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Initializing the Kitchen : Kitchen Equipment (part 1)

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Regardless of your needs, a well-equipped home kitchen shouldn’t cost much money. I once heard the products sold in consumer kitchen stores described as “kitchen jewelry.” Stores like Williams-Sonoma offer beautiful products that make for beautiful gifts, but just because they call their products “professional-quality cookware” doesn’t mean that professionals routinely use them. Sure, their kitchenware is beautiful and functional, but if you’re willing to settle for just functionality and skip the bling factor, you can save a bundle.

If you live in a large city, look for a restaurant supply store. These stores stock aisle after aisle of every conceivable cooking, serving, and dining room product, down to the “Please wait to be seated” signs. If you can’t find such a store, next time you eat out, ask your waiter to ask the kitchen staff. If that fails, the Internet, as they say, “is your friend.”

If you do get stuck or want recommendations of which features to look for in a product, look at recent reviews from Adam Ried of America’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s Illustrated or Alton Brown of Good Eats. Products continually change as manufacturers revise, update, and improve their offerings, so don’t be surprised if specific models you read about are no longer available. Common sense and thinking about your requirements are really all you need, though.

Storage Tips for Perishable Foods

Should you wash your produce when you unpack your weekly groceries or at time of use? And how should you store various other foods? Here’s a look at basic storage rules, from most to least perishable.

Seafood. Seafood is the most perishable item you’re likely to handle. Ideally, seafood should be used on the day of purchase. A day or two longer is okay, but past that point enzymes and spoilage bacteria begin to break down amine compounds, resulting in that undesirable fishy odor.

Fun science fact: Fish live in an environment that is roughly the same temperature as your fridge. The specific activity of some enzymes is much higher in fish than mammals at these temperatures. Putting seafood on ice buys a bit more time by increasing the activation energy needed for these reactions. Meat is already far enough away from the ideal reaction temperatures that the few extra degrees gained by storing it on ice don’t change much.

Meats. Follow the sell-by or use-by date. The sell-by date is the point in time until which the store still considers the product safe for sale. (Not that you should push it, but it’s not as if the meat will suddenly turn green and smelly at 12:01 a.m. the next day.) The use-by date, as you’d imagine, is the recommended deadline to cook the food. If you have a package of chicken whose use-by date is today, cook it today, even if you’re not ready to eat it. You can store the cooked product for a few more days. If you can’t cook the fish or meat you’ve bought on or before its use-by date, toss it in the freezer. This will affect the texture, but at least the food won’t go to waste.

Freezing meat does not kill bacteria. It takes being zapped with radiation AND over a month at 0°F / –18°C to render nonviable the bacteria in salmonella-contaminated meats. Nice to know, but not very helpful unless you happen to have a radiation chamber lying around.

Fruits and vegetables. How you process and store fruits and vegetables impacts their ripeness and flavor, and can also delay the growth of mold. When it comes to ripening, there are two types of fruit: those that generate ethylene gas, which causes them to ripen, and those that don’t generate it. For those that do ripen when exposed to ethylene, you can speed up ripening by storing them in a paper bag, which traps the gas.

Store raw meats below fruits and vegetables in your refrigerator, because this reduces the likelihood of cross-contamination. Any liquid runoff from the meats won’t be able to drip onto other foods that won’t be effectively pasteurized by cooking. (Storing meats below other foods is required by health code in commercial establishments.)

Ripen in the presence of ethylene gas To speed up ripening, store these in a loosely folded paper bag out of direct sunlight, at room temperature.

Apricots, peaches, plums. Ripe fruits will be aromatic and will yield slightly to a gentle squeeze, at which point you can store them in the fridge. Don’t store unripe stone fruits in the refrigerator, in plastic bags, or in direct sunlight. If you’re lucky enough to be gifted pounds and pounds of these fruits, either freeze them or make jam before they have a chance to go bad.

Avocados. Ripe fruit will be slightly firm but will yield to gentle pressure. Color alone will not tell you if the avocado is ripe. Storing cut avocados with the pit doesn’t prevent browning, which is due to both oxidation and an enzymatic reaction, but does stop browning where the pit prevents air from coming in contact with the flesh. Plastic wrap pressed down against the flesh works just as well, or if you have a vacuum sealer, go for overkill and seal them.

Bananas. Leave at room temperature until ripe. To prevent further ripening, store in the refrigerator—the peel will turn brown, but the fruit will not change.

Blueberries. While blueberries do ripen in the presence of ethylene, their flavor is not improved from this. See advice for blackberries et al.

Tomatoes. Store at temperatures above 55°F / 13°C. Storing in the fridge is okay for longer periods of time but will affect flavor and texture. If the ultimate destination for the tomatoes is a sauce, you can also cook them and then refrigerate or freeze the sauce.

Potatoes. Keep potatoes in a cool, dry place (but not the fridge). Sunlight can make the skin turn green. If this occurs, you must peel off the skin before eating. The green color is due to the presence of chlorophyll, which develops at the same time that the neurotoxins solanine and chaconine are produced.[2]

Since most of the nutrients in a potato are contained directly below the skin, avoid peeling them whenever possible.

Unaffected or negatively impacted by ethylene gas Store these separately from ethylene-producing produce.

Asparagus. Store stalks, with bottoms wrapped in a damp paper towel, in the crisper section or the coldest part of the fridge. You can also put them in a glass or mug, like cut flowers. Eat as soon as possible because the flavor diminishes with time.

Blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries. Toss out any moldy or deformed berries. Immediately eat any overripe berries. Return the other berries to the original container, or arrange them (unwashed) in a shallow pan lined with paper towels and store in the fridge. To absorb additional moisture, place a paper towel on top of the berries. Wash them just prior to use; washing and storing them adds moisture that aids the growth of mold.

Broccoli, cabbage, collard greens, kale, leeks, Swiss chard. Store in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator or in a plastic bag poked with holes to allow for any excess moisture and ethylene to escape. Ethylene causes florets and leaves to turn yellow.

Carrots. Break off green tops. Rinse carrots, place in a plastic bag, and store in the crisper section of the fridge. Storing carrots in the fridge will preserve their flavor, texture, and beta-carotene content.

Garlic. Store in a cool, dark place (but not the fridge). You can still use cloves that have sprouted, but they will not be as strong in flavor. The sprouts themselves can be cut up like scallions or chives and used in dishes.

Lettuce and salad greens. Check greens bought in bunches for insects. Wash leaves, wrap in a towel or paper towel, and then store in the fridge in a plastic bag.

Onions. Keep in a cool, dry space away from bright light. Onions do best in an area that allows for air circulation. Do not place onions near potatoes, because potatoes give off both moisture and ethylene, causing onions to spoil more quickly.


[2] While you’re unlikely to die from consuming the solanine content present in an average potato that’s gone green (~0.4 mg), it appears to be possible to give yourself a rather unpleasant digestive tract experience for the better part of a day.

Here’s what I consider the essential kitchen items. We’ll cover each in turn.

Bare Minimum Equipment Standard Kitchen Equipment
  • Knives

  • Cutting board

  • Pots and pans

  • Measuring cups and scales

  • Spoons & co.

  • Thermometer and timers

  • Bar towels

← All that, plus...

  • Storage containers

  • Strainers

  • Mixers & co.


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