I was interviewed a couple of months ago by someone who was doing an article about how to start a wine cellar with 200 euros. It seemed like an excellent idea to me, especially considering that everyone has to start somewhere and that a few pointers can go a long way.
I was reminded of this article again last night when a good friend asked me if I could share a few easy recipes with her, and give her a few pointers in the kitchen. She went on to say that when she goes to the market or the grocery store she unsure even of what to buy, and frequently ends up with very few things to build on, which is the way that I like to think of cooking. For me, fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, condiments, are all building blocks. Unless I have something very specific in mind when I go food shopping, whether at the supermarket or the farmer’s market, I tend to buy what “looks good”, knowing that the possibilities for mixing and matching will be endless once I get home. This is in fact what I most love about cooking; above all I am an experimenter and an inventor in the kitchen. I might use a recipe for inspiration, or for general cooking times or temperatures, but I like to take a recipe and turn it over and over in my head, creating its new identity and then throwing in a little bit of whatever else I can think of. Usually, I will do my shopping with a very definite idea in my head – chowder, chard, Poland, comfort, etc. but in general the finished product morphs a dozen times, again depending on what ultimately “looks good” while I´m in the store. I understand however, that even if you are able to chose the vegetables that are in season and the best cut of meat, you don´t necessarily know what to do with it when you get home. How do you know that what you are buying is going to “work”.
So, what are the building blocks for starter kitchen? They would obviously have to be broken down into groups of things, and this would clearly be open to debate (which I am more than welcome to) depending on the cook, the size of a kitchen, and whatever other possible factors such as food allergies (I, for example am allergic to onions, a building block for most kitchens) or refrigerator space. I should also point out that the interesting thing would be to create a starter kitchen that would contain not only basic elements that enable one to cook (i.e. Oil, salt, pepper), but also basic elements that enable one to cook WELL.
On top of these basic elements, it would then have to include the variables, those things that again, “look good” and that are in general can be used in a huge variety of dishes, and would include things such as vegetables and starches such as rice, pasta, couscous, etc., while it would also include meats, fish, poultry, etc. that can be prepared, and enjoyed at any time, without too much of a hassle. And then of course there is the price factor. Knowing how much things are going to cost you in general, and not to mention how long they are going to take to cook, is a huge help when it comes to stocking your kitchen with food. If I´m running to the grocery store with 10 euros in my wallet and want to get something good for dinner, I automatically know before I get there certain things that are out of my grasp. In fact, I brag about the fact that I can usually guesstimate how much my cart full of groceries at the supermarket is going to cost me down to the euro.
I know, isn´t that just fabulous for me, but that being said, my friend’s question still remains: what should she buy, how should she shop for it, how much will it cost and what does she do with them once she gets home?. All of these are valid questions, and ones that one by one I hope to address and answer here, hopefully with a little help.