Confident home cooking
Our spare bedroom...

Pots, Pans, Gizmos, and Gadgets

by Nick

I was talking to one of Betsy’s friends (and also my friend) a few weeks ago about Macheesmo and she brought up a very interesting problem. I’m paraphrasing but it went something like this:

“Nick. Macheesmo is way too complicated for me. I like to read it and look at the photos, but come on! Sometimes you use hundreds of dollars worth of equipment in one post! How’s a girl supposed to keep up? I don’t have any of these gadgets you speak of and I’m a student so I’m not getting them anytime soon!

I want to cook more, but my bank account is telling me to just order a pizza already.

A Valid Criticism

I’ll be the first to admit, this is a pretty solid point. Let’s take a look at my last two posts for an example (Burger and Chips). Here’s a breakdown for all the equipment I used to make a few burgers and some freakin’ potato chips:

Le Creuset 5.5 Qt Round French Oven – For frying the chips. Cost: $217
Mandoline SlicerFor slicing the chips. Cost: $40
Deep Fry Thermometer – So you don’t catch your kitchen on fire or have soggy chips. Cost: $13
Stainless Steel Mixing BowlsFor rinsing and draining chips, etc. Apprx Cost: $28
A Good Slotted Spoon or some Tongs – $20
Food Processor – For grinding meat and making Chimichurri sauce. Cost: $188
Cast Iron Skillet – For cooking burgers. Cost: $28

Total Equipment Cost for the meal: $534

That’s a lot of Big Macs!

Put on your Econ Hat

Of course, if it cost me $534 every time I wanted to make some burgers, I’d never make burgers. The way that these costs become justified for a few pieces of equipment all has to do with marginal costs.

Marginal Costs is econ term for the costs it takes to produce one more unit of something. That might be economics gobbledygook to you, but let’s apply it to the most expensive item above and see how it works.

The Le Creuset Pot

I bought my enameled pot almost two years ago for about $230. The cost has gone down slightly since then if you get it from Amazon. The first thing I did with my pot was make a batch of soup. At the time, my marginal cost for that soup was $230 plus ingredients.

The very next day, I baked a loaf of no knead bread using my pot. Because this was my second time using the pot, my marginal costs for the bread was $115 plus ingredients.

Every time I use the pot, my per-meal costs for the pot go down.

I would guess I’ve used this pot roughly 2 times a week for 2 years or about 208 times. That means the next time I need to make a meal using it (the 209th time), my marginal costs for the pot for that meal will be just $1.10.

The key is that even though my pot looks pretty weathered, it’s actually in fine shape and has many more years of use in it. At that rate, if I can get even 5 years of use out of it, my marginal cost on each use will be down to about 44 cents.

Shockingly, if you use something more, it becomes worth the cost you paid for it. Ok. Maybe that not shocking. But I think sometimes it can be helpful to be reminded of it.

Thanks for Nothing Nick

I’m sure that’s what my friend will say after she reads this. The fact that I’ve justified why I bought the expensive pot doesn’t really help her. It doesn’t create the cash she would need to do so!

At the end of the day, she just wants to cook some food and not have to take out a loan for financing. I don’t blaim her.

But here’s the thing to remember:

You really don’t NEED all this expensive stuff to cook on a daily basis.

There are a ton of recipes on Macheesmo (or in the world) that require very little equipment. Try the Quick and Easy category for starters which you probably didn’t even know about… redesign coming soon!

But even when you do see an expensive piece of equipment on Macheesmo, chances are you don’t need it to make the dish. Before I was lucky enough to get a KitchenAid as a wedding present, I was making lots of breads by hand. Before I had a food processor I was chopping salsa and whisking sauces by hand. In fact, I occasionally still do stuff by hand just because I find it strangely fun.

Once you start actually thinking about what you need too cook you’ll realize that the stuff you need on a daily basis is actually some of the most affordable stuff. You can make whipped cream with a $300 mixer or a $10 whisk. But you can’t make whipped cream with your hands.

So now that I’ve described some of my thinking behind purchasing, and using, kitchen equipment, let me lay out a few rules to help out when you finally do consider purchasing something.

Four Rules For Purchasing Equipment

I have some basic rules I use before considering purchasing a piece of equipment.

1) Before buying a piece of equipment, have 5 dishes ready that you want to try that would be hard or impossible without it. If you can’t think of at least 5 dishes, then you don’t need it.

2) If it’s an expensive piece of equipment (for me anything over $50), wait 30 days before you buy it. You might learn that you don’t really need it as much as you thought. You might find other ways to prepare meals that you thought would require that equipment. If, after 30 days, you still have a number of recipes that need it and you can swing it financially, go for it.

3) Don’t go into debt for pots and pans. It’s not that important to have top of the line equipment. You can easily get by on hand-me-downs and garage sale items.

4) When making a large purchase (again over $50 for me) try to find the item in a store that will let you hold it. Does it feel comfortable? Sturdy? How does it match up to similar products? It’s hard to tell some of these things from Amazon photos.

But Nick. I need to eat TODAY

Understandable. Here’s 5 recipes you can make today with nothing but the most basic equipment.

1) Red and Gold Beet Salad
2) Quinoa Salad
3) Spicy Shrimp Quesadillas
4) Fruit and Honey Muesli
5) Double Baked Potatoes with Yogurt Spice

I’d love to here your comments on all of this! How do you go about purchasing new kitchen equipment? Do you have a favorite recipes that you can make with very little special equipment?