Cooking for the Total Novice!

So you’ve recently moved out of your parent’s house-congratulations! Moving into your own place is probably the biggest hurdle to your psychological maturity: from my own experience, no matter how proactive and intelligent you are, living with your parents will arrest your emotional development into a permanent adolescence, despite the fact that neither you or your parents will likely be intentionally doing this. In other words, I am not writing a “FUCK YOU MOM AND DAD” diatribe-my parents, and likely yours as well, have only the best intentions, but when you live in their house, you are by definition in the position of being a child. But I digress.

Now that you’re living on your own, there’s probably a lot of “adult” things that you don’t know how to do—completely understandable, as the majority of my readers are of the Millennial generation and many of us were not taught how to do anything practical. And seeing as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs puts food right beneath oxygen, shelter, and water, I suppose that the first “adult” thing you ought to learn is how to cook halfway decently. After all, you can’t conceivably do many variations on your house, the air you breathe, or the liquid you drink (protip: drink water more than anything else, its typically the healthiest option), but there’s a wide cornucopia of different recipes and styles of food to make. But rather than go into any of them, let us go over the fundamentals of the kitchen, the information that you will need to cook for yourself on a day to day basis. Thus, this article will go over the utensils, cookware, appliances/settings, and a few staples. And without further ado:

Pretend this is your kitchen. “Where do I start?” you might ask. Let’s start with the appliances that you absolutely need in it: the range, the oven (typically both of these functions are in one appliance), the refrigerator, and the freezer (again, typically combined). Combine these with some cabinets for storing preserves/dry food/other things that don’t take to refridgeration, and that’s all you need for fixtures.

Yes, gentlemen, it’s that simple. Microwaves and toasters are nice to have, but not a necessity (toast can be made with hand toasters or in a pan, and reheating of food can be done similarly), and dishwashers are, and have always been, completely useless

So now that you’ve figured out how to make your food hot, we can go into finer preparation: a proper kitchen should have the following, most of which are pretty self explanatory:

1) A good set of knives. I’ve already discussed the importance of knives as tools in a previous article, but it bears repeating: without knives, you don’t have a stocked kitchen. If you have a big utility knife such as my Kabar, then that will actually take the place of several knives and cleavers. Otherwise, just get yourself a good butcher knife. A beginner will likely not need a cleaver or paring knives.

2) Measuring cups and spoons: if you’re going to be doing any recipes that require precise amounts of ingredients, these are a necessity.

3) Oven mitts

4) Can Opener

5) Spatula. Get a metal one, the rubber ones are dogshit.

6) Cutting Board

7) Ladle

8) Colander

9) Wine/bottle opener

For day to day cooking, I find that’s all you need—if you want to cook anything fancier, you’ll need more equipment. Now on to cookware:

1) 2 pots, one small and large (typically 2 quart and 4 quart). One is for boiling water and steaming vegetables, the other is for doing noodles or stews. Again, if you’re really hurting financially, you can just reduce your cooking portions and have one pot. But typically you can buy a set for a reasonable price, so feel free to get a set.

2) 12 inch cast iron skillet. This right here will serve all of your frying needs-you can put both a meat and vegetable serving on it simultaneously. And I stress CAST IRON: cast iron cookware, while a little more expensive, will last forever with a little maintenance (perhaps for a future article), and some say it even gives you a little bit of dietary iron. Plus it can serve as a decent weapon, much more so than the flimsy aluminum pans you can get for cheap.

3) An aluminum baking sheet: because occasionally I feel the need to make hardtack or dried vegetables to stock my pantry.

Once that’s done, you need to stock your pantry:

1) Some sort of non-perishable staples: bags of dried rice, oatmeal, or noodles will last for years if not opened. Cheap and calorically dense; for thousands of years some sort of complex carbohydrate has served as the base of meals around the world. Why should you be change the formula?

(Yeah, I know about the “wheat belly” stuff. In graduate school I reduced portion sizes and did both formal and informal exercise every day (Terms I have defined elsewhere), and I lost close to 40 pounds without even knowing it. You can lose weight while eating cereal grains.)

2) Preserves of meat, fruit, and vegetables. Cans of fish, beans, vegetables, etc. Not quite as nutritious as the fresh stuff, but lasts a hell of a lot longer. Rotate when it expires, of course.

3) Pepper and various spices—not a nutritional necessity, but great for staving off boredom in your cooking.

4) Vegetable oil: it’s for cooking most things

5) Flour: For adding a bit of breading to your meals, or for making the aforementioned hardtack.

6) Baking powder and baking soda: Works with #5, and they also have many household uses as well.

From there, the actual act of grocery shopping is almost trivially simple: My typical loadout is:

Breakfast Essentials:



Oatmeal (preferably steel cut, not machine cut)

Two packs of “accessory Fruit” (blueberries, grapes, strawberries, small fruit you can put in the oatmeal. Perhaps figs or dates if you’re feeling exotic)

Lunch Essentials:

One loaf of bread (make it last two weeks)

Lunch Meat (one pack, make it last)

One unit of cheese (good proppa cheese, make it last)

Some sort of brined preserve (pickles, artichoke hearts, olives, accessories to the lunch. One jar!)

Hand fruits of many types (apples, oranges,  bananas, pears, und so weiter). Between 12 and 24 units (one fruit=one unit).

Dinner essentials:

Green vegetables (your mustard greens, your spinach, green beans, asparagus, and so forth). Fresh or frozen or canned

Meats (Mandatory 2 pounds of ground beef for the post workout meal. In addition, units of chicken wings and legs, pork chops, fish, sausage, possibly organ meats if they’re available. Usually not steak, shit is expensive. Eyeball it to determine how much you need-and remember you can halve things.)

Complex carbohydrates (brown rice, noodles, semolina, etc. Buy a multiple pound bag, this’ll last you at least a month if you’re smart about it)


Cans of fish in oil (buy a few with each shopping trip, they last for years and thus you put them in the cabinet)

Brined preserves (so important you gotta do it again, buy one or two)

Canned soups, vegetables, beans (it’s good shit)

Another bag of rice or dried noodles

Mixed nuts and trail mix (non-perishable snack, make it last! Also get the kind that doesn’t have chocolate in it, numbnuts)


Baking Powder

Flour (for hardtack)

From here, the most simple meal to make, a meal that will give you every nutrient you need to get through the day, and is capable of being made with your eyes closed:

1) Boil water and put the cereal grain into the water. Do this for half an hour

2)  Put vegetable oil in the skillet, turn on the range and put meat and vegetables in the skillet.

3) Cook until sufficiently browned

4) Occasionally take out a sample of cereal and taste it. When it has been sufficiently softened, stop boiling, and pour the cereal-and-water into a collander. Empty out the water and put the cereal on a plate.

5) Put the meat and vegetables on a plate

6) Put condiments on

7) Eat

Is it a particularly exciting meal? No, but it’s nutritious, fairly palatable, can work with basically any condiment (thus making it more palatable), and, most importantly, can be made by anyone with an IQ above room temperature.

I used this recipe specifically to counter the people who complain “Oh it’s so hard and time consuming to cook my own food, that’s why I have to eat prepackaged crap that makes me a fatbody.” This meal right here takes half an hour at most, and is so easy to make that I frequently do a good chunk of my reading while standing at the stovetop. It is like so:

1) Start the cooking

2) Start reading

3) Every 5 pages, check the status of the food. Deal with any problems, turn the  meat and vegetables over.

4) Repeat this process until food is complete

5) Read while eating.

And that’s my basic meal. You might be saying “You barely used any of those utensils and things you mentioned above.” And that’s right, I didn’t. This article is the BASICS of cooking, for the complete novice. More complicated concepts will be for future articles. But for now, I think I’ve taught you enough to get by. More often than not, I’ll fall back onto this meal.