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):
Broth (I get shelf-stable aseptic packs and have both chicken and beef--vegetarians, substitute as needed)
Canned salmon and/or tuna and/or sardines
Jarred tomato sauce (spaghetti sauce)
Jarred salsa, especially green (cans better than red IMO)
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)
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
Alternative grains like quinoa (more expensive, but I have a hard time tolerating most grains)
Flaked unsweetened coconut
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
Red pepper flakes
Nutmeg (preferably whole, not ground)
Dehydrated onion flakes
Dehydrated parsley flakes
Herbes de Provence
Tabasco or other hot sauce
Apple cider vinegar
Soy sauce or tamari (tamari is wheat-free)
Ngoc mam (Vietnamese fish 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.
Bacon drippings--homemade lard for the advanced
Butter--I beg you, use real butter, not margarine
In the fridge:
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
Parmesan cheese--please gods not the green can...grated is fine...just. Not. The. Green. Can.
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.
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. :)
In the freezer:
Frozen vegetables like broccoli and green beans--ones you like
Frozen pre-made crusts like Boboli
Dinner Sausages--as opposed to breakfast sausages
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.