A Well Stocked Kitchen

     There is nothing more important in cooking than having a well stocked kitchen, from your refrigerator to your cabinets.  This is true for everyone from the working woman who needs to get dinner on the table in 15 minutes to the serious home cook who is making a gourmet meal for drop-in guests.  Even us "stress-cooks" - we know who we are - the ones who hide out in their kitchen in the middle of the day (or even the middle of the night) and cook to relax.  I was speaking with a friend recently, talking about our families and how much we love to cook for them, and how we are always ready to throw together a dinner for surprise guests at a moments notice.  Our pantries and fridges held virtually the same basic ingredients.  So, I thought, what does it really take to keep a well-stocked kitchen?  What are the basics you need on short notice?  What are the basics to have dinner done in 15 minutes, and why am I the expert?  I'll answer the last question first.  For the past 11 years I worked full time as an attorney, came home around 5ish then had dinner on the table for a family of 6 (yes, 4 kids) within half an hour at the most.  Now, after 10 years, I have kids who will eat almost anything from rabbit stew to sushi, and all their vegetables.  That's why I'm an expert.
     Ok, lets get to it. This list is for cooking, not for baking.
   You need your basic cookware and spices, which I describe in detailed sections below.  Don't skimp on the spices because the different flavor combinations can make that same piece of chicken a different meal every night: hot and spicy, or lemon-peppery, or barbque flavored.  They are essential.  
   You absolutely need 2 kinds of oil: Extra Virgin Olive Oil and a light oil (olive or vegetable).  The first for flavoring, the second for cooking.  
   You also need at least 2 kinds of vinegar: A good Balsamic, and Red Wine or Cider (or both).
   Cornstarch, Flour, Unsweetened Cocoa, Panko Bread Crumbs
   Rice (I always have pakages of Uncle Bens 90 sec. rice, brown & basmati); Couscous (plain, parmesan or pine nut flavors); Pasta (pene, linguini, elbows, no-cook lasagna noodles); No-yolks Egg Noodles
   Honey, Brown Sugar, Lemon Juice and Lime Juice
   Low Sodium Chicken Broth or Vegetable Broth
   Canned Foods:  Beans (Black, Kidney, Cannelini & Pinto); Petite Diced Tomatoes and Diced Fire Roasted Tomatoes; Crushed Tomatoes; Condensed Cream of Mushroom & Cream of Chicken Soup (Regular or Fat Free); Tuna; Diced Jalapenos & Chiles in Adobo.
   Tomato Paste & Garlic Paste; Worcestershire Sauce; Soy Sauce; BBQ Sauce; Salsa & Salsa Verde (green); Dijon Mustard; Ketchup; Honey; Peanut Butter; Roasted Red Peppers; Hot Sauces (mild & hot)
   For your Fridge: Eggs, Butter & Margarine; Milk (1% fat or more); Sour Cream; Cream Cheese; Shredded Cheese (mozzarella, cheddar, swiss); Parmigiano Cheese (whole or grated); Mayonnaise; Ranch Dressing; Italian Dressing; Bacon or Pancetta; Smoked Sausage (kielbasa/turkey keilbasa, chorizo, andouille); Purdue Chicken Shortcuts; Diced or Button Mushrooms; Lettuce & Tomatoes, Arugula and Escarole or Spinach.
   For your Freezer: Frozen Shrimp; Boneless Chicken (Thighs, Breasts, or Tenders); Ground Beef; Sausage (hot or sweet or both, links or bulk); Vegetables (Steam-Fresh type Corn, Peas, Cauliflower, Broccoli & Spinach - plain & chopped); Packages of Diced Onions, Peppers, Onions & Peppers Mix; Pepper Strips w/ or w/o Onions; Sliced Carrots
   The Liquor Cabinet: Sherry, White Wine, Red Wine, Gran Marinier, Vermouth, Beer.
  

A well-stocked kitchen is essential to every home cook or chef who wants to make delicious, healthy meals in minutes. From the list above you can make some version of at least half of the recipes on this website without ever leaving the house.

Spices - What You Need & How to Store Them

   Necessary Spices:  Spices are an integral part of your cooking and will give you an infinite variety of dishes to choose from, even if you only have a limited supply of protiens or carbohydrates to use them on.  Kosher Salt, Table Salt & Fresh Ground Pepper, along with your favorite mix of Italian Seasoning (I prefer Emeril's), can be used in many dishes as a very useful spice blend.  However, there are a number of other basic spices that must be in your spice cabinet. The minimum include: Granulated Garlic, Oregano, Basil, Bay Leaf, Parsley, Paprika, Rosemary, Thyme & Sage.  
   If you are going to be at least a little adventerous, you will also need Cumin, Cinnamon, Chili Powders (regular chili powder, ancho chili powder, chipoltle chili powder, chilis in adobo & Cayenne), Dried Ground Mustard, Ground Ginger & Curry Powder. 
   Don't forget the garlic.  Granulated garlic is ok in a pinch, but Fresh or Minced Garlic is preferable and keeps nicely in the fridge, as are Onions, fresh or frozen & chopped. A small Basil plant will give your summer recipes a nice fresh taste if you have a place for it. You can also buy fresh basil in the supermarket as you need it.
   The following spices will be helpful, but not always necessary: unsweetened cocoa, herbs de provence, cloves, nutmeg, allspice, chinese five spice & garam masala (spice blends).
 

  • Buying: Buy spices in small quantities because they tend to lose their aroma quickly, especially ground spices.  The pros suggest that buying whole spices and grinding them as needed is preferable. The only thing I grind fresh is Pepper and Sea Salt and we manage just fine. 
  • Storing: Spices should be kept in a cool in dry place, in an airtight container. Spices don't last very long 6 to 8 months maximum, after which they tend to lose their strength and develop off flavors. Keep your spices on a rack where the ones you use most are closest to the front and easily accessible. They should not be stored in the refrigerator or too close to the stove, nor should they be kept in a sunny spot in your kitchen. Do keep your herbs and spices in tightly sealed, glass containersj and at about 68 degrees.
  • Herbs: They tend to lose their flavor faster than spices. Dried herbs that have no color and little smell when crumbled in the palm of your hand are probably too old.  If they still have a scent when crumbled in your hand, they are probably still good to use. Herbs that do not have a strong smell have lost their potency and you should buy fresh ones.**
  •      **For more, see the next page on "Marinades and Spices."

    For a complete list of every herb and spice you could ever use and what to do with it see: http://www.thekitchn.com/quick-reference-a-guide-to-her-108770.

    Storing Vegetables

     Vegetables:

    Store vegetables in the refrigerator to keep them fresh until you use them. Exceptions are onions, shallots, garlic, tomatoes (ripe tomatoes only are refrigerated) and potatoes, which should be kept in dry storage. Tomatoes and potatoes should be kept separately. Here is a quick bullet point list on how to store your produce:

    • Many vegetables require being stored in a plastic bag. Generally, storing loose greens are a good general rule of thumb for including a damp paper towel to enclose or cover (including herbs, removing rubber band or twisty) in plastic.  But leave the plastic open so the greans can breathe.
    • However, mushrooms should be kept in a paperbag, or in a container covered with a damp paper towel.
    • Keep crisp vegetables in the crisper drawer.
    • Remove all green tops from your root vegetables; the greens leach out moisture.
    • You can wash your vegetables before storing them, but make sure they are dry. Do not put wet vegetables in plastic. 

    Fruit

    • Many fruits can be stored at room temperature, especially if they need more time to ripen. However, if they are ripe, store them in the refrigerator.
    • Wash fruits, using a vegetable brush if necessary, under cool, running water, making sure they are dry before storing them. However, fruits such as grapes, berries, cherries and plums should only be washed before eating.
    • If there are any signs of spoilage or softness, remove it.

    **Once again, credit to Emeril, at www.emerils.com  

    Fruits and Vegetables are important components in a healthy diet, but must be stored properly or they will lose their nutritional value.

    Necessary Cookware

    COOKING UTENSILS- I make sure all my utensils for use inside are of durable silicone or plastic. If you have invested your money for good pots and pans, you don't want to ruin them with metal utensils.  

    • Ladle. Look for a large “bowl” that makes it easy to serve soups. Also, a bent handle at the top allows you to hook the ladle on the side of a pot without it falling in.
    • Locking tongs. Select a style with nonslip handles and scalloped tips for a firm grip. Use for turning meats and tossing vegetables in a skillet.
    • Metal spatula. I only use metal on the grill outside.  However, even with plastic, an offset thin blade will allow you to get under delicate items like cookies and pancakes. A medium-length blade will prevent flipping or picking up foods at an awkward angle.
    • Rubber spatulas. Should be sturdy enough to maneuver heavy doughs but flexible enough to get into jar corners. Silicone models are heat-resistant and can be used in pots.
    • Slotted spoon. Pick a sturdy spoon with a stainless steel handle that won’t get too hot.
    • Whisk. A solid rather than a wired handle will prevent food from getting stuck inside. Buy one with thin wires (not thick, heavy ones) to make sure it’s well-balanced when whipping egg whites or cream. And get one with rubber covered wires to use in your nonstick pots.

    FOR SLICING- good, sharp knives are essential for both ease of preparation and safety.  Attempting to cut, chop or slice foods with a dull knife will cause your knife to slip and cut you instead.**  

    • Chef’s knife. Opt for an 8- to 9-inch blade with a thick bolster, the metal that extends from the handle to the edge of the blade and acts as a finger guard while you’re chopping. This knife should feel comfortable in your hand.
    • Carving Knife & Fork Set:  Necessary for slicing your cooked meats for serving.  Longer, thinner blade, and again a comfortable handle.
    • Garlic press. A nice shortcut while chopping: one that works on unpeeled cloves and is dishwasher-safe.
    • Grater. A box grater is the most versatile with six different grate options to shred, shave, dust, and zest. Choose one with a sturdy handle.
    • Kitchen shears. Invest in a sturdy pair with tapered, fine tips and roomy handles.
    • Lemon press. The best models are big enough for both a lime and a lemon and have ridges to grip fruit better.
    • Microplane grater. For small tasks that require a fine grater—zesting lemons and grating Parmesan, garlic, and nutmeg—use a razor-sharp, stainless steel model.
    • Paring knife. The blade should fall between 3 to 4 inches for small, fine cuts like coring tomatoes and peeling fruits and vegetables. A sturdy model’s blade will extend through the handle.
    • Potato masher. A curved head will let you get into corners of bowls and pots.
    • Serrated bread knife. You want a rigid blade of at least 8 inches and an offset handle, which will let you slice through sandwiches without banging your knuckles on the cutting board.
    • Y-shaped vegetable peeler. This will give you a better grip than a traditional swivel model for hard-to-peel foods like mangoes and butternut squash.

    **Remember when using any knive, hold the knife firmly in your hand with your thumb at the edge of handle that touches the blade, and your forefinger just at the top of the handle.  Cut away from you and keep your fingertips out of the way!

    OTHER EQUIPMENT:

    • Can opener. A safe-cut, or smooth-edge, model cuts around the outside of the can, rather than the lid; produces smooth edges; and will never lower the lid into your food.
    • Corkscrew. A standard waiter’s corkscrew will open both beer and wine and take up much less space than a two-armed model.
    • Instant-read thermometer. Find one that is easy-to-read and shatterproof.
    • Measuring cups. You’ll want measuring cups for both dry and wet ingredients. For dry ingredients, you’ll need at least 1-cup and 4-cup measuring tools on hand. For wet ingredients, I like glass so you can heat last minute in the microwave.
    • Measuring spoons. Oval models are more likely to fit into spice jars.
    • Peppermill. An easily adjustable grind setting will let you go from coarse to fine. A large hole allows easy refilling of the peppercorns.
    • Colanders. One large and one small, with a foot at the bottom to ensure your pasta won't sit in the residual puddle in the sink. You can use a small one as a flour sifter in a pinch.

    Using the proper tools for the job will make your cooking and grilling faster, easier and safer.

     

    • POTS & PANS: The two most important pots you will need are a saucepan (a pot with high sides that you can use to boil water and/or make soups, stews and gravy) and a frying pan or sautee pan (a flatter pot with lower sides).  If you are only going to have one of each, you will need at least a 4 quart saucepan, and a large frypan, abour 12 inches.  Make sure both have lids that fit well.  When shopping for your saucepan and frying pan, look for ones that are non-stick and oven safe (no plastic handles). I prefer calphalon-sear for a frypan because you don’t need to use as much oil in your meals, and clean up is much easier.  In addition, there is no coating to come off. Do not use metal on non-stick cookware.  Your saucepan should have a heavy bottom.  Top of the line is le cruset, but most brands make a decent heavy bottom pan.  Do not get aluminum. You should expect to spend about $40-50 on each item to ensure you get a decent product without going too high end.

      As your kitchen grows, consider adding the following additional pots and pans that suit your lifestyle:

      CROCK POT:  You definitely need a crock pot.  In fact I have two and you have no idea how handy they are while youre out and dinner needs to be ready when you get home.  Now, there is also a 3 pot server that I have just ordered, three 2 1/2 crocks in 1heating element. I'll let you know how that goes. 

    • Dutch oven: If you love cooking soups, stews, and braised dishes, consider buying a Dutch oven. This pot is like a saucepan, but it’s larger and heavier. It has a tightly fitting lid and is useful for recipes where you have to cook a stew in the oven.

    • Pasta pot with strainer built in: A pasta pot is useful when cooking pasta because the strainer remains in the pot. When the pasta is done, you just lift it out and put it in your serving bowl or sauce pan.

    • Large sauté pan: Choose a three- or six-quart sauté pan if you plan on cooking for multiple people regularly. These pans often have high sides, making it easy to cook pasta sauces and larger quantities of food. 

    • Bakeware:  Even if you’re not a baker, you’ll need some pans that can go in the oven. If you’re first stocking a kitchen, buy a sheet pan (sometimes called a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan) and a baking pan. Choose a non-stick sheet pan that’s a half-sheet size, which is the most versatile option. A half-sheet is usually 18’’x13’’x1’’. Sheet pans are also useful for roasting vegetables and meats. Look for sheet pans that feel solid and don’t bend easily in your hand. Sturdier pans distribute heat more evenly than lighter pans and are less likely to burn your food.  In addition, you will need 2 baking dishes with three-inch high sides, used to make casseroles and lasagna; (it can even be used for brownies and cakes). You will need an 8x8 inch pan and a 9x13. A glass baking dish is inexpensive and versatile.

    • Roasting pan: A large, metal roasting pan is usually used for making big roasts like turkeys. Roasting pans can be pricy; if you don’t plan on roasting regularly, consider buying a disposable foil pan.

    • Dont forget the trivets and oven mitts!!

    Calphalon Cookware comes highly recommended, along with my large 9 quart Le Cruset pot that can be used for almost everything!

    Crock-pots:

        Now, you know that I am one who sings the virtue of the crock pot.  Its perfect for soups and stews that need a long simmering time.  Its also perfect to keep things warm when you're serving a crowd.  My recommandation is the  Cuisinart Cook Central Multi-Cooker, 7-Quart.  I love the slow cooker in general, but this multipurpose appliance works like a slow cooker, oven a nd  store top.  It features 4 programmable cooking functions: slow cook on high, low, simmer or warm up to 24 hours. Roast at temperatures from 250 F to 450 F up to 6 hours or steam up to 90 minutes. The best part?  With this multi-cooker, you can brown meats, saute vegetables or sear up to 500 F without using a separate skillet.   Som etimes  I think it gets hotter than my Viking and its the only cooking item I'll ever need. 
    But look at what I've found now:
       A three crock slow-cooker, with three individual controls, suitable for a buffet, or even to place on your side-board when your table is full.  
       Naturally, I ordered this immediately, and it should be here soon..  I can't wait.  Just imagine - with one or two of these - what serving a hot meal on Thanksgiving or Christmas (or Passover or Chanuka) would be like.  Its otherwise impossible to keep all the food hot unless you have 2 ovens.  Now you can have six!!
       It should be here soon, so I'll let you know how it works.  If this has been around for a while, I can't believe I didn't know.  And if its new, then I'm glad to pass around the news!!

    3 in 1 Crockpot Cooking & Serving. I have used it and love thé way it works. Once it heats up, your food stays hot. Perfect for hot apps, gravies, sauces & soups. Love this one!

    Warming Trays (used to be hot plates)

         I was never much of a fan of warming trays - they were big, clunky, one pot at a time things that we never used.  However, this year I got a gift I think I will use all year: 
         Oster makes a beautiful Stainless Steel Warming Tray that: 1 - works perfectly; 2 - looks beautiful wherever you put it, 3 - Its large enough to hold 2 cookie sheets, but 4 - Small enough to place on your table or buffet and not get in the way.   I've used it twice already: the night I got it on Christmas Eve (I hate to wait) and it kept all my hot apps hot all night; and on New Year's Eve, when we wanted to pick on Italian delicacies all night - It kept my pinwheels steaming hot without burning, riceballs and stuffed breads creamy and/or crispy.  This is one lift everyone should have.
         Just think, all year long: In Summer you don't want your ribs to get cold while you finish your burgers, dogs and other bbq;  You can warm your buns (burger buns sully!) while you cook your meats, keep beans and soups hot; Easter is next and if you're making a ham or lamb, you can keep it warm while your side dishes are in the oven.  Ok, I could go on, but judge this one for yourself.  I love it.  

    Oster Electric Warming Tray - attractive, inconspicuous, goes anywhere, and really works! Deb and everyone here at Debsfood definitely recommend it!

    10 BEST COOKING TRICKS (via The Huffington Post)

    Finally, have a look at this article from the Huffington Post Taste Section, for a selection of great hints and tips to make your cooking gourmet-worthy:  
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bon-appetit/the-best-cooking-tricks