March 15, 2006

How to Cook - 2

Now that you have your basic equipment and the vocabulary for cooking (see How to Cook-1), you're ready to stock your pantry basics, nail down some cooking essentials, and start off with some basic recipes. Next How-To? How to create menues for the week to maximize your food dollar and your cooking time.

Stocking Your Pantry (including the fridge)

It's efficient in both time and money to have a pantry stocked with certain things. Coupon afficiandos swear by the savings of buying in bulk and by sales coordination. Chefs swear by the importance of a well-kept pantry.

There are several sites with options on what to include:,, These lists can be long, expanding as they venture into ethnic areas: Thai, Mexican, etc. Over time, you can add things like curry powder to your kitchen; it's not necessary to be international at the get-go.

Canned tomatoes - great for sauces, soups, cassaroles
Tomato sauce, tomato paste - similar use to the canned, paste is a thickener
Broth - have chicken, beef, and vegetable on hand, flavoring for rice, soup, mashed potatoes, etc.
Dried pasta - at least one noodle (spagetti) for light sauces, and one tube (penne) for thick sauces, salads, cassaroles
Rice - start with the basics, you can graduate to a risotto
Canned Fish - tuna for salads, cassaroles, sandwiches; salmon for croquettes
Canned Beans - have black, cannellini, pinto, more on hand. Tons of uses.
Peanut Butter - make sauces, dips, sandwiches, desserts
Bread Crumbs - filling for cakes (bean, meat), loaves (meatloaf)
Spices - salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, ginger, cumin, chili powder, paprika (sweet), pepper sauce, pepper flakes, soy sauce, wine vinegar, cinnamon, basil, oregano, vanilla extract
Flour - for baking, thickening
Sugar - for baking, sweetening (unless you're game for stevia)
Oils - Extra Virgin Olive Oil for salads, low-heat cooking; vegetable oil for cooking at higher heat; if you are going to stir fry, must use peanut oil - it takes the highest heat before burning.
Ketchup - condiment, flavoring
Mayonaise - condiment, flavoring
Mustard - condiment, flavoring
Tea Bags
Produce - fresh fruits and veggies that you like, don't buy farther than 5 days ahead. Dark green lettuce, tomatoes, onions, garlic, fruit in season are staples
Milk or Milk Substitute - beverage, baking, adding to soups, sauces
Nuts - freeze 'em

Cooking Essentials

Boiling Water: Put the pot on to boil and leave it. Don't add salt until the bubble are bouncing on the top, or the salt will scrape the bottom of the pot. Simmer is little bitty bubbles, slow movement. Boiling is a party.

For more essentials, there is a great, easy list at

Basic Recipes

Your goal is to be able to whip up a meal or two without having to check the cookbook. Until then, there are several sites with easy recipes for you:,,


You don't need most of what they sell. That commercial for the hot tea maker? No. However, a manual can opener is a must, as are a corkscrew and a bottle top opener. A blender and a mixer (hand mixer is fine to start, you don't have to have a pink KitchenAid) are good to have, but elbow grease works just fine if you don't.

How to Clean -2

Part of simplifying life means keeping up your property boundaries: just because the thrift store has a fabulous collection of Hello Kitty collectibles doesn't mean that you need to buy them all. It's a good deal - but maybe it's someone else's good deal, not yours. That means thinking about what comes into your home. Enforce your boundaries with yourself.

Before that becomes your focus, however, you've got to conquer the excess you already have. Odds are, if you're new to simplicity you've got lots of stuff. Lots.
The collection of surplus material goods has, unfortunately, become The American Way.

Stuff means maintenance, even if it's just storing it in the backroom closet. Simple living is clean, efficient: if you have stuff stored in the backroom closet, it's for a reason and it serves a purpose. No? It needs to go.

Simplifying Your Stuff: the Courage to Toss

There are reasons you keep this stuff, and avoid culling. Some have gone so far as delineating between different "personalities" - dividing folk by motivation: procrastination, sentimentality, perfectionism. Whatever your hurdle, jump it - it takes courage to change the way you think, and the way you live.

Stripping Away the Excess

You're changing your world by reorganizing your environment: these things take time, be patient with yourself. Task by task, step by step, you'll get it all done.

Start with a room, or a section of a room. Take your laundry baskets (see How to Clean 1) and begin sorting. Give yourself a time limit. You can be sentimental later, you're just sorting right now. Fill the baskets: keep, toss, give, put-away.

When they are full, toss the toss pile first. Don't reevaluate your decisions here. Same for the give pile: put it in bags, label them for charity, and put them in the trunk of the car, or outside the door for pick up. Get them out of sight, it will keep everyone from rummaging through them later.

Take the put-away stuff and put this stuff up. Where it should be, in a perfect world. Not in another pile, in another room. Keep gets stored.

Now, check your time. If you've got it, do another round. If not, that's okay. You'll get there. This is part of the simple life, right now: these simple steps will get you where you need to be. Drop that pressure, don't stress over this. Keep it simple as you're simplifying.

For other methods on simplifying your stuff, see:,
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