I have written about various recipes and cooking methodology at different times, exploring some of the easier and some of the harder recipes that I have experimented with. I have recently come to a realization about cooking; creating incredibly ornate dishes can be a wonderful experience, but sometimes you need to just “keep it simple stupid! This means understanding when to recognize the need to create uncomplicated dishes that do not take a great deal of time. This does not mean the food need to be boring!
However, it does mean that expectations for cooking and recipes need to be tailored based on the availability of ingredients, as well as the time available for cooking and the tools available in a normal kitchen (I don’t understand how some of the cookbooks I see can expect everyone to own all of these obscure gadgets for cooking!) I have been down the road of complicated cooking; unless you are planning on quitting your job or have the luxury of working from home, attempting complicated (and more to the point: long) recipes every night is not sustainable. I want to talk about the alternatives in this post, as well as in subsequent articles on cooking. I am not intending on including a recipe in this particular post, but I do want to supply our readers with recipes that are attainable and fun in the future.
This post is written to point you down the right path, kick-starting what will hopefully become a rich and sustainable way to cook for yourself and any other members of your household. I hope it will give you the tools necessary to improve your health, lower your grocery bill, and enjoy your food!
Preparing Your Kitchen
There are a lot of different published lists comprised of essentials for every kitchen. I think that the vast majority of these lists assume the cook is preparing to open a restaurant; at least it seems that way given the intensity of the ingredients listed as required. I live in a Condo, and I am sure I am not alone in living in a relatively small space with limited cabinet space. This means that having everything I need for future cooking is simply not viable; I see nothing wrong with purchasing items when they are needed, instead of stocking them well in advance. The other advantage to this method is that you are never confined to making certain dishes based on expiration dates.
Limiting what you have in stock is even more important for a fridge. Many men have fridges that are incredibly sparse, and this is often viewed as a negative. Having a well-stocked fridge is considered the hallmark of a good cook; but lets be honest: it’s also a clear indication of a fridge that will be full of rotten food in a few weeks. I have learned that having the right ingredients in the right amounts enhances the cooking experience. This means buying ingredients when they are needed. There are times when you will need to buy a large amount of an ingredient when only a small amount is needed; some may commend this as purchasing for the future. I am frustrated by it since it confines my cooking to a specific flavour until I have used that ingredient (otherwise it will go rotten).
With the above in mind, it is difficult to really have a list of essentials that applies to everyone. Your regular meals will be different from mine, so what you stock in your cupboard and fridge will be different. However, I believe you should have ingredients for three simple meals (and by simple, I mean very simple!) at all times. This will help you to avoid the temptation of KD; on those nights you are simply too tired to cook a high-energy meal (high energy to cook it, not necessarily what is contained in it), you will have an alternate to turn to. Aside from that, I suggest stocking the following:
- Olive Oil
- Cooking oil (canola, corn, peanut, etc)
- Tomato Sauce
- Assorted dried spices (more on this later!)
- Onions & Garlic (both of these last well and are great in most dishes for extra flavour)
- Salt & Pepper (obviously!)
- Block Cheese
- Ground Beef (frozen)
- Boneless Chicken (frozen)
- Frozen Veggies
- Favourite stir-fry sauce (Soy, Teriyaki, Hoisin, etc)
- I have all of these because they all last!
- Chicken or Vegetable Stock
This is a much smaller list compared to what you will find elsewhere, but I believe these essentials are enough to create quite a few meals, including stir-fries, a number of different chicken dishes, lots of pasta dishes, and enough sides to provide variety. Of course, I’m not suggesting this is all you need to really enjoy cooking; but if you keep these things in your pantry you shouldn’t ever find yourself in a situation where you have no idea what you can cook for dinner.
As to kitchen tools, I don’t believe in going out and buying a whole ton of kitchen appliances, gadgets, and other items you may imagine yourself using.The vast majority of food can be cooked as long as you have three things: a good pot set, a good pan set, and a good knife set. Other items will be collected as you attempt certain dishes and find yourself needing them, but don’t clutter up your kitchen with gadgets for every contingency. I have found cooking to be far more enjoyable when I minimize the tools I have, which makes all of those tools easy to find. Mechanics do not go out and buy every tool for every job they will ever do; they buy the tools they need when they need them and allow their collection to grow gradually.
I suggest that at least once every three months, you should go through your kitchen and purge. This includes clearing out any food that is outdated, but it also includes getting rid of things that you aren’t using. This will also serve to remind you of what you have, which may encourage you to try a new recipe to use up certain ingredients that have been left neglected in your pantry. As well, you should assess your kitchen tools and determine what you need and what you don’t need. Never allow your kitchen to become cluttered and confusing; you want cooking to be fun!
Finding the Right Recipes
This is really the last thing that I want to talk about in this particular post. It is very important that you pick the right recipes, especially early on in your cooking exploration. The key here is, once again, keep it simple stupid! You need to find recipes that are:
- Fast: try to find recipes that you can cook in 30 minutes or less
- Ingredient-light: many recipes you will encounter call for ingredients that will have you frustrated bouncing from grocery store to grocery store, or call for tools that are not practical or affordable for your home kitchen. Try to find recipes that list ingredients you know you can find in your own grocery store.
When looking for quick recipes, you need to be extra attentive. I have too often found myself stuck after beginning a recipe when I find embedded within it the words “marinate overnight”, or “thaw in advance”, or even notice on the ingredients that the meat is “pre-cooked”. Make sure that you read the recipe and look for any step that may slow you down in the cooking process.
Most people are fairly familiar with what their local grocery store has on offering, but I suggest taking the time to walk through and “window-shop” your grocery store anyway. I did this fairly recently, and I was very surprised at some of the items that were available at my local discount (yes, discount!) grocery store. Once you have more familiarity, you will become more effective at choosing the right recipes that do not contain ingredients that are impossible to find, or only available in a boutique market on the other side of your city. I’m not saying you should always reject those recipes; in fact, heartily endorse becoming a frequent shopper at your local market. But we are talking about sustainable cooking here; not occasional forays into complexity that you will hopefully indulge in. When it comes to sustainable cooking for those of us who need to put something together after we get home from work, the ingredients should be readily available through a quick stop at the grocery store.
One other note about ingredients: I am not suggesting that you only cook from ingredients you know-far from it! This is why you should familiarize yourself with your local grocery store. If you see an ingredient that you think looks interesting (maybe a vegetable you’ve never tried before, or a type of spice that you’ve never tasted), head home and find a recipe that uses that ingredient; that’s part of the fun of cooking!
The main objective here is making your cooking easy, sustainable, and fun. Alright, that’s enough to get us started!