keeping a Kosher kitchen stocked
So I'm a first-time poster here, but I've been reading around a bit and you all seem like a bunch of friendly, helpful folk, so hopefully you may be able to give me some advice. I just graduated college and will be moving out of the house soon (probably to the UWS in Manhattan). Not sure what my living situation will be, but I do know one thing for sure: I'll need to worry about making food for myself every day - I've been lucky between living at home and at a college with a kosher dining hall.
Now, I really love to cook; I learned to cook for Shabbat meals in college and took a strong liking to it. The thing is, I have this problem where I can't think of stuff to make unless I know what my "options" are - and one aspect of that means seeing the stuff I have available to cook with.
So, now my question is twofold:
1) What does one generally keep a kitchen stocked with? Especially in terms of fresh ingredients. When you go to the grocery, are there certain ingredients you need to be sure to always "replenish" your stock of?
2) A lot of recipes people post are these complex and fancy things with like five ingredients just in the dish's title alone. How do people generally come up with these sorts of things? More specifically, do people usually plan in advance what they will make in a given week, or is it sort of like, "I have X on hand. Why don't I just cook up X and add in any other Y and Z ingredients to accent it."?
Thanks in advance!
1) This might get moved to another board but I will take a stab at a first response - being on the UWS with a lot of the kosher perishables being readily available you do not have to keep a fully stocked kitchen - particularly being a recent college you might find yourself throwing a lot of stuff out - in general you should have eggs, milk, butter, pareve margerine, condiments including catsup, mustard, mayonnaise, BBQ sauce and maybe bottled marinara suace, a bag of salad, always keep some frsh oniion and garlic, canned tomato suace, canned tuna and bread - this is a good start to keep on hand - I will someone else chime in with other thoughts -
2) in terms of what I make - I typically start with hankering for something - if I already have recipe in mind I will follow that if not then do a search on any of the various food recipe sites - and typically if the recipe looks good it usually is - also it is fun to experiment -
As far as menu planning, some people can tolerate eating the same thing every Monday, etc., week in and week out. In my family, we didn't eat meat for Tuesday and Thursday dinners. I follow the same custom, so Tuesdays and Thursdays tend to be either rice and beans (mudjarra), spaghetti or mac and cheese. Sundays are often decided by what's left over from Shabbos. Otherwise, it is a good night for take-out. Mondays for me usually involve ground beef and Wednesdays are soup night. Shabbos takes care of itself.
Stay away from the more complex cook books that use a million ingredients - a dash of this, a smidgen of that. My mother cooked simple and all her dishes were enjoyable. Not all cooking needs to be complex, as an example, I liked the BBQ chicken that I buy from Brachs supermarket. I asked them what they put on their chickens - they said nothing. Guess what, I just made chicken last night using one of those rotisserie cookers, took one chicken, washed it and placed it in the cooker, wonderful, just like what I buy in the store.
I can recommend three cookbooks
(1) Just 5 - Kosher cookbook with 500 recipes with 5 ingredients or less.
(2) The Haimishe Kitchen
(3) What's Cooking?
Check out http://www.recipezaar.com/ and filter by "Kosher" and "5 ingredients or less"
The beautiful thing about living in Manhattan and on the Upper West Side is that there is never a need to be fully stocked on something. Yes, you should have certain standbys in the fridge/cabinets, the sorts of things you always need - salt, pepper, mustard, ketchup, bbq sauce, etc. However, even if it's 11pm on a Thursday and you are making shabbat dinner the next night, (1) Fairway is open until 1am for kosher meat and many of the bodegas and larger bodega/markets are open 24 hours so you can always grab whatever it is you need.
As for cooking, I learned to cook by watching the food network and reading some of their recipes. That helps with technique and what works. The best thing to putting together a recipe though is just put together ingredients you like. Things like chicken and salmon can really handle a lot or a little ingredients and can handle low maintenance cooking (stick in oven for 20 minutes and come back and its done). As you get more practice cooking, you develop more confidence and go out on a limb more often.
Good luck and welcome to the UWS.
Start at home--sit down with your favorite home cooks-be it Mom, Dad, Grandma, Bubbe, Aunt Sarah, etc. and ask them for the recipes of your favorites of their specialties. I did that 35 years ago, and still use the recipes. Meatloaf, tuna-noodle casserole, oven-fried chicken, spaghetti sauce, chicken fricasse, etc. Cheap meals, and leftovers are always nice to have. We use my grandma's hamentaschen recipe every Purim.
Make a list of your 8-10 favorite dinners--it doesn't need to be a chore--you can write them down as you eat them or think of them. List the ingredients, especially spices and condiments that you tend use. You will quickly see a number of items that will keep for months in the fridge or pantry. As the other posters have pointed out, the UWS has lots of kosher resources.
We tend to eat dairy at least 4 nights a week-fresh fish on grocery shopping day (Thurs. for us), pasta, veggie burgers, cheese blintzes, Wacky-Mac (my teens love this stuff, we have blintzes for the adults), veggie frittatas with some cheese, etc.
Of course, lots of fresh produce: veggies sauteed in a little olive oil with some garlic, baked (nuked ) sweet and white potatoes, lots of fresh fruit.
Good luck in your new home. p.j.