Learning cooking from scratch during the quarantine: Part 2
I had to split this piece into so many parts because it got long. We're going to go over a basic subset of supplies and some of the reasons that I decided on them.
Recently I was considering moving, and trying out the area before I decided. I was going to rent an AirBnB for maybe a month after driving there. I was complaining to a friend of mine that I was going to miss my kitchen. They pointed out that any place I rented would probably have a kitchen. Most Airbnb kitchens suck though. I realized I could just bring the stuff that I use most often. This led me to think about what I would bring. So here's that list for anyone curious. With these basics, I can make most things I listed earlier. And some of this I would probably just pick up at the store when I got there (like the paper goods, and maybe the spices).
- Cast iron pan
- I might bring my ceramic cast iron pan, but I'm not sure. I would bring two pans, and true cast iron is more versatile
- Non-stick pan
- Pan scrapers (I use these for scraping my cast iron, but they work for all sorts of stuff)
- Pan handle cover (I recommend these for anyone who uses cast iron. Lodge makes them and they're awesome. They allow you to use your pan without constantly getting oven mitts. I have them for my carbon steel pans too, although they are shaped differently)
- Carbon steel pan (I use this for steaks; however you could substitute this with another cast iron pan, which is what I used before I replaced it). I like it because it's lighter and has similar thermal properties to cast iron
- 6 inch chefs knife
- 8 inch chefs knife (You probably don't need both, but I don't like having to constantly clean my knives)
- 3 inch paring knife
- 3 quart saucepan
- Instant pot (optional, but I like it for rice and slow cooking)
- 6 quart stock pot (I like this for large amounts of pasta, but you can use the saucepan, or you could bring two saucepans)
- Colander (ideally a collapsible one to save space; my old colander was gigantic)
- Wood cutting board
- Plastic cutting board (I use this to rest and cut my meat. While some people say that you can use wood for this I don't really like to)
- Non-slip cutting board mat (I made my own out of cabinet liner. You can get like 60 feet of it on Amazon for maybe $10, then make extra ones for friends. They make great gifts to other people who cook)
- Salt and Pepper mills, and extra salt and pepper
- Salt cellar
- Kosher salt
- Kettle (for coffee and tea)
- Aeorpress (this is for coffee, I usually grind my own beans and then do a pour over, but this is way more convenient on the road. I would also probably just bring a bunch of my own coffee)
- Custard cups (I use these for prepping ingredients)
- One baking tray
- One baking cooling rack (I feel like this isn't what it's called, but I forget. It's the metal wire rack that you put in a full pan; I mostly use it for baking bacon)
- Parchment Paper
- Tin foil
- Paper Towels
- Garlic powder
- Cayenne Pepper
- Red chili flakes
- Herbs de Provence
- Italian Herbs
- Taco seasoning
- Numerous kitchen cloths (I use these for all sorts of things during prep; I prefer to only use paper towels for things that you shouldn't use cloth, like meat prep)
Part of the issue that I found with starting to cook was getting groceries. I hadn't gotten many groceries in several years. I also started stocking up a bit at the beginning of lock-down because there were issues getting food and keeping it. I didn't buy out stock of stuff, but I wanted to have a week or two of food at any point. I did not know what I would eat, and I was prioritizing for shelf life. For instance, I would get cold cuts for my sandwiches, but I would get the ones that are sealed in the packets. Those have a shelf life of a couple of months if they aren't opened. Same thing with certain nice sliced cheese. In general, I prefer to get blocks of cheese since they're cheaper per pound, but they go bad more quickly. I still do for Cheddar which is my go-to cooking cheese, also for Parmesan since it is so dry it keeps for a bit.
I had to get a better grip on what I use in my cooking and be more honest with myself on what I would use/wouldn't use. I'm still not super great about that. I keep buying green peppers thinking I'll use them for something, and I mostly don't. I could go into a long grocery list (although it mostly just boils down to meat, dairy, fruit, bread, and vegetables), but I'll save the space and just put down things that aren't really ingredients that I use a lot in my cooking. It's worth noting that I don't get my spices at the store. I order them from a spice shop, but I might put in the spices in a separate place
- Clarified Butter (I make my own from the regular butter, but ghee works too)
- Olive Oil
- Avocado Oil
- Canola Oil
- Kosher Salt
- Sea Salt
- Spray avocado or olive oil for pans
- Black pepper (milled or regular)
Quick Notes on Oils and fats
In groceries I put in three oils. This is bit out of scope for this article, but those three oils are what I stock at a minimum. I actually have more oils than that, but I don't use them as often.
- Extra Virgin Olive oil
- My go to oil for most things, but it does have a flavor. I like the flavor but you wouldn't want to use it for something that it doesn't pair well with
- It has a smoke point of between 325F and 375F. I generally say it's around 350F for simplicity. It depends on the oil
- Refined Avocado oil
- My go-to oil for pan frying steaks, or anything where I'm worried about burning the oil. When you burn oil it turns black and builds up carbon. It doesn't taste good
- Smoke point of around 525F
- Canola Oil
- My go to oil for anything with a lower smoke point where I want a neutral oil. It technically has no taste, and I love it with French fries, because that's how I grew up eating them.
- A note on Canola oil. Don't use it with cast iron. It's a complex explanation, but basically the iron binds to the canola oil and will make it rancid. It kind of speeds up the oxidation process. If you have a perfectly seasoned pan it shouldn't do it, but I would generally avoid it.
- Smoke point of around 400F
- Spray oil
- I keep some spray oil for greasing pans. It makes it much easier to coat the pan. You don't want it to have thin spots, or your food will burn in spots. The oil you use for this follows the other rules for the individual oils. I usually use avocado or olive oil.
- Clarified butter
- I use clarified butter more than regular butter, and I use it for most of the things that you would use butter. I mostly use it for its long shelf life, and its high smoke point. I make it myself in bulk.
- smoke point of around 485F. Butter is only 350F which makes butter easy to burn on the kind of electric range top most apartments have these days.