I didn’t mean to overwhelm with the sheer volume of this list, but after I got started, it just kept going and going… All the items here are of course optional, depending on your taste/dietary needs.
As I wrote my last post, I started thinking about what a kitchen needs on hand for not only day-to-day cooking, but also last-minute meal creation. A friend of mine lives in a large metropolitan area and she was telling me about how there was nothing to eat in the house. This was unfathomable to me. She then mentioned about how in the city people tend to only shop for what they need on a daily basis. As I am from more rural surroundings, my family would go shopping once a week regularly, with maybe another day mid-week to catch up. Having a pantry filled with shelf-stable items and a well-stocked fridge/freezer was the norm.
With that in mind, I meandered through my cabinets on a quest to list what my stock-up necessities were. This list may/may not be updated as I remember/discover more items, considering the current size.
It does a body good!
Milk: This is something my kitchen can never be without. While I don’t drink much of it, I do use it in cooking frequently, as well as with cereal or in coffee. I find that the real thing is better for me than artificial creamer.
If you are someone who does not drink milk frequently like me, consider these options:
~Keep a quart size carton on hand. While it costs more per ounce to purchase a smaller container, you waste less when it inevitably goes bad. Also, cartons last longer and retain more vitamins than plastic jugs.
~Powdered or evaporated milk. If you’re only going to use it for recipes, the taste isn’t too different after cooking.
At the moment, I have a half-full quart carton of 2% in the fridge as well as a can of evaporated and a can of sweetened condensed in the pantry. I need to replenish my powdered supply.
Eggs: Ahh, the incredible, edible egg. Fried, scrambled, boiled, in cake, something that can be consumed with breakfast, lunch and dinner. We go through at least a dozen a week in our house. While there are many stories about how long eggs should last, I’ve kept them in my fridge for over a month with no bad effects. (Sometimes we just don’t eat any for a while.) Sure, they’re not as fresh and that does affect color and taste, but in a recipe they’re fine.
Not much of an egg user? Try a half-carton or the egg substitute stuff. I don’t use the substitute because I can’t find a supply of non-seasoned stuff. Imagine making French toast or a cake with onion and garlic. Yuck.
Fats: Butter, margarine, oils, all get lumped together. I keep a tub of “vegetable oil spread” in the fridge and a small bottle of oil in the cabinet along with a can of the spray. One of these days I’ll get one of those refillable sprayers. A refrigerated tub of spread will last (almost) forever and as long as the oil is corn/vegetable/soy, it will keep almost as long. Heck, keep it in the fridge, too! Pan cooking and toast gets the spread while baking gets the bottle. Butter comes into play during the holidays with cookies, etc. Otherwise I don’t use it much due to the fact it doesn’t last as long, is harder to spread and has a lower smoke point. I fry very little, hence less oil usage.
Even if your pan is non-stick, a dollop of spread helps keep it that way.
*Southern women usually keep lard and/or bacon grease on hand. I occasionally save bacon grease, but it’s not a regular in my fridge.
Sugar: From granulated to syrups, having sugar on hand is necessary for cooking. Growing up, we drank a LOT of Kool-Aid. As I got older, sweet tea replaced it as the drink of choice. While I now drink my tea with MUCH less sugar than I used to, it’s still there. I also keep a bottle of simple syrup in the fridge. You know those bottles of gourmet syrup? While I haven’t found a way to replace the flavored ones yet, I can save money by saving one of the glass bottles and making my own plain version. (Hmmm sounds like another post all to itself… Need to make a note somewhere.)
Don’t use much sugar? Granulated sugar doesn’t go bad as long as you keep the moisture/bugs out. Put it in a resealable jar. Use sugar packets. Heck, I even hoard those syrup and honey packets that come from [fast food restaurant with golden arches and that other one with the antenna-ball headed spokesperson].
There are various types of sugar to use, it all depends on preference.
Grains/Pasta: This is another all-encompassing title. Oatmeal, spaghetti noodles, ramen, rice, beans, all of that goes here. Nothing wrong with keeping a box of mac and cheese handy. Unless you have pest issues, then everything has to be kept in resealable containers. Remember Tupperware? Lovely stuff, even the generic kind from the dollar store. Five pound bags of rice get transferred into one container, beans another, and I love those tall containers for long noodles.
Oats are great for breakfast, cookies, even a meatloaf additive, if you wish. What goes with noodles? What doesn’t? Cheese, tomato sauce, ground meat, you’ve got homemade Hamburger Helper!
Rice, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Long grain, Calrose, Brown, pilaf, fried, onigiri, with beans, pudding, Spanish, sushi, soups… dare I continue?
*Grain-based Honorable mention: Bisquick all-purpose baking mix. Really, you can make almost anything with this stuff. I rarely keep flour on hand anymore because I just use this. Except during the holidays. Unless I’m lazy in a pinch. I must confess to using it up to a year past the best-by date. Worked fine.
*Not quite grain but Honorable mention: Potato Flakes. Yes, instant mashed potatoes. Hubby can make them taste better than hand-mashed and people really can’t tell the difference when he makes them. These get used in so much more in my house. I thicken soups with this instead of starch. I’ll line casserole dishes with it to absorb extra juices in many of my one-dish recipes. Meatloaf and balls get it, too.
Canned/frozen fruits/vegetables: Eating fruits & veggies is important. Fresh can be found in season, frozen and stored for later. I do this with Zucchini and squash, especially. Frozen produce retains most of the vitamins and minerals that are lost during the heat-intensive canning process. However, canned goods last longer and don’t get freezer burn. A quick trip in the microwave heats canned goods quickly and steams/thaws frozen effectively.
I’ve started keeping more frozen than canned, but I still keep a good selection in the pantry for emergencies.
My canned goods: Beans (kidney, baked, pinto, navy), vegetable mix/medley, corn, tomato-based (whole, diced, paste, sauce, pre-made spaghetti sauce, etc. Can you tell I like tomatoes?), green beans, mushrooms, mixed fruit, pie filling.
My frozen goods (typically used more frequently than canned): Corn, vegetable mix/medley, stir fry mixes, green beans, broccoli, various fruits (Smoothies!).
I also freeze bananas that are starting to get a bit overripe for smoothies later.
Couldn’t resist putting in Meatwad!
Meats: Some people swear by only using fresh, but if you need to live on a budget, frozen’s the way to go. Storage bags, plastic wrap, foil, vacuum bag thingie, use whatever it takes to keep the meat from getting freezer burn so it lasts longer. Pork chops and boneless chicken breasts are bought in bulk, separated and frozen. Hamburger meat, the same way, after making meatballs with some of it. Steak, well, this is tricky. $5 per pound and higher prices usually keep this off the menu. I wait until London Broil or Chuck Roast is on sale, use a good knife to carve off slabs, freeze it for use with fajitas, beef tips, and yes, as steaks.
Why buy pre-cut meat when you can do it yourself? However, I find that if I can get my chicken on sale, it’s worth not having to cut it off the bone myself. Plus, with it already off the bone, it’s easier to chop it up later for recipes. (As of this publish date, I can get a large package of boneless chicken breast from Wal-Mart a national discount chain for just under $2 per pound.)
Anything else I’m leaving out? Oh yeah,
Spices/Seasonings: Here’s the fun part. It all depends on your background/preferences. You do not need a fully stocked spice rack. If it’s something you don’t use regularly, chances are it will go stale before you get around to using it.
For beef or chicken with rice, along with various other recipes, I keep a packet of dry gravy mix or bouillon powder for seasoning.
My current spice rack (yours can differ, this is just for example) includes: Italian (spaghetti) seasoning, seasoned salt, chicken bouillon powder, brown gravy mix, taco seasoning, curry powder, teriyaki powder, ranch & Italian dressing mixes, dashi (I prefer awase over hon), sesame seeds, pumpkin spice mix (more convenient than plain cinnamon), ginger, chai masala.
In the fridge: Ketchup, mustard, shoyu (soy sauce), teriyaki, Worcestershire sauce, BBQ sauce, mayo, salad dressing, um… wow, there’s a lot of junk in my fridge, moving along…
I know there’s other stuff I’m leaving out. Some of it, like my miso and furikake, will wait for one of my Japanophilia posts. Other details will just have to come out later as I keep writing. This is already over 1600 words long.
And you don’t need to do it all at once either. My list is from years of finding what I like.
Buy on sale, buy small if you don’t use much, bulk buying works if it’s on sale, but you have to be able to use it. Most importantly, think of what you like to eat and how you can make it at home for less.
Please feel free to comment, what do you always keep on hand?