Learning cooking from scratch during the quarantine: Part 3

Part 3 of our intrepid journey into me monologuing about cooking for an insane of time is about more of my current cooking setup, what I bought to upgrade my kitchen, and what I'm currently cooking.

The Background

I lived on the road while traveling for several years and I ate take out in most places. This is pretty common in a lot of parts of SE Asia because the takeout is so cheap. It’s also mostly healthy and almost always tasty. Nom nom. However, I found myself getting progressively unhealthier in the US, as I kept eating fast food and takeout every day. When I got back to the US, it had been so long since I had been in a kitchen I actually grabbed a cast iron pan on the stove with my bare hands without thinking about it. My family was suitably sympathetic. They didn't see that I did the exact same thing again 15 minutes later. That one I kept to myself. I’ve been back for almost four years now, but didn't start cooking to any degree until a year ago.

The Upgrades

As I started to cook more I decided to invest more in my cookware. It was a slow process over the year. It's worth noting that some of the stuff I got I didn't end up using at all; what you need is going to be completely dependent on what kinds of stuff you cook. I also didn't start buying things until I needed them. I won't ever encourage people to buy things they don't need, but this is what I got when I started cooking more.

I bought a full knife block and knives because I was constantly running out of knives.  Plus I didn't have everything that I really wanted (although I don't really use my bread knife or my utility knife that often). I also got a water stone so that I could sharpen my knives more easily*. If you get a water stone, watch a Youtube video on how to use it. Getting a knife guide is very helpful.: it’s a little plastic piece that keeps your knife at the perfect level as you use it. You have to be careful though because you can scratch your knives slipping it on. I love mine, and I'm pretty good at sharpening knives free hand. It just makes it easier.
*It's worth noting that I later realized that after you get a good edge you only need a knife steel to keep your knives sharp. Just steel your knife before you use it on anything where sharpness really matters and it'll mostly take care of itself.

I bought the following:

  • A couple of good non-stick pans (6 and 8 inch) (I use ceramic, not Teflon, because Teflon is bad for you).
  • Meat thermometer (I replaced this later with a better one)
  • Cast iron skillet
  • Several silicone and glass food storage containers. They’re like the plastic stuff, but the container is glass and the top is silicone. Hippies love this stuff since it's more reusable, but mostly I got it because if you forget about food in it for a month you can actually clean it. I once heard from a friend of mine that the only real difference he'd found between men and women is that men will throw away dishes that are too dirty rather than clean them. I have definitely thrown away several over the years. Especially plastic food storage with mold in it. The glass storage containers are non-porous, so you can just pour boiling water on one to disinfect it. If you get mold in plastic food storage, then you can't ever get it completely out. It holds onto flavor and smells more easily.
  • Good cutting board (a big one, since I already had a couple of smaller bamboo ones)
  • Set of wooden mixing spoons (I only really use the main one and occasionally the slotted one to stir stuff that I'm boiling or blanching
  • Silicone baking spatulas
  • Silicone spatulas
  • Larger pot (mine was a small 3-quart sauce pot)
  • 3-quart stainless steel sauté pan (I don't believe I have used this yet, but it is very good for reducing stuff due to the large surface area). I accidentally got a 5-quart at first and it was huge. I ended up giving it away to a friend of mine. Although it would fit an entire pound of paddy sausage, which was cool, I don't cook very much sausage, and usually not that amount at once. Pro tip: don’t eat an entire pound of paddy sausage to yourself. It’s delicious, but not great for your stomach.
  • Ceramic-covered La Creuset cast iron skillet. I love this and used it all the time when I was starting to get more into cooking. It has the benefits of cast iron without some of the annoying parts of upkeep. You still have to hand-wash and air dry it though. I don’t generally recommend them to people who are just starting out though due to their fragility and cost.
  • Dish drying rack. A lot of stuff for cooking should really be air dried, like good knives, and I was tired of constantly having stuff drying on my counter.
  • Hanging basket thingy (technical term) to hold my potatoes, garlic, and onions. I feel like most people already have this. I didn't. Also, mine doesn't hang since I have high ceilings. It sits on my counter. I love this because before I just put my onions and potatoes in a cabinet. Fun fact, if you put your potatoes in a dark place they will sprout and grow. Mine did several times. My onions did too.
  • Small cast iron dutch oven and top/skillet. I never used this and ended up giving it away to some friends of mine
  • Large ceramic covered dutch oven. This is amazing for frying food if you're into that, or for slow cooking if you don't have a crock pot. You can also use it as a steamer if you have a cake rack to put in it.
  • Spider skimmer. This is for skimming oil when deep frying stuff. It's pretty specialized, but is the absolute best for grabbing bits of breading and pull out the food from the fryer. I highly recommend them.
  • Toaster oven. I love my toaster oven and use it all the time. I don't eat a lot of bread, so when I want some I thaw it in the microwave and then toast it lightly for two minutes to dry it out.
  • Pyrex mixing bowls
  • Loaf pans. I got these to make meatloaf and banana bread. However, I don't really eat bananas much so they have sat in my cabinet unused. I have faith that I will use them at some point though.
  • Metal mixing bowls. I had some already, but they were extremely cheaply made generally bad. I got some decent ones that weren't super light and had non-slip bases. They also don't make everything taste like steel.
  • Non-stick cookie sheets (I have two of these, and if you're going to get two I recommend getting the same kind so that they stack better)
  • I eventually replaced my slow cooker (Crock Pot) with an Instant Pot, mostly because it was more versatile, and it makes amazing rice. I can't make rice in a pot to save my life; it's kind of sad. Quick tip: if your recipe calls for high on a crock pot, then you make it 1 hour 15 minutes on the instant pot on high for every hour on the crock pot. This is because the high setting on slow cook on the Instant Pot is lower than the high setting on the Crock Pot
  • I got also got the air fryer attachment for the instant pot, which works surprisingly well, although it makes very small batches. It takes up less space than a full air fryer too though. I keep looking at a full size one though. It looks great, but is so tall. I don't really have a place to put it, unless I move some of my blender stuff.

I also bought a bunch of baking stuff when I thought I was going to be getting into baking. I don't really bake. I can bake, but it's not particularly my thing. I'll have you know I am extremely mediocre at baking. Oh yeah. So here's a list with how often I use them for other things

  • A hand mixer (I do use this sometimes to make evenly mixed sauces, or deserts like custard or pudding. Homemade custard/pudding is delicious).
  • Non-stick cooling racks. I didn't realize that these are only good for temps up to 375F, and I wanted them for cooking bacon, which made them useless for what I wanted. They are pretty good for cooling cakes and such if you do that.
  • Steel cooling racks to replace the non-stick ones that I couldn't really use. They are amazing for cooking bacon in an oven, although they can be a pain to clean.
  • Several baking pans (which I have never once used)
  • A springform cheesecake pan. I love cheesecake, and I will use it someday, maybe. Cheesecake is pretty easy to make, but you also have to make the crust which is a bit more of a pain to make even if you're just doing a graham cracker crust. Hmm, I just looked it up and a graham cracker base crust is pretty easy to make. I thought there were more steps.
  • Muffin tray. I have never used this, but at some point I want to use it to make mini-quiches. I love quiche. I'm just not sure when I'm going to want a full thing of quiche. Maybe I'll bring it to a party when those start happening again. Probably not a good recommendation for something that is about cooking in the time of COVID.
  • Square pans for bread, or other things. I have never used these and don't precisely remember what I got them for. Maybe to make cake? I don't even really like sweets that much. Curious.

I'm having trouble remembering every piece that I bought now because some of it was later given away, or is in the back of one of my ridiculously deep cabinets. I kid you not: they are like 3+ feet deep. Why would anybody make cabinets that deep? It's weird. I've only lived in this apartment for a year or so and I still occasionally find things in the back of my cabinets I've forgotten I have.


I usually cook at least one meal a day unless I'm very busy or forgot to thaw any protein. Then I might get takeout from across the street, but even then I might just make a sandwich of some sort.

My go-to cooking these days:

  • Smoothies for breakfast, or eggs and sausage if I'm feeling fancy (I got a fantastic recipe for a protein/oat based smoothie from a friend of mine that is super good)
  • Pan fried steaks, with garlic.
  • Grilled chicken, which I generally use for salads or Chicken Teriyaki with homemade teriyaki sauce (I make this on a George Foreman mostly)
  • Slow-cooked beef tips with pasta and a red wine au jus sauce
  • Chicken Alfredo with whatever pasta I have around (usually penne)
  • Baked chicken over onions with rosemary and salt, served with homemade pasta and drizzled with balsamic vinegar
  • A variation on Southern style home fries. I finish them by adding in chili and oil to the butter when they are almost browned to give them a bit of a kick
  • Homemade French fries with a homemade fry sauce (ketchup, mayo, and sriracha)
  • Burgers on onion buns (sometimes Hawaiian buns more recently), although I'm considering switching to lettuce wraps. I sometimes sauté onions to go with them and make some sort of sauce to go with the burgers, but usually I'm too lazy.
  • I was making grilled cheese sandwiches for a while, but I haven't in a while. Ooh, I should try a grilled cheese with bacon and a sprinkling of thyme. That sounds super good, and maybe rosemary julienned fries (I just learned how to julienne slice stuff and I want to try it out). Nom nom.
  • I don't cook dessert often, but I have made homemade custard/pudding, and cookies. I'm not too big on baking though. I would prefer to make something savory. It's why I want to try out quiches.
  • Hotcakes for when I'm having brunch with friends (Old southern Fannie Farmer recipe)
  • Beef Teriyaki (I have a great recipe that uses sake and soy sauce as a base and only take 30 minutes to marinade)
  • I occasionally make my own Carne Asada
  • I also make good coffee and tea, but that's probably a separate article. I have an entire counter section that's mostly stuff for coffee and tea.

The future

I just grabbed a couple of cookbooks that I'm going to be working my way through. One of them is the one that my mother has been using my entire life, and has a lot of what I think of as family recipes. The next couple of recipes I'm going to be working on are a new  beef teriyaki recipe, and I'm also going to try out making my own pho, and cheesecake. I'm debating making my own stock, but I'm not sure if I want to. Also pho requires a lot of specific ingredients (mostly for the veggie and herbs part), and the restaurant across the street from me makes some of the best pho I've had in town and it's reasonably priced. It's a quandary.

I'm also planning on working on custards and tarts, as well as better sandwiches with more shelf-stable ingredients. Parfaits. I also would like to try my hand at bread (I found a great recipe for dinner rolls that I want to try). I would also like to try some more sauces, like making a bolognese from scratch, and cheesecake. I'm trying to eat a bit healthier this year; a lot of what I cook is super high in carbs and fat. So, I'm going to be reworking a lot of my old standards. I think I'm going to try to do more stir fry and sides that don't include tons of potatoes, although I do love potatoes. I found a great recipe for a twice baked potato, though, which looks great.