Sunday, June 14, 2009

Food Basics: Not Just a Grocery Store

A good friend of mine is adjusting to a move from New Jersey to British Columbia. She's getting married on July 24. I say "congrats!" I've said a lot of other things, as well.
She's requested my first content entry be about the basic things I think should be in your cupboards and your fridge.
A lot of trial an error have gone into my choices. I also feel that a basic knowledge of cooking techniques play an important role in what you select. Keep in mind, I've been living on my own (see: not with parents) for awhile and with folks who tend not to cook much for the better part of it.
Here's my list and my reasoning! This is primarily geared toward novice cooks and kitchen newbies!

  1. flour - This is a food building block. Learn the basics and then move on to whole wheat flour, soy flour, and so on. It will expand your food world! Also, bleached white flour should not be a building block for everything you eat. It's just a place to begin.
  2. baking powder - It's baking powder! You're going to need this if you enjoy BAKING. :)
  3. baking soda - This stuff is good for your recipes AND it soaks up smells. Try to keep the box sealed off with a plastic bag or some clingfilm and a rubber band. No one wants their Irish Soda Bread to taste like the entire pantry cabinet. Yeech.
  4. A wide variety of spices and herbs - These do start to lose flavour after awhile. Knowing how long it's been on the shelf in the store before you got it is also a crapshoot. Unless you're a major-league foodie, though, it's not so big a deal. I recommend having: ginger powder, garlic powder, oregano, chili powder, cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, cayenne pepper, black pepper, basil and bay leaves as your basics. Pick up new ones as your recipes call for them. I plan to do an entire entry on the spices of India. Yummy!
  5. salt - The great demon, Sodium. Yes. You're going to need it. I recommend having some standard table salt and some large chunky kosher salt. It really does come in handy.
  6. sugar - White is great for most of your average recipes. Sugar comes in many varieties, however. These include demerara, dark brown, light brown, and "natural". Buy as needed for recipes. Definitely have some white and brown on hand.
  7. a few bags of pasta - I try to keep the whole wheat kind on hand. If you're super poor, just grab the dollar deal bags of pasta and hope for better days. This stuff is good for Italian dinners with spagehtti sauce, pasta salads and you can even whip it into dessert form with recipes like this!
  8. rice - This stuff really does feed the world and you can do a lot with it. I recommend brown rice if you've got cooking time and if you can't make time, just get some tasty jasmine rice. It'll do you for most recipes. This stuff isn't a diet staple for nothing. If you don't move around a lot, though, I recommend passing on the rice. I'll wax poetic about Glycemic Index foods later.
  9. beans - Pinto, kidney, lentils, legumes of all sorts. These babies are dry, last in your cabinets forever (almost!) and are VERY affordable food powerhouses of nutrition. Good protein sources, they're also packed with fiber. We so need more fiber!
  10. cooking oils - For you impoverished novice cooks, vegetable oil and a nicer extra virgin olive oil are a must. The veg oils can withstand higher cooking temperatures and e.v. olive oil is a must have for salad dressings and roasting garlic
  11. vinegar - White should get you by. Get some balsamic for high class salad dressing.
  12. butter - Salted is just okay. Try to get the unsalted when you can afford it.
  13. corn starch - It's a thickener. It's also handy when you have chaffed thighs. Don't ask.
  14. corn meal - The basis for polenta, corn bread and used to sprinkle under some breads before baking. Corn meal is also handy for thickening certain things like chili!
  15. Vanilla extract - The other extracts like almond and rum are just icing on the proverb cake. Make sure you have vanilla. Try to avoid "imitation".
  16. peanut butter - This is good for sandwiches, cookies, Thai recipes and so on! Try to get all-natural. It tastes better and it doesn't have all the nasty preservatives.
  17. Fruit jams and preserves - Good for that PB & J you're craving as well as tasty (and easy) jam tarts and thumbprint cookies.
  18. Fresh garlic cloves - I found a huge bag of garlic at the Asian food store. The skins had already been removed and the garlic had been cleaned. If you go through a lot, this is the way to go! I only spent about three dollars on that bag. I love it. If you buy it in clove form, be sure to inspect it for black dusty stuff. That's mold and you don't want moldy garlic.
  19. Fresh ginger - It's fantastic to steep for a tea when you're sick (anti-viral capabilities, anyone?) or nasueated. Ginger is a food staple when it comes to all kinds of worldwide cuisines. Have a good thumb of it in the fridge at all times! I insist.
  20. a few fresh limes and lemons - These are great in a glass of water and recipes are ALWAYS yelling for a lime or some lemon zest. They're cheap and great for vitamin C.
  21. a bag of potatoes - Fries, mashed, boiled, used to make stamps. Potatoes are a good friend in the kitchen. Store them in the dark and dry places or they'll grow roots out of their "eyes". Scrub your potatoes before cooking and cut off the green/dark spots.
  22. a jar of yeast or a few packets of it - This is the stuff of leavened bread. Cinnemon rolls need yeast, your French bread needs yeast. Have some around.
  23. Onions - stores will typically sell a bag of several yellow onions. This will do you for most recipes. Make sure the onions are firm (little to no give when you squeeze with your fingertips) and don't have black dusty stuff on them (mold!)
  24. Milk - How much you purchase at a time will depend on your use. Do you eat a bowl of Frosted Flakes every day? Do you live with more than just yourself? Perhaps you could go as far as getting bagged milk! It's cost effective if you're able to use it up before it goes bad. The lactose-free milk is a bit more costly (well, about twice as much!) but it doesn't go bad as fast. At least, in my experience.
  25. A few cans of diced, whole, pureed tomatoes and maybe some tomato paste, too. Indispensable!
  26. cocoa powder - Emergency cake in a mug for those munchies or chocolate cravings requires cocoa powder!
  27. eggs - You just need eggs.
  28. cheese - I recommend a 6-7 dollar block of cheese from places like No Frills here in Canada. This will last you through about a week or so of snacks, mac and cheese and salad toppings. I like to have mozzarella or cheddar around.
I must've missed something but, I think you get the general idea. Aside from all that, you should also have green leafy veg. in abundance. This stuff is the reason old Japanese people are so long-lived! Cruciferous veggies are your lifelong pals. Eat them. You don't make friends with salad, after all.
I also think this is one of the most focused things I've done in awhile. I think this will be good for me. If ya'll have questions, feel free to write or post a comment. If you have topic ideas or stuff you want to know more about, let me know! I'll do my best!


Andrea said...

Thankfully I have lots of these things already, phew! Slowly I am building our spice collection, but that stuff is just so expensive. I think I might just get as many as I can at a dollar store -__-; bleh. I like the small fancy bottles, not the huge ugly plastic ones!

Thanks for this, Dez. I'll definitely refer back to it often. <3

echobunny said...

You're quite welcome, Andrea! <3 This blog is for you!