in the microwave.
Dry measuring cups and spoons: Stainless-steel ones last longer and don't hold flavours.
Stainless-steel bowls: At least three of different sizes, for marinating, tossing a salad and holding popcorn.
Two sheet pans: This is a cookie sheet with sides. Do not buy non-stick. Look for heavy pans and line them with parchment paper when using.
9-inch by 13-inch baking pan: A must-have to make everything from cakes to lasagnas, as well as marinating meat.
Vegetable peeler: No need to get a super-expensive one, but still, don't buy it from the dollar store.
Electric kettle: More energy-efficient than a stove-top model.
Nutribullet or other compact blender: For smoothies, pesto and salad dressing.
Dutch oven: A heavy oval or round Dutch oven made from cast-iron enamel is great for making stews, braises and any big-batch cooking you might do. It goes from the stove to the oven and then the table. They come in great colours and can be used for home decor when not holding food. It can also be another general pot for boiling, making rice, etc.
Salad spinner: More than just lettuce – it's also great for washing and drying fruit and herbs.
8-inch by 8-inch square cake pan or a 9-inch round pan: For those who bake brownies and squares. These pans both have the same volume.