Intermediate staples
July 28, 2020 1:54 PM   Subscribe

I'm cooking regularly for the first time in LITERALLY YEARS. I understand the importance of having the very basics on hand. What's the next level after basic? What should I keep in my fridge and pantry to enable me to cook slightly more interesting than basic food?

Examples that come to mind that I'm already doing:
- several kinds of hot sauce
- always have parmesan cheese on hand just in case
- jar of vegemite for umami
- jar of capers when something needs just a little briney salty
- freezer bag with frozen wine cubes
- ...???? That's...kind of all I've figured out on my own, but I notice I hit these things up A LOT.

Surely there are other low-perishable things I can keep on hand like this to elevate my feeding myself game. What do you suggest?

I recently subscribed to an Imperfect box and now I have protein and veg and food waste guilt showing up on my stoop every week and I've been encouraged to step up my game. Also I've eaten enough pasta and steamed/roasted veg for a lifetime :)
posted by phunniemee to Food & Drink (41 answers total) 65 users marked this as a favorite
Not sure what your freezer space is like, but I recently started freezing limes and lemons - works great, and I prefer it to the bottled juices. Wash before you freeze and freeze whole - zest while frozen if you're using zest, then microwave for 30 seconds or so before you juice.
posted by the primroses were over at 2:01 PM on July 28, 2020 [18 favorites]

what kind(s) of cuisines do you love? eg if you love Thai and Indian, answers will be different than if you are primarily interested in Italian-American.
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:13 PM on July 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Heavy cream (don't worry about the use-by date, just smell it to tell if it's still good).
Jars of minced garlic and ginger paste.
Bottles of soy sauce, fish sauce, hoisin sauce (Koon Chun is the brand you want of hoisin).
Bottled barbecue sauce.
Herbs and spices.
Shredded cheddar and mozzarella cheese (or blocks of the cheeses if you are willing to grate them when needed).
posted by DrGail at 2:18 PM on July 28, 2020 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: what kind(s) of cuisines do you love? eg if you love Thai and Indian, answers will be different than if you are primarily interested in Italian-American.

I am primarily interested in things I can cook in less than one hour without making a special trip to the store for a big jar of something I need one spoon of and will never use again. I like all kinds of food, have no allergies, and I'm not scared of anything except putting in additional effort.

Thai fish sauce can be used in a ton of things, for instance, and will stick around for years.
posted by phunniemee at 2:21 PM on July 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

I keep black olives, sun-dried tomatoes (in oil, chopped), and anchovies on hand.
posted by biggreenplant at 2:27 PM on July 28, 2020

Spanish chorizo (keeps forever in the freezer, slice off just a bit for a hit of smoky meaty goodness)
Chili crisp
Tomato paste in a tube
posted by amelioration at 2:28 PM on July 28, 2020 [10 favorites]

Cans of different kinds of beans for adding fast protein to a starch and vegetable bowl - black bean or pinto for Mexican and central American flavors, chickpea for middle eastern and South Asian flavors, big limas or butter beans for European flavors, etc. Does great for turning "I need to use up the zucchini this box gave me" into something meal-sized.

I love vinegars, and they can totally change a dish. Most hot sauces probably act in similar ways but you can better control heat and flavor by separating them. Light rice vinegar for most Asian dishes, black vinegar for Chinese and adjacent, malt vinegar for potatoes and a lot of western European food, champagne and sherry vinegar for the rest of Europe and white people american food, etc. Pick your cuisines and then get the really good vinegars for it.

Also adjacent, just always have lemons and limes lying around. Never forget to zest them. You can add citrus zest to a dish and stick the naked fruit in the fridge to juice for something else later (lime zest on a black bean and sweet potato rice bowl, naked lime wedges squeezed on tacos.)

Fresh ginger will keep in the freezer for a million years. Just stick it unpeeled and whole into a baggy and pop it in the freezer. Scrape the skin off and grate the root, it won't need to thaw. Or you can peel and grate and freeze cubes of ginger if you want to do prep work.

Umami-bombs of choice, these vary depending on cuisine, I have, uh, all of them: Worcestershire sauce, anchovy fish sauce, dried kombu, dried shiitake, Maggi sauce, tomato paste in a tube, anchovy paste in a tube, Bragg's aminos.
posted by Mizu at 2:29 PM on July 28, 2020 [12 favorites]

Canned beans are good to have on hand for when you want to toss together a meal without having to soak dried ones.

If you like Thai, having coconut milk and canned curry is useful. I also keep Tom Yum paste around.

I always have a few fancy flavored vinegars and oils around for dressings and to toss on vegetables I'm roasting.

You can get a big batch of fresh herbs and freeze them into ice cubes.
posted by Candleman at 2:29 PM on July 28, 2020

For a step up from normal East/South/Southeast Asian staples like soy sauce: mirin, xiaoxing wine, black vinegar, gochujang, bonito flakes, whole five spice, sichuan peppercorn, kombu, Thai curry paste, ghee, whole garam masala, whole cumin seed.

Whole dried chiles to make chile paste are miles better than chili powder in recipes like this or this. On that note: always good to have a few small cans of chipotle in adobo on hand.

Unflavored gelatin for beefing up (so to speak) store bought stock, sodium citrate for better-living-through-chemistry cheese sauces (though evaporated milk based sauces are great too), anchovies (I get a dozen tins of the good stuff at a time, use one or two, and the rest go in a tiny mason jar in the fridge).
posted by supercres at 2:29 PM on July 28, 2020 [5 favorites]

First and foremost, get the best quality extra virgin olive oil you can afford. You can and should sauté with it. It makes everything taste better.

Fresh, good quality spices are a game-changer. Dried spices that have been sitting in your cabinet for years haven't gone bad in any dangerous sense, but they're not going to taste as good and you'll need to use a lot more to get any flavor. If you haven't purchased a new jar of dried thyme or oregano in recent memory, it's time.

A big vat of mellow white miso paste always lives in my fridge. It lasts forever and it can be whisked into basically any savory sauce, dressing, or broth. It will exponentially improve the depth and complexity of flavor.

I put a tablespoon or two of nutritional yeast into a lot of dishes. Each tablespoon contains 5 grams of protein, for one thing, and it has a savory, nutty, almost cheesy flavor that's really unique. Sprinkle it on popcorn!
posted by jesourie at 2:30 PM on July 28, 2020 [7 favorites]

Also MSG ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
posted by supercres at 2:30 PM on July 28, 2020 [4 favorites]

I live alone and never managed to use a whole container of fresh 🌶. Turns out you can freeze them fresh and use the one 🌶 at a time you may need in a recipe.
posted by koahiatamadl at 2:31 PM on July 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

A lot of various spice. At first get them somewhere that does them in bulk so if you don't like a thing it's only a few bucks gone not $6-8. General things that help me in the Italian-but-also-Indian cooking space.

- garam masala (you can make yourself if you want)
- berbere spice blend (can DIY or buy)
- turmeric (more people have this as a staple than did five years ago)
- saffron
- lemon and lime juice
- canned coconut milk, condensed milk and sweetened condensed milk
- curry pastes (I like the kind in that article)
- corn starch, white and whole wheat flour, white and brown sugar
- many different kinda of rice (brown, arborio, jasmine, long and short grain)
- nuts! seeds! pine nuts, walnuts, almonds, slivered almonds, pepitas, sunflower hearts
- jar of plain for-cooking peanut butter

Agree with the above: lots of vinegars, bonito flakes, five spice etc. Some food blogs have these great pages like this one which is "What you need for this kind of cooking" (Chinese in this case)
posted by jessamyn at 2:31 PM on July 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

Tahini is pretty versatile for punching up sauces, especially vinaigrettes. (Other nut/seed butters too, but we keep coming back to tahini.) Keep a few different vinegars, especially for when you want to deglaze your cooking pan for some of the delicious crunchy bits. A little bit of liquid smoke can go a long way in a lot of dishes. Nutritional yeast adds a cheesy flavor without the fat (and without the animal products, if you cook for vegan eaters). Once you have a good kimchi started, you are set for life, just use a bit of the excess liquid to make some new whenever you want/are running low, and a ton of veggies taste great lactofermented (also, kimchi can be chopped and added to a lot of stuff with fantastic results).
posted by solotoro at 2:38 PM on July 28, 2020 [3 favorites]

nthing citrus, umami bombs, canned beans, coconut milk.

Pickles and other homemade preserves/ferments/condiments pay back the time you put into making them. A jar of preserved lemons, some quick-pickled red onions or beetroot, homemade sauerkraut or kimchi, variations on pesto / zhoug / chimichurri that preserve the flavour of fresh herbs longer.
posted by holgate at 2:38 PM on July 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

Oh! And tapioca flour, thicken just about any sauce super fast and with almost no added flavor.
posted by solotoro at 2:39 PM on July 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Frozen ginger, and galangal when I can find some to stash (I also order powdered galangal from Penzey's, plus their garam masala and one or two of their curry powders). And YES, as commented above: half a pound of peppers (I like serrano as all-purpose but also keep some jalapeños as well) will last you a while, and they slice easy from frozen.

I can't keep fresh cilantro alive more than 20 minutes, and I can't seem to grow it, so I buy 2-3 bunches a couple times a year and dry it (microwave is easiest but there's not as much room as two big baking sheets in a low oven) and keep it in an old spice jar in the fridge. You can do the same with parsley.

I keep an emergency stash of Shan recipe mixes, which are easier to store than jar sauce but are pouch-sealed so long-term stable.

I keep a few bricks of Japanese curry roux in the stash, if all I've got are odds and ends and that, it's a meal.

Corn starch, light and dark soy sauces (light and dark in the Asian Grocery sense, not the low-sodium sense), oyster sauce, soybean paste, mirin, shaoxing wine, and fish sauce will cover a diverse range of seasoning and sauces. Rice starch for crispy frying coating.

I don't know if these are basic or not, but I always have a lot of canned tomatoes in the pantry, plus canned paste. Also coconut milk, canned salsa in the tiny cans so you're not opening up a big jar every time you need a little for recipes, also little cans of chipotles in adobo (take what you need and freeze the rest in a bag for later), little cans of green chiles, jalapenos, olives.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:44 PM on July 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

So serious eats has a good breakdown of lots of ethnic pantry builds. The best part about these builds is that not only do they tend to last forevurrrrr, there's also an overlap in the items in many instances (lots of dried shiitakes in pan-asian cooking). If you even do a modicum of meal planning, you can stack your perishables to reduce waste. For example, we used to be a "oh shit there's some rotting cilantro in the fridge" family, but we tend to eat more Indian, Mexican and Thai food than we used to and are now a "oh fuck we're out of cilantro" family. This makes grocery shopping a little easier because I know we always need cilantro.

Chinese pantry, Indian pantry, Middle Eastern pantry, Japanese Pantry, Mexican Pantry, Thai Pantry, Korean pantry.

You might not need all the ingredients in all these cuisines to cook the dishes you do, but I keep a core of 4-6 dishes in each cuisine that we dive into so that we don't just let things sit for a million years, and like I said I tend to try and choose recipes where the perishable ingredients overlap a little.

Items that are geared towards specific ethnic cuisines that I have a tendency to use everywhere:
-Ssamjang (on everything from BBQ sauce to straight on eggs)
-a wide array of vinegars (at least apple cider, sherry, rice and black)
-dried spices of every ilk, whole when possible
-bonito flakes (toss this on a grilled cheese sandwich and you have like a stripped down tuna melt that's amazing)
-Noodle collection (rice, ramen, soba, italian, egg...whatever you end up using). Noodle substitution is a crime.
-Frozen broth
-Dried mushrooms get thrown into almost any savory dish I make.

Controversial last choice: MSG powder, because sometimes you make a dish and it sucks a little and MSG can save a dish instantly if it just isn't quite right (it's also really really good on cooked greens).
posted by furnace.heart at 2:44 PM on July 28, 2020 [19 favorites]

I make my own chicken stock - the easiest/cheapest way has been using the Smitten Kitchen method of chicken wings in my instant pot and making a big batch that I freeze in 8 oz containers. Good butter, fresh herbs that I grow on my windowsill, and always having lemon, onions, garlic and shallots around helps too.

I also found that equipment upgrades are so important. Sharp knives, the right pans, a good grater, a meat thermometer, pepper grinder, etc.

Also - finding the right vendors. Meat or fish from a great butcher or fishmonger, bread fresh from a local bakery, seasonal vegetables from the farmers market.
posted by elvissa at 2:49 PM on July 28, 2020

Worcestershire sauce.
Sour cream.
Different kinds of vinegars.
Cheese - I pretty much always have shredded cheddar, shredded pizza blend, shredded taco blend, sliced cheddar, sliced American, and crumbled bleu on hand, in addition to whatever I’m buying for recipes or snacks.

Are things like lemon juice and panko too basic?
posted by kevinbelt at 3:00 PM on July 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

If you don't have the room to keep homemade stock on hand (I know I do not have the freezer space for it), a jar of Better than Bouillon is great to have in your pantry or fridge.
posted by yasaman at 3:03 PM on July 28, 2020 [6 favorites]

Flour. Not just for baking, but for making sauces - flour + butter/oil is a basic roux, roux + milk-or-equivalent is a basic white sauce, and basic white sauce + cheese is cheese sauce. Basic white sauce + spinach is creamed spinach. Saute vegetables in oil first, then add flour and then milk, and you've got something like pot pie filling. And so on. It's a lot of fun to mess with the proportions to see what happens to the volume and thickness, and it's a path to all kinds of interesting stuff.

Also, canned tomato sauce - add salt and seasonings to taste and you get pasta or pizza sauce, and again the fun here is in messing with ingredients to see what works well and what doesn't.
posted by wanderingmind at 3:14 PM on July 28, 2020

I try to always have romesco, chimichurri, and chard stem jam in ice-cube sized portions in my freezer. Each is incredible on flatbread, or potatoes, or mixed into rice. They are also all really malleable: a lot of romesco recipes call for tomatoes, but I leave them out because I am tomato-averse. I've swapped hazelnuts for almonds, swapped crackers for the breadcrumbs. The chimichurri can be made with carrot tops if you've got 'em. The chard stem jam must be tried at least once. It's vegetal & sweet & tangy & sort of carmelized-onion-y but with a better texture. You will stare into the pan certain that it's not going to come together & then it will come together & it will be glorious.
posted by frizzle at 3:14 PM on July 28, 2020 [3 favorites]

A couple of things I haven’t seen mentioned. A jar of roasted red peppers keeps for a long time in the fridge and is a good way of adding a pop of flavour, colour and sweetness to salady things or sandwiches.

I like to have sherry for adding to sauces and stews and things, it adds sweetness and does something of the same job as a glug of wine without you needing to open a bottle. Goes well with mushrooms, as well.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 3:23 PM on July 28, 2020

If you do have room for (and inclination to make) homemade stock, once it's done pour the (strained!) liquid in a clean pot and leave it on low heat for however long it takes for the water in it to evaporate. It'll get darker, but as long as you're keeping it barely at a simmer it won't over-cook. I can easily reduce a FULL Instant Pot's worth of stock (about 2 chicken carcasses' worth) so it fits in a single 4oz plastic food container. I freeze that overnight, then remove it from the container and cut it into 4 cubes - it's pretty much all collagen and no water at that point, so it stays slightly springy and easy to slice when frozen - and put those in a freezer baggy. Reconstituting one cube in a 3-4 qt pot of fresh water makes the perfect-strength broth for soup or stew.
posted by Greg_Ace at 3:37 PM on July 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

You can get tomato paste and pesto in squeeze tubes, which is ideal for all of the recipes that want a small amount of one or the other. You can also make pesto and freeze it in the ice cube tray, which is perfect for single-servings, but I know not everyone is into that.

I'd also say a basic selection of beans - black beans, a couple kinds of lentils, garbanzos.

I would also say fresh garlic rather than garlic in a jar unless you like garlic that tastes like chemicals. With ginger, freeze what you're not using and then grate it when you need it.
posted by bile and syntax at 3:39 PM on July 28, 2020

always a jar of ginger-garlic paste in the fridge, I like Laxmi brand but Shan is ok.

easy pantry jazzitups: olives, sun dried tomatoes in oil, artichoke hearts

zucchini keep for a few days in the fridge and are welcome in everything

coconut milk in the pantry + a jar of curry paste in the fridge + a bottle of Red Boat fish sauce means you can always make a tasty curry or curriyish soup with whatever veg or protein you have in the house; even better if there's a lime to be had

good chocolate chips like ghirardelli 60%
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:40 PM on July 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

I started a spreadsheet when the pandemic started. So I have an extremely well stocked pantry at this point. And I refill as I go....
Veg - Green onion, red pepper, red onion, celery, ginger I got a bunch of, chopped and put into freezer baggies so I can just have a handful whenever I need it and fast. I usually have baby spinach which can sub for any leafy green. carrots, garlic. Canned Tomatoes of various kinds including Tomato Paste.
Starch - Rice, Pasta, Some kind of Potato, canned beans
Chicken/Vegetable Stock, Balsamic Vinegar, White Wine, Dashi
Dairy - Greek Yogurt or Sour Cream, Heavy Cream, canned Coconut Milk, Parmesan, Cheddar, Goat Cheese
Fats - Butter, Olive Oil, Mayo
Condiments - Worchestershire, Soy Sauce, Mirin, Mustard, Pesto, Fish Sauce
Miso, Peanut Butter,
Eggs, Tofu, Whatever protein you like

From here you have pretty much anything you need!
posted by Caravantea at 3:43 PM on July 28, 2020

If Bertolli olive oil is available in stores near you, get it. It's the best supermarket olive oil I've found. (And Cook's Illustrated and my Italian friend agree, so it's not just me!)

Re: squeeze tubes, you can also get minced garlic in squeeze tubes. Not as good as fresh but doesn't matter too much if it's one of many flavoring ingredients in a dish.

Shelled, frozen edamame are inexpensive and great for adding some quick protein to salads or other dishes -- just dump and boil for a few minutes.

"Better than bouillon" condensed stock tastes great and keeps in the fridge for a pretty long time.

Also, maybe it's just me, but I find that an opened bottle of wine in the fridge stays OK for cooking for weeks, even though most cooking sites will tell you 1 week max.
posted by mekily at 3:49 PM on July 28, 2020

Nthing kimchi! I ran out in mid May, and my normal store doesn't carry it (for shame!). It's the one thing I missed the most when I was out. You can use it to add pizzazz to anything. I particularly like it for eggs and for fried rice, but I use it a lot. Super tasty, keeps well.
posted by gemmy at 4:08 PM on July 28, 2020

freezer bacon! every month or two I buy a couple of pounds of bacon, slice the whole pack crossways, so I have little stacked strips of diced bacon, and then freeze it in little single serving parcels of parchment paper in a freezer bag. So if you're making soup or pasta or whatever, you can throw the equivalent of a few strips of diced bacon in to start before the onions and the garlic, without having to get your prep space covered in bacon.
posted by mercredi at 4:21 PM on July 28, 2020 [3 favorites]

I suggest that you start making some staples that we most often buy pre-made. Hummus is a natural place to start, and you can go as basic (canned chickpeas, lemon, salt) or detailed (pressure cook dried chickpeas, lemon, tahini, olive oil, garlic, za'atar or other herbs and spices) as you like. It's a good way to get familiar with customizing flavors and textures, and you don't need any fancy equipment--that's great if you have a Vitamix or an immersion blender, but for years I was making chunky hummus in a glass bowl with a fork. From hummus as a training spot, you're now prepared to make ALL THE DIPS AND SPREADS from ALL THE BEANS.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 4:30 PM on July 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

I've been growing green onions from discarded cutoffs in a plastic deli container on my windowsill - it's nice to be able to snip off a few stalks whenever I want to add just a bit to a dish, instead of buying a big bunch at the store and then fretting about using them up over the next couple weeks.
posted by btfreek at 5:13 PM on July 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Definitely nth is great addition to many things.

Penzey's has some freeze dried shallots that I leverage quite a bit. It is perfect for adding to salad dressing when I only make enough for 2 servings. Dealing with fresh shallots is a hassle for that amount.

Peanuts are a versatile addition to many savory and sweet dishes. Sunflower seeds are likewise versatile for salads and vegetables.
posted by mmascolino at 5:14 PM on July 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

My mom is Chinese and a really good cook, and she is never without a bottle of sesame oil. It was a staple in the kitchen when I was a kid so I picked up the habit too. A little bit adds so much flavour to a dish. I like it as a dressing for greens with some soy sauce and lemon juice.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 5:35 PM on July 28, 2020 [4 favorites]

an array of oils and vinegars
2nding japanese curry roux
good tuna canned in oil
tabil spice blend for roasting veg/meats/putting on any kind of potatoes
unsalted butter
sambal oelek
pine nuts
posted by Miss T.Horn at 10:26 PM on July 28, 2020

Seconding bacon, store the fat rendered after you cook in a jar in the fridge to use for cooking later
Second better than bouillon paste for quick broth, so helpful
Worcestershire sauce
Soy sauce
Some kind of fruit jam or preserves
Unsalted peanut butter
Eggs (I realize these go in the fridge but they're in a lot of dishes, same with milk)
Breadcrumbs, or a food processor to make your own
Milk or cream
Well stocked spice cabinet
Oil and vinegar (one type of each at a minimum)
At least one type of rice, pasta, potatoes
Carrots and onions
posted by Red Desk at 11:35 PM on July 28, 2020

I am a sage addict - beef particularly, but chicken and omelettes too - and thyme, oregano, rosemary and bay leaves are also useful. A jar of dried herbs tastes as good as fresh, lasts practically forever and is not demanding of space.

A step up is getting and keeping a plant, which isn't that difficult for most of the above (bay is actually a tree, so I'd skip that one).

Basil is really nice fresh off the plant (and sad when dried) and grows fairly easily for some people. I murder basil plants so I'm the wrong person to judge that one.
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 1:06 AM on July 29, 2020

As you can see from the answers above, there are 100s of items that the perfectly stocked kitchen might have on hand, and trying to emulate that will certainly lead to a lot of waste and extra cost. Cooking for our 2-person household, I keep my eyes out for reasonable substitutions. For example, we dont keep capers on hand, but we do stock olives which can be an acceptable little salty bit.

You dont need two kinds of cocoa, three kinds of paprika, or 10 bottles of store-bought sauce. Or multiple kinds of grated cheese.

Likewise, dont open a big container of just to use a small amount of product, e.g. if the recipe calls for a small amount of chicken stock, use bullion from powder or cube rather than opening a can.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:00 AM on July 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

Julia moskin's "how to stock a modern pantry" on nyt cooking app hasn't failed me. She breaks it down essential, expanded, expert. I bought everything for essential and expanded and I'm so glad I did.


Oils and vinegars: Extra-virgin olive oil, neutral cooking oil (such as canola or grapeseed), red-wine vinegar, white vinegar or white-wine vinegar.

Cans and jars: Tuna in olive oil, tomato paste, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, chicken stock or vegetable stock (box-packed tastes better than canned). A good-tasting, simple tomato sauce can become a soup or a stew, or make a quick dinner with pasta or polenta.

Spices and dried herbs: Kosher salt, red-pepper flakes, ground cayenne, curry powder, bay leaves, black peppercorns, sweet paprika, ground cinnamon, ground cumin, garlic powder or granulated garlic, dried thyme and dried oregano. This selection will take you through everything from a basic beef stew to Saturday morning pancakes to Thanksgiving dinner.

Grains and starches: Long-grain white rice, one or two other grains (such as quinoa or farro), dry pasta (one long, one short and chunky), plain bread crumbs, crackers, canned beans (white beans, black beans and-or chickpeas), dry lentils.

Nuts and nut butters: Walnuts, almonds, roasted peanuts, peanut butter (smooth and crunchy).

Sweeteners: Honey, maple syrup, granulated sugar.

Preserves and pickles: Fruit jams and preserves, anchovies.

Condiments and sauces: Basic vinaigrette, mustard (yellow or Dijon), mayonnaise, ketchup, hot sauce, salsa, soy sauce.

Produce: Garlic, onions, all-purpose potatoes (such as Yukon Gold), lemons, shelf-stable tofu (Essential for vegetarians, Expanded for others).

Dairy: Eggs, unsalted butter, cheeses (Cheddar, Jack or Colby, Parmesan), milk or cream for cooking (not skim).

Freezer: Chicken parts, sausages, thick fish fillets, shrimp, thick-sliced bread (for toast), spinach (and other vegetables such as corn and peas), berries (and other fruit such as peaches and mango). Some fruits and vegetables take particularly well to freezing — and in most growing seasons, the quality is better than fresh. Frozen fruit is useful for baking and smoothies.

Baking: All-purpose flour, cornmeal, rolled oats, cornstarch, baking soda, baking powder, pure vanilla extract, light brown sugar, dark brown sugar, confectioners’ sugar, bittersweet baking chocolate, semisweet chocolate chips, raisins or another dried fruit, cocoa powder. With these ingredients on hand, thousands of cookies, brownies, cakes, muffins, quick breads and other sweets can be produced without a trip to the store.


Oils and vinegars: Peanut oil, coconut oil, sesame oil, sherry or balsamic vinegar, apple-cider vinegar.

Cans and jars: Sardines, unsweetened coconut milk, whole Italian plum tomatoes, beef stock (box-packed tastes better than canned). Whole plum tomatoes are rarely called for in recipes, but they tend to be the ripest and best-quality fruit. They can be diced or crushed to use in a recipe — or drained and slow-roasted for an intense topping on omelets, salads, grain bowls or pizza.

Spices: Flaky salt, single-chile powders (such as ancho and pasilla), ground coriander, turmeric, smoked paprika, cardamom, za’atar, allspice, fennel seeds, dry mustard, garam masala (a basic Indian mix of warm spices), five-spice powder (a basic Chinese mix of spices), whole nutmegs.

Grains and starches: Rice noodles, basmati or jasmine rice, brown rice, panko bread crumbs, dry beans.

Nuts and nut butters: Almond butter, tahini, pecans.

Preserves and pickles: Olives (oil-cured and-or in brine), capers in brine. These ingredients, served with good bread and butter, make an elegant appetizer with wine, or everyday snack.

Condiments and sauces: Worcestershire sauce, hoisin, Thai red curry paste, fish sauce, anchovy paste, harissa.

Produce: Russet potatoes, carrots, celery, limes, ginger, avocados, parsley, cilantro, scallions, jalapeños. Keeping chiles, aromatics and herbs on hand gives you instant access to intensely fresh flavors, even for — maybe especially for — the simplest dishes you cook.

Dairy: Plain full-fat yogurt, more intense cheeses (pecorino, feta), salted butter.

Freezer: Pancetta, artichoke hearts, homemade stock, homemade bread crumbs, fresh pasta, vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli, cut and peeled winter squash, chopped onions), cooked grains. Prepared ingredients like chopped onions and cooked grains speed your route to dinner.

Baking: Cake flour, whole-wheat flour, dark baking chocolate, vanilla beans, almond extract, powdered gelatin, molasses, light corn syrup, buttermilk powder, active dry yeast.
posted by pintapicasso at 8:28 AM on July 29, 2020 [5 favorites]

I assume that you're only cooking for yourself, so buy only what you like. No point stocking up on miso or coconut milk if you don't like it or don't know what to do with it.

Given that it's summer, and you have a veg box glut, I'd suggest salad dressing ingredients. With a bit of practice, you can make a tasty salad out of almost any vegetable combination if you get the dressing right. Vinegar(s), mustard(s) and extra virgin olive oil are a good place to start. Limes and lemons can be frozen whole for near instant juice. Also feta (can be frozen), pickled veg, nuts, seeds and dried fruit. Whatever you personally like in salads.

Stir fries are also a great way to use up miscellaneous summer veg. I mostly use garlic, ginger and chili out of a jar, plus oyster sauce and/or soy sauce and/or rice wine vinegar and/or sesame oil. I'm still working on my stirfry game, but it is very flexible wrt ingredients. I like soba noodles and egg/tofu, or I pan fry/steam some frozen dumplings to throw on top. If you like rice, make a big batch and freeze in single servings.

I freeze anything perishable that I can. Preferably in single serving sizes if they aren't easily divisible when frozen. Things go off too quickly in a fridge for me to remember to eat them in time. I only keep condiments, cheese, yoghurt, eggs and sourdough starter in the fridge long term (apart from veg, obviously). I freeze half the litre of milk when I open it in an attempt to always have it available. I freeze yoghurt when it starts to look fuzzy around the edges. I freeze veg if it's starting to go limp - except lettuce because blech.
posted by kjs4 at 9:43 PM on July 29, 2020

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