Creating “The Little Kitchen”
Since we got married and I moved in with Jamie I have been asked quite a few times how I went about establishing and stocking the kitchen in my new home – what my “essentials” were when it came to ingredients, equipment etc. And, as I know that there might be other’s out there about to get married, move to a new house, buy their first house – or starting to think about heading off to University/College later this year – I thought it might be helpful to put together a bit of a guide for people who will be creating their own kitchens sometime soon.
Now I know that only too well that the initial instinct is to go out and buy EVERYTHING – every ingredient, gadget, tool and piece of equipment that you might ever need – but experience – and moving to a house with a smaller kitchen – has taught me that this can often end up with overflowing drawers and cupboards, ingredients going out of date before they’re even opened and a whole lotta frustration that you can never find what you need, when you need it! (the lid that matches the Tupperware box you want to use anyone?!)
So, to try and avoid that, I have a few principles that I followed – and that I recommend others do too – when it comes to creating your own perfect kitchen.
- How much space do you actually have?
Whilst you may well have found yourself blessed with an open plan kitchen (I’m hoping to join that club in the near future!) many of us will have much more modest sized rooms in which to work our culinary magic and so, whilst the idea of the separate wine fridge, bread maker, top of the range food processor, pasta maker, rice cooker etc. might sound a really appealing right now – you may well find yourself cursing yourself later down the line when your surfaces or cupboards are crammed with gadgets -which probably rarely get used (excluding the wine fridge that is!!)
Instead, think about what the meals are that you make and eat the most and what you need to make those. Focus on getting what you need for those first – then branch out later down the line if you fancy.
- What have you already got?
Maybe you’ve already got a few bits & pieces – maybe you have nothing but a corkscrew – write EVERYTHING down before you set off for the shops and take a list with you so you don’t spend money on things that you already have. E.g. do you really need a new kettle or is the one you have perfectly good?
If you’re due to start a wedding gift list then this is an opportunity to think about if you might like to include some kitchen related items on your list. It’s actually a really good way of making sure your list is as friendly to those with smaller budgets (you can never have too many tea towels) as it is to those with larger ones.
If you’ve been gifted with something – be it from a wedding, birthday, Christmas etc. that you don’t think you’ll use then consider an exchange – it’s better to have equipment you’ll use regularly than never – and I’m sure the gift-giver would rather that too!
A quick tip – if your new kitchen has an induction hob then do make sure your pans are “induction – friendly” as many aren’t – it’s seriously frustrating when you go to do something like boil an egg and find your saucepan doesn’t work in your new home!
- What type of cooking will you (realistically) do the most?
I covered this slightly in Principle 1 but it really is something worth thinking about. What type of cook are you and what are you intending to make?
If you consider yourself to be a bit of a “pro-chef” then a wide selection of knives might be a great investment, but similarly if you tend to make the same things week in and week out then a smaller selection of good quality, sharp knives will be all you need.
If there’s only two of you, do you really need pans big enough and sufficient crockery for catering to 12?
Are you a keen baker? If so then a variety of tins, some cooling racks etc. might be essentials BUT if the closest you come to home-baking is re-heating a croissant then a baking sheet (or microwave!) is enough – invest your money elsewhere.
Remember, you can always borrow from relatives/friends OR buy things as you need them – you don’t need to get everything straight away – despite what the department stores might make you think!
Whilst I don’t want to overwhelm you with a list of items that you might want/need to consider buying, I also know that a list is exactly what some of you want/are hoping for. So, for those of you that need a little guidance, I will leave a list of my essentials at the bottom of this post HOWEVER, please do remember to customize this according to your needs, household size and lifestyle.
Stocking Your Store-Cupboard, Filling Your Fridge (& Freezer)
When it comes to filling my cupboard, be it at home or on a holiday where there’s an element of self-catering involved I tend to apply the same 3 principles I’ve outlined above:
- How much space do you actually have?
- What do you already have?
- What sort of cooking will you (realistically) be doing the most?
Having these in mind can really help you to define the items you need to start with – and then others can always come later.
Over the years I’ve actually found that some of my best recipes and meals have come from having a smaller stash of items i.e. fewer ingredients and less equipment at hand it has forced me to become more creative and truly embrace one of my greatest passions – recipe development and testing – easy to do when you’ve got a lavish larder and oodles of equipment at your disposal, more of a challenge when you don’t!
However, there are certain things though that, for me, are essentials.
Being gluten free I like to make sure I’ve got a good selection of gluten free grains in my kitchen BUT my essential 3 have to be gluten free oats, brown rice and, of course, my favourite, quinoa.
With these 3 in the cupboard I can make a whole host of meals, snacks and bakes either from scratch or with any leftover meat, fish, vegetables or fruit we have that need using up.
For example, when we had friends over for lunch I cooked and served a whole duck – the few remaining leftovers got tossed into some cooked quinoa alongside the leftover veggies and sauce and made a delicious quick & easy dinner for Jamie and I the following evening.
Pasta, noodles etc.
There is nothing I love more for dinner than a big bowl of pasta with a sauce that has been simmering on the hob for hours – but even those instances when hunger means a meal is required pronto, I turn to a good quality jarred sauce and my trusty dried pasta. Since given up gluten I’ve experimented with lots of different sorts but my (current) favourites have to be pea and red lentil – both of which can now, thankfully, be found in supermarkets! However if you find that either two of the pasta recommendations gives you wind, you can try brown rice pasta, just as delicious.
There are also times when there is nothing better than slurping up noodles – be it with some sort of sauce or in a delicious broth – and for those occasions I keep a stock of brown or white rice and mung bean noodles in the cupboard. Of course, if you don’t follow a gluten free diet then the wheat alternatives of these might be your preference – buy what you like to use.
Baking Bits ‘N’ Pieces
Any of you who have followed me for a while will know that I’m a keen baker and so what I class as essentials might look like A LOT but this list can definitely be pared down – starting with the following:
Self-raising & plain flour – if you’re gluten free like me then you’ll want to get the GF versions of both of these as well as gluten free baking powder and bicarbonate of soda.
I don’t tend to use white sugar very often however if you have an electrician/plumber etc. round and you offer them a cup of tea/coffee they often aren’t impressed if the only sweetener you have to offer is maple or agave syrup – so I like to have a small bag of this in the cupboard. Although I always have a bag of coconut sugar, as I use it in most of my bakes, and especially my gluten-free homemade bread ‘Little Loaf’ I haven’t been able to convert them. Maple & agave syrups are two of my must-haves – and not just for baking – they’re great for topping porridge, swirling through yoghurt or drizzling over pancakes!
Vanilla is another must have – either vanilla extract (not essence!) or pods which are widely available now or, if I’m feeling a little more fancy, vanilla bean paste – you definitely don’t need all 3 to start with/at all though. And keeping some form of nuts/seeds (e.g. almonds, walnuts, pumpkin or sunflower) seeds and dried fruit – be it raisins, sultanas, dates or dried apricots – can also be handy as they’re so versatile – for example adding to granola or flapjacks, topping porridge or other cereals, baking into cakes or cookies or even just having a handful as a snack if you need a quick pick me up.
Beyond that, the additional items that I then like to have to hand are a few different gluten free flours at hand -mainly white bread flour (gluten free), almond, coconut and buckwheat flour but you by no means need these to start with unless you’re an avid baker. I also like to have some jumbo oats (not the rolled, or instant sort) as the bigger flakes make for better for homemade granola and I’m never without Buckwheat.
Condiments, Flavorings & Seasonings
A selection at your fingertips can not only help you bring out the flavor in what you’re creating but also widens the number of dishes that you can make. You don’t need many to begin with and can build up a collection as you go – if you buy everything straight away then you may well find things going out of date before you use them.
The two obvious ones to start with are salt (I like Maldon Sea Salt or Pink Himalayan) and pepper – you can buy the ready ground sort but personally I like to grind my own and so buy whole black peppercorns (or you can get a filled grinder). Regular followers of mine will also know that I’m a huge fan of Herbamare so no store-cupboard of mine is complete without it!
Worcestershire Sauce (gluten free for me) is great to have on hand – not just for Bloody Mary’s – but also for adding to things such as Bolognaise sauce, stirring through Baked Beans (homemade or not) or sprinkling over cheese on toast. Tamari (gluten free Soy sauce), sweet chili, Thai fish sauce and white wine/rice vinegar can also help when it comes to creating a wide variety of different dishes.
You can’t beat fresh home-made stock when it comes to making soups, stews etc. but, realistically, it’s rare that many of us have the time or the inclination for what it involves – and so for those occasions when I’m not lucky enough to have any I’m perfectly happy to use one of the liquid stocks that you can now get – or a good stock cube – you can buy whatever variety you like but I tend to find chicken is the one I use the most. I also like to have some vegetable bouillon – not only can it be used in a similar way to stock but can also make a lovely hot drink when you’re feeling under the weather. And on a similar note, honey lends itself to many uses beyond just spreading on toast – as does a jar of peanut butter, St. Dalfour Sugar Free Jams.
I also like to have honey mustard (the brand I love to use is Maille), clear Acacia honey, ketchup and mayonnaise – essential for knocking up a quick marinade for chicken, ribs, wings or tofu but also for serving alongside some of my favourite recipes.
When it comes to herbs and spices, it very much depends on the sort of cooking that you like (or plan) to do as to what you need – so I shan’t go into too much detail here other than to give a few basics.
Onion and garlic granules are good for dry marinades/rubs or times when you chop an onion or crushing garlic seems like too much effort (we all have those days!) and chili powder/flakes will help you add a little bit of a kick to a wide variety of and I also like to have some harissa, paprika, ground cumin, Madras curry and allspice powder. There are also a few spices that lend themselves to both savory and sweet dishes that are handy to have on hand – namely cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and mixed spice are my favorites.
And as for herbs, I tend to prefer the fresh variety and so am a sucker for those pots that you can buy in the supermarket – and hope to establish my own little herb garden in my new home – or, if it’s just for something I make occasionally, a packet is fine. However, over the course of the years I’ve found that I actually prefer the taste of dried oregano to fresh (apart from when I’m in the Mediterranean where it grows naturally) and I tend to buy dried bay leaves it’s rare than I need more than one or two at a time plus it has only recently gotten easier to find the fresh ones in the supermarkets.
Cans, Cartons, Tins & Jars
I know that there are some out there who believe using anything that comes in one of the containers listed above is a form of culinary sacrilege – and that’s their prerogative – but for me they are a versatile and economical choice for the home cook and so I will continue to stock my store-cupboard with a selection of them
Those of you who follow me on Instagram will know that I love my jars of sundried tomatoes in oil – for the flavour packed oil that they come in as much as the tomatoes themselves – but I also like to have a few tins of chopped/pureed tomatoes on my shelves as well as a tube of tomato puree as they are especially handy when it comes to speedy cooking! When I can I prefer to make a rich Bolognaise or Ragu sauce from scratch but, for when there just aren’t enough hours in the day, I am perfectly happy to use a jar of decent ready-made tomato pasta sauce (the brand I love to use is Gefen classic marinara pasta sauce) – but I do try to be careful about the salt/added sugar content when it comes to choosing one to buy.
Tinned beans and pulses -e.g. cannellini and borlotti beans as well as chickpeas are always in my store-cupboard and can be used to create a wide variety of dishes for both meat and non-meat eaters alike. Plus, I would be fibbing if I didn’t say that I have a good old tin of baked beans in there for the days when you just crave the simplicity and comfort of beans on (gluten free) toast! A jar or tin of anchovies as well as some capers can also help us jazz up many salads and meals. I always have a stash of coconut milk now new found love is Natures Charm they have a wonderful choice of coconut milk, evaporated milk, whipping cream and caramel sauce.
Apologies to those of you who are expecting for me now to list the alcoholic “staples” of my kitchen – sadly they take second place in my life to those other bottled heroes: oils & vinegars.
As with much of what I’ve written above, what you need really comes down to what you cook but, for me, the two that are on my “must-have” list are good quality olive oil and rapeseed oil – both for their versatility and value.
In addition to those, I also like to have some sesame oil to hand for stir-fries, vegetable oil for when I want something both flavourless and with a high smoking point and then coconut oil for both cooking and dairy free baking. And, whilst I would never cook with it, a bottle of really good extra virgin olive oil is worth its weight in gold when it comes to making a delicious dressing for salads or cooked vegetables.
It’s especially important that you don’t store your oils in direct sunlight as this can denature them and so only buy what you can truly fit in your cupboard.
For vinegars, a good balsamic is on my essentials list and a bottle of red (or white) wine vinegar also comes in handy. One other item that has more recently earned its place in my kitchen is balsamic glaze – it can turn an otherwise “run of the mill” looking salad or plate of vegetables into something that looks and tastes like it came out of a restaurant kitchen!
In My Fridge/Freezer
As many of you will know, I really hate wasting food and so, because of that – and the fact that very few of us live that far from a supermarket – my fridge definitely isn’t jam-packed with food – especially not on a day to day to basis.
The things that you will always find in there though are eggs (buy the best you can afford – I highly recommend Burford Browns or organic ) some form of yoghurt (either plain or Greek, I love the brand Liberte), cheese – always Halloumi & Feta which is made using sheep’s milk – but often there will be pieces of Parmesan and strong Cheddar in there too. Recently I can become a fan of vegan cheese – Violife is the brand I’m enjoying.
I also, like most, have some form of milk in there – however it tends to be one of the dairy alternatives such as almond, oat or, my latest favourite tiger nut or rice milk – but again it comes down to personal preference.
If you follow me on Instagram then you will know that Jamie and I love both meat and fish so you won’t be surprised to hear that there will often be some salmon both plain and smoked, if I can get to London, Panzers in St Johns Wood is my favourite for smoked salmon or Platters in Temple Fortune or Yummies in Mill Hill. Amongst my favourites sea bass and perhaps some lamb chops waiting to be turned into something delicious.
Plus, depending on how recently we’ve seen our in-laws, there may well also be a little “doggy bag” or two in there containing some delicious leftovers!
As for the freezer, like most families you will find the ice cubes and frozen vegetables, I’m currently loving the versatility of using frozen cauliflower and spinach. I also try to keep a stash of frozen fruit (e.g. bananas, berries etc.) as not only can they be really lifesavers and be more affordable than fresh, but can also help to minimise wastage e.g. rapidly ripening bananas can be put in the freezer ready for baking, ice cream or smoothies.
I do always tend to keep a pack of mincemeat in there too (either beef or lamb) for times when I’m thinking ahead and planning on making a Bolognaise, Ragu or pie of some sort (e.g. a creamy mashed potato topped Shepherd’s Pie – yum!)
And that’s about it! Obviously, there will be other bits and pieces you want to get – bread, fresh fruit and vegetables and whatever favorite treat/comfort food might be – but these are my personal essentials and I do hope they help/inspire you when it comes to filling your kitchen with deliciousness!
And for those of you to whom I promised an equipment list….
In your cupboards
- 2 Non-Stick Frying Pans (I use the brand ‘Judge’)
- 1 Non- Stick Saucepan (I use the brand ‘Judge’)
- 1 Heavy Shallow Pan Ovenproof Handles (casserole dish) ( I use the brand ‘Le Creuset’ which is expensive, but lasts)
- 1 Set Mixing Bowls
- 3 Saucepans with lids: small, medium, large
- 1 Sieve (Strainer)
- 1 Grater
- 1 Colander
- 1 Measuring Jug
- 1 Hand Held Blender
- 1 Food Processor
- 1 Electric Mixer
- 1 Full Size Blender
- 1 2lb loaf tin
- 1 9 inch non stick round baking loose bottom tin
- 1 9 inch non stick square loose bottom brownie tin
- 1 5 piece set enamel bakeware tins or similar
In the Drawers
- 3 Heavy Plastic Boards (ideally one red for raw red meat, one white for fish and chicken and one green for fruit/vegetables/ cheese)
- 3 Wooden Spoons
- 1 Large Metal or Silicone Spoon
- 1 Large Metal or Silicone Slotted Spoon
- 1 Ladle
- 1 Potato Masher or ricer
- 1 Ice Cream Scoop
- 1 Long Handle Turner (fish slice)
- 1 Plastic Spatula
- 1 Pair of Tongs
- 1 Potato Peeler
- 1 Can Opener
- 1 Corkscrew Opener
- 1 bottle stopper (for opened but unfinished wine)
- 1 set of measuring spoons/cups
On the Shelf
- 1 Set of Electric Measuring Scales
- Salt & Pepper Mills
- 1 Rolling Pin
- Kitchen Timer
- Knife Block – The brand I use is ‘Judge’
- 1 Paring Knife
- 1 Palette Knife
- 1 Chef’s Knife
- 1 Pair Kitchen Scissors
- 1 Sharpening Steel
- Parchment Paper
- Cling Film
- Food Storage Bags – Ziplock
- Black Permanent Pen – to label your food storage bags
- Aluminum Foil
- 1 Roll Kitchen String
- Kitchen Tea Towels
- Lidded boxes – glass or plastic – for leftovers/prepared ingredients
- Oven Gloves
- Box of matches
- Washing up bits (scrubbing brush, dish-sponge etc.)
If you are looking to focus on making home cooked meals at home, don’t be alarmed or intimidated by this list – begin slowly and build up as you go/need. Most items you have will have a good long life in your kitchen!