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Starter kitchen: Easy recipes and advice for new cooks

June ought to be called the freshest month. College graduates move into their lives, newlyweds set up house, and a new crop of cooks hits the kitchen.

New York food writer Brooke Parkhurst has been there. When she graduated from Davidson College in 2002, she moved to New York for a career in TV journalism. Instead, she became a novelist with “Belle in the Big Apple,” and married a chef, James Briscione.

Today, Parkhurst and Briscione have their own cookbook, “Just Married & Cooking” (Scribner) and a website, justmarriedandcooking.com.

Parkhurst’s first advice for new cooks is simple:

“Get in the kitchen, begin with simple meals and practice.

”Don’t be overly ambitious. Don’t go for the chateaubriand for your first time. Work your way into things. Good results will encourage you to keep cooking.”

The following tips come from Helen Schwab and Kathleen Purvis of the Charlotte Observer, Andrea Weigl and Felicia Gressette of The (Raleigh) News & Observer, and New York food writer Brooke Parkhurst.
Pick a shape for resalable containers, square or rectangle, and stick with it. (Charlotte Observer/MCT)
Pick a shape for resalable containers, square or rectangle, and stick with it. (Charlotte Observer/MCT)

Tools every kitchen needs

1. Tongs. Preferably locking tongs. They should be long enough to keep your hand away from spattering skillets, but short enough that they’re easy to maneuver. Try the OXO 12-inch stainless steel locking tongs ($12.99).

2. A set of cake pans. You do a lot of things in a cake pan even if you don’t have a full set of cookware.

3. An enameled, cast-iron Dutch oven. They’re heavy, they last a lifetime and when you make your first pot roast, you may find yourself addicted to cooking for life. Try the Lodge Enameled Cast-Iron 6-quart Dutch Oven ($60).

4. A fine-mesh bowl sieve. They’re more useful than colanders with big holes, and they double as flour sifters (easier to clean than a sifter, too). Try OXO Good Grips Double Rod Strainer ($22).

5. A really sharp zester from Microplane, which cost $13-$15. They’re easier and faster than getting out a big box grater. Parkhurst uses hers to grate garlic: “It will melt into a dish when you grate it. You get the essence without crunching into bits.”

Cooking do’s

1. Decide how you will organize your recipes, before you have a big, messy pile of torn-out recipes you’ll never use. How you organize isn’t as important as having a system.

2. Clean as you go. It saves a lot of time, and cooking is more fun if you don’t have a disaster to clean up when you’re done.

3. Find a really good cook who will let you hang out, watch closely and ask a lot of questions.

4. Read recipes all the way through before you start ― no matter how big a hurry you are in.

5. Pick a shape for re-sealable containers ― square or rectangle ― and stick with it. If you stay with one shape, they can be nested for efficient storage. Forget round ones. They waste space.

Cooking don’ts

1. Don’t buy sets of knives. You’ll waste money on specialty knives you’ll never use. Spend the money on the best 8-inch chef’s knife, 4-inch paring knife and 12-inch serrated-edge knife you can afford. We like Messermeister and Henckel brand knives. Those three knives will cost $130-$150.

2. Don’t waste expensive extra-virgin olive oil for frying. It can’t take high heat. Use cheaper vegetable oil and save the good olive oil for vinaigrette.

3. Don’t be afraid to get a big skillet or roasting pan. You can cook something small in a big pan, but you can’t cook something big in a small pan. A Lodge 12-inch pre-seasoned cast-iron skillet will last a lifetime for $25.

4. Don’t be afraid to change recipes. It uses beef and you like chicken? It calls for tarragon but you have thyme? Don’t worry, try it.

5. Don’t waste time wiping mushrooms one by one. They won’t absorb that much water if you rinse them and drain them well, no matter what the recipe says.

Books for starting out

1. “How to Cook Everything,” by Mark Bittman (Wiley, 2008). It lives up to the title, and it’s available as an iPhone app, too.

2. “The Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook” (Wiley, 2010). Everybody needs a go-to cookbook with simple recipes and lots of step-by-step photos. The cookbook with the red-plaid cover has earned its place in kitchens for generations.

3. “The Classic Italian Cookbook,” by Marcella Hazan (Ballantine, 1989). It’s simple, useful (the blender pesto is a must), and Italian is the one cuisine that every person you know probably likes.

4. “The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion” (Countryman Press, 2003). A go-to baking book. “When you first get into cooking, you really enjoy desserts,” says Parkhurst. “You have something really impressive that you can make early on.”

5. Fine Cooking magazine. A magazine subscription instead of a book can give new cooks a chance to find out what they like. This one is simple, elegant and always reliable, with a lot of how-to information every month.

By Kathleen Purvis

(McClatchy Newspapers)

(McClatchy-Tribune Information Services)
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