Monthly Archives: May 2016

Having a Fully Stocked Kitchen

There are essentially two main categories of must have staples for the well equipped kitchen. The first is the equipment and the second is something to prepare. You shouldn’t need to run out and purchase a lot of kitchen equipment or stock up on cartloads of groceries if you do a little planning.


In addition to the essentials, a sink with hot and cold water, oven and stove top burners, and a refrigerator, you will need an assortment of cookware, something to drink from, utensils to cook with and table service. First the cookware.

Cookware comes in a wide variety of materials and finishes. There are many schools of thought on what is the best so much of the choice is a matter of preference as most all cookware will do the job. I personally prefer stainless steel and I have some favorite cast iron pans, but I also have glass or Pyrex that I use often. You should look for some basic sizes in any set you purchase.

  • 10 fry pan for sauté, making sauces, frying and one dish meals
  • 2 and 4 quart sauce pot for heating vegetables or cooking grains like rice, re-heating canned foods like soups, and boiling small quantities of foods like a few eggs.
  • 8 or 10 quart pot for boiling pasta, potatoes, and making soups and stews.
  • Small fry pan used for things like cooking eggs.
  • And of course lids.

Most cookware sets will come with at least these pieces, some will have more. If you choose a non-stick coated set, remember that you will need to replace it as soon as it shows signs of wear. Ingesting the coating that has flaked off in the food is not healthy.

Small appliances like a coffee pot, a teapot, and a hand mixer are the basics. You may choose to get an electric can opener and a small food processor but these are not necessities. You can chop food with a good knife and use a manual opener if need be.

You will need cooking utensils. I would recommend a couple of each of the following

  • Spatula and pan cake turner – the Teflon ones are a good choice, however at least one metal one is helpful for turning meats and the thinner edge makes flipping pancakes or eggs a little easier.
  • Whisk. This is used in making gravy, beating eggs and egg whites, whipping puddings and other tasks. You should have at least one even if you plan on using an electric mixer most of the time.
  • Several wooden spoons in different sizes
  • Several large metal spoons. These are not tableware, but the larger spoons used in cooking
  • A ladle is useful, but you can use a large spoon in its place
  • A couple of large, two-pronged forks for meats
  • Tongs
  • A grater
  • Can opener AND a church key. A church key is the kind used to open bottles and pierce cans. You may find an all-in-one that works well.

You will also need

  • A kitchen timer. This is indispensable if you plan on baking anything
  • Salt and pepper shakers or a pepper mill and salt shaker
  • Bowls in several sizes
  • A colander
  • Measuring cups for dry and wet ingredients and measuring spoons
  • At least one but preferable two cookie sheets, the kind without sides
  • A set of cake pans
  • A rectangular shaped pan with about a 2 inch side
  • A square pan with 2 or 3 inch sides
  • A pie pan
  • Storage containers for dry goods and leftovers

And of course no kitchen will work without a good set of knives. Be sure to look for a knife sharpener as well. More cooks are injured with dull knives than with sharp ones because of the additional effort required to cut or slice through foods. You will need

  • A small paring knife
  • A large carving knife
  • A serrated bread knife
  • A meat cleaver

There are many other gadgets and equipment you can get to stock your kitchen but these are the basics. With this equipment you should be able to create delicious meals for your family.


At the grocery store you will want to be sure to add these basics to your list. If you are just starting out it may mean a larger bill at first, but once you have purchased the basics it is easy to keep a list and pick up replacements as you see you are about to run out. These are the staples, not the regular foods you will purchase to make your meals with. You should keep on hand in your pantry:

  • Sugar, brown sugar, and confectioners sugar
  • Honey
  • Syrup for pancakes, waffles, and desserts
  • All purpose flour
  • Corn starch
  • Baking powder
  • Baking soda
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Spices, especially garlic powder, onion powder, and Italian seasoning. Chili powder, cumin, oregano, dried parsley, and sage are also good additions to the spice cabinet.
  • Pickles and olives and Capers if you like them.
  • Flavoring extracts, especially vanilla and almond
  • Coco powder
  • Quick cooking oats (oatmeal)
  • Rice
  • Pastas
  • Dried beans
  • Dried potatoes as in mashed potato flakes
  • Cans of Tomato sauce and tomato paste, cream of mushroom soup, chicken broth, evaporated milk and tuna
  • Vinegar – white,apple cider and balsamic are good choices to begin with
  • Soy, and Worcestershire sauces
  • Oil for frying
  • Solid shortening
  • Cereals especially those that can double as bread crumbs such as corn flakes
  • Canned vegetables as a backup. I like to keep a few cans of peas, corn, green beans, spinach, asparagus,,mixed vegetables, canned small potatoes, and artichoke hearts on hand
  • Canned fruit. Pineapple, peaches, and perhaps a jar of applesauce
  • Jams and jellies
  • Powdered milk
  • Peanut butter unless of course there are allergies in your family
  • Salad dressings
  • Condiments such as ketchup, salsa, mayonnaise and mustard
  • Coffee and tea

There are other items you may wish to add or you may make some adjustments but this is a good basis from which to start.

In the fridge and freezer you should have at least

  • a pound of butter
  • Eggs
  • Milk
  • Sour cream
  • Cream cheese
  • Assorted hard cheeses
  • Assorted nuts
  • Pie crusts ( the frozen variety)
  • Whipped topping
  • Maraschino cherries
  • Vanilla ice-cream
  • Bacon
  • Pork neck bones for flavoring beans and soups
  • Onion
  • Potato
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • lemons

Don’t forget plates, bowls, mugs, and cutlery to serve on. A couple of large platters are nice to have, but you can always serve directly from the stove.

With these items you have all the basics you need to feed your family delicious meals that are properly cooked and served. You can add additional items to the list as you begin to feel more confident in your cooking or when you find that wonderful gadget that you just know will make your life in the kitchen so much easier. Cooking is not a chore unless you make it one. Being the cook of the family is a big responsibility, but it is also an honor and a way to show your family how much you love them. Remember, the most important thing to have in the kitchen at all times is LOVE. It will make every meal something special.

How To Make Money With Cooking To Go

Do you enjoy cooking? If this is you then you may be able to turn this into a little sideline and make yourself some extra money.

Quite often individuals who love to cook find that cooking for their family is just not enough of a challenge. But what if you were to do some cooking for a neighbor’s party for example. You will need to do something that’s a little bit different to entice people to use your services.

Let’s say your neighbors down the street work all week and are too tired to go out to a restaurant but would love it if somebody would bring in a home-cooked meal as opposed to the fast food type. This is where the beginning of your business could be.

Ideally, you could start off with a menu that each night is something specific. For example Monday night could be a chicken night, Tuesday pasta and so on. Individuals could choose the night that best appeals to them.

You would need to do some planning as to whether you would just deliver this food to the home or whether you would actually serve the dinner while you were their almost like a restaurant in their own home.

There are lots of different ideas that you could employ for this type of business and it’s just a matter of being creative.

You may feel that you’re not a business person but because of your love for cooking, you are probably a good cook and that in itself is going to sell your services once you begin. It is a great idea and if you’re not sure if it would work go over and ask your neighbors what they think.

Start off maybe once or twice a week and you will see that your business is going to grow. Make sure you do cost factoring so you don’t undercut yourself. Ideally, what you might want to do is go on the Internet and get some basics of how to start a business so you know what to look for.

You are going to experience some trial and error when you are first starting out but there’s nothing to say you can’t change different things about your business as you go to make it work better for you and your customers.

One of the things you’re going to have to keep in mind is good planning so that you can service two or three clients in an evening. You are going to have to decide how big you want your business to grow because the chances are you could end up nonstop cooking.

Don’t forget to check with your local authorities to ensure you do everything legal.


Radical Cooking

I am supposed to be doing my math homework right now. But radical ideas are swimming in my head (and note that typing is slow since the “a” key is broken off of my computer and my pinky has to trust that striking empty air will, in fact, make an “a” pop up on the screen). I stare out the window of my apartment at bright green leaves of the Greenbelt. I think of how I have always wanted to change the world.

How can I do that with Le Creuset (which I don’t actually own, but stick with the theory here, eh?) and a $20 whisk (which I do, now, own)? I am blessed with creativity for sure, but today it crosses my mind that I may be blessed more highly with idealism and shortsightedness. Some people who know me have also deemed this combination Stubborn As A Mule. I cannot argue this. The truth of my likeness to this animal has nearly been caught in photographs it is so true. With this being divulged to you, let us return to the original question.

Why do I think I can save the world with a casserole dish, a stainless-steel pan, and a $20 whisk?

My Stubborn As A Mule instinct says to tell you, “Because I CAN.” But that would be rude, and you may never return to read me again. So allow Chef Mule to explain to you how we, my dear army of cooks, will radically change the world for the better.

Cooking is the way to the Heart
The heart heals all.

The way to anyone’s heart is through their stomach. I rationalize this partly through my belief in evolutionary behaviorism psychology. Before I understood that this is largely the type of psychologist I am (or will become when I graduate), I was validating behaviors by both children and adults alike in patterns of behavior among different apes and mammals. The fine line between enjoyment and addiction

For we mammals, food begins the bonding to our mothers. Food=breast=mother. NONE of these things can be separated for the infant. The desire to nurse is as much about a desire for closeness as it is about hunger. We develop the same hormone releases when we experience good satisfying food as when we feel the skin of someone we adore. These correlations will continue our entire lives. This is why food addiction is a deep issue for all of us, it is primal. To not get what you need in the way of bonding or intimacy can, hormonally, be found in enjoying food.

Let’s back away from negative issues though and look at healing ourselves and our communities with food.

You start reading every day about this crazy good stuff I am making here in my small apartment in Austin, Texas. You see that cooking is not just for dowdy chicks and middle age balding men (both of who never go out (and my apologies to both of these groups of people, I think you are both very sexy)). You may cook sometimes, and you may cook well, but do you put yourself into it like an artist? Do you laugh at yourself? Do you invite people over to help, or just to even watch and talk? Do you take food to your neighbors, or do you think they would think you are weird?

Preparing food with mindfulness (not even like *buddha* mindfulness, just the idea that you want to please someone and yourself by the time you are done), sharing it (both triumphs and those meals where you trash it and go get a latte instead), going slow enough at the table to revere natural flavors, and staying in touch with the seasons on your cutting board… THIS can heal us all. You don’t have to be the one cooking either. You can be the eater. The eater has a special role, as there are often more eaters than chefs at any party. You eaters are the ones that we cannot live without. The look on your face, the small or loud noises from deep within your chest as you consume and feel what we meant when we made it… you are the soil and sunlight to our most hallowed crops. You are the ones willing to take a chance with us at your helm.

“Preparing food with mindfulness , sharing it, going slow enough at the table to revere natural flavors, and staying in touch with the seasons on your cutting board… THIS can heal us all.”

The kitchen is a place of service to others. There are many chefs that aspire to greatness because it is like being a rock star, it is like having a hold on a society’s wants and desires to be a top-notch chef. But these are not chefs to me, they are rock stars who ended up with a pallet instead of a voice. Let’s repeat, the kitchen is a place of service. It is where we dream of making someone else feel good. It is where we pay attention to what hurts and what uplifts. It is where we think grandly of making love to the whole world with one bowl of soup, one seared tuna steak rare, or one perfect sauce. The warm glow is addictive, the smells intoxicating, the labor a fine-tuned dance, and the end result… both art and service.

It is about radical change. Bringing communities together. Providing experiences for others and sharing experiences with others. I love to go out to eat. I love it like some people love to go shoe shopping.

Experiencing someone else’s ideas about combination and presentation is like seeing a good movie. However, going out to eat is not going to further this idea on community. Having dinners where things are locally grown (if possible), where a friend or acquaintance cooked for you, where there is dramatically less waste generated that in a restaurant, where your take-home boxes had better be reusable containers, where people sit around on the couch afterward and make plans for revolution of any kind… THIS IS WHERE IT’S AT.

I am not interested in inspiring you to cook what I am making. I am very interested in inspiring you to feel the way I do about the importance of food. To know and understand it for both it’s base value, and the value it can hold creating a different kind of place to live. I am a complete food snob. I also work on a budget most of the time and cut corners or make things faster, because there are three kids to feed.

I am interested in your energy, in you being in the kitchen (which is a place of great service to others) and your heart soaring out of it’s cage, your mind feeling clear and agile, your body relaxing and your self-love mounting a great steed and taking off with you on it. This is your task at hand and it must be done…


Ready, Set, Cook

When is the last time the ovens or the food thermometers were calibrated? Do staff check the food production label when products are cooked and stored? Does management ensure that staff members wash their hands? These are 101 foodservice principles that are essential to getting employees ready to perform. Cooking is an art and, as with any performer, the staff is on stage for each meal performance. An operator’s job is to ensure that the performers have the correct props, tools and script to deliver a quality performance.

As with any artistic production, there needs to be a clear understanding of the plot of the story. Fortunately or unfortunately, scripts and plots start and end with the FDA’s food codes. To name just a few:

· 3-401.11 cooking of raw animal foods.

· 3-401.12 microwaving cooked foods.

· 3-402.12 plant food cooking for hot holding.

· 3-401.14 non-continuous cooking of raw animal foods

· 3-402.11 freezing parasite destruction.

· 3-403.11 reheating of hot held foods,

· 3-5 and all of it subcategories, which relate to temperature and time control (TSC)

What can be a simple cooking process, however, can seem daunting and overwhelming, filled with the obstacle within the regulatory script after reading all the regulatory components in the FDA code.

Fortunately for foodservice operators, technology helps us monitor the cooking process. With the challengers of recruiting qualified staff, the push to improve output and the industry moving to toward advanced cooking processes, operators have no choice but to get on board with computerized food safety control equipment. Whether the monitoring equipment is part of the individual piece of equipment, such as combi oven, cook and hold oven, blast chiller or convection oven or there is an integrated system for the entire food process, food monitoring is essential in today’s kitchens. Relying on staff to document all critical control points in the HACCAP process constantly and accurately is an unrealistic expectation.

Another important factor to consider is, when during DOH inspections questions are asked about the quality and safety of the food process, that it is more creditable to show a stack of computer-generated forms than the hand-written forms we are accustomed to. Whatever the operation, food safety is all about knowing what is happening at each critical control point of the cooking process.

With all the focus on safer operations, operators who adapt these systems should use the information they produce to communicate to their customers that they take food safety seriously and care about their diners. Establishing good safety practices is not just about following the regulatory guidelines, it is also about good business and improving revenues. Making food safety a best practice can only catapult operations to new levels, both in quality and in consistency.