Cooking Basics: Stocking Your Larder

When we got married, I think the only seasonings we had were salt and pepper. There was hot sauce, but no tomato sauce. As a single guy, my husband hadn’t felt the need to cook. It’s a lot easier to grab a tv dinner and let it go at that.

I was used to my mother’s kitchen, which was not just full of regular stuff; we had a lot of home canned and frozen vegetables, fruits and even meats to choose from. I had a lot of work to do. In order to help you, I will list a few basics in several categories. I’ll also list a few of the “extras” that I find very handy.

Canned Goods: Naturally you will want your favorite canned vegetables like corn, beans and asparagus. However, you’ll also want condensed soups, broth, all the tomato products (sauce, paste, diced, etc.). You’ll want some canned meat/fish products as well. Tuna, salmon, clams and chili are going to be very important.

Powdered Goods: It’s nearly impossible to cook without flour, sugar. baking soda, baking powder, corn starch and salt. At some point or another, any one of these items could be called for in a recipe. I also like to keep brown sugar and powdered sugar around. Corn meal and prepackaged baked goods like muffins or cakes are also useful.

Dry Goods: Pasta, rice, dry beans and barley can last a long time. Barley is probably the least often used in this category. When buying pasta, get the best you can afford, it makes a difference. As for rice, which you choose may depend on equipment and talent. I usually do the “boil in bag” or “90 second microwave” kind. It’s one of the few things I just don’t get right.

Herbs and Spices: Salt and pepper are obvious. I like to use seasoned pepper and sea salt, though I will occasionally use seasoned salt. Sea salt is lower in sodium than regular table salt, so it is good if blood pressure is a problem.

When it comes to herbs and spices, I tend to go all out. The basics are allspice, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, caraway, dill, fennel seed, basil, oregano, marjoram, sage, paprika, garlic, cayenne and red pepper flakes. Cream of tartar is neither herb nor spice, but it is useful. I also keep arrowroot. It can thicken liquids if you are out of corn starch.

Liquids: Cooking wine, sherry and brandy are useful. Soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce and other Asian sauces are often useful, but the sodium can be very high. There are many types of vinegar. I find wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar and white vinegar the most useful. For oil, I use olive or canola oils, though I do keep some vegetable oil around for some things.

Refrigerator Stuff: Eggs (or substitute), milk, butter/margarine, catsup, mustard, mayo, sour cream, pickles, relish and olives are must haves. I like, on occasion, to use bacon, salt pork and heavy whipping cream. Cheeses of all sorts are handy. For actual cooking, I like to get the already shredded kind. It saves time and cleanup, so is worth the little extra it costs. If you don’t like to make your own, you’ll probably want some bbq sauce.

Freezer: I buy meat on sale in the “max pack” size, and then freeze it into individual meal size packages. I’ll also buy frozen veggies when they are on sale, as I don’t have enough room to grow my own. Soup bones and those leftover from roasting chicken find their way into my freezer so I can make stock from them.

Fresh Stuff: Celery, carrots, tomatoes, onions and potatoes are must haves. I like to keep a variety of fresh mushrooms, as well as broccoli and asparagus.

Interesting Extras: Frozen fresh herbs can be fun to use. I also like to keep wasabi, anchovies (either canned or paste) and liquid smoke available at all times.

While I was learning how to stock my own kitchen, I spent some time reading cookbooks so I’d know not only what to get but what to do with it when I got home. I’ve actually read several cover to cover, and I learned a lot. That is something I recommend to you, as well. Each region and each cook have a different set of taste preferences, and this will help you choose what best suits you.

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