Starting from Scratch

Hello! It's been almost 4 months since I've written in this space. I've taken a short hiatus to move to a new city, start a new job, and wholly restructure my life. Suffice to say it's been a stressful and incredible few moths full of change and overwhelming happiness. Before I jump into the meat of this post- sharing how I went about building a kitchen from scratch, on a budget- I want to share some very happy news. Last weekend, in a quiet and lovely moment in Central Park, Ian and I got engaged. 

Let's rewind to 2 month's ago when we packed up a UHaul with our dog Jack, fish Harry and set out for NYC. In DC, we were living in a fairly cramped space with a roommate, sharing our kitchen along with all the ins and outs of daily life. We had no need for a lot of basics- they were shared- so the move to Bed Stuy and an apartment of our own meant starting our kitchen from scratch. To prepare, I did due diligence by researching helpful tips for what kitchen basics entail. You know, the bare necessities of cooking: spices, pots, pans, utensils, etc. I'm not sure why, or when the trends changed, but per usual I was reminded why I started this blog. Every single source I referred to from Food52 to Martha Stewart to Rachel Ray (I went there.) provided lists and tips that were for the most part inaccessible for someone living on a budget, working full time, or not looking to compile a pantry of trendy kitchen ingredients. I love Food52 but a search for the founder's essentials brought me to this list which... well, let's just say that if a $12 "finishing salt" is an essential, you haven't just spent your savings on a 1 bedroom security deposit in NY. 

I wanted to find something accessible, all encompassing, and more than anything else- reasonable. When I say reasonable I mean the down and dirty basics that will allow you to both plan and throw together a healthy, delicious, quick meal after you've worked a 9 hour day. I'm also talking about ingredients which are functional to store in a compact, urban space. When I read recipes calling for rose petals or half of a half teaspoon of dehydrated passionfruit zest the first thing that comes to mind is not price but where are these people storing these things?! My kitchen is small- every item which takes up counter/cupboard space must be functional and always in use.  That's why the first thing we did was hang up as many items as we could around our kitchen- everything within arms reach and best of all, uncluttered. 

 Pots and pans, kitchen utensils, on the wall: Easy way to free up cupboard space.

Pots and pans, kitchen utensils, on the wall: Easy way to free up cupboard space.

A well stocked kitchen, even on a budget, will allow you to always have the right ingredients on hand without wincing at your bank account. The right ingredients allow you to create meal plans which encourage cooking at home, which all means you don't want to crawl under your bed and cry every time you look at your bank account. It's a truly gorgeous cycle.

In order to really get a sense of what I needed I took a few action steps: 

  1. Wrote down which items I am willing to spend the most money on: high quality meat and dairy. 
  2. Surveyed which stores are most accessible to me in terms of price/value/distance- in New York where getting anywhere is a huge hassle it makes a lot of sense to survey your grocery environment.
  3. Made a plan for how to purchase items on a monthly basis that would result in the least time and money spent on the most healthy/functional items. For me this means one trip every month to the nearest Trader Joe's (large variety of organic/hormone free options for a great value) to stock up on meat, cheese, pasta, and grain followed by supplementary trips to my local markets for fresh produce.  

Finally, I made a shopping list of the bare essentials which I needed to get my kitchen going. These are not fancy, trendy, or hip ingredients. These are healthy, functional, affordable items that will help with making meal plans and delicious food day after day. Use these as a guide- I intentionally left out brands so that you don't feel pressured to only buy the high end or off brand options. Budgets are individual and no one should feel pressure to only purchase organic or local if they cannot afford to do so. 

Pantry: 

I don't have a ton of cupboard space in my kitchen and made it my goal to remind myself to eat more healthy grains, beans, and plant based foods. I set out all my dry goods in jars along my stove as an easy solution and incentive. 

Grains/Flours/Nuts:

  • All- purpose flour 
  • Rice: white, brown jasmine, basmati, etc. any of these are a good start depends on which you prefer.
  • Cornmeal: very affordable and perfect for breads, tortillas, bases, etc. 
  • Lentil
  • Farro
  • Couscous
  • Pasta: again, your preference. 
  • Buckwheat
  • Quinoa 
  • Rolled oats
  • Almonds
  • Walnuts

Basics:

  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Red wine vinegar
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Coconut oil: this is trendy right now but it is very affordable and a great substitute for more expensive oils if money is tight and every glug of olive oil means pennies you're not saving. 
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Potatoes 
  • Lemons

Canned Goods:

  • Tomato paste
  • Canned diced tomatoes
  • Canned corn
  • Chickpeas
  • Canned beans: refried, black, cannellini, navy, etc. 
  • Chicken/beef/vegetable broth: I prefer canned to cubes but this is a very personal choice.
  • Roasted red peppers
  • Olives
  • Tuna

Baking/Sweeteners:

  • Baking powder
  • Baking soda
  • Granulated sugar
  • Brown sugar
  • Honey
  • Maple syrup
  • Vanilla extract
  • Chocolate powder, bar, chips

Herbs + Spices:

It's great if you can have some of these whole or fresh but not a must. (Not everyone has the sunlight/space to grow basil in a pot they glazed during their yearly yoga retreat. )

  • Ground cinnamon
  • Ground nutmeg
  • Ground cloves
  • Bay leaves
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Oregano
  • Basil
  • Parsley
  • Rosemary
  • Thyme 
  • Paprika
  • Ginger
  • Cumin
  • Turmeric 

Condiments: 

  • Mustard
  • Ketchup
  • Soy sauce
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Mayonnaise 
  • Tahini: surprisingly affordable and great for dressings, bases, etc. 

Refrigerator:

Freezer:

  • Frozen berries: strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, etc.
  • Frozen meats: I buy meat in bulk at Trader Joe's or similar locations with affordable organic meats and freeze them for the entire month. 
    • ground beef, ground turkey, boneless skinless chicken breast, one whole chicken every month. 
  • Puff Pastry Dough
  • Pre-made pie crust: sometimes you just won't have the time to make your own and That. Is. Ok. 

Fridge:

  • Plain Greek yogurt
  • Milk
  • Cheese: parmesan, mozzarella, feta, etc.
  • Butter
  • Eggs

 

This is a list of the items I began with before I very slowly started to build up my pantry further. Beyond this list of basics every cook has a very different approach to what he/she considers staple ingredients. Also, I didn't include bread because duh.