Cooking Basics

These are two articles that I wrote for the Shenandoah Journal and North Fork Journal about cooking basics.

Secrets to a well-stocked kitchen

Shenandoah Journal, The (Dayton, VA) - Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Author: Regina Cyzick Harlow
The first necessity in every kitchen is a collection of basic , easy-to-read, easy-to-use cookbooks and magazines. I prefer church cookbooks because they include recipes by "everyday" cooks who use simple and staple ingredients.

The following cookbooks were generated from local kitchens and can be purchased in local bookstores.

-"The Mennonite Community Cookbook" by Mary Emma Showalter

-"Mennonite Country-Style Recipes & Kitchen Secrets" by Esther H. Shank

-the "Pantry Gems" cookbooks by the Rhodes family

-"Evercookin' with the Evergrowin' Girls"

-Also the "Taste of Home" magazines and cookbooks by Reiman Publications and "The Four Ingredient" cookbook series by Coffee and Cale generally use staple ingredients.

Obviously buying all of these, especially at once, would be impractical so suggest them for Mother's Day, birthday and Christmas gifts. Our family often exchanges cookbooks and recipes for gift-giving. I also keep a composition book on hand to write or paste loose recipes in.

The Pantry

After arming yourself with one or more cookbooks, the second secret is stocking the pantry. Staple items include flour (unbleached white or wheat) granulated sugar, (brown sugar and powdered sugar are also good to have on hand), salt, baking powder, baking soda and a variety of seasonings and spices. Most of these items can be bought in bulk at local farmer's markets, small country stores and select grocery stores.

Also keep a variety of pasta, rice, tomatoes (diced, crushed, stewed, etc.) cooking oils, oatmeal, crackers, dry beans and peanut butter. Combining these items in different ways can provide a wide variety of healthy, quick dining options.

Other staples I always keep on hand are butter, milk, eggs, fresh garlic, onions, potatoes and cheese. Buying meat in bulk and storing it in serving sizes in the freezer also helps expand your menu.

Planning basics for cooks 

Shenandoah Journal, The (Dayton, VA) - Tuesday, June 2, 2009 Author: Regina Cyzick Harlow 

The age-old question of "what's for dinner" can be exhausting to answer for the household cook, whether cooking for oneself or an entire family. Factor in whether the cook has a full-time job and the high price of groceries at the supermarket and the fast food restaurant down the street seems better all the time, or at least more convenient.

By planning a menu and following a few simple tips, families and individuals can eat quick, easy and nutritious home-cooked meals for much less per person than that double cheeseburger combo.

Menu Planning

Before heading to the grocery store, use cookbooks to jog your creativity and make a list of five or six meals you'll prepare during the week. This takes a little time up front, but saves a lot of time, money and energy in the long run. If your pantry is stocked with the basics, you will only need a few items from the grocery store to complete the ingredients needed for the meals. This saves you from making three of four return trips to the grocery store during the week to complete your dinner.

Stick to Your List

Complete your shopping list with your other grocery and household needs. Check your stock of cleaners, detergents and other household items before you go to the store. When you are there, buy only what is on your grocery list. This saves you money.

Shop The Perimeters

The food on the outside aisles of the grocery store is the freshest and healthiest. This includes produce, meats and cheeses. The less processed food, the better.


Don't throw leftovers out. Pack lunches with them the next day if possible, or reuse them to make an entirely different meal. For example, if chicken breast (grilled, fried, or baked) was on the menu last night, make chicken salad or a chicken and stuffing casserole with the leftovers. Freezing leftovers can also make a convenient meal in a few weeks.

Think A Day Ahead

If your ground beef is in the freezer and the menu says "meatloaf" for tomorrow evening, take the hamburger out of the freezer today and put it into the refrigerator to thaw.

Make It A Family Affair

If children are in the household, involve them in cooking. Let them mix the eggs into the meatloaf with their bare hands. Have them help set the table.

It's a good bonding experience for the family and the children learn good cooking and eating habits. Children are also more likely to eat the food they helped to prepare. While eating, let the children talk about what they helped make.

Start Slow

This is important. If cooking and menu planning is a new concept, try planning one or two meals a week, then bump it up to three of four. Even after years of cooking, I still have those "natural disasters" where we end up getting take-out and that's OK. The satisfaction is in the effort, so don't be afraid to try.

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