Stocking Your Kitchen Cupboards
Those of you who are living away from home for the first time may well be wondering just what to put in those cupboards in your kitchens now that the novelty of take-away for every meal has worn off or finances have begun to become desperate. I had a look through my kitchen cupboards and here is a list of things I would not be without.
- No matter what style of cooking you want to indulge in, onions and garlic and potatoes are staples which keep well in a cool dark place. (Well, maybe you won't want potatoes if you only cook Chinese food.) Do not put potatoes in the light or they will go green and green potatoes should not be eaten. They contain a substance (the name of which escapes me, but who cares what it's called) which can build up in your system to toxic levels over time.
- Basil, oregano, bay leaves and mixed herbs are all useful in French and Italian style cooking. Collect small glass containers with airtight lids to store herbs and spices in, then buy them in cellophane packets to refill your bottles. They're much cheaper to buy in packets, but don't keep well in them. Forget about trendy spice racks on kitchen walls - herbs and spices keep much better away from the light.
- Tomato paste is also an essential for French and Italian food. This is cheapest bought in large containers. In Armidale, you can keep unused tomato paste in an airtight bottle in the fridge, but in more humid climates, you may need to pour a little oil on top of the paste to keep it from growing mould. You can also freeze it in small quantities if you wish. Canned tomatoes are also very useful and a cheap way of buying tomatoes for cooking.
- For Asian cooking green ginger is a staple ingredient. This keeps for several weeks unpeeled in the crisper of the fridge or can be peeled and stored covered with sherry in the fridge or frozen wrapped in foil or put in a zip-lock plastic bag . It is possible to grate frozen ginger, but it's a little chilly on the fingers, especially in winter. For Asian food, you will also need cornflour, soy sauce and perhaps oyster sauce, fish sauce and Chinese five spice. Ordinary soy sauces can be stored at room temperature unless it is very hot or you take a long time to use a bottle, but low salt soy sauce should be refrigerated after opening. All the supermarkets in town stock a range of ingredients for Asian foods, but some have a wider range than others.
- If you want to cook curries, it is possible to buy a variety of curry powders and curry pastes from supermarkets. I find that blending spices produces a better result as you can control how much of each ingredient you add, and it's cheaper, but it's also slower. Using ready-ground spices is easier and faster than grinding your own unless you have an electric spice and coffee grinder (you cannot grind whole spices in a food processor).
- Plain and self-raising flour, sugar, salt, pepper and eggs are also all very useful things to keep around and you might like to add tomato, chilli and/or barbeque sauce as well.
- Oil and cooking spray are also useful. Cooking spray is obviously more expensive than ordinary oil and there are some things that you simply can't use it for. Olive oil and canola oil are best health-wise in that they're rich in unsaturated fat. The darker an olive oil is, the more olive flavour it will give to your food.
Basic kitchen equipment includes:
Saucepans with lids (large and small), fry pans, a wok, serving spoons and wooden spoons, large and small sharp knives, cutting board, vegetable peeler, grater, hand whisk and/or egg beater, storage containers with lids (these can include empty margarine and yoghurt containers and peanut butter jars etc - you don't need to spend a fortune on Tupperware), aluminium foil, plastic wrap, a sieve or colander (preferably metal rather than plastic) and mixing bowls (three different sizes). A vegetable steamer is quite useful, but by no means essential. A toaster and electric jug are also pretty handy, but you can always use the stove if desperate, bearing in mind that the toaster and jug are cheaper to run, especially if you only want to cook one slice of toast or heat enough water for one cup of tea or coffee.
Other useful equipment:
A hand held electric beater is relatively inexpensive and can be used for a wide variety of things, including making cappuccino when all the commercial outlets are closed, or you can't afford a commercial one. If you eat a lot of rice, a rice cooker is great. Food processors are also handy, although more expensive and a bit of a pain to wash. If you have a relative who is missing you badly and wanting to find a way of making a meaningful contribution to your personal comfort, try dropping hints about a microwave. They also have a wide variety of uses, but don't let anyone tell you that microwave cakes are just as good as ones cooked in a conventional oven! A coffee plunger is also a good thing to own if you like coffee. Ground coffee keeps fresh longer in the refrigerator, but if you are sharing a fridge with others, you may find that it disappears faster than you'd expect. It might be better to keep it in a sealed container in your room.
When buying equipment, second hand is almost always cheaper than new. In Armidale, the Salvation Army Red Shield Family Store (99 Ohio Street, ph 6772 1677) has a good supply of cheap second hand household items, there are a number of other second had stores in town and you will often find cheap useful things at garage sales. Be careful, however, of electrical equipment bought at garage sales - it may not work well. When buying second-hand, it is also always wise to know how much the item would cost new - saving only a small amount of money on an item that would come with a guarantee if bought new may not be a wise investment. The une-for sale web forum is another good way of finding cheap household items.