Tuesday, February 07, 2006

In the beginning

people wandered about and ate whatever they could get their hands on that didn't run to fast :D Then they discovered how to catch what ran too fast. Eventually they learned to farm and grow their own food, both animal and vegetable and came up with various ways to process, prepare and cook their food in ways that made eating more then just fuel for surviving and passed these skills on to the next generation, who expanded upon what their elders taught them.

Fast forward to today when many people really don't know how to cook. We have a plethora of places who will cook our food for us for a fee, from the fast food restaurant to the full service deli at our favorite mega mart. Needless to say, there are folk who are unsure of what a kitchen is for and may be a little afraid of it. Time was, (if you were a girl at least) the minute you could stand, you helped your mother in the kitchen preparing meals. Eventually that was expanded to teaching boys how to cook, but even then it was so they won't starve until they got married. Now a days, cooking is no longer the realm of one gender, in fact, it was my father who taught me most of my cooking skills. I also learned from my mother and grandmothers, all of whom have helped me be the cook I am today.

Okay, you'd like to learn to cook, but the kitchen is a strange place and cooking seems like an arcane mystery. Cooking isn't that hard, tho if you look at some of the gourmet magazines and cookbooks out there, even some very experienced cooks will run screaming into the night. So we'll start with the basics and work our way up.

The most basic things you will need is the equipment. You will need a stove. This is mine, I managed to score a vintage electric stove for free to replace the 1970s stove that finally gave it's all and died.




I've cooked on both gas and electric, if I could have gas piped into my house I would be willing to pass my electric stove (which I dearly love) onto someone else and get a new one. But alas, it doesn't look like we'll be getting gas soon, so I continue to cook with electric. Now, there are advantages and disadvantages for both gas and electric, so in the end, it ends up to what one has available and personal preference to what one individual uses for cooking.

When I graduated college and moved into my own place, I actually moved out of the dorms more or less equipped for cooking. I'd gone to one of those home demos for cookware and ended up buying a set. Probably spent more money then I should have, but 26 years later, I'm still using that set of cookware. I've since expanded on it AND have gotten a lot of kitchen gadgets to go with it.

Do you need to run out and buy a whole set of cookware? No. But what does a new cook on their own need in the way of cookware. Well, a frying pan for starters, a couple pots of different sizes with lids, a larger pot or kettle. Cookie sheets and baking pans and casseroles do come in handy. Places like Shopko have nice cookware sections where you can pick up the basics, either as seperates or even as sets. Along with the aforementioned pots and pan set, most of my other cookware was inherited from my parents, my grandparents, stuff roommates have left behind when they moved out or things I bought.




What about utensils, well, you can pick up some pretty decent kitchen utensil sets just about anywhere, they usually come with their own container so you can store them on the counter (I keep mine in a silver plated ice bucket :D ). If you don't feel like getting the sets, you can pick up odds and ends at the local dollar store, the nicer stores carry a nice selection of pretty good utensiles for a buck a piece.



Knives, okay, you can spend a small fortune on some very nice knives, but knives are very much a personal preference. My favorites I use are a Chicago Cutlery chef's knife I found at a garage sale, a chinese cleaver my dad bought for $2 in China Town, a cleaver he bought I don't know where and a heavy duty knife he made out of a saw blade. Don't go out and buy expensive knives until you have an idea of what you like. You can pick up some fairly decent sets with knife blocks to hold them at stores like Shopko, etc for a reasonable price.



Other things you need for a basic kitchen: pot holders, towels, plates, bowls and eating implements, a can opener (VERY important and again, personal preference. I use a little itty bitty manual one, even tho I own an electric model. I just prefer it), measuring cups and spoons.



Some basic food stuffs to start stocking up on. It's not necessary to run out and get it all at once, but it is good to start making a list of things and pick up what you can when you go grocery shopping:

Dried pasta such as elbow macaroni and spaghetti
powdered milk
milk (again preference, I prefer whole or 2%)
eggs
sugar
Baking powder
Baking soda
Cornstarch
All-purpose flour
Tomato sauce
Tomato paste
Herbs and spices
Salt (I prefer kosher)
Red pepper
Black pepper
Rosemary
Oregano
Paprika
Chile powder
Cinnamon
Thyme
Curry powder
Cumin
vegetable oil
butter (again personal preference, you can use margarine for a lot of stuff)
bread

When I moved into my first apartment I just had salt, pepper and garlic powder for my spices and just added more as I went along. You can find a lot of them in small containers, but they can be pricy. If you are lucky enough to have a store that have a bulk section, you can buy what you need in small amounts and save money over the stuff in bottles.

So, this is just a start on things, we'll revisit the needed equipment and pantry items in a lter post.
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