Finding A Way: frugal ideas for the beginner’s kitchen


I’m really getting interested in finding ways to help new and beginner cooks. I was thinking that one of the first obstacles a person might face in a new quest to cook and eat at home is having a properly supplied kitchen and how expensive that might seem to a novice cook.

My first suggestion to someone who has very little to no kitchen equipment is to let friends and relatives know what you are looking for. Free is awesome! Many people love to buy new stuff and then give away their old stuff. Me? I rarely buy anything new. If I look around my kitchen, most of it was gifts, freebies from friends or stuff I found at the thrift store.

Maybe you may not think of the thrift store (or flea market, swap meet,garage sales etc.) for kitchen essentials, but it is definitely worth a peek now and then and is my new favorite way to find things that I “need”. Look over items carefully before buying for chips or cracks. Check the label on the bottom because sometimes you may see that the item is for “decorative purposes only” or “not for use with food”, yikes!  I always try to find quality items, which really is not as hard as you may think. Sometimes, you may have to go to more than one store and a few different times to find everything you need. Thrift store prices vary greatly, so shop around and look before you buy.

Recently, my husband and I had really gotten into Asian soups. The only problem was the bowls we had totally did not work for sipping broth out of. We checked Target first. A simple bowl was over 6 bucks! To me, that is way too much. We then decided to go check out the awesome Amvet’s Thrift Store (very near Specialty Produce!). Within minutes, I had a little basket full of matching bowls at a whopping 65 cents apiece. Plus, I found a wonderful lidded rice server (3 dollars, made in Japan) and a pretty Japanese serving dish for around 1 dollar. Took it all home, ran through the dishwasher and ta-da! Fully stocked on bowls for slightly more than it would have cost me for just ONE bowl at a giant, big box retailer. Plus, I stuck to my ideals about reducing, reusing and recycling.

If you can’t find what you need either for free or at the thrift store, try checking Ross. Take it one step further though, and look for the clearance items. Usually they are buried in the back of the shelves. Takes a little time, but is definitely worth it.

To successfully feed yourself at home, at least in the beginning, really takes pretty simple equipment. As far as pots and pans go, stay away from dangerous, environmentally un-friendly non-stick cookware. Also, I recommend not purchasing cheap, light weight aluminum either. Here is my list for a starter kitchen which assumes most people already have a few forks, bowls and plates on hand:

  • Large heavy soup pot, preferably with a lid
  • Small saucepan with lid (to  hold about 2 cups or a little more)
  • Large Cast Iron frying pan ( I will post a tutorial on “seasoning” and using this pan. You will love it once you really use it!)
  • Small skillet
  • A medium size pyrex or corning type baking dish
  • A cookie sheet
  • Stainless steel spatula (or plastic in a pinch, try to stay away from plastic if you can)
  • Wood or Bamboo large spoon for stirring
  • Bowl scraper
  • Large mixing bowl
  • a couple of smaller ones
  • a measuring cup set and measuring spoon set
  • A decent chopping knife. (no, I do not own any really nice knives. I’m using an old Ginsu brand that I’ve had forever. By decent, I mean one that is sharp, is comfortable for you and has a wide flat blade.)
  • A cutting board
  • A  fine mesh strainer
  • A colander
  • Food storage equipment such as lidded bowls (I save containers and wash them to use over and over again)
  • Hot Pad

Gosh, I think that may be it! Of course, there is a ga-gillion different products out there and tons of different gadgets, but for basic cooking, that is really all you need.

That’s it for now, folks! Please let me know if this was useful for anyone.

Thank you so much for reading and commenting!

The Vegetable Broth Tutorial


Brace yourselves, people. Today’s post may be a bit lengthy:

  1. I have a cold, so I plan on sitting on my keaster all day
  2. I’m just heating up the last of my freezer broth so I need to make more
  3. I enjoy making broth, so it’s easy to write about

If you have read my post “Yay for FMB Day” then you already know a little bit about my broth making. Upon reading it, you might say”The girl’s got skills!” , or “man what a cheapo!” or “waaay too much time on her hands”, but in my opinion it’s just healthy and smart to use up vegetable trim to make nutritious and handy stock.

Up until a few years ago, before the vegetarian /flexitarian urge took over, I used to make stock from chicken carcasses or beef bones. My husband had learned years ago about browning the bones first and them simmering for several hours. We almost always used up leftover meat and bones for stock. Since then, it’s all changed.

I only started making veggie stock about a year ago, when we moved from Little Italy to Mission Hills. Living in Little Italy, we went out to eat quite a bit and my husband did most of the home cooking. Since taking up home vegetable gardening here in San Diego’s most perfect gardening habitat, I have begun to branch out into the endless possibilities of Vegetable Broth.

Remember that giant rainstorm a couple months back? Silly question, sorry! Well, that’s when I really got creative with broth and started playing around with flavor profiles. The house we live in has no heat and is pretty drafty, (and I wouldn’t trade it!) so making broth helped warm up the house and us so I experimented quite a bit. Since then, I almost always have several quarts in the freezer and a container of fresh on hand. I do like to have a seasoned, rich broth version and a light, basic version handy.

I started out following a basic broth recipe from one of my favorite books “The Culinary Institute of America: Vegetables”, and then expanded and really totally changed how I was making broth.

There can be a lot of waste when you are prepping veggies, and I have learned to keep my “Trim Bowl” handy on the counter when I prep. Here is just a sampling of trim I’ve used:

  • Carrot peel, ends and trim
  • Green onion root ends, tops
  • Bell pepper stems and seeds
  • Leftover/getting wilty herbs such as Cilantro, Dill and Flat Leaf Parsley
  • Leafy parts of the center of a Celery bunch, and trim
  • Trim from Chard/Collards/Mustard Greens
  • Beet Tops (very little)
  • Ginger trim
  • Lemongrass tops
  • Artichoke stem peel
  • Lettuce trim
  • Mushroom stems
  • Cauliflower trim (very little)
  • Turnip greens and trim
  • Leek tops
  • Kohlrabi greens
  • Green Garlic trim

The only hard part about this method is getting your partner to keep trim for the bowl! I hate looking in the garbage and seeing great trim I could have used. Ideally, of course, we would be composting veggie trim and even the cooked vegetables from making broth. It’s on my to-do list, I promise!

For my most basic, unseasoned broth I put whatever trim I have, usually about 3 to 4 cups in all,  and a quartered up onion with a little peel left on in my soup pot and cover generously with water.  I bring it up to a good steady simmer and let it cook for about an hour, more or less.  I then strain the broth thought a mesh sieve and allow to cool. If we aren’t using it right away, I may freeze in ice cube trays or other containers. This basic broth is great to have on hand if you need liquid without too much competing flavor to add to a recipe or use as a base for another soup. You can use it instead of water for making rice to add nutrients or to thin a cooked soup that has thickened too much.

Here’s an example of broth with a whole lot of Chinese Celery in it, Green Onion trim, Leek trim, Pepper trim and the top of an onion.

For a basic, lightly seasoned broth I follow the steps above adding bay leaf, peppercorns, a garlic clove or two and various herbs to the broth.  This makes a great base for pasta sauces, gravy, and Rissoto.  Of course you can use for making rice as well. You can also use this as a base for making Miso soup. Heat your strained broth until simmering, add a pinch of Bonito flake, 3 or 4 pieces of seaweed, and a very finely sliced green onion or green garlic and let simmer for about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and add a tablespoon or so of Miso. Stir with a wire whisk to make sure the Miso dissolves completely and serve. You can add some finely cubed Tofu if you like. Never cook the Miso, however. It kills the beneficial, live cultures in Miso.

For a richer broth, add another step. After straining your cooked vegetables out of the broth , return the broth to the stove and simmer until the volume is reduced by about 1/3 to 1/2. Then cool and store. This version is great to use in dishes that call for chicken broth .

Now for a fun one! I love to make a vegetarian version of a favorite Vietnamese Soup called “Pho” (fuh) which is usually made with a very rich beef broth. It is handy to make this one when you have plenty of Asian type vegetable trim around. I use lemongrass, ginger root, Chinese chives and bok choy trim etc.  For seasoning, you need an extra onion (over and above whatever trim onion you have) 5 or 6 whole Star Anise, 10 or so Sichuan Peppecorns,  A cinnamon stick, about a tablespoon of sugar and a splash of Fish Sauce. Strain and then simmer again over low heat until the broth is very rich, about another hour. Salt to taste if using right away and serve with cooked rice vermicelli noodles, Thai basil, fresh bean sprouts, lime juice and a little Hoisin sauce.  This version is soothing and tasty just to sip plain as well.

I could go on and on about this topic, but I think that is enough for now. Just remember that there is no right or wrong way to make broth and experimenting with it can be fun. And, it is so much quicker to make than a meat broth. If you don’t have stock on hand, you can easily start a batch while you are preparing something else. It will be done before you know it and be ready to use.  If you don’t have enough trim, just break up a couple of carrots, celery and quarter an onion and there you go!

Thanks for reading and commenting!

Luscious Potato Taco Tuesday


Ah, to eat Lusciously. Since discovering the Farmer’s Market Bag (or sometimes they call it a Box) eating lusciously has become quite the passion at my house.

Today, we are finishing up our FMB from last week (click here to see what we got A Sample FMB ) by cooking the beautiful little french red potatoes from the bag. Party Partner’s plan is to make Luscious Style Potato Rolled Tacos from the taters. We enjoy potato rolled tacos from a few of our favorite ubiqutious local taco stands, but have often felt they were lacking a little something.

Our tacos will get that “little something” from amazing local ingredients like the potatoes and green garlic. Have you ever used green garlic? It’s a beautiful and tasty ingredient, and has been included in all three FMB’s we’ve ordered so far. I hope there’s more this Thursday! Plus, we are using the awesome hand-made corn tortillas from El Indio restaurant on India Street. We just walked down and picked them up at lunchtime today along with the fresh green salsa they make there.

potato taco filling

potato taco filling

For topping the tacos we also have a variety of lettuces from our own garden, organic cilantro from the Bag, and unfortunately, some grocery store Mexican shredded cheese. (Meh) Oh well, we shall just have to DEAL.

We started rolling the potato filling into the corn tortillas. WOW. What an eye opener! Literally, a tablespoon of the filling was too much. And to think all these years I’ve been paying 3-5 bucks for rolled tacos. We quickly and (starving-ly) switched to just filling the taco and frying it simply folded over instead of rolled. We just wanted to taste more of the awesome potato filling in the corn tortilla, you know? Not just a smidgen. Plus, we were too hungry to wait for the rolled ones to freeze. Now that we have a little something in the tummy, we can concentrate on the rolling process.

potato tacos

potato tacos

These tacos are worthy of a recipe post and I will get that up asap. Very simple to make, yet elevated to another level due to the quality of ingredients used.You will want to try your hand at these, I guarantee it!

Tomorrow is Wednesday. My plan is check out the video on specialty produce’s facebook page (Click here to see for yourself! Farmer\’s Market Bag 2-24-10)which shows what’s in the bag this week. Always fun to find out what we’ll be eating!

Next time, why the FMB.

Be sure to check out the new page with all the FMB FAQ’s!