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This is part two in a series on beginning cooking, emphasis on beginning. My purpose is to encourage reluctant cooks to rely more on their kitchens and less on prepared foods and take-out. Thus, I am talking in these diaries not about the authentic or gourmet, but the simplest and fastest--while still being good-tasting and affordable. I am not a professional chef, merely a homemaker/writer and proprietor of a longtime homemaking website.

I try to plan at least a little ahead for meals, but that doesn't always happen. I have learned over the years, however, to stock my pantry and fridge so that a decent meal can be pulled together "out of thin air," using just what I have to hand and some tried-and-true formulas. The results aren't haute cuisine but they're tasty, quick, thrifty and simple, items you wouldn't be ashamed to put down before a friend if they stayed over for a casual dinner.

Are many of these things better cooked from scratch? Oh heck yeah, but the focus of these diaries is to get beginners into the kitchen and away from fast food, boxes and microwave dinners. At some point, we'll be talking about the homemade versions of many of these items, such as broth (dirt simple and practically free), salsa and so on, but for now we'll rely on a few prepared foods.

Part one is here.

Follow me below the curlicues of spilled curry powder for more.

This is not the only way to stock a pantry; it's just the way I do it, in part. Not everything on this list is for speed cooking, either. Some things, like dried beans, need planning ahead. You don't need to rush to the store and buy all this stuff, either; as with equipment, buy what you can when you can. Much of this may already be in your cupboards. If I list something you don't like, don't buy it.

In your pantry (cans etc):
Diced tomatoes
Broth (I get shelf-stable aseptic packs and have both chicken and beef--vegetarians, substitute as needed)
Creamed corn
Canned salmon and/or tuna and/or sardines
Canned clams
Jarred tomato sauce (spaghetti sauce)
Jarred salsa, especially green (cans better than red IMO)
Shelf-stable polenta
A few cans of beans (I MUCH prefer making my own, but needs must)
Nut butter, as unaltered as you can afford--not expensive, but try to avoid Skippy's etc
A pot of jam (I usually keep a mixed fruit one)
Olives (I like a jar of good quality green ones and a couple small tins of chopped black)

In your dry goods:
Salt (I prefer sea salt, but kosher is good too--table salt if you must)
Flour (gluten-intolerant, like me, get rice flour for general use)
Sugar (white and brown)
Brown and/or white rice
Beans (black, pinto, great northern and/or lentils)
Oatmeal (rolled--not quick--and steel cut, but if you choose one, choose rolled)
Masa harina
Corn starch
Baking soda
Baking powder (NOT the same thing!)
Pastas (I don't eat it but a lot of you can)
Bean thread noodles (Asian groceries)
Raisins and/or other dried fruit
Nuts and seeds: almonds and hulled sunflower seeds are our fall-backs
Sesame seeds
Cocoa powder
Alternative grains like quinoa (more expensive, but I have a hard time tolerating most grains)
Flaked unsweetened coconut
Saltine crackers

In the herbs and spice rack and seasoning cupboard:
Note: try not to buy the little tins of ground-up dust at the supermarket. If you can, find a bulk bin to buy from and store in your own glass jars. Don't buy too much at a time.
Black pepper (Trader Joe's has a refillable pepper grinder that's the best I've ever owned)
Whole black peppercorns to refill the grinder and use on their own
Garlic bulbs
Red pepper flakes
Nutmeg (preferably whole, not ground)
Ginger powder
Mustard powder
Curry powder
Garlic powder
Dehydrated onion flakes
Dehydrated parsley flakes
Poultry blend
Herbes de Provence
Pickling spices
Tabasco or other hot sauce
Apple cider vinegar
Rice vinegar
Balsamic vinegar
Red wine
White wine
Soy sauce or tamari (tamari is wheat-free)
Ngoc mam (Vietnamese fish sauce)
Worcestershire sauce

Oils and fats, some in the fridge, some in the pantry:
Toasted sesame oil
Olive oil--non-extra virgin preferred for cooking, EV for salad dressings etc.
Coconut oil
Bacon drippings--homemade lard for the advanced
Butter--I beg you, use real butter, not margarine

In the fridge:
Prepared mustard
Pickle relish
Eggs, raw and hard boiled, the best quality you can afford
Plain yogurt, preferably whole milk with the cream on top
Sour cream--Daisy has the fewest additives
Cream--not half and half
Cheddar cheese
Parmesan cheese--please gods not the green can...grated is fine...just. Not. The. Green. Can.
blue cheese

In the crisper:
Note: we try to eat seasonally and as close to home as possible. We eat more veggies than this; these are just the ones I have to hand all year long.
Green onions
Pre-washed salad mix
Lemons--if you intend to use the rind, please try to buy organic

In potato bin:
You should have a potato bin; ours is a drawer. :)
Yellow onions
Sweet potatoes

In the freezer:
Frozen peas
Frozen corn
Frozen spinach
Frozen vegetables like broccoli and green beans--ones you like
Frozen pre-made crusts like Boboli
Dinner Sausages--as opposed to breakfast sausages
Chicken legs
Pork cutlets
Bacon--unless you eat it regularly (which we do), then keep in fridge

In the bread box:
Note: I'm gluten-intolerant, and the substitutes are either awful or expensive, or awful expensive. This is for either non-GF people or GF people with lots of money.
Sandwich bread, your choice
Really, whatever breadlike comestible you like

Next time: Basic template dishes

Note: I am not going to discuss diet as opposed to cooking in these diaries nor will I engage in such discussions in the comments. If you are paleo, or vegan, or whatever, I'm sure you can take what you need from these diaries and leave the rest. No one needs anyone else's permission to eat as they see fit--including me. Please, whatever your preferred eating regimen is, don't argue about the One True Diet in the comments. I can't stop you, but I'd consider it a great courtesy. Thank you.

Fri Dec 07, 2012 at 4:19 PM PT: Part three is here:

Originally posted to LynnS in Words on Thu Dec 06, 2012 at 02:43 PM PST.

Also republished by Practical Survivalism and Sustainable Living.

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