Sunday, May 30, 2010

The staves of life...

Today, we are going to talk about staples; all of the basic ingredients, prepared foods, spices, seasonings, and condiments one should have in his or her well-stocked and equipped kitchen! I know some of you, who are vegans or vegetarians, or who have food allergies/aversions won't like or eat a few of these things. Feel free to omit the ones you don't like, and replace them with the proper substitutions for your personal diet choices. I will do my best to mention some proper substitutes, but bear with me, as I have no dietary limitations, nor do most people.

Let's begin with the most common things that many folks buy on a weekly basis:

Bread (wheat or gluten-free, if you have allergies)
Cow's milk (soy, rice, or nut milk for veggies, and the lactose-intolerant)
Butter or margarine
Eggs (or a vegan egg substitute, such as Ener-G Egg Replacer)
Cheese (soy cheese substitute, for others)

If you always have these five things in your larder, you will never go hungry!

Now, for things many people buy on a month-to-month basis:

All-purpose flour (or whole wheat, Jerusalem artichoke, or amaranth, or whatever else you may prefer)
Pasta (macaroni, spaghetti, ramen, soba, etc.)
Dried beans (pinto, navy, etc.)
Rice (white or brown)
Oatmeal (instant or long-cooking)
Peanut butter (or cashew, or any other nut butter)
White or demerara granulated sugar (or a sugar substitute you can use in baking)
Brown sugar (the moist kind)
Salt (iodized or natural sea salt)
Olive oil (the 'light' olive oil is most suited to most folks' palates, and is less delicate to keep, than extra virgin)
Cooking oil and/or white shortening (soybean, corn, peanut, safflower, etc.)
Baking soda
Baking powder

Honey (or agave nectar, or another proper substitute)
Jelly, jam, and/or marmalade
Tomato ketchup
Prepared mustard (salad, dijon, stone-ground, etc.)
Mayonnaise or salad dressing
Coffee or tea (or both)
Boullion or soup base (beef, chicken, fish, or vegetable)

Meats and meat substitutes

Now, we come to the things which are the baseis of main dishes and entrees; fresh meats, tofu, and such. Meats and tofu products can be purchased fresh, repackaged, and frozen, for later use. One can even buy most of these things already prepackaged and frozen.

Whole chicken and turkey (most folks only buy breasts or leg quarters, but it's most economical to buy an entire bird, as the leftovers from a roast chicken can be used for many subsequent meals)
Ground beef (best bought in "family packs," portioned out, and stored away for later use)
Whole boneless pork loin (you can have your butcher cut it into an assortment of chops and roasts; or you can do it yourself at home, portion it out, and freeze packages of chops and roasts for later use)
Fish and other seafoods (There are so many different types, it would take me forever to list all. Fish, shrimp, lobster, calamari, octopus, scallops, are all delicious)
Ham (whole hams are relatively inexpensive, and are perfect for creating many dishes from the leftovers)
Bacon (No larder is complete without it! Even if you don't eat pork, you can buy turkey and beef bacons)
Tofu, faux meats, etc. (these products also freeze quite well)

Fresh, dried, and tinned vegetables & fruits, and other perishables

Now, we come to our fruits and veggies. If you buy them fresh, they are perishable, and should be used within a reasonable amount of time; many of them can be blanched and frozen (I will blog about this, at a later date), or even canned, if you are handy. Lettuces cannot be preserved in any manner, so they must be eaten within a week of purchase. Many fruits and vegetables are available tinned or dried, and have a very long shelf life. Some people don't like them that way, but I think they are nice, because they keep for so long-- and they're good to keep around, for when you're in a pinch.

Swedes (rutabaga)
Fresh garlic
Green beans
Lima beans
Butter beans
Kidney beans
Chick peas
Sweet peas
Brussels sprouts
(There are many types of lettuces available at your grocer. Romaine, whole leaf spinach, and whole leaf lettuces keep the longest. You can buy pre-washed and chopped lettuces, but they don't keep as long)
Greens (mustard, collard, turnip)
Sprouted beans and grains (these are very delicate, and must be kept in a moisture-controlled compartment in your refrigerator)
Apples (and apple sauce)
Kiwi fruit

You get the idea. Buy the stuff you like (and will use within the week, unless it's canned), and don't bother with the stuff you don't. If I forgot any of your favourites, please forgive me!

A little bit of spice makes everything nice

Spices, herbs, and seasonings are what make your cooking uniquely 'yours.' Every cook has spices they prefer to use on a daily basis. Some prefer to incorporate whole spices into their recipes, and grind them right before use; others prefer to buy prepackaged spice mixtures. Some folks even use fresh herbs regularly, while most use dried. I'm going to mention the bare-bones basics here, for beginning a decent, all-purpose collection of spices and seasonings.

Garlic powder
Chili powder
Cajun seasoning
Curry powder
Old Bay seasoning
Bay leaves
Ground mustard
Black pepper

Worcestershire sauce
Hot sauce (such as Tabasco, La Cholula, or Frank's Red Hot)
Vinegar (There are many types of vinegar. I always keep red wine, white wine, balsamic, and cider vinegar handy)

Once again, please forgive me, if I have forgotten any of your favourites. I'm mostly going by the things I use most in my pantry, and are most often called for in recipes.

Well, I think I've made decent progress, listing basic household staples. This should give you a well-rounded idea of good foods and ingredients to stock your kitchen with! Don't be afraid to leave some feedback on this post, as I would love to find out what you keep in your own kitchens, as well as your own ideas! I think I've worked hard enough, for awhile...and I'm going to make some tea. I hope y'all are enjoying my blog, so far! Thanks again, for reading.

I'm still hemming and hawing, over what my next subject matter will be. Don't fear, I'll figure something out, and soon!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The heart of a home, is the kitchen!

Up until relatively recently in history, the hearth was the focal point of a household. If you take away the "h" at the end of the word, you are left with "heart." It was literally the heart of the abode. The hearth was the most important feature of a home, for many reasons. It was a place to prepare and cook food, and a source of warmth. It was also a source of hot water for sanitation, and a source of soft lighting in the evening-- ideal for finishing up a bit of knitting, or reading a book. We now assign most of these tasks to our modern kitchens. A bright, cheery kitchen will quickly become the focal point of your place. Aside from being a place to prepare and serve food, it is also frequently used as a gathering point for company, and as a workspace for other household duties and hobbies.

My personal favourite part of setting up a new homestead, is making the new kitchen ready for action! A clean, functional kitchen is the most important element of having a comfortable and happy home! It can take many years of trial and error, if done on your own...but I am here to help you!

"Implements of construction and destruction"

First of all, you will need cookware, cutlery, dishes, glassware, etc. All of these items are readily (and cheaply) available at your local dollar or pound (or whatever currency your country of origin uses) store. You can also find a large selection of these things at any thrift store (Salvation Army, St. Vincent DePaul, etc.). Depending upon the amount of family/household members, you will want more or less of each.

To start with, figure upon buying two serving platters (chargers) and place settings, for each person. Two dinner plates, two salad/dessert plates, two cereal bowls, two tumblers, two coffee mugs, two butter and steak knives, two salad and dinner forks, two teaspoons and tablespoons-- you get the idea. This should give you plenty of ware, with which to serve and eat your meals. Be sure to buy stoneware that is microwave safe! There are many pretty patterns, that are just as nice as fine china.

You will need one good set of kitchen knives, in a knife block. Most sets consist of a large chef's knife, a bread knife, a paring knife, and a carving knife. Some even come with kitchen shears. To be honest, I prefer the serrated "Ginsu"-type knives, over straight blades. They seem to last longer, and don't require sharpening (which requires a bit of skill).

You'll be needing a good set of canisters with lids, for storing your flour, sugar, grains, pasta, coffee, etc., and keeping those things fresh and bug-free. Buy as many as you need, for the most common staples you keep around. I suggest at least six or seven. If you end up with extra, you will use them, eventually! Trust me!

As for cookware, you will need one dutch oven, two stock pots (one large, one small), two large skillets (I prefer cast iron), two small frying pans, two large saucepans (with lids), two small saucepans (with lids), four microwaveable casseroles with lids, two cookie sheets (one large, one small), two loaf pans, one 12-muffin pan (or two six-muffin pans), a set of liquid measuring cups (preferably Pyrex), a set of dry measuring cups, a set of metal or plastic measuring spoons, two large mixing bowls, two small mixing bowls, a colander, two meat platters (preferably with a juice channel), a large microwavable teapot, a tea kettle, an automatic coffee maker, an electric crock pot, one large and one small cutting board, three or more serving spatulas, three or more mixing spatulas, two or more large serving spoons, one serving fork, a potato masher, one large and one small balloon whisk, a can opener, a bottle opener, a corkscrew, an ice cream scoop, a rubber or silicone jar opener, four or more hot pads, and four or more trivets. This is all the stuff that you might need eventually, even if you don't think so, at first! You can thank me later.

You will also need food storage items. Gone are the days of buying expensive Tupperware! Hefty Serve n' Store and Gladware containers are very inexpensive, and last for many uses, if properly cleaned and taken care of. You will want to buy a good assortment of these, in different shapes and sizes, to dedicate to each purpose. You will also need plastic zipper baggies, (gallon and quart sizes), plastic sandwich baggies, aluminium foil (heavy duty is best), plastic wrap, and wax paper. These things are important, for properly storing leftovers, and freezing foods for later use.

You will need items for disposal of household waste. A kitchen waste bin with a lid (13 gallon capacity), a larger outdoor rubbish bin with a locking lid (30 gallon capacity), and 13 and 30 gallon rubbish bags.

Now, for things to keep your kitchen (and you) clean! You will need a large bucket or pail, a sponge roller or rag mop, a dishpan, at least five heavy-duty dishrags, at least five hand towels, three or more tea towels, a bottle of concentrated liquid dish soap, a box or bottle of dishwasher powder or liquid (if you are lucky enough to have a dishwasher), a dish mop, a box of Brillo or Chore Boy pads (steel and copper wool), four or more heavy-duty kitchen sponges, a container of scratch-free cleaning powder (such as Comet or Bon Ami), a bottle of kitchen degreaser (such as Orange Glo), a bottle of disinfectant cleaner spray (such as Clorox Disinfectant), a gallon of chlorine bleach, a can of Lysol (or similar product) disinfectant spray, a bottle of streak-free glass cleaner (such as Windex), two large rolls of paper towel (I usually keep one roll of heavy-duty, and one of regular strength), and a bit of moxie!

Last but not least, you will need a comfortable dining table and chairs. There are many places to buy these things new and relatively inexpensively, such as IKEA. You may also want to look for a vintage set, by way of your local classified ads, or at the local thrift store. You will want a table cloth, with which to cover your dining space. Choose one of the correct size and shape, to fit your table. You should also have at least two sets of place mats, two for each person in your household. These are easy to toss into the washing machine if they become soiled, and better than having to wash your tablecloth after each meal. Lastly, you will need at least two sets of cloth napkins-- enough to have two for each person who'll be seated. These are much more economical and earth-friendly, than using paper throwaways!

There! Now you have everything you'll be needing, to get your kitchen in working order! In my next blog entry, I will be discussing how to properly stock your pantry, refrigerator, and deep freeze. I think we've done enough, for now! Let's have a sit-down, and enjoy a nice cup of tea....

Next entry, we will be plotting pantries, filling fridges, and freezing foods! Keep checking back, dear readers!

Hmmmmm....where do I start?

Well, folks, this has been a long time coming! The idea to write a modern homemaking/cooking/gardening/self-sufficiency/style/gadgets-to-make-your-life-easier blog has been turning around in my brain, for a long time, now! I'm finally putting the effort behind the daydream!

I'm here to teach YOU how to do things that your grandparents know/knew how to do, but in a modern, no-nonsense manner. There will be some shortcuts, and some use of convenience products, but I promise-- this will be all about the real thing; practical and thorough homemaking, with a modern edge!

My inspiration for this blog has come from the increasing number of modern people, who have no homemaking skills. I've often wondered why domesticity has fallen out of fashion and favour. Could it be because shortcuts and services are so readily available? Or, perhaps because it has become "un-cool" to be a homemaker? What has caused the decline in home-handy skills? What will it take, to make people realise how important these skills are?

One does not have to be female, or subservient, to be a homemaker. I think this is one of the greatest misgivings of the modern age. Controlling all aspects of a household is something that should be exempt from gender stereotypes. I know plenty of gentlemen (single fathers, bachelors, and same-sex couples), who are wonderful homemakers!

I'm going to try and make this blog as helpful as possible, for anyone who's interested in learning the important attributes of being practical, thrifty, and domestic! Happy housekeeping, my friends!

In my next two entries, I will be focusing upon ideas for setting up a kitchen for a new household, and properly! Stay tuned....!