Something I found intimidating about cooking was stocking my cabinets. After cooking very infrequently at my parents’ house in a kitchen that constantly had everything I needed, starting with a culinary blank slate was a little overwhelming. I didn’t really know what ingredients and spices were super common for cooking and baking, and didn’t want to stock up on a bunch of weird ingredients by making some obscure and difficult recipe to start out (but I did that anyway, because being sensible is overrated. Almost a year later, I still have a small bottle of fish sauce in my cabinet).
Here are the ingredients I’ve found absolutely invaluable. They’re good to use in recipes, good for fixing something that you fucked up in a recipe, can work as acceptable stand-ins when you forget to buy an ingredient at the store, aaaand some of them are good for household cleaning purposes (baking soda, I’m looking at you). This list will probably keep on growing.
- Sugar- real sugar, not just the packets you steal from the diner.
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Vegetable oil
- Unseasoned bread crumbs
- Better Than Bouillon/bouillon cubes- chicken is the most versatile. Get these instead of stock because unless you use the whole box of it, you’re going to forget when you opened it and super doubt yourself next time you go to use it.
- SPICES: salt, pepper, oregano, basil, garlic powder, onion powder.
- Cheese- I always have cheddar on hand. Literally almost anything is better with cheese on top, and if anyone doubts you, they’re a Communist and a liar.
Less crucial, but I use them a lot:
- Baking soda
- White vinegar
- Boneless, skinless chicken breasts- you can use them for tons of dishes. My roommates and I refer to this Wegman’s thing as the “chicken sheet” and we always have one in our freezer because they’re already evenly cut and weighed- one less step in your prep work.
- Soy sauce
- Fresh ginger- essential if you’re big on stir fry. Put it in a freezer bag and freeze it, it’ll stay good for quite some time.
- Frozen vegetables- especially broccoli.
- Rice of some description- white or plain brown rices are the most versatile
- Boxed cake mix
For reference: this was my first blank-slate kitchen, in a 120-year-old house in Ocean Grove, NJ. There could be a maximum of two people in there at a time before you’d be violating some kind of fire code, I imagine. We couldn’t open the oven all the way AND stand in front of it, because the door made it just to the cabinet. My two roommates and I never made a meal together, because we couldn’t fit. Our current kitchen is a lot bigger and now we just don’t make meals together because we all have different cooking styles and would probably just get annoyed.