My son has a kitchen.
What better use of a blog called Chick Magnet Cooking School then to help him figure out how to use it?
Let’s be clear. Learning to cook and doing it every day is going to take a while. Start small. Shoot for one or two nights a week, maybe cooking special meals on weekends. Also, when you cook try to think about leftovers. A lot of times your roommates won’t be there to share dinner. That doesn’t mean you have to cook for one. Many of the things you cook will make great meals later in the week when you don’t have time to cook. (Assuming proper refrigeration, etc., of course!)
For purposes of this post, let’s start with some basics with which to stock the kitchen. You needn’t go hog wild buying lots of ingredients but you need a few things that aren’t terribly expensive to give you what you need when it’s time to cook. Let’s start with the spice cabinet.
Starting with the basics:
- Salt and Pepper. You need the regular stuff you use when you eat but you also need some salt to cook with. At Trader Joes (it helps that there is one near your campus) buy their fine ground sea salt. It’s inexpensive. Don’t worry about a fancy salt cellar, just pour some in a small bowl and keep it in a cabinet when you’re not cooking. You do need peppercorns and a peppermill. (I’ll get you one on Amazon and send it to you if you give me your mailing address!)
- Herbs. Just buy an Italian Herb Mix for now. There is no need to be any fancier than that. They have a decent mix at Trader Joes. My favorite for flavor is the Spice Islands mix sold at Grocery Stores. Don’t fret. If you go to TJs get theirs.
- Cumin and Chili Powder. These spices come in very handy in soups and chilies.
- Olive Oil. Just buy the regular olive oil, not the EV for now. Trader Joes brand (that I use at home) is very good. Don’t buy the gallon bottles because Olive Oil goes rancid after it’s been open for a week or two.
- Grapeseed Oil. This is at Trader Joes too in a slightly smaller bottle than the olive oil. This oil is awesome, flavor free and actually pretty good for you as oils go. More importantly for when you start to cook, Grapeseed oil has a VERY high smoke point (the point at which the oil actually starts to burn and gets a bitter flavor).
- Balsamic Vinegar. OK. I’ll get you a bottle of the special stuff we use at home. But also buy one of the regular bottles at Trader Joes. I cook with the regular stuff and garnish with the good stuff. (almost like Ketchup!)
- White Balsamic Vinegar, also available at trader joes. Taste it. It has a bright clean flavor and it is one of the main ingredients in a lot of my marinades.
- Red Wine Vinegar, I’m going to sound like a broken record, but I like the trader joes brand here as well. This is a key ingredient in a lot of red sauces.
- Butter. Not the stuff in the tub. The sticks. Buy two pounds. It looks different on the East Coast but the size is actually the same. The sticks are just longer and thinner. (Weird huh? – Kind of like Hellmans and Best Foods or Carl’s Junior and Hardees – I don’t know why they do that). Take one stick of butter and put it on a plate and store it next to your salt bowl at room temperature. The stuff in a tub has something in it to thin it. Canola Oil, etc., all of these things make butter bad for you. On it’s own in moderation it’s just fine.
- Soy Sauce. Just buy the regular green bottle at Trader Joes and keep it in your refrigerator.
- Two bags of mini penne, Spaghetti, and Linguine.
- Crushed Garlic (available at Trader Joes in a bottle by the olive oils, etc).
- Bottled roasted red peppers. (I don’t know why it took me so long to discover these but they’re amazing).
- Julienned Sun Dried Tomatoes packed in oil in the bottle. (The oil makes a very good “flavor adder” too!)
- Parmesan Cheese. This is MUCH cheaper at Trader Joes than at the store.
- Buy a package of the italian sausage. You’re going to freeze these when you get home. They’re easy to separate and thaw but they make great flavors in simple dishes. I would buy the pork sausage, not the chicken. You guys don’t need to watch your fat intake that closely at this stage.
OK. Let’s move to the freezer aisle.
Here’s the thing. When it comes to vegetables and meats, don’t be afraid of frozen. Particularly frozen vegetables are substantially cheaper than fresh, last longer and are easier to use. Buying frozen boneless skinless chicken breasts will save you a fortune in both unused spoiled meat and in actual dollars. These are easy to defrost and offer pretty close to the same flavor profile as a fresh chicken breast. (OK – Foodie people – these are college boys for God sakes not snooty restaurant critics). For this reason I would buy.
- A bag of frozen boneless skinless chicken breasts and a bag of frozen chicken tenders. (all of this is actually breast meat). For now, that’s it.
- Also, at Trader Joes or any super market I would buy frozen peas, frozen corn and frozen green beans. I would not buy frozen asparagus as this will not thaw and cook normally. Stay away from frozen mixes of onions, peppers etc. These can come in handy when you want to do a quick meal prep, but in these cases buying the real thing will deliver more flavor and low cost. Also stay away from packages with “sauces” frozen into the vegetables.
- Lastly, at Trader Joes buy the frozen rice. It microwaves in three minutes and makes a great, more or less instant side dish.
Lastly. There are a few things you can get in the canned goods section of any supermarket that can really come in handy. Here they are in no particular order.
- Canned Diced Tomatoes (make sure they’re just diced tomatoes, you don’t want the “Italian Style” etc as these are usually heavily salted. Buy two or three cans.
- Two small cans of tomato paste.
- One can each of refried, white and black beans. Again, these make great, quick, high protein, low fat side dishes and are also good in chilies and soups.
With that I think you’re done shopping for now. Over the next few days I’ll do a series of posts that are dinners based on these basic ingredients. Each of these will be quick and easy and will either feed a few of you or you will have leftovers. For a couple of them you may need to run by the store for a fresh ingredient or two – such as an onion, bell pepper or Asparagus, but for the most part you already have everything you need. Time to start cooking!