Along with certain methods and doing your mise en place, having a stocked pantry will help you VERY MUCH in your day to day cooking. All these meal kits you’re buying for $50 a pop? They are simply giving you pantry ingredients and mise en place so you can get to cooking. BUT you can do these things yourself, easily, and save a bunch of money.
My pantry and fridge is full to the brim with herbs, spices and tons of condiments. It’s taken me a long time to gather up the things I have, but I can pretty much cook what I want, when I want with what I’ve got on hand. But this is for someone who is just learning to cook and just getting started amassing their arsenal of things to cook with. Ok, here we go!
All Purpose Flour (I prefer White Lily; use for making roux)
Cornstarch (thickener for sauces)
Rice (I prefer Basmati)
Dry Pasta (penne is a good all purpose shape)
Any beans or legumes that you use regularly
You can include boxed items in here, but the point is to use fewer pre-boxed foods, right?
Jarred pasta sauce (a marinara, not one with meat)
Canned tomatoes, diced and whole
2 boxes chicken broth (or cans if you want to use less at a time)
You’ll notice there’s no canned veg here. Frozen veg is better all round than canned.
PAM food release spray (any brand/style is fine)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Vegetable Oil (for higher heat cooking)
Salted Butter R (some ppl use unsalted, ALL my recipes use salted butter)
Seasoned Rice Wine Vinegar
Red Wine vinegar
L&P Worcestershire Sauce
Frank’s Hot Sauce (or whatever you like)
Lemon Juice R
Dijon Mustard R
Whole grain Mustard R
Tomato paste R (get the kind in a tube!)
Garlic Paste R (if you can find it, OR minced garlic in a jar.)
Herbs and Spices
Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt (the standard and used in all my recipes!)
Ground black pepper
Red Pepper Flakes
Dried Paprika (I like both sweet and smoked)
Old Bay seasoning
Fresh Herbs and Veg
Garlic (do not refrigerate)
Onions (do not refrigerate)
Parsley (Or any herbs you’re using in a recipe. Put leftovers in salad!)
Lemons (do not refrigerate)
Buy only the veg you have a recipe for THAT WEEK. I make our salads once a week and hold it in a bag in the fridge. It is a fraction of the cost of bagged salad. A FRACTION.
Onion + Peppers, diced (great for SO many recipes!)
Spinach (buying it frozen is more economical than fresh if you are cooking with it)
Any veg you like and use often. The mixed veg bags are handy for all sorts of things from sides to soup. I also like the veg + grains sides you can get, too. They are steam in bag and very nutritious!
As for meats and all your proteins, buy what you’ll use in a week OR if you have the freezer room, buy proteins on sale and freeze. I’d recommend getting a vacuum sealer for this, however, or your frozen protein will have freezer burn. We bought a chest freezer long ago and it has earned its keep a dozen times over in my savings on proteins. Having all kinds of things to choose from at any given time is VERY helpful when cooking at home. At the very least, have chicken thighs, tenders or breasts handy. You can buy big bags of these pre-frozen, they are very economical.
I also advocate taking lunch to work. Prep salads and snacks on your day off for easy grabbing as you run out the door. Same for leftovers. After dinner, put leftovers in single serving containers so you can grab for lunch. THIS WORKS!! (Also: do NOT put meats and oils in plastic! It will break down the plastic when heated and that is toxic. Use glass for your reheatable lunches!)
To get started with cooking regularly, I suggest gathering up a couple of recipes per week and setting aside time to shop for and prep for the recipes. Do this on your day off, then when you want to cook, VOILÀ! All your ingredients are ready to go. At the very least shop for your recipes and have everything you need on hand.
I think many new cooks get frustrated when they attempt to make something and discover they don’t have an ingredient when they are halfway through the cook. This is why USING RECIPES and buying for what you’re making is so helpful. It’s what we chefs do, because it works.
You’ll find that as you buy things for recipes, your pantry will grow on its own. Suddenly you’ll have a fridge full of sauces and condiments that you can use for MORE recipes. You’ll have spices in the cabinet that you can use for furthering your repertoire. That’s how chefs like me end up with literally hundreds of spices and condiments at our disposal. :)
BTW, there are tons of easy recipes here on my site. I’m in the process of inputting them into an actual recipe template, but they are all printable even if they have not been reformatted. Go to View Posts By Category dropdown menu at the top right and choose Angela’s Recipes to see all of them together. Or CLICK HERE. ;)
I feel that I should also mention a couple of cooking VESSELS that will get you through most cooking:
2-3 Qt saucepan (nonstick is fine)
small saucepan (nonstick is fine)
9-10″ skillet (nonstick is fine)
9×9 casserole dish
one good knife (Henckels is my go-to, a decent 8-10″ chef or santoku knife should cost you around $50-75.)
Never put nonstick pans or knives in the dishwasher. I never wash my knives, I just rinse in hot water and dry. Never put a knife in the water with hand wash dishes – cuts SUCK. Always keep your knives SHARP. Take it to a pro for sharpening once a year (the steel is NOT a sharpener, it just hones a little).
Hope you guys find this helpful!