10 October 2009

Panel Series: Cooking

Well hello there! So wonderful to see you. Thank you for coming. Come in,come in! The room is filling up fast as you can see. Please take a nametag and find a seat at one of the tables. I've provided notebooks and pens if you have forgotten yours. Also, there's punch and cupcakes on the banquet table in the back, please help yourself. Are we ready to get started? Can you hear me in the back? Wonderful. I would like to officially welcome you all to my first ever panel series. I've decided to start with a topic very dear to my heart: cooking. I'm so excited to have these wonderful ladies joining us for the entire month and hope you gather as much inspiration from them as I have. Here is the prompt that I asked these ladies to talk about today:

The Well Stocked Kitchen
Tell us about your kitchen. What staples are in your pantry? What’s in your fridge right now? What kind of ingredients do you splurge on? How about kitchen gadgets? What do you consider a necessity vs. a luxury? Any gadgets that you thought were luxuries that are now necessities?

And with that, I'll turn it over to our panelists. Take it away ladies!

Jaime :I’m lucky enough to live an apartment with ample kitchen cupboards, so I have taken good use of them and consider my kitchen “well stocked.” I always keep supplies for a quick meal on hand: chicken, veggies and mandarin oranges for a stir fry, noodles of all shapes and cans of crushed tomatoes for pasta dishes, etc. Plus I always keep a spare container of baking essentials such as baking soda, baking powder, flour, honey, etc. I do a lot of baking, so I can burn through a lot of those ingredients within a few days and after a few times of running short, I have learned to just keep extras around.

I try to only grocery shop once a week, so depending on the day my fridge can look rather barren, or loaded with food. Right after a shopping trip both crispers and the bottom shelf usually have lots of fruits and veggies in them, my “meat” draw is full of cheeses, and I’m well stocked with milk and eggs. Odd things you’ll always find in my fridge? Lots of nuts (I buy them in bulk and they tend to go rancid if I don’t keep them in the fridge), several different kinds of oils (they also tend to go rancid if I don’t store them there), yogurt cultures (I make my own yogurt), and a number of tiny Tupperwares full of toddler snacks

My kitchen splurges—blueberries come to mind first. We just can’t get enough of them! I do tend to spend a little extra money to get the healthier or better-tasting version of foods—I’ll go ahead and spend the extra money for whole-grain crackers, premium ice creams and what I hope are better quality spices. Granted my food bill has gone up quite a bit as I’ve done this over the years, but I think we eat very high quality, healthy food. Life’s too short to eat cheap food I say. What could be more important that what you put into your body everyday!? And I do experiment—I’ll try two products side-by-side and make a decision about what is best. Or, just read the ingredients side-by-side and that’ll usually tell me

My latest and greatest kitchen “necessity” is a bread maker. Oh how I used to scoff and scorn them. I realize now that all the bread-machine bread that I ate and thought was bad was simply because the recipe was bad, not because the bread-machine is a faulty invention. I use mine easily 4 times a week. Most days we wake up to “warm, soft bread” as my two-year-old calls it, plus since it does 80% of the work for me, it gives me time to make lots of other fun artisan breads and rolls. Spawning from this necessity is my wheat grinder. Now I grind my own wheat and let me tell you, there is a very big difference between whole-wheat in the grocery store and freshly ground whole wheat. Not only is the fresh stuff better-tasting and healthier, but the quality of my breads have significantly improved since I started grinding my own wheat. My other kitchen necessities now include a quality set of measuring cups and spoons (I hated the ones I had forever and finally got some really good metal ones, and I really enjoy them) and quality pans. Oh yes, and a garlic press. I love mine.

Makenna: My kitchen is fairly organized and usually well stocked. It's also usually very clean due to a husband who can't stand dirty dishes. I cook, he cleans. Great arrangement!

My pantry staples include: tomatoes, beans of every kind, rice, wheat pastas, green chile, and boullion, lots of boullion. We're a family who loves Mexican and Italian.

Milk, eggs, an assortment of cheese, wheat bread, tortillas, veggies, pineapple (always), apples, pears, and oranges are currently living in my fridge. Really nothing out of the ordinary. Plain Jane. Oh, and I always keep a stock of pork loin. So many great dishes can be made with pork loin.

We definitely splurge on bread and cheese. My husband spent two years in France so the cheap stuff doesn't cut it at our house! Come over for a visit and we will hook you up with some great brie/chevre and fantastic bread.

Mmm...gadgets, gadgets. I love my bosch. Seriously, love it. If you don't have one, get one. NOW. Oh, and my garlic press. Can't live without that thing. IKEA's is actually great. I also use a boar bristle brush for basting, glazing, brushing, etc. My food processor used to live alone and abandoned, but is now used on a weekly basis.

Michelle: Staples for me are: several different types of pasta, canned diced tomatoes, canned chicken broth, a variety of canned beans, couscous, breadcrumbs or panko, olive oil, good balsamic vinegar, a wide variety of spices, yeast, several different flours, baking chocolates, coconut, French green lentils, French bay leaves, bouquet garni.

My fridge here in Paris is pretty small! Right now it's full of: fresh eggs, milk, my favorite sparkling water (Badoit), apple juice, grape juice, fresh mozzarella, parmiggiano reggiano, grated emmental, camembert, Port Salut cheese, crème fraîche, lardons, sliced ham, leftover quiche, fresh pasta, butter, yogurt, apples, new potatoes, cooked beets, carrot salad, and a chocolate/caramel tart that I just made.

I really don't feel like I splurge on ingredients all that often. Good balsamic vinegar. Maybe asparagus or fruit that is not in season, although I usually try to buy what is in season, both for flavor and cost-effectiveness. Sometimes a really nice cut of meat or a nice fish, sometimes a great cheese, sometimes really good chocolate, occasionally fresh-squeezed juice. But never all in one week.

Kitchen gadgets are interesting. They're fun, I really like them; but I guess I consider most of them to be luxuries. Necessities for me are: a silicone spatula (preferably a spoonula), a good vegetable peeler, a good sharp knife, a rasp for grating zest and chocolate, a citrus reamer (mine is just a dumb plastic one!), a rolling pin (I have a silicone one and a French flat wooden one and I love them both), a blender, a few different whisks, a hand mixer, various cutting boards.

I have found I prefer mixing up a crust with my hands over using a pastry cutter. I have been married 18 years and only just got a nice set of knives! So that definitely feels like a luxury, and one that I can't do without anymore. I thought I wanted a food processor, but now I don't know that I really care. I do love my KitchenAid (a lot), but I also mix dough by hand a lot of the time. You don't need a lot of fancy gadgets to make great food.

Rachel: My answers are going to focus on cooking. If we were talking about baking, I’d have different answers. I enjoy both equally.

Most frequently used pantry staples:
Olive oil
Garlic – cloves, paste, and powder
Salts – Kosher, Morton’s, sea salt, Maldon flakes, and flavored salts
Tomatoes—diced, crushed, pureed, paste, sundried, and concentrate in a tube
Beans—black, dark kidney, pintos, garbanzos, and chili beans

In my fridge right now:
(It’s the end of the week, so I’m at a low point for fresh ingredients)
Cheese—Cheddar, parmesan (real and Kraft), a blue, feta, ricotta,
Breads—wheat, tortillas, bagels
Veggies—broccoli (always!), green leaf lettuce, celery, mushrooms, tomatoes, carrots, jalepeno, red peppers, rosemary
Coke Zero
Butter – 2 1/2 pounds
Sour cream
Leftovers – spinach pie, chicken for tacos, potato salad, half a can of black beans, half a can of garbanzo beans, pot roast, homemade salsa, hummus dip, marinara
Condiments – pesto, fry sauce (stolen from Utah fast food joint), mayonnaise, 2 store-bought jams, 2 homemade jams, 4 different mustard, relish, ketchup, worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, steak sauce, srirancha, American hot sauce, hoisin sauce, sesame seed oil, tahini, maple syrup, fake maple syrup, Ranch dressing, Catelina dressing, strawberry balsamic dressing, vegemite in a tube

I splurge on small specialty ingredients that pack a powerful punch, like sundried tomatoes and cheeses, and condiments that will last a long time. I have no problems paying for vegetables, they feel like necessities to me and I allow myself to pull anything off the shelf as long as it’s in season, beautiful, and I have an idea of how to use it that week. Meat, on the other hand, is more of a luxury. I have to have a couple meals in mind to stretch a single pack. I never buy meat that will last only one meal. Except for chicken thighs, which are always cheap, any meat I buy has to be on sale. Another splurge is junk food. I don’t make a habit of stocking snacks, but allow myself to make special trips later in the week for Ruffled Cheddar Baked Lays, or a box of Breyers ice cream (if it’s on sale). (Mint Chocolate Chip please). (Drool).

Despite my plethora of kitchen gadgets, I tend to use the same pieces over and over:
Wooden cutting board
2 good knives, one medium, one large
Food Processor (I get SO much more use from it that my Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer)
Vegetable peeler
Silicone spatulas for stirring pots and bowls
Le Creuset pot with combination non-stick lid/skillet
Dough scraper for tidying up my space

I can make most anything in my repertoire with these items and the basics – bowls and eating utensils. As far as specialized items that I DO like to use:
Rubber garlic peeler
Lemon Juicer (it came with a pack of lemons once, I can’t find a replica online)
Tiny wisks
Silicone pastry brushes
My ¾ cup measuring cup. It comes in handy all the time.

Sarah: Some things that are always in my kitchen: a head of garlic, onions, chicken broth, good olive oil, a variety of vinegars, and chocolate! As far as dried spices – I have way too many, from my love of experimenting. I have a wide range – from garlic to garam masala. I really love the Asian flavors and tend to spend more money there. My parents live in Hawaii and I love having my mom bring me Cardamom, Currey, or sauces, because they are so cheap there - supply and demand I guess. I tend to splurge on things that make a big impact like flavorful spices and fresh produce.

I live in a small apartment and don’t have the space (ha – or the money) for all the fancy kitchen gadgets out there. If you gave me a spoon and a sharp knife I would be a happy girl in the kitchen. I love tools that are multitaskers. I have learned to love a few gadgets though - my digital thermometer, Microplane, and thin plastic cutting boards (these are great for chopping, then lifting to dump into the bowl/pot).

I am really a minimalist (maybe due to budget than choice). As long as I can make some cookies or a simple sauce, I am a happy girl!

Staci: First of all, I love my kitchen. It was the absolute deal clincher when we bought our house. It has a 6-foot window over the kitchen sink, which overlooks the back yard. This window faces east, so it is the happy recipient of the first bits of sunshine each morning. It’s a place that I stand before anyone else is awake, drinking my peppermint tea or French vanilla hot chocolate and daydreaming in solitude. From my kitchen window I can see all of the common living spaces in my house, which means that from that spot I am the queen of my domain.

There are two things missing in my kitchen: a center island and a full-size or walk-in pantry. The cabinets on the side wall pinch hit for the pantry. One day there will not be a counter top on this wall – just floor to ceiling cabinets. For now, the lower cabinets contain sugar, flour, potatoes, mac & cheese, weeks worth of applesauce and peaches, extra condiments (especially ketchup), ramen noodles and cup-a-soup, and linguini and bow-tie pasta. The upper cabinets hold canned cream-of-somethings, broth, bulk-size gravy mixes, taco seasoning, bread crumbs, hot cereals, cake and muffin mixes, and food storage potato pearls, refried beans, and black and pinto beans.

My refrigerator is a black hole that sucks up left-overs and stores milk, cheese, cream, butter, salad dressing and eggs. We use a lot of cheese at our place – fake shredded parmesan (aka sprinkle cheese), real grated parmesan, crumbled blue, sliced havarti and muenster, and grated cheddar. If you have to dig behind the initial façade of refrigerator contents, you don’t really want it – believe me. I’m not so good at cleaning out the ice box.

I splurge on blue cheese and artisan breads. Blue cheese is yummy in salad, sandwiches, hamburger, casseroles or pizza. Can’t go wrong with the stuff! Our favorite artisan breads include marble rye, focaccia, three cheese, and white chocolate pecan. I should stock ingredients for creating my own artisan breads, but there are some things just worth the splurge.

It took me years to accept the philosophy that if you’re going to spend money on kitchen gadgets, you might as well make an investment. My most used gadgets are my can opener, cutting board, meat thermometer, wire whisks, wooden spoons, and heat- and stain-resistant scrapers. I’m not a huge fan of product placement or shameless plugs, but Pampered Chef makes an incredible can opener, bamboo spoons, and scrapers. I keep buying the scraper that is just a bit larger than I like, so this item is always on my to-purchase list for home parties. One other item that is an absolute must is a high-quality, sharp knife. I once balked at spending more than $100 for one piece of metal but have found that food prep is much more enjoyable and efficient with a sharp blade.

The gadgets that I’d rather not do without are small appliances: mini food processor, electric griddle, rice cooker, and hand mixer. I like to think of these as little giants. They minimize my efforts while helping me create limitless sustenance.

Thank you so much ladies! Fantastic job, all of you. Now I'd like to hear from you! What is always in stock in your kitchen? Any favorite gadgets that I must have? Also, be sure to stop by next Saturday to find out where our panelists find their inspiration.



michelle said...

How did I neglect to mention garlic, onions, and salts?? Pantry necessities, all. And I use my dough scraper all. the. time.

Fun to read the others' responses!

Jaime said...

And how could I have failed to mention our plethera of vinegars? My husband and I had a good laugh a few weeks ago as I had him stand in the kitchen while I pulled out all my vinegar bottles: Basalmic (first and foremost), red wine, apple cider, malt, and of course plain old white vinegar. I mean this is vinegar we're talking about--shouldn't need so many varieties. But I love them.... :)

catherine said...

Jaime...what kind of bread maker do you use? And I would love to see some good bread maker recipes sometime..

Crystal said...

Miranda, how fun is this? I'm so excited for all of these discussions. I've been on a cooking hiatus while we're moving and I'm DYING to get back into a fully functional kitchen and work my magic.

Staples at my house: butter, chicken stock, garlic, onions, vinegar, cheese (the stinkier the better), olive oil.

Favorite kitchen gadgets: my knife and cutting board, Bosch and attachments, high quality measuring cups and spoons, a good spatula.

By the way, Miranda, we need to hear about your kitchen! :)

Emmylou said...

Hi! Thanks for asking. We always keep 1/3 beef, plenty of boneless skinless chicken breasts, vanilla ice cream, mint chocolate chip ice cream, chocolate chips, nuts, coconut, buttermilk, cream, olive oil, greek seasoning, plus my spice rack, lemon juice, avocado (my splurge) Hidden Valley Ranch packets, mayonaisse, 57 sauce, sourdough bread, seasonal fruits and veggies. So right now we are finishing this years harvest of peaches, summer squash, and cherry tomatoes. If it is winter, bananas, lettuce, and tomato. I have never been much of a bean eater, but I am trying new recipes and deciding which beans I like. So far I have stocked up on Lentils and Garbanzo beans. I would love a bean discussion as I know I would get lots of great bean ideas.

My newest luxury item is my food dehydrator. It is awesome and a must have for anyone that gardens. I have dried fruit, carrotts, tomatoes, and am going to try drying some potatoes soon. I also love my Bosch. Thank you Josh! And I really love really really big chef knives.

Kimberlee said...

Um, how fun was that? Want more. Do more!

Jaime said...

Catherine: I have a Breadman bread maker. I think it's one of the cheaper ones out there (< $60) but, like I said, I use it a lot and it's even taken a few spills onto the floor but it still works as well as the day I got it (lovely Christmas present from my mom).

As for the recipes, I've had requests before so I think tomorrow (Friday the 16th) I'll post a few fun recipes on my healthy dessert blog (it's morphed into snacks AND desserts).

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