Most of my cooking comes out of what I have in my pantry/freezer. I thought I would share what I usually have on hand so that you can get an idea of the materials that I am working with. Mostly everything is basics and very versatile for cooking.
Currently in my pantry I have the following (in order of importance):
- OLIVE OIL. This is almost always the base fat that I use in dishes, it’s in almost everything I cook.
- The other most important thing is GARLIC AND ONION. No matter what I always have some on hand or cooking is impossible. You should do the same.
- tomato paste. Very cheap and essential for cooking. I don’t think it matters what brand you get
- Diced tomatoes, crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce. For this I prefer Muir Glen. Usually tomatoes are a big flavor component to dishes I make, here I think it’s worth the splurge of a slightly higher quality product. That being said I recently made a sauce with Hunts crushed tomatoes and it turned out fine. I’ll leave that up to you.
- Boxed chicken broth. I tend to buy low sodium; you can always add salt later. In this case buying the higher quality brand does make a difference – I prefer Pacific Natural Foods. I also like to keep a jar of Better Than Bullion (chicken base) to add to dishes, it gives flavor without extra liquid
- Canned beans: black beans, garbanzo beans, cannellini beans. Buy them generic, they’re cheap, easy to cook and delicious
- An assortment of grains: white rice, brown rice, couscous, grits, etc. I realize the corn grits are probably only common if you’re living in the South but I’m lucky enough to have a mother who sends them to me
- An assortment of pasta, including spaghetti, penne, rotini… I like barilla but that’s just personal preference, I’ve bought generic brands and it’s come out okay.
- Spices, includingsalt and pepper, red pepper flakes, dried basil, parsley cinnamon, cumin, and nutmeg, . Of this list, cumin and nutmeg are least essential, it’s probably good to have everything else. If you can buy the store brand, they’re usually not too expensive
- Flour and Sugar
- Canned tuna (packed in water)
- Boxed tofu – extra firm
- Canned corn
- Canned pineapple – excellent for when you want fruit but the fridge is empty
- Oatmeal and cereal
In my freezer I tend to keep lots of frozen vegetables (peas, okra, lima beans, broccoli) as well as frozen chicken cutlets. You can get them from Whole Foods, they’re a bit expensive but it’s easy to pull out a few at a time whenever you just want some meat. I also keep bread in the freezer, since there’s only one of me I just eat a bit at a time and heat it up as I go.
For fresh produce I tend to buy salad, carrots, celery and lots of fruit (usually apples, bananas, oranges – whatever is in season)
For dairy I buy milk, occasionally eggs and plain yogurt. That’s all it takes to get cooking and make some amazing food!