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June 1, 2009 1:11 PM   Subscribe

What to buy on the Ultimate Grocery Trip?

The end of my husband's deployment is fast approaching, hooray! As part of my prepping for his return, I want to fill the fridge/pantry with some of the staples that he would want to cook with that I haven't had on hand while he was away.

Our cooking styles are very different. I'm a very basic comfort foods/meat-and-potatoes cook, and he opts for much more complicated fare requiring longer lists of ingredients and whatnots. While I like to cook, he LOVES to cook and is truly looking forward to being able to cook for himself again. AND SO, if he's so inclined, I want him to be able to come home and make almost anything his little heart desires for the first week or so without having to run out to the grocery store every time we need an ingredient.

So AskMe, what are your favorite ingredients? What foodstuffs do you always have on hand for a variety of different meals? Anything you can recommend is greatly appreciated.

Thank you, friends!
posted by rinosaur to Food & Drink (20 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Have you considered that he may enjoy going to the store with you when he returns from deployment? My buddies enjoyed very simple things when they got back from overseas.
posted by Loto at 1:15 PM on June 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

The Mexican Pantry:

dried chiles (bonus points for making fresh chile powder by whizzing them in a food processer or coffee grinder)
chipotles canned in adobo
long grain white rice
dried pintos
masa harina mix
piloncillo / panela

The Chinese Pantry
posted by Juliet Banana at 1:18 PM on June 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think about such things every time I go visit my mom--my wife and I are cooks, Mom is not, so I notice the lack. One big, broad category is spices-Mom has a few basics, cinnamon, garlic powder, generic "Italian Seasonings," but nothing fun like curry powder or Chinese five-spice or even chili powder, or what we consider staples like cumin and coriander and peppercorns. Also, fresh vegetables--peppers, onions, garlic, eggplant, brocolli. Maybe some spinach and scallions and snowpeas, too. That's the start of a list, at least.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:21 PM on June 1, 2009

My guess is that one thing he's really missed is fresh food, so I would try to go to a farmer's market or maybe the local healthy/expensive grocery store to get really fresh produce and proteins.
posted by shesbookish at 1:23 PM on June 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

Really good oils.
posted by decathecting at 1:27 PM on June 1, 2009

Well, most good cookbooks recommend a few can't-live-without pantry items, but unless we know a few specific dishes that are your husband's favorites, we'll be stabbing in the dark a bit.

Here are some of the things I consider essential (so does Mark Bittman in his books)

1. Extra virgin olive oil. Get him a bottle of something very high quality. Butter is my second cooking fat, and I use way less of it, but it's also good to have, especially if he bakes.
2. Salt; kosher, sea salt, whatever he likes best.
3. Stock, unless he makes his own.
4. All purpose flour
5. Lemons/a nice flavored vinegar for dressings, dipping, etc.
6. Parmesan cheese for flavoring; again, get the good stuff.
7. Second kind of cheese for eating
8. Pepper and whatever other spices he can't live without (oregano? cinnamon?)
9. Garlic. I get cloves and dice them myself and store them in oil in the fridge, which saves mess and time.
10. Potatoes, carrots, onions, and any other essential, longer-lasting veggies he uses weekly
11. Dried or canned beans (garbanzo and canellini are my faves)
12. Rice if he uses it alot
13. Pasta
posted by slow graffiti at 1:28 PM on June 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

I agree with Loto that he may enjoy going to the store to get primary ingredients, but he may also appreciate a full stock of some staples:

- Spices, freshly bought in bulk and put into labeled jars
- Rice/grains. Several varieties- long grain white, brown, wild rice, couscous, etc. Again, nice if bought in bulk and put in jars.
- Chicken stock. Extra super awesome if you make your own and freeze it for him.
- Olives
- Marinated artichokes
- Oils (Canola and EVOO at a minimum)
- Hunk of parmesan
- Butter
- Salt, both table (fine) and kosher (larger crystals)

He may also appreciate a nice new pan and/or some knives/utensils.
posted by mkultra at 1:28 PM on June 1, 2009

I second pretty much everything mkultra and slow grafitti's lists. A few additional ingredients I like to keep on-hand:
- toasted pine nuts
- dijon mustard
- tarragon (I am sort of a tarragon evangelist)
- fire-roasted tomatoes and red peppers
- lentils
posted by scody at 1:46 PM on June 1, 2009

oh, and shallots, too! God, nothing like the scent of browning some shallots in oil...
posted by scody at 1:47 PM on June 1, 2009

What a thoughtful idea.

I agree that fresh food is going to be a joy. In addition to stocking the pantry, maybe you could plan a farmer's market outing soon after he returns.

My additions to the list and some things to be sure to have on hand:
-out-of-the-ordinary pastas - unusual shapes/colors (go to a specialty shop)
-curry powders and pastes
-coconut milk
-preserved lemons
-chopped walnuts
-sliced almonds
-baking chocolate
-cocoa powder, and while I'm at it, any other baking staples you need: flour, sugar, brown sugar, baking soda, baking powder, cornmeal
-eggs and butter
-sundried tomatoes
-sesame seeds
-canned crushed tomatoes and diced tomatoes
posted by Miko at 1:56 PM on June 1, 2009

good quality olive oil
balsamic vinegar
fresh herbs
pine nuts
a hunk of real Parmesan cheese
sea salt
whole peppercorns (and a grinder)
fresh garlic

and get your knives sharpened!
posted by otherwordlyglow at 2:10 PM on June 1, 2009

A really nice piece of fish -- salmon, or something that looks especially good in your market -- and a nice piece of high-quality meat.

Here's another idea: Think back to some of the really spectacular meals he's cooked, or fun cooking times you remember. What were those meals? Find those recipes and get the ingredients for them.
posted by Houstonian at 2:25 PM on June 1, 2009

nthing all the comments about spices. And be sure to get them from a good spice merchant (I use Penzey's, for example) instead of the local grocery store. Since it's summertime in the northern hemisphere, how about some herb plants like basil, cilantro, and so on?

Top quality in everything -- no canned Parmesan cheese or imitation vanilla, for example.

In fact, if he likes ethnic cooking, a trip to various ethnic groceries might be in order. Asian, Italian, and Indian groceries are particularly easy to find.
posted by DrGail at 2:26 PM on June 1, 2009

Fresh ginger
posted by goethean at 2:30 PM on June 1, 2009

Truffle oil and/or truffle salt.
posted by magicbus at 2:41 PM on June 1, 2009

Garam masala
Vanilla beans
Cinnamon sticks
Maybe a selection of meats: a whole chicken or two, some pork loins, steaks, lamb, ribs...
Sesame oil
Chili oil
Assortment of nuts (cashews, peanuts, almonds) & raisins
posted by knile at 2:56 PM on June 1, 2009

Thanks everyone! These are all truly best answers -- precisely what I was hoping to find!
posted by rinosaur at 6:00 PM on June 1, 2009

Even men who don't like to cook love condiments. So, condiments. Here are a list of tasty condiments (some are closer to seasonings in liquid form, but still have a lot of general appeal):
fish sauce
hot sauces of choice
cocktail sauce
chili sauce
chipotles in adobe sauce
a variety of vinegars (cider, balsamic, red wine, and rice are all good and inexpensive options)
in addition to normal vinegars, seasoned rice vinegar is great (has added salt and sugar and tastes fantastic on its own as a salad dressing).
hoisin sauce (tasty snack-- t[of]urkey breast, shredded carrots and green onions rolled up in a tortilla spread with hoisin)
oyster sauce (or its vegetarian alternative)
Um, "crack" sauce. That's what I call it. I have no idea what its real name is. Basically, go to an Asian supermarket, and look for a chili sauce with a photo of a chinese guy on it. The ingredients are prickly ash??, sugar, salt, chilies and "gourmet powder" (msg). The stuff is crazy delicious and once you taste it, you just want more. Hence, "crack" sauce.

Also, it is strawberry season right now. Unless your husband was deployed where they're grown, he probably hasn't eaten good strawberries for a while. I just had some straight-off-the-farm (well, sort of -- one of those roadside "farmer stands" that are more like a general store) strawberries today that knocked my tastebuds off. So, strawberries.
posted by Deathalicious at 8:26 PM on June 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'd disagree with the suggestion for Canola oil. The thing is, Canola really does not handle high heat well. So if you do extra virgin olive oil and Canola only, you basically just have oils that serve in low heat situations (and actually extravirgin olive oil is not really supposed to be heated [although I use it routinely]). Light olive oil actually handles heat fairly well (at least as well as Canola in my experience). Another good choice is peanut oil (which I suppose has some barely noticeable peanut aroma, but other than that is simply an excellent high-heat oil).

Of course, I am very biased against canola, despite its supposed health benefits, because whenever it gets hot enough to ripple in the pan (which can happen very easily), it makes a smell that I just cannot stomach. I've never had an issue with the smells coming from other high-heated oils.
posted by Deathalicious at 8:31 PM on June 1, 2009

Not nearly as fun to shop for as exotic oils, but I didn't see these mentioned:

baking powder
baking soda
powdered sugar
light brown sugar
frozen chopped spinach
local honey if you can find it
bell peppers
lettuce for salads (spring mix, raddichio, romaine, whatever floats your boat)
posted by Atom12 at 6:03 AM on June 2, 2009

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