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September 18, 2004

Small-Time Cooks

My name's Mark. Mark Whisk. I'm a private eye. But I'm also a chef. I'm a detective by day, and I stir things up at night at a classy joint downtown. But every week, this beautiful dame Maria and I get together and spice things up in the kitchen. I was teaching the young guns at the restaurant some basics this week, and since my PI workload was small, my main case was gathering up ingredients and supplies with my dame. Here's a quick rundown of the case so far.

Before you can cook, you need food and the right supplies. Below is a list of stuff that's useful to have, and the stores in the neighborhood that carry it. By the way, you're probably wondering why a cooking column is written from the perspective of a private eye. That's a good question.

Anyways, happy cooking, and remember, your mini-fridge isn't just for storing your beer!

Food and Supplies

Whether you're making crepes from scratch or macaroni and cheese from a box, you need basic ingredients and utensils. Things like spices, cooking oils, sauces, basic dry goods, and simple utensils are necessary for any meal. Here are some suggestions of what you probably want to have around. You don't need very much, and you can build up what you need over time. As far as spices go, you need salt and pepper (it's best if it's freshly ground), and things like Italian seasoning, garlic salt, cumin, chili powder, curry powder, paprika, bay leaves, and cinnamon are versatile ingredients used in many dishes. Olive oil, vegetable oil, peanut oil, and butter are the most common fats used in cooking, and these should suffice for most recipes. A well-stocked kitchen includes all-purpose flour, sugar (white and brown), cornstarch, baking soda, baking powder, and cornmeal. Finally, it's good to keep nonperishable foods around that you will commonly use such as dried pasta, tomato sauce, soy sauce, and condiments.

You only need a few utensils and cookware to make almost any meal. Most importantly, you need dishes and silverware, a large frying pan, a large pot, and a medium-sized pot. If you plan on baking, a cookie sheet and a glass or ceramic casserole dish are necessary. Also, you will use a can opener, a vegetable peeler, a whisk, a spatula, a cheese grater, and various wooden spoons (get a variety pack, they're cheap!). And finally, a good chef's knife that is six to eight inches long and a cutting board are essential. You don't need to break the bank on the knife, but you want to get something that can cut more than paper. You can find prices for these cooking supplies below, where we talk about the best places to find food and cooking stuff in Hyde Park and greater Chicago.

Hyde Park Co Op Grocery Stores

47th: 1300 E 47th

55th: 1526 E 55th

53rd: 1226 E 53rd

Of the 3 Co Op Grocery Stores around Hyde Park, the two most convenient are on 55th and 53rd. The 47th Co Op is the biggest and most like a normal grocery store, but it's hard to get to. The 53rd Co Op is the smallest, and has a limited selection. You can buy most of what you want there, but there aren't many brands to choose from. The 55th is the best option, because it's close to most students and it has a good selection. Produce selection is good, and they have lots of vegetarian and vegan options, as well as a deli, but the prices are high. Both the 55th and 47th Co Ops have dry goods in bins where you can buy things like spices, snacks, beans, and baking goods by weight. Buying spices in small quantities from dry bins is much more economical than buying spices in whole jars that will lose their flavor before they're gone. The Co Op also carries some cheap cooking utensils, most for around two or three dollars.

Hyde Park Produce

1312 E 53rd

Hyde Park Produce is the best place to buy most produce in the neighborhood. The selection isn't as wide as the Co Op's, but they carry all the basic fruits and veggies. They have a good deli counter and carry things like dairy products, pasta, sauces, tofu, and basic condiments and spices. The prices and quality are the best in Hyde Park.

Freehling Pot & Pan Co.

1365 E 53rd

Even though Freehling is the only cooking supply store around, they have a wonderful selection. If you need knives, pots, pans, dishes, or random cooking gadgets, this is the place to go. They carry a lot of high-end stuff, but you can find what you need at a reasonable price. If you need pots or pans, they have a frying pan by Eternity for $12.50, a three-quart (medium-sized) sauce pan for $15.50 by Culinary Edge, and larger pots (six quarts and up) for around $30. If you need a whole set, then you can get a good set for $60 (by Culinary Edge), which has one-, two-, three-, and six-quart saucepans, and a nine-and-a-half-inch frying pan. You can find an OXO chef's knife for $25, and a set of four silicon cutting boards for $10. You can also find disposable cutting boards for around $10. A set of simple cooking utensils can also be found for around $10.

Target and Bed, Bath & Beyond

Both these stores have all the cooking tools you would want for your kitchen, and the prices are great, but they can be hard to get to. The close Targets are by Midway Airport, on the Northwest side, and on the South side by the Dan Ryan. They have a wider selection than stores in Hyde Park, and you can find good brands like T-Fal, Caphalon, and Kitchen Aid. Check target.com for prices and store locations. Bed, Bath & Beyond is a bit more upscale, but they have an even wider selection. Their main Chicago store is at State and Grand and easily accessible by CTA. They carry all the best brands of cookware, cutlery, and dishes. You can find sets of cookware for a good price, especially during a sale. They're on the web at bedbathandbeyond.com.

This column mainly features vegetarian recipes, but we often include tips on adding meat or making recipes vegan. Hyde Park grocery stores are friendly to vegetarians and vegans, but you can find other stores in Chicago that carry organic, vegetarian, and vegan products at fuckcorporategroceries.net/stores.html. They list lots of independent grocery and produce stores in the Chicago area. Our personal favorite is Family Fruit Market.