Stocking Your First Pantry & Fridge

Earlier I made a post about what you need in your kitchen to cook for yourself as an independent adult. This is the only beginning. When you get your first place, you quickly realize there were certain things you took for granted. Your mom isn’t there to buy the groceries, and isn’t it a weird concept to think of buying ketchup?

Here’s my ideal basic list to stock up a decent beginner’s kitchen. Please keep in mind that this does not account for allergies or alternative diets. Vegetarians, vegans, and those with allergies may need to alter this to reflect those dietary needs.

Meat & Dairy

  • Milk
  • Heavy cream
  • Parmesan cheese (without cellulose)
  • Unsalted Butter
  • Cream cheese
  • Chicken Stock (or vegetable stock)

Vegetables & Fruit

  • Lemons
  • Garlic
  • Potatoes
  • Onions (I like yellow)
  • Canned tomato paste
  • Canned diced tomatoes
  • Canned tomato sauce
  • Extra-virgin olive oil

Grains

  • Pasta
  • Rice
  • Rolled oats

Spices

  • Salt & Pepper
  • Garlic powder
  • Cinnamon
  • Dried thyme
  • Dried oregano
  • Chili powder or cayenne

Baking Needs

  • All-Purpose Flour
  • Granulated Sugar
  • Brown Sugar
  • Powdered Sugar
  • Cornstarch
  • Baking powder
  • Baking soda
  • Vegetable oil
  • Cocoa powder
  • Vanilla extract

Condiments:

  • Ketchup
  • Mustard (please don’t buy the bright yellow stuff)
  • Hot sauce
  • Vinegar (white or cider)
  • Honey
  • Peanut butter
  • Maple Syrup
  • Soy Sauce

Some extras:

  • Plain yogurt
  • Panko breadcrumbs
  • Canned chickpeas
  • Sour cream
  • Chocolate chips (semisweet)
  • Shallots
  • Fresh herbs

I think that covers everything for simple, easy meals. As you figure out what you enjoy cooking, things will change to reflect what you need and what you use most often.

Did I miss anything? What are your essential groceries?

Kitchen Essentials

Some dear friends invited me to “supervise” during Operation Ratatouille. Basically, some friends have been trying to learn to cook and needed some help. We were dividing the tasks. I was cutting vegetables with extremely dull knives, with no sharpener or steele in sight. One friend’s plans for toasted breadcrumbs was thwarted by the lack of a food processor or blender.

When I got home, I took a look at my kitchen. I have built up a collection of appliances and tools – some more necessary than others. Then a coworker suggested that I make a list to help other people our age build up a solid kitchen. Many of my friends (myself included) have been moving out of our parents’ homes, starting with only the sparsest collection of cooking tools.

Absolutely Necessary Basics

  • Knives + Honing Steele

You need at least two knives: a chef’s knife and a paring knife. These will allow you to do most chopping, mincing, slicing, etc. The honing steel should be used frequently, usually prior to using the knives. Buy a knife block with a full set of knives if you want, but these two will be used the most frequently. I own

  • Cutting board (Wooden for fruit & vegetables and plastic for raw meat)
  • Frying pan
  • Large saucepan
  • Pots, at least two (Large and small)
  • Various cooking utensils (spoons, ladles, spatulas, etc.)
  • Colander/Strainer
  • Mixing bowls

I have both glass and stainless steel. This is really up to you, but I recommend at least two or three, each a different size. My metal bowls are from Costco.

  • Baking sheets for cookies, sheet pan dinners, etc. (2)
  • Casserole dish (square and rectangle; glass or ceramic)
  • Round or square cake pans (2 about 9 x 9 in.)
  • Pie dish (glass or ceramic)
  • Muffin tin
  • Oven mitts
  • Rubber spatulas
  • Zester (doubles as a grater)
  • Pastry brush
  • Measuring cups and spoons
  • Measuring Glass

Measuring solids and liquids requires different containers. Any standard glass measuring glass for liquids is fine. I bought mine at the grocery store.

Highly Recommended but Not Necessary

As I’ve learned to cook and stocked my kitchen, I have found that some items are good investments, even though they can be more expensive. These tools tend to cut down on cooking time and effort, though it is absolutely possible to survive without them.

  • Sifter
  • Slow Cooker
  • Cooling Racks
  • Food Processor

My food processor has multiple attachments. I can grate cheese, pulse to gently mix or blend, or completely blend. I use it frequently to make things easier on myself.

  • Stand mixer

Everything can be mixed by hand. It takes more effort and more time, but it can be done. I haven’t found a distinct advantage of the stand mixer over a hand mixer other than when I’m kneading bread (which can also be done by hand).

  • Dutch Oven

I love my Dutch oven. It has made cooking many items in the oven more convenient. I can cook things for long periods even at high heat. If you chose to get anything on this list, I would get a Dutch Oven. Mine is from Le Creuset, a high quality coated cast-iron that is sold in most home and kitchen stores.

Things You Do Not Need

This section should be called things I have, but don’t really need or use. These items are great for experimenting or making specialty items, but shouldn’t be considered “everyday necessities”.

  • Air Fryer
  • Specialty Pans
  • Pie Weights

One of my favorite Instabakers uses dry, uncooked beans over and over. Another uses granulated sugar because it toasts the sugar for a caramel flavor in other baked goods.

  • Spiralizer
  • Smoker Gun
  • Immersion Blender
  • Spice Grinder
  • Piping Bags/Tips

How you design and stock your kitchen is very individual. I have many specialty pans because I frequently experiment. Start with the basics and adjust as you need for yourself.

Did I leave anything off the list? What are your “must-have” kitchen tools?

New Year, New Goals

Each year I take a look at what I’ve cooked/baked and what I’m hoping to learn in the future. This year I was unpleasantly surprised to find that I barely made any of my 2018 goals.

  1. Pulled Pork
  2. Roast Chicken
  3. Sourdough
  4. Quesadillas
  5. Scones
  6. Trifle
  7. Madelines
  8. Quiche
  9. Cocktail
  10. Salad with Homemade Dressed
  11. Cinnamon Rolls
  12. Steak and Mashed Potatoes
  13. Frittata
  14. A Homemade Condiment
  15. French Press Coffee

Out of these fifteen goals, I made roast chicken, quesadillas, scones, and mashed potatoes. I’ve never met every single goal in a year, but I’m usually more dedicated to my goals.

This year I’ll be trying something a little different. Keep following and I’ll be less mysterious! Updates to come soon!

5 Ingredient Strawberry Breakfast Pastries

When I first started cooking I began listening to the advice of the pro chefs. There’s a general disdain for products like pie crusts or processed cheese. I made my own pastry crusts, my own chicken broth, and tried to make everything from scratch. Naturally this led to several #foodiefails .

One day while watching Jacques Pepin’s cooking show on TV, I saw that he was using Sara Lee pound cake from the freezer section. He was cooking with his granddaughter. They made a lovely fruit compote from scratch to go with it. Since then I’ve questioned my prejudice toward more convenient options, especially when you’re just getting started in your cooking journey.

I will never shut up about how amazing recipes with less than 10 ingredients are for beginners. There’s less prep, fewer preps, and lower cost. Everything about these recipes is easier, and often you don’t sacrifice flavor. Puff pastry is available in the frozen food aisle. It is incredibly difficult and time consuming to make from scratch.  On a particularly productive Sunday morning, I bought some pre-prepared puff pastry for these strawberry breakfast pastries. It’s almost like making homemade toaster strudels.

Ingredients:

  • 1 sheet puff pastry, thawed
  • 1/4 cup cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 Tbsp strawberry jam
  • 1 1/2 cups sliced strawberries
  • 1 large egg
  • powdered sugar (optional)

Instructions:

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silipat (re-usable silicon baking covers for pans).

2. Cut the puff pastry into 6 rectangles by following the folds in the dough. First, cut the sheet into 3 long rectangles, then cut each rectangle in half.

3. Transfer the pastries to the baking sheet, about 1 inch apart.

4. Lightly score a 1/2 inch border around the edge of the dough. Prick the center of the pastry with a fork.

Scoring means lightly marking the dough with a knife.
5. In a small bowl, stir together the cream cheese and strawberry jam. Place a dollop of the cream cheese mixture in the centers of the pastry and spread it. Top with slices of strawberry.

 

Make sure your cream cheese is close to room temperature or else the cream cheese and jam will not mix easily and consistently.

6. Whisk together the egg with 1 Tbsp of water. Brush the edges of the pastry with the egg wash. Bake for 15-17 minutes, until golden and puffed.

 

I think it might be easier to put on the egg wash before the cream cheese. Also, I didn’t use all of the egg wash.

7. Remove the pastries from the oven. Dust with powdered sugar over the pastries if desired.

 

The best way to deal with powdered sugar is to use a sieve. Pour it in, then lightly tap the sieve over the pastry. It spreads a light layer with less mess.

 

Final Thoughts: These were a lovely sweet treat that I would consider serving for brunch or breakfast with friends or family. The best part is they look so fancy! They may not taste like the most incredible pastry in the world, but I was still impressed with the results. I would recommend these be eaten within a few hours of being baked.

The Next Step: Mise en Place

A dear friend of mine (who says I am no longer allowed to us him as an example in my blog) told me he felt inspired by my journey to learn to cook and become healthy. To get started, he invited me to dinner. He wanted to make Chicken Parmesan, but that’s a breaded dish (not as healthy). We opted for chicken picatta, which is dredged but not breaded. He surprised me by adding asparagus to the menu. I don’t usually recommend starting with double-tasking, but I figured he had a plan.
 
I love my friend dearly, but I haven’t seen such a disaster in the kitchen since my first attempt at spaghetti carbonara. He had bought chicken thighs instead of breasts, swapped stock for wine, and didn’t consult his recipe at all! Many people encourage experimentation, but beginners should start with instructions. There is a difference between simple substitutions and fundamentally changing a recipe. The chicken thighs looked cooked on the outside, but were completely raw on the inside. He put the chicken back in twice and it was still raw! Somehow he managed to cook the asparagus, so we essentially had wine and asparagus for dinner. It didn’t matter. I was happy to cook with my friend and enjoy some food, wine, and good company.

He had a simple problem – his mise en place was very poor. What the heck is mise en place? It’s a French phrase meaning “everything in it’s place.” Once you’ve got your recipe, you need to organize your kitchen and ingredients before you start cooking. This will keep your kitchen clean and prevent any panicking or obvious blunders. You’ve probably read my first lesson in cooking: How to Read a Recipe. The next step is your mise en place!

As an example, I’ll be using pictures from my post Chicken with Lemon Cream Sauce.

1. Select and read your recipe.

2. Make sure you have all of the tools, dishes, and equipment you will need.

DSC_0320

Remember when I forgot my zester? That’s bad mise en place!

In some cases, you might be able to get away with substitutions. You may not necessarily need a stand mixer even if the recipe calls for one. The size of dishes and cookware can be important to all for proper cooking.

There’s no point making a dish when you don’t have everything you need. It makes it harder for you and more often than not, it won’t work out. Save the less obvious substitutions and sleight-of-hands for when you’re more experienced.

3. Do an inventory of your kitchen for the ingredients you already have. Shop for the ones you don’t.

I am adamant; it is important to stick to your recipe until you have more experience cooking. You might be able to get away with using sea salt instead of kosher salt, but the recipe was written that way for a reason. Make sure you don’t go shopping for things you already have. Then buy what you need as instructed in your recipe.

4. Defrost your meat!

DSC_0286

Save yourself the trouble of warming meat in the microwave or cooking half-frozen meat.

I usually put my portioned meat into a container and let it sit in the fridge over night. If it’s still frozen, I let it sit at room temperature for an hour or two.

5. Before setting up, make sure your kitchen is relatively clean.

Remove things from your counter tops and stove area. I store pans in my oven so I need to pull them out before I pre-heat my oven. You’ll want to work in a clean, uncluttered space.

6. Take out everything you need.

DSC_0278

All the ingredients are out. I won’t forget anything if it’s right in front of me.

Read your recipe. Take out all of the ingredients and equipment you’ll need. This always helps me figure out if I’ve missed anything. For example, the other day when I was making cupcakes, I realized I’d bought frosting, but forgotten cupcake liners!

7. Wash your vegetables.

This is a step I often forget. Produce should be thoroughly washed before being used. You can pay them dry with paper towels if you want.

8. Open cans and packages.

This is so that you can measure your ingredients. You don’t want to be measuring and prepping as you go. If you need a whole can of an ingredient, you won’t be fighting with the can opener when you should be mixing it into your food.

9. Chop, slice, and dice.

DSC_0317

Your veggies have been washed, so now they need to be cut accordingly. Mince garlic, slice onions, cut tomatoes. I like to separate them into bowls so they’re easy to pour into my food.

10. Measure out what you can.

I have little glass bowls that I like to put ingredients in for easy access. Eggs and yolks or whites, salt and other spices, vanilla, etc.

11. Double check. Is everything in it’s place?

Are your pans on the stove? Do you have all your ingredients? Are they all properly prepped?

12. GET COOKING!

It sounds a lot more complicated when you write it out step-by-step like this, but the key points are to follow your recipe and set yourself up for success. If you stay organized and prepare everything in advance, you’ll be less likely to forget things or make big mistakes.

Chicken with Lemon Cream Sauce

Starting Foodie Learns to Cook Version 2.0 doesn’t mean that I want to completely abandon the progress I’ve already made. From 2015 to the end of 2017 I’ve cooked and baked dozens of recipes. With my boyfriend’s photography skills and a little more experience under my belt, I’ll be re-visiting those old recipes and moving them here to the new blog.

When I first made this I only barely managed to make the pasta and chicken. At the end of my old post, I noted that I would have liked to have some vegetables with it. I made roasted asparagus this time, but I won’t share that here right now. If you want to make a full meal, you can use bagged steam-able vegetables or even canned vegetables.

DSC_0300

This recipe comes from Kevin & Amanda, a husband-wife cooking team. Check out their website for the full recipe and their instructions for Crispy Lemon Chicken Pasta.

This is a simple meal to put-together, but it may not be the healthiest of all recipes. The chicken is “dredged,” meaning the chicken is coated in flour prior to being pan-fried in butter. This creates some texture contrast between the pasta and the thick, creamy sauce.

DSC_0320

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz. angel hair pasta
  • 1 lb. chicken breast, pounded to about 1/2 in. thick
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tsp garlic salt
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 5 Tbsp butter, divided
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

DSC_0278

Some notes about these ingredients. I don’t think it really matters what kind of pasta you use. If you have shells or bow-ties in your pantry, they’ll work just as well. I love angel hair, so that’s what I used, but even fettuccine noodles are an acceptable substitution.

Also, you will need a way to zest the lemon. Zesting means taking either a zester or cheese grater to the rind of the lemon and grating off a bit of the peel. I didn’t realize my boyfriend didn’t have one so I had to make due. Trust me it’s much easier to just use the zester.

Directions

1) “Cook your pasta according to the package.” Boil lightly salted water. Add the pasta and cook as directed. Drain and set aside.

2) Pound your raw chicken flat. You can do this with a meat mallet or rolling pin.

DSC_0286

If I remember correctly, I actually used a hammer the first time. It was all I had.

3) Season the chicken with salt, pepper, and garlic salt on both sides.

There are measurements in the ingredients if you’re not sure, but this is fairly simple to do without measuring. Pour a little into your hand and rub it directly onto the chicken. I completely forgot the garlic salt, but it didn’t drastically change the flavor of the chicken.

4) “Dredge” the chicken. Pour some flour onto a plate. Once the chicken has been coated in spices, place the chicken onto the flour and coat it thoroughly.

DSC_0319

5) Heat 2 Tbsp butter in a large skillet over medium to medium-high heat. When the butter is hot and starts to turn brown, add the chicken and cook for 3-5 minutes. Then flip the chicken onto the other side and cook for another 3-5 minutes. Once the chicken is cooked, remove the chicken from the pan and set aside. Do not clean out the pan!

DSC_0331.jpg

I had my heat higher and still needed longer than 3-5 minutes per side. I ran into this problem the first time I made this chicken. My chicken may not be pounded thin enough. When I first removed the chicken, it was still underdone. (I don’t care what the Internet says, there is no such thing as “medium rare” chicken.) There’s no shame in putting it back in the pan to finish cooking. Add extra butter if you need it.

DSC_0339.jpg

6) In the same pan, add the remaining 4 Tbsp butter. Once the butter is melted and foamy, add the garlic and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the cream and bring to a simmer (meaning it should be bubbling).

7) Add the lemon juice and zest. Whisk to combine. Reduce the heat. Add the Parmesan cheese and whisk until smooth.

DSC_0347.jpg

Here’s another part where you can take the recipe as a suggestion. Add cheese a little at a time. Taste it! If you think it needs more cheese, add some more. If it tastes just right, then it’s ready to serve. It should be slightly thick, creamy, and have a light lemon flavor.

DSC_0353.jpg

8) Serve hot!

You can lay the chicken on top of your pasta, then drizzle the sauce. It’s up to you!

Cooking my lunches every week had gotten to the point where cooking seemed more like a chore. Going back to one of the first recipes I ever made, then cooking it all over again really shows the progress I’ve made. A good photographer doesn’t hurt either.

DSC_0360.jpg

What I Learned:

My mise en place was a mess. I was cooking in someone else’s kitchen with ingredients that someone else purchased for me. I didn’t have garlic salt and nearly forgot to put pepper on the chicken. I love garlic so I think it would have put this dinner over the top.

My boyfriend’s house is still something of a bachelor pad. He didn’t have a zester. I’m so used to having one that I didn’t think to ask until it was time to zest the lemon. We ended up using a vegetable peeler then essentially mincing the zest.

Cooking the chicken all the way through seems to be a recurring issue with this recipe. I would err on the side of caution and cook each side for 5 minutes at least, then cook more if needed.

I’m very proud that I was able to balance everything and cook a full meal. All of the food finished around the same time so I could serve it hot. This isn’t the first meal I’ve ever made for my boyfriend, but it is one of the most put together. Looking back I never thought I’d be able to make a real meal for my boyfriend. It may have taken a little longer than expected, but at the end of the day we got to sit and share a tasty meal.

DSC_0357

Give this recipe a try! What mistakes did you make? Did you change anything about the recipe? Comment and share the pictures of your food!

Gooey Grilled Cheese

Most American kids grew up on grilled cheese. It may not be a part of the most balanced diet, but it is easy (and cheap) to make. Though the concept is simple, it can very easily be customized and dressed up with different breads, cheeses, or even adding extra ingredients. For now we’ll be starting with a very basic plain grilled cheese. Once you’ve mastered the art of grilled cheese, try mixing it up!

Ingredients:

  • 2 slices of sandwich bread
  • 2-3 slices of cheese, room tempera
  • Butter or margarine, softened

You can use virtually any kind of bread. I’d recommend starting with large pieces of sandwich bread. You can also choose any kind of cheese. For this blog post, I chose Havarti, and my boyfriend chose smoked Cheddar. Most often, I use gouda.

Instructions:

1) Spread the butter or margarine onto your bread. I only did one side (because there’s less mess), but many people I’ve met prefer to butter both sides. You’ll want to thoroughly coat the bread.

DSC_0471.jpg

2) Heat up a skillet over medium to medium-high heat.

3) Place one piece of bread butter side down in the skillet. Place your cheese on top of the bread. Add the second piece of bread, butter-side up.

DSC_0477

Some people like to add extra butter to the pan, but I find that makes my grilled cheese soggy and greasy.

4) Let the one side cook for a bit (depending on how dark you like the bread). I usually wait until the cheese droops and I can smell the butter. Using a spatula, quickly slide it under the bread and flip the sandwich to the other side.

DSC_0478

Don’t worry! You can flip it over as many times as you need to get the right done-ness.

5) Make more and serve!

Optional: Get creative with your grilled cheese! Add a condiment like mayo or mustard on the inside of the sandwich. Use mulitple kinds of cheese. Add bacon! Or even try different kinds of bread. We bought some garlic bread and made smaller grilled cheese packed with buttery, garlic, cheesey flavor!

DSC_0485

Now I realize that grilled cheese is not a full meal. I’ll be making tomato soup from scratch soon, but for now open up your favorite can or carton of soup and heat it up on the stove. Or even go buy some from the local deli, grocery, or restaurant (like Panera).

DSC_0487

Got any favorite unique additions to your grilled cheese? Comment your suggestions below!