A New Wife's Guide to Stocking the Kitchen
Welcome to the Kitchen!
Most of us didn't learn too much from our mothers about cooking or the inner-workings of a kitchen. This is either because your mom cooked every meal and was too busy to teach you, or she honestly didn't know too much about it herself.
My mom was one of the former. So when I got married, I was eager to step into the housewife role, only to find out that I had no clue how to go about running a kitchen. It took a lot of trials and errors, and sometimes I made more errors than normal and we were stuck eating macaroni from a box for extended periods of time. But somehow I made it through, and I am proud to say that I now run a well-functioning kitchen.
I had another new wife ask me recently about how I set about prepping all my meals. So, in order to save other newlyweds the pain of burning meals and not having any of the ingredients to your favorite dish, I have compiled some tips that not only saved time, but money as well.
Compile a List of Mutual Favorite Fruits/Veggies
I found out rather quickly that it was no use to try to put broccoli or cauliflower in any of my meals. My husband would gag if I did. Similarly, he would love apricots whereas I couldn't stand them. So in order to make grocery shopping and meal planning easier, I made a list of all fruits and vegetables that I know we would both like. Now I don't buy things like asparagus that end up rotting for months at the bottom of my refrigerator.
The Original 1950 Betty Crocker Cookbook
When in Doubt, Turn to Betty Crocker
My mom had a copy of a Betty Crocker cookbook from the 1960s. In it were instructions on how to perform every possible task, from quartering a chicken, to boiling an egg, and even how to tell between seeded and seedless raisins. It was full of color pictures as well that actually showed the processes. These how-tos are valuable for someone who starts at square one in the kitchen. I assume this was because so many brides were starting young.
Many of the recipes are good examples of down-home cookin' and several will suggest multiple variations to keep things fresh and interesting. I'm not a fan of the newer editions myself, but recently they have started reprinting one of the older editions.
For Christmas, my husband tracked down and bought a first-edition for me at an antique shop. I rewarded him by baking him a layered chocolate marble cake!
Find "Signature" Meals That are Easy and Delicious
After a few months of experimentation, I found several dishes that both my husband and I enjoyed, like my sauerkraut soup (not as bad as it sounds) and my oven-fried chicken with vegetables and cheese sauce. Since these meals were always home-runs every time I made them, I made sure to stock up on their ingredients every time I went grocery shopping. Now when I write down my list for groceries every month, I have a good idea of what vegetables, spices etc, that I would need to prepare a variety of dishes throughout the month.
Save Money by Divvying Up Perishable and Non-perishables.
I learned very quickly that it wasn't always a bargain to buy all of my groceries at Costco. Milk would go sour before we were able to finish the gallon and a tub of salad would become slimy only after a few days. I found that the best way to shop was to buy my perishables at interval and in smaller amounts throughout the month in order to prevent anything from going bad. It is better to buy a quart of milk and run out than it is to save a few cents and purchase a gallon that would not be used entirely before its expiration date. As for Costco, I found certain things were better off in bulk: pasta, canned tuna, frozen chicken fillets, canned chicken broth, and Bisquick (good for everything from pancakes to pot pie). This way, I only need to visit Costco every two or three months for my non-perishables and I make a few quick stops at the regular grocery store every month for my perishables and produce.
I use mason jars to freeze all my sauces and chilis - just leave about an inch and a half at the top to account for expansion after freezing.
Make Use of Your Freezer
My husband is a pasta-hound. And once upon a time you could tell by his soft-middle. Then I started making my own spaghetti sauce and freezing it in batches instead of purchasing the convenient jarred sauces. Who knew that many of those sauces have unnecessary calories and sweeteners like corn syrup?
Not only was my homemade sauce better and more cost-effective, the use of fresh ingredients also had a pleasant side effect: My husband started losing weight. He ended up losing about 20 pounds over the course of a couple months.
Nowadays I batch and freeze homemade spaghetti sauce, chili, freezer jam, and pre-sliced fruits and veggies. It saves time and our waist-lines!
Seem Like a Genius with Sauce Packets and Dip Mixes
There are nights when I don't feel like making anything elaborate. That's when I break out the skinless chicken breasts from the freezer. If I made them plain every time, we would have died from boredom ages ago. I discovered that many powder packets, like french onion soup mix and lemon-dill chip dip mix, made for unique dishes when sauteed with chicken in water and low heat. For the lemon-dill mix, I added a little bit of sour cream near the very end and created a very rich sauce what was when poured over rice.
Provide Some Easy-to-Access Snacks for Clueless Husbands.
It's been my experience that if I am not home, my husband doesn't always make the healthiest lunch choices (sorry Dann). So it's always a good idea to make sure that there is something easy to prepare (if not already prepared) in the fridge for those kind of situations. I tend to keep naan (a flatbread) and hummus together, various sandwich fixings like lunchmeat and mustard, and reheatable portions of leftovers in my fridge.
Don't Be Afraid of Local Markets
I know it can be scary for us first-timers, but there are other options outside of a supermarket. Farmer's Markets tend to always have something local that is fresh and ready to use in dishes, and it's usually half the price of the same product that it usually imported in the grocery store. I found a local tortilleria nearby as well that sells a huge packet of fresh corn tortillas for about a buck and a half. Have a look around.
My Favorite Kitchen Gadgets
Make Cooking Less of a Chore with Kitchen Gadgets.
There are a million kitchen gadets on the market (Have you been in the kitchen section of Bed, Bath, and Beyond recently?). But there are certain ones that I use more frequently than others. Here are some of my favorites:
- Salad Shooter - These are a little hard to come by anymore, but my mom had one for ages and it never broke down. I found one tucked away in a hardware store in my small town and I used it for grating cheese, mostly. But it's good for all sorts of vegetables as well if you are making a salad. To prep and grate about 2 cups of cheese with that little machine only takes me about 30 seconds.
- Meat Thermometer - Most people just look at their meat and assume it is done, but that usually isn't good enough. Certain meats need to be initially cooked to a certain temperature and reheated at an even higher temperature. Insufficient cooking can result in all ranges of food poisoning from indigestion to hospitalization. A proper thermometer should come with a guide for certain necessary temperatures and the best place in the meat to check for them.
- Butter Bell - Also known as a butter keeper or a butter crock. It's never fun to try to spread cold butter on bread. And softening butter in the microwave doesn't always work (it melts on me). A butter bell lets you store butter on the counter at room temperature without exposing it to the air so it doesn't spoil as quickly.
- Trivets - Sometimes you have to take a hot pot off the stove in the middle of a recipe or when something needs to cool off quickly. Instead of finding a spare cold burner on the stove or fishing around for a spare potholder, use a trivet. They are made to withstand the heat, can be used anywhere, and some are awfully pretty.
There are other tips and tools that you will learn about yourself through time and experimentation, but I hope my list when help spawn other ideas in your head and lead you to create your very own effortless kitchen.