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The Dos and Don’ts of Sharing A Kitchen with Roommates


Photo: Aaron Thomas (Unsplash)

August marks that magical time of year college-town residents know so well: The Descent of the Undergrads. All across the country, hordes of young adults are signing leases, scouring Goodwills and IKEAs for furniture, and preparing to live on their own for the first time. God help us all.

It’s Freshman Orientation Week at Lifehacker! This week, we’re covering ways to snap out of your summer haze and into an autumnal blitz of activity, whether you’re actually heading to campus for the first time, getting your own kids ready for school, or looking for ways to just be more productive in the classroom of life. So velcro up your Trapper Keepers, students. Class is now in session.

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It’s easy to dunk on naive college kids, but I wouldn’t be where I am today if I’d stayed in the dorms. At the time, splitting rent on a house in Portland was way cheaper than room and board, so I lived off-campus three out of four undergrad years. (Barely a decade later, the estimated mortgages on all those houses are three times what my friends and I once paid in rent. Party!) Shitty, poorly appointed rental kitchens were where I figured out that no matter where life took me, I wanted cooking to be a huge part of it.

That’s not to say that it was all rainbows and butterflies. The kitchen is truly the heart of the home, and anyone who’s lived with roommates has, shall we say, a more nuanced understanding of that old cliché. Kitchens feed resentment and bitterness just as easily as they produce joy and, unless you and your roommates communicate directly, you’re in for a very bad time. Here are some guidelines to help you get off on the right foot.

Do Set Clear, Easy-to-Follow Ground Rules

The first thing that any group sharing a kitchen must do is communicate about their expectations for cleanliness. Everyone’s definition of “clean” will vary, but basing your cleaning standards on usability is a great place to start. “Usable” means you can use the space immediately—a few dirty plates in the sink isn’t a huge deal, but leaving dirty cutting boards, knives, pots, and pans on every usable flat surface forces the next person to clean before they can cook.

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Cleaning shared cookware, wiping down the counters, and sweeping or mopping up any big spills as you go should be plenty, but talk it out and come up with standards that will work for you, including how to split deep cleaning. Once you’ve figured that out, write it down and make the document easily accessible via Google Drive or Dropbox. (This is a good place to keep digital copies of your lease and utility bills, too.) While you’re at it, make a YouTube playlist of cleaning and maintenance techniques—like how to clean a dishwasher filter, reset your garbage disposal, load a dishwasher, properly heat a stainless steel pan, and clean gas or electric stovetops—and share it around as well.

Don’t Make A Fucking Chore Wheel

In a perfect world, every household member would spontaneously contribute equally to the care and upkeep of a shared domicile. Theoretically, chore wheels bring us closer to this egalitarian, utopian dreamland; in practice, they shunt the responsibility for keeping a space clean onto (usually) one person, who not only has to identify and assign the tasks but also remind everyone else to do their work. This person—don’t @ me—is almost always a woman.

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If societal attitudes towards domestic labor are a nicked artery, chore wheels are akin to slapping on a Band-Aid and praying for the bleeding to stop. Don’t use them. Instead, establish what “clean” means and kindly, respectfully hold yourself and your roommates responsible for keeping it up. It’ll take some patience, but will ultimately be worth it.

Do Talk Explicitly About Money

College is expensive, and your roommates’ families are probably paying for it in a different way than yours. Splitting costs equally is only fair if everyone can afford to throw in the same amount. If your food budget is extremely tight, be upfront about your boundaries and stick to them. If you have access to familial wealth, use it for good: cover a larger proportion of shared household supplies, buy gas for roommates who drive you to the store, treat the house to pizza during finals, or all of the above. No matter where you’re coming from, you have a responsibility to know what you can afford and be honest about it—and never pass judgment on your roommates’ financial situations.

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Don’t Go Full Co-Op

It’s tempting to wax idealistic about family-style dinners and a communal fridge—especially if this is your first time living with close friends—but unless everyone is committed to the co-op lifestyle, you’re setting yourselves up for frustration and hurt feelings. A fend-for-yourself approach to meals provides the flexibility that hectic student schedules sorely need. That said, living with lots of people can make for a cluttered, redundant pantry. If you can, pool money and split economy size packages of staples like rice, oil, and spices—plus cleaning products and paper goods—to optimize storage space and save money.

Don’t Buy Expensive Cookware

College houses beat shared cookware to shit, which makes fancy copper-lined sets and flimsy, bargain-basement nonstick pans equally terrible decisions in their own special ways. High-maintenance cookware won’t get the upkeep it deserves; cheap nonstick pans will scratch and dent inside of a few weeks. This is why stainless steel is my cookware material of choice, especially for people with roommates. It’s affordable and oven-safe, it works great on even on the shittiest electric ranges, and it’s all but impossible to ruin.

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Cheap knives are also where it’s at. I, a real-life culinary professional, swear by Kiwi knives, which are ludicrously sharp, lightweight, well-designed, and dirt cheap—practically perfect in every way. Their thin stainless blades dull a bit faster than heavier ones do, but on the upside, they basically sharpen themselves. If you can’t find Kiwi knives in your area, any affordable stainless-blade chef’s knife will do the job—just get a good steel and learn how to use it. (A pull-through sharpener isn’t a bad idea, either.)

For all you stress bakers out there, skip the cutesy nonstick pans and go straight for food service-grade stuff. Aluminum corrodes in the dishwasher, but is otherwise unbeatable when it comes to durability and heat distribution: two or three half-size sheet pans, some cake or pie tins, and parchment paper is all you need. As for equipment, invest in a sturdy hand mixer—stand mixers are amazing, but they absolutely suck to pack and move—and a digital scale.

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Do Label Absolutely Everything

So many kitchen communication problems could be solved by a few rolls of masking tape and a pack of Sharpies. Buy some, put them somewhere visible, and make it house policy to label everything that goes in the refrigerator—from condiments to takeout to leftovers—with your name and the date you opened it. Oh, and don’t forget the plastic soup containers: durable, stackable, and cheap enough to lose or toss, they’re the perfect communal food storage solution.

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Any guide to living with roommates would be incomplete without a discussion of emotional labor, but unfortunately, that’s the sort of life skill you learn by doing—not by reading an essay. As hard as it is, try to remember that not everything is about you. Your roommate who leaves dishes around probably isn’t actively trying to ruin your life, so keep the frustration out of your voice when you ask them to pick up. Similarly, a request to clean up your messes is not a personal attack; just do the thing, and take care of it next time without being asked. (If you struggle with not being an asshole—which, honestly, most nineteen-year-olds do—the iconic MetaFilter thread on emotional labor is available in convenient .pdf form. It should be considered mandatory summer reading.)

The entire point of college is to meet and learn from people different from you. Communal living can be exhausting, but it’s a valuable crash course in what it means to participate in society—which is more important than any degree. Have fun, clean up your messes, and don’t be an asshole; it’s the least you can do.

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How to choose the right sponge (and make washing dishes less painful)

Most of us don’t give much thought to sponges. But if you hate doing the dishes (who doesn’t), a good sponge will make the task a little less painful. Better yet, using the right sponge can save time and prevent damage to your kitchenware.

Here’s a guide to every sponge type and how to choose the right sponge for your needs.

Common sponge types

Take a look at this list of sponge types you’ve likely encountered. Most are synthetic, though some are derived from plant cellulose. There are natural sponges, too, which have been used as cleaning tools for millennia.  

Cellulose

These sponges are made from recycled plant fibers. Sources include wood pulp and cotton. They’re inexpensive and very absorbent.

Heavy-duty

Sponges marked as heavy-duty are highly abrasive. Use them to remove tough, stuck-on debris from stainless-steel pots and baking pans. Don’t use them for nonstick cookware.

Natural
The sponge is a simple aquatic animal, to which all artificial sponges owe their name. Their porous, fibrous skeletons are soft and absorb lots of liquid. Throughout history sea sponges have been harvested for these properties.   

Nonscratch

Sponges with this label are safe to use on nonstick pots and pans. They also won’t scratch the surfaces of ceramic bakeware.

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A sponge can clean many different surfaces around the home.


Chris Monroe/CNET

Other cleaning tools

Plastic scrubbers

These round or rectangular cleaning tools are made of woven plastic fibers. They’re typically nonscratch, and are safe to use on nonstick and ceramic cookware.

Scouring pads

Much thinner than a sponge, these flat squares of fabric come in both nonscratch and heavy-duty varieties. Use them to rub away tough stains and grime from countertops, cookware and bakeware and in the bathroom.

Steel wool

The big guns of home cleaning, steel wool pads are abrasive in the extreme. Use them only on surfaces that can take their abuse, such as stainless-steel pots, pans, and baking sheets.

The right sponge for the job

Plates and dishes

You have a lot of options for hand-washing dirty dishes. If they’re fragile or awkwardly shaped, use a handled sponge tool. Otherwise, go with cellulose sponges.

These type of sponges are relatively inexpensive and absorb liquid and soap easily. They’re also prone to collecting bits of food over time. That means bacteria, not to mention funky odors, can develop inside them.

To combat this, make sure to sanitize your sponge weekly and toss it out when it shows signs of wear.

Enlarge Image

When washing glassware, using a regular-shaped sponge can be awkward.


Josh Miller

Pots and pans

Stainless-steel saucepans, baking sheets and other hardy kitchenware attract lots of grime. To get rid of that buildup, use a sponge that’s just as tough.

Abrasive sponges are typically rough on one of their sides. Use that surface to power through caked-on grit and clingy food debris. They come in both synthetic and cellulose varieties.

Don’t scrub your nonstick pots and pans with an abrasive sponge. You’ll likely scratch and damage their Teflon coating. Your best bet is to use a nonabrasive sponge such as the O-Cedar Scrunge. And a little elbow grease.

That same is true for ceramic cookware. Abrasive sponges will scratch and mar the enamel. Soak these pans in water first, then wash with a soft cellulose or synthetic sponge. Harsh abrasives will harm copper pots and pans too.

For stubborn copper stains, pretreat pans with salt plus lemon juice (or vinegar). Then rub with a cloth rag or non-abrasive sponge.

Glassware

To clean fragile glassware such as stemware and even water glasses, an abrasive sponge is overkill. Chose something soft and not likely to scratch, like a microfiber or nonabrasive cellulose sponge.

The shape of a glassware sponge is important too. For long, narrow glasses, sponges with thin heads and long handles work best.

Windows and cars

Detail your car like a pro. Grab a microfiber or a natural sponge that’s both non-abrasive, and absorbs plenty of water and soap.

They won’t mar automobile paint, window glass, or metal. Plus they’re great at wicking away oils and grease, to leave behind a squeaky-clean shine.

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Livermore outlets set to welcome new shops, kiosks

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Pots and Pans, Fruitsy Smoothie among additions

Officials with the San Francisco Premium Outlets in Livermore recently announced they will be adding four new shops to the shopping center.

The new additional shops will be Pots and Pans, Karl Lagerfeld Paris, Fruitsy Smoothie, and Go! Calendars, Games Toys.

Pots and Pans features a wide variety of cookware, kitchenware and tableware products from recognizable houseware brands. The store is expected to open as of Sept. 1.

Karl Lagerfeld Paris will feature ready-to-wear fashion for men and women, bags, small leather goods and fashion jewelry “with a modern, rock-chic edge.” The store is expected to open at the end of the month.

Fruitsy Smoothie, a new kiosk, will feature freshly squeezed juice, smoothies and fruit bowls.

Go! Calendars, Games Toys will open today and features calendars for the upcoming year, special toys and more.

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Wolfgang Puck Talks Subscription Meal Plans, Cooks’ Problems And 20 Years On HSN

Wolfgang PuckHSN

The key to building a successful business is much the same as putting a great meal on the table. Bring together the best ingredients in proper proportions, prepare them with the best tools, time everything right, mix with finesse and the fine-tuned senses of an expert, add a dash of something special that brings it all together and makes it pop.

Wolfgang Puck has been doing that in the kitchen since a little boy at his mother’s side in Austria and in business since 1982 when he found Spago.

Today he manages three companies – Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group, under which he operates 26 fine dining establishments in six countries; Wolfgang Puck Catering, serving contract dining services and special events including the post-Academy Award Governors Ball, where Puck has been the official chef for over 20 years; and Wolfgang Puck Worldwide, which includes a portfolio of 50+ company-owned and franchised casual dining restaurants and Wolfgang Puck branded food, wine, cookbooks, meal kits and cooks’ tools.

Empowering the home cook to create restaurant-quality meals is Puck’s mission. “Cooking is my passion,” Puck tells me. “I want to show home cooks how to make a great meal and put an amazing meal on the table. With the right tools and know how, it doesn’t need to be a big effort. Cooking should be fun.”

His partner in that mission to empower home cooks and turn them into real chefs is HSN. This weekend they are celebrating 20 years together.

Over the years Puck and HSN have sold more than 10 million exclusive cookware products, including over one million pot-and-pan sets together.

From chef to product designer

Years ago Puck realized that home cooks were hampered by the lack of professional-quality and affordable cooks’ tools. He also observed the success of the George Foreman Grill introduced in 1999 that gave cooks a new more convenient, healthier and faster way to grill. That led him to create his first cookware collection.

“I started to develop cookware exactly like we use in a restaurant,” he shares, “But even though it was priced less than you’d find in specialty cookware stores, it still was a little too expensive. When HSN approached me, we worked to get the same professional quality at the right price point for the customers. Then we had success.”

Stepping in front of the camera

While Puck credits having the right products at the right price point as the key to success of his cookware business, I personally don’t buy that. Yes, that is important, but the secret sauce of his success with HSN is his ability to connect with his audience and teach them how to use the products he personally-designed for them.

Wolfgang Puck on HSNHSN

“I don’t just take things out of the oven and put it on the counter to see on TV. I do it more like a cooking class. We teach them how to do it, give them tips and show them how to create an amazing meal.” His watch-and-learn approach on HSN comes naturally to him, as he has operated a cooking school and currently offers a video Master Class series online.

Besides teaching people how to cook on HSN, Puck has taught other celebrity chefs how to sell on television as well. “Twenty-years ago, Wolfgang Puck joined the HSN family as our first ever celebrity chef,” said Rich Yoegel, VP of Home, HSN. “Since then, he has continued to pave the way for the culinary industry, inspiring our customers to be innovative in the kitchen with professional quality kitchen essentials.”

As an early chef pioneer on television, Puck set the bar extremely high for the many celebrity chefs that followed. “A lot of chefs have come and gone over the years I’ve been with HSN. Everyone thinks it’s easy to sell over TV. But it is not so easy,” he says, stressing the need for true collaboration with HSN behind the scenes and the ability to connect and inspire the audience in front of the camera.

Evolution of a product line

Starting with kitchen basics, Puck’s cookware line on HSN expanded into kitchen appliances around 2000 to help cooks do at home what they couldn’t do before and do it faster. “People today don’t have time. In the old days, my mother and grandmother were at home cooking lunch and dinner. That was their job, but that is definitely not the case today,” he says.

His line of kitchen appliances, including rice cookers, grills, countertop ovens, blenders and food processors are all designed to save time but result in a meal that tastes like it took hours in the kitchen to produce.

Take his countertop pressure cooker, an especially popular item for Puck on HSN. Called the “kitchen gadget of the moment,” by the New York Times, it is one of the fastest selling appliances today. (Full disclosure: I own one, as well as his rice cooker and bread machine.)

“You can come home from work, put some pasta and chicken breasts or hamburger meat in it, walk away and give the kids a bath and in eight minutes under pressure you will have a delicious meal,” Puck says. “But I show the viewers how to use a few tricks to add to the pot and make it taste more like a restaurant meal.”

Puck can attest to the quality of his appliances. “I use my oven every day. I use my blender in the morning. I cook on the griddle all the time. We use it in all of our restaurants. We take the griddle with us for the Oscars party and other private events. I really like our products,” he says.

Next steps

The next logical step for Wolfgang Puck’s culinary empire is meal kits. He has already given home cooks the tools and know how to create great meals. Meal kits allow him to put the quality ingredients together too.

He dabbled in curated meal kits with Chef’d, an online service where people could select the kits they want, no subscription required. But Chef’d ran into troubles of its own. It was recently acquired by True Food Innovations, an investment firm with a meal kit offering, called True Chef, but which focuses on grocery distribution, rather than home delivery.

To Puck’s mind, that is what’s wrong with the home-delivery subscription model. It requires people to pre-pay for a subscription only to receive a meal kit that they may not feel like eating the day it is delivered. “At Blue Apron you have to buy three meals at a time, but then you may not want fish the day it arrives. So you put it in the refrigerator and three days later it isn’t fresh anymore,” he says.

Puck is currently in the design stage for a meal kit offering that allows people to pick up kits in the store with the option of home delivery too.

“Ideally speaking, picking up a fresh meal in the grocery store is the best way. I want to give the cook the pots and pans, show them how to make the meal, then give them the right mix of ingredients to put it all together,” Puck says.

Teacher becomes student

Having mastered everything he needs to know about running restaurants, developing products and cooking, which he most generously shares with his audience on HSN, he is equally passionate about lifelong learning for himself. To that end, he has enrolled in the Harvard University Owner/Management Executive Education program of three month-long intensive courses.

Having started his chef training at 14 years old, he never had a chance to go to college. But now at 69 years, he proudly exclaims, “I have done two months already and next month I am going for my last month. Finally I went to college.”

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This is your last chance to get All-Clad cookware at an amazing price

— Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. However, our picks and opinions are independent from USA TODAY’s newsroom and any business incentives.

Editor’s note: All-Clad has extended the VIP Factory Seconds Sale. You now have until Thursday, August 16 at 11:59 p.m. EST to shop.

If you’re an amateur home cook or just a kitchen enthusiast, you want to fill your kitchen with the best cookware money can buy. But you can’t always spend that kind of money you might want to do so. Thankfully, every so often All-Clad holds a crazy sale, so us novice chefs can get some of the best kitchen products without breaking the bank.

Right now, you can save up to 80% on this high-end cookware brand as part of their Factory Seconds VIP Summer Clearance Event. Plus, you can save an extra 10% if you spend $150 or more (which honestly isn’t that hard to do). You just need to use the code “ACSUMMER18” to access these amazing deals. This sale runs until 12:00 a.m. EST on Wednesday, August 15, so if you’ve ever wanted All-Clad cookware, now may be the time to buy.

The All-Clad brand is known for long-lasting, high-quality kitchen products with a sleek stainless steel finish that looks amazing in any kitchen, and these discounts on popular items are incredible. For example, you can get an 8-inch and 10-inch nonstick fry pan set for just $40 (that’s $50 in savings!). There are also plenty of other pots, pans, griddles, knives, bakeware, kitchen accessories, and more with similar discounts.

The one catch of this sale, though, is that all of these products are factory seconds—but there’s actually no need for concern. All this means is that these products couldn’t be sold at full price due to minor imperfections like surface scratches and dents, which typically happens anyways after some normal usage and should not affect the integrity of the cookware.

If you want flawless cookware, this might not be the sale for you. But for those of us who can look past the surface, you can score some amazing deals on new high-end items to upgrade your kitchen.

Use the code “ACSUMMER18” to access the All-Clad VIP Factory Seconds Sale

Prices are accurate at the time of publication, but may change over time.

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Alessi Expands Cookware Lineup With Edo Collection

Alessi has expanded its cookware lineup with a new collection of Japanese-inspired pots and pans designed by Patricia Urquiola.

The Edo collection blends different cultural references for a design-forward and functional new cookware set inspired by Japanese aesthetics, the company said. The designer’s idea was to soften the industrial look with gentle features that recall handcrafted design, including the slight flaring of the pots, and ribbon-like handles pinned to the body of the pans, the company said.

“This project is my response to the changes I observe in society, to the multiplication of fantastic exchanges between different cultures. I wanted it to be different from the others, concave rather than convex: a sort of Basque chapela. Once the Basque theme entered my head, I couldn’t get it it out anymore,” Urquiola said.

With thermal performance, the collection is available in 16 different styles, including stockpots, casseroles, sautee pans, grill, and wok. The full range is dishwasher-safe with lids made of steel and stainless steel with bronze PVD finished detailing. Prices in the line range from $88 to $175.

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