I'll cut to the chase.
I've heard from three of you so far who don't cook but want to step-by-step learn how to put a week's worth of dinners on the table. Nothing fancy, just tasty. And I'm soooo flattered you've included Nostinkycheese in your online reading if you don't cook!
Stay tuned - every Sunday, online, we'll do a Beginner Dish with plenty of instructions and no exotic ingredients or specialized equipment. The ingredient list will be posted every Saturday.
Tomorrow's recipe will be Baked Chicken with White Beans and Tomatoes . You'll need bacon (turkey bacon is fine), chicken, onions, canned stewed tomatoes, and canned small white beans ("cannellini"). Do not use dried beans as they require a good 12 hours of soaking.
To take the pressure off, also pick up a frozen pizza. That way if the dish doesn't turn out, you've still got something for dinner.
And if you're just getting familiar with that room in the house where you chill your white wine and store those "mixing bowl" things your grandmother gave you when you got your first apartment, here are a few things I've found helpful and some that I ended up tossing:
MONEY I WASTED
1. Salad spinner - it took up way too much room in my cabinet and I just don't care enough about dry salad greens to justify the space and cleaning the numerous parts of the damn thing. If you adore salad dressing and don't want it the tiniest bit diluted by water clinging to greens then a salad spinner may be worth it for you.
2. The Gitmo Herb-icide - Holy hell, this thing is scary. It looks like four or five mini-pizza wheels spinning on the same axel (picture of the $35 Williams-Sonoma version above). Its alleged intent is to help, not hurt, the cook by speeding up the herb-mincing process - lay your herbs on the cutting board and roll this razor-sharp instrument of destruction over them, leaving finely-chopped herbal carnage in its wake.
It didn't really work that way for me. It smooshed some herbs and pushed others forward bulldozer-style, but that's not the problem.
Clean it. HA! I dare you! Don't beribbon your sponge. Don't unwittingly attempt suicide or digital amputation at your sink. Don't leave gunk on the parts of the inner wheels that you can't see. Don't buy into the drama as it smirks at you.
Sleep with the lights on, it's not finished. I had to figure out how to safely dispose of my gunked-up Cheney-designed utensil. Medical sharps container? Didn't have one handy. Goodwill? No, inflicting it on someone else wasn't the answer. Besides, little kids run all over that store brandishing whatever they find on the shelves. I can't live with being the indirect cause of the Thrift Store Massacre and the resulting Arlo Guthrie song.
Ultimately I wrapped it in most of the Sunday paper, put that mass in several layers of plastic, taped it up and wrote "DANGER! SHARP!" on it with permanent marker. That may not have been enough.
3. Potato ricer - not dangerous, just annoyingly large and cumbersome for no real benefit that I could see, and no other use besides mashed potatoes.
1. Digital thermometer - you can get one for about $10 at Target and they are a godsend for grilling and cooking meat or poultry. One of the reasons chicken and turkey can end up dry is because it often doesn't look quite done, even though it has reached fully-cooked temperature. This is more advanced, but I also use mine to check the water temperature when I use yeast.
Note: the difference between a digital candy thermometer and a digital non-candy thermometer is the range of temperatures it measures. Candy thermometers will measure over 250 degrees; since most meat is fuly cooked at 180 or less, non-candy thermometers usually max out at 200 degrees. You probably can't use an all-around or meat thermometer for candy, but you can use a candy thermometer for anything. If you don't ever plan to make candy - which is a royal PITA to clean up - just get whatever strikes your fancy. Either is fine for checking meats.
2. Wooden spoons - these aren't given nearly enough credit in today's high-tech world, are they? They don't scratch non-stick cookware. They don't get hot, even if you leave one in a pot of soup or spaghetti sauce for an hour or two. They happily take a dunk in soapy water with no special cleaning or maintenance. I have one with a flat bottom (or top, depending on how you look at it) that scrapes the bottom of the skillet or saucepan really well. It's from Crate & Barrel and was $5 or less.
3. Immersion blender, also called a stick blender - cookbook authors think it's a terrific idea to ladle hot soup into a blender - without spilling the soup or burning yourself - put the top on (which doesn't allow the steam to escape and that can't be good), then whirl the soup into a frenzy before pouring the now-pureed soup into yet another pot.
To smooth out soups and gravies just plug in your stick blender near the stove, immerse the whirly parts and hit the "on" switch - in that order. Move the blender around in a slow stir, and hit the "off" switch before you pull the blender out of the liquid. Unplug and rinse. I had an inexpensive stick blender for about 5 years before it gave out. After an appropriate mourning (and saving) period I prepared to buy a Kitchen Aid version, but Sweetie found an old Braun for $4 at a yard sale. That was a good 5 years ago and it still works beautifully.