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Culinarily Curious: Free Yourself from Takeout with Must-Have Ingredients

Posted by Alex Pearlman  October 31, 2011 06:02 PM

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wellstockedfridge.jpgBy Anthony Howard

A well-stocked kitchen should be the pride of every home cook. Filling the pantry and fridge can be a costly chore for many 20-somethings, but the initial investment is well worth it -- that $10 pizza from your go-to joint would be much cheaper if you just had the ingredients to make it yourself!

The easiest way to start building your kitchen is to focus first on the basic essentials, then add more items as your recipes require. Here's a shopping list to get you started.

PANTRY

FLOUR. It's best to have an all-purpose and a whole wheat flour at your disposal.

SUGAR. Granulated sugar, confectioners' sugar, and brown sugar will do the trick.

CHOCOLATE. Keep cocoa powder and a healthy slab of dark chocolate (with a little extra for snacking!) at your fingertips for cakes and brownies when your sweet tooth bites.

BAKING SODA and BAKING POWDER. Two ingredients necessary for many baked goods; a small amount goes a long way. An added bonus: The former doubles as a cleaning agent.

VANILLA EXTRACT. Essential if you plan on baking sweet dishes.

HONEY. Great in tea, wonderful on toast -- it’s a delicious natural sweetener. Locally grown honey can also help you during allergy season by increasing your tolerance to pollen.

ACTIVE DRY YEAST. Have this on hand if you plan on making doughs.

RICE. It’s great to have two different kinds of rice on hand, just to mix things up. I like brown rice and jasmine rice, but you should buy what you like to eat.

BREAD CRUMBS. Get either Italian-style or Japanese panko -- or both!

COFFEE. Even if it’s not part of your morning routine, coffee can be used in a lot of sweet and savory dishes. Add a cup of it in your chili next time; it does wonders!

SALT and PEPPER. You can purchase more spices as you need them, but salt and pepper should be part of your initial pantry stock.

POTATOES. Keep these in a cool dry place (like a basement) to prolong their shelf life.

ACIDS. Acid is a very important building block of flavor that many novice cooks forget. A little bit of acid can revive a dish gone wrong. Start out with the basics -- white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, lemons, and limes.

GARLIC. Garlic is a wonder: It goes into almost every savory dish I make and adds great flavor to otherwise bland vegetables. Always have a head of garlic in your pantry.

BEANS. They're good for your heart, yadda yadda yadda. Canned or dry beans will do the trick. If you opt for dried, the cost-per-pound is less, but they require soaking and take a very long time to cook.

CANNED WHOLE TOMATOES. When tomatoes are no longer in season, I swear by the canned variety. They have a much better flavor than the tomatoes from the produce section.

OILS. Get an extra virgin olive oil for dressing salads, a regular olive oil for sauteing, and a vegetable oil for general baking/frying.

REFRIGERATOR

BUTTER. It goes in almost everything. It gives sauces a wonderful velvety texture, adds great flavor to many dishes, and is essential for baking. Keep the unsalted version in your fridge.

EGGS. Eggs are a great, versatile ingredient. Have at least a dozen (or a substitute) at the ready.

MILK. Always have milk on hand. Some say it’s better to have dried milk in your pantry, but dry, powdered milk grosses me out a bit. I’d rather go for the regular stuff.

CHEESE. Need I say more?

CARROTS/ONIONS/CELERY. Known by the French as the mirepoix, these vegetables provide the basis for flavor in soups, stews, and stocks. They are also referred to as aromatics.

With these ingredients on hand, you have the essentials for many, many recipes. When you get home from a long day of work or class, it's comforting to know that you'll always have something to eat. Experiment, and try making something new and challenging. But as any home cook will tell you, recipes don’t always turn out as well as planned, so keep a frozen pizza in the freezer, just in case.

Happy cooking!

Photo by ekornblut (Flickr)

'Culinarily Curious' is TNGG Boston's column on all things food, written by Anthony Howard.

About Anthony -- I'm a 22-year-old Massachusetts native -- grew up in the 'burbs and now spend my young adult life in the city. I am passionate about cooking and currently assistant manage a restaurant kitchen in Kendall Square. Let's just say that when I invite friends over for dinner parties, no one ever turns me down.

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This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.
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