Building a Kitchen: Pantry Staples

I don’t know if anyone else feels stuck at home, but I personally have been leaning on my non-perishables. I feel like it’s the first thing people buy when they move into a place. Here are some things I think you always need to have. I am only including non-pershibles or with an expiration date of a year + (no produce). 

  1. Flour (All-Purpose) – I think flour is just a great thing to have on hand, whether you are baking, breading, or thickening
  2. Granulated Sugar – I use possibly too much sugar everyday sweetening my coffee but also for baking and general cooking. 
  3. Neutral Oil – One thing I learned pretty quickly is that you need some sort of cooking oil to saute, fry, roast, etc. but you have to be careful about the type of oil. Some like avocado oil have their own flavor that they add to the food. Get neutral oil like canola or vegetable. 
  4. Vinegar – There are a thousand and one types of vinegar but you really should have at least one in your kitchen. Vinegar is essential for cooking things like meat or making salad dressings and other sauces. Also good for cleaning. I, personally, prefer apple cider vinegar for cooking and white vinegar just for cleaning. 
  5. Soy Sauce – This might just be cause I like salt and rice dishes. It’s also has a lovely depth of flavor and savor that just salt does have. 
  6. Lemon Juice – Essential for cooking, baking, and mixing drinks. It is a great add-in to sauces or to top off dishes like salad and pasta. 
  7. Tomato Paste – This is a really condensed flavor of tomato in a smooth paste. It is a great base for stew, sauces, curries, etc. It’s a great way to start building flavor up, even to add to a basic rice or pasta dish. 
  8. Pasta – For pasta. I personally really like the farfalle (like bowtie) and my partner really like linguine which is really easy to cook. 
  9. Rice – Obviously. I don’t really have anything else to say for this. 
  10. Baking Soda – Good for baking yes. But also cleaning, clearing unpleasant scents, and for helping with pain when it comes to bee stings and bug bites. 

Building a Kitchen: Essential Herbs and Spices

So I think the most important thing is making simple foods taste really good is seasoning. However, spices and herbs are expensive. For me, and the cooking that I know here is a basic starter kit for any new kitchen.

  1. Salt: Obviously – everything and everyone needs this. Also, technically a mineral but still.
  2. Black Pepper: Again most things need a little pepper. If you can get one with a grinder, you will be better off.
  3. Cinnamon: This is my partner’s favorite flavor but it is very versatile and hard to replicate with other spices.  It’s a sweet and warm spice. Useful in everything from French Toast to curries.
  4. Cilantro: This has a really fresh and citrus-y flavor (if it doesn’t taste like soap to you). It’s great with rice, on top of tacos and burritos, with salad. It’s a really quick and tasty addition to many dishes.
  5. Basil: It is a sweeter herb with a more neutral flavor. Great for all Italian food. It is easy to use and pull in more flavor anywhere.
  6. Rosemary: The definition of herbaceous. It is delightful and woodsy. I love added this to any roast or soup. Also rosemary-lemon cookies are the best thing to be invented.
  7. Mint: Mint should be a requirement. There is no substitute. It is perfect for drinks (alcoholic and non) and desserts. Also to through on top of dishes and fresh into salads.
  8. Oregano: Oregano is featured in a lot of food (Mexican, Italian, Mediterranean) for a reason. It is just a little bitter but really accentuates savory and sweet flavors. Oregano is almost impossible to overuse.
  9. Dill: This might be my most controversial pick but I just think that there is nothing that can replicate this taste. It is earthy and tangy. Great for dips, soups, and sauces.
  10. Cayenne: Really any chili or pepper powder works but I like Cayenne. I think it is really easy for beginners to add layers of heat and spice without a lot of skill.

Building a Kitchen: Essential Cookware

I know when I was just starting to live on my own I had no idea what I needed to get by in the kitchen. It’s been almost four years so I have compiled a list of necessities to get you through any day to day cooking/baking/food constructions.

  1. Cutting Board: silicon or wooden work but it is essential. You will destroy counters, pans, plates, etc. Silicon/rubber cutting boards are easier to clean and maintain.
  2. Colander: drain the water! Also can be useful for cleaning fruits and veggies. Can be combined with mixing bowl to create make-shift salad spinner.
  3. Mixing Bowl: you know for mixing and combining
  4. Chef’s knife: I would recommend 4 – 6 inch blade. Not so big that you feel unsafe wielding it but big enough to not have to put all your strength into dicing an onion.
  5. Saucepan (2 quarts) with lid: for boiling and simmering. You do need a lid. Don’t make my mistakes

    salsa
    You can live forever on fresh salsa and chips
  6. 10 inch frying pan: ideally it will also be oven safe. I don’t know what I would do without my copper pan
  7. Sheet pan: sizable enough to make at least 12 cookies.
  8. Wooden Spoon: for stirring and mixing. Also won’t scratch Teflon and can stop water from boiling over.
  9. Slotted Spatula/turner: for flipping
  10. Tongs: catch all tool for cooking and serving (don’t underestimate)

cookies
If you can’t make cookies, do you even have a kitchen?

Mid-year Goal Check-in

So it is about midyear which means the year is about half way over. This to me is just bizarre but maybe it’s because I wasn’t working and mostly just home for 3 months before I was employed. I thought I would check in with the goals I made through out the year and see what I have accomplished, what is still feasible, and what to adjust.

Life Goals:

  • I went to my friends wedding which you can learn about here.
  • Have not gotten a credit card yet but it is harder than I expected to choose a bank
  • Cooking is going well but it is hard to practice as much as I want cause my partner is such a good cook and makes a lot of our dinners.
    • For the second half of the year I’m going to focus on cooking more often and learning a new recipe once a month, not twice.

Career Goals:

  • GOT A JOB! Just had my three month review and feel confident in the job for a while.
  • I have had 2 public speaking engagements and hope to have more this year
  • I attended no networking events… I am very afraid to meet new people and make these new connections event though I should

Health Goals:

  • I have stuck very well to not buying pre-made desserts though sometimes my partner buys me a treat which is nice. Still trying to stick to this goal, but need to purchase more baking gear.
  • One meatless meal a week has proven to be much less of a problem than I had anticipated.
  • I really sucked at my water goal but two weeks ago I bought a waterbottle (honestly this was shocking)
    • The new goal is to finish one everyday (32 oz.)

Writing Goals:

  • So I have been doing a lot of work writing but my person writing has definitely fallen by the wayside.
    • Goal for the rest of the year is to edit two short stories and finish a rough draft of my novel that I have been planning for years
  • Blogging has not been going as well as I wanted (most of the time I don’t hit three). I didn’t do a review for May’s book club as it was ender’s game and I didn’t have anything new to say. My goal is to re-up in the new year.

Reading Goals:

  • I have read 67 books so far this year.
    • One DNF
    • My favorites so far this year:
      • Bloodwitch by Susan Dennard
      • The Forgotten Sisters by Shannon Hale
      • The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
  • I was really well on my way to reducing unread book I owned by then of course I bought more.
  • I have only read two 2019 releases but I am intending to read more in the back half of the year. They are more accessible in the library.
  • I finished 4 (ish!) series but to be fair two were duologies. I am going to attempt now to finish 9 series.

Wish me luck in the back half of the year meeting all my goals!

Poor Man’s Carbonara

So one of my goals for this year was to get better at cooking a variety of food. One of the meals I have actually have made several times is Pasta Carbonara. However traditional carbonara is made with you know nice ingredients, nice Parmesan, shallots, etc. So I have learned to make a cheap carbonara that for around $5. These proportions should serve about 4 with a possibility for left overs. I really like it because it is so protein dense but still filling and tasty.

Ingredients:

  • Box of Pasta ($1)
  • 4 eggs ($0.32)
  • Parmesean-Romano Shakey cheese ($2.39)
  • 3 hot dogs (appx. $1)
  • Black Pepper
  • Salt
  • Lemon Juice (optional)

Steps

  1. Boil water and cook the pasta
  2. Saute half a diced onion and three diced hot dogs til both are golden brown
  3.  In a separate bowl combine 2 whole eggs and 2 egg yolks, one cup of the Parmesan-Romano, salt, and lots of pepper
  4. When pasta has been strained add back to pot with hot dogs and onion. Then slowly add egg mixture stir constantly. The heat of the pasta and meat will cook the egg into a sauce.
  5. Top with pepper and more cheese if you so wish and cut with lemon juice.

 

Feeding myself

So one of the hardest things coming into this summer is the idea of having to make 100% of my own meals, plus food shopping though I like that part.  It’s been a lot more fun and easier to cook than expected. Meal planning has not been as such. I have lots of food but figuring out when to have what when, also packing for lunch at work.

So obviously I stocked up on the non-perishables at the beginning of the summer. A lot of soups and noodles and rice to fill the stomach at any time. The standout was however Stovetop stuffing. It is so cheap and delicious and easy to make that it’s become a huge staple for me. You can also eat or add a lot to the basic mixture or have it by itself.

The rough thing is protein. Meat is ridiculously expensive and I am on a shoestring budget. However, eggs are great and actually you can make a lot with them. Not going to lie I have been eating more french toast than I had previously expected. Tuna is also really good and really cheap (also keeps forever!). Sandwiches are good but what I really like to do is add it to leftover Mac&Cheese with a little bit of mayo, spices, and extra cheese. It’s kinda like a makeshift tuna casserole. Any suggestions for new ways to get protein in my diet would be suggested? (Do not suggest peanut butter I am eating that everyday for lunch at work.)

The hardest part is figuring out when to eat everything and how to have a “balanced diet.” But food is so good and sometimes it’s hard to decide if I want pasta or a grilled cheese. Adding non-bread based foods is also rough, produce is expensive! Spinach has been a blessing in disguise, but fruit is so expensive and does not last that long. Fresh frozen is good but the bags are so small that I don’t want to have to keep repurchasing them.

Looking forward to making myself more and better food in the future.

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