So, you want to cook and you have your basic equipment, now you need something to cook!
Even if you follow the European practice of near daily shopping for fresh foods, you still need some basics on hand to craft home-cooked meals. (For the record, while I find daily shopping to be a lovely concept, as someone who does not drive, it’s not something that will work for me.)
The supplies you need to keep on hand will depend in large part on what you like to eat. If you are partial to Italian food, you’ll want to have several kinds of pasta, some cheeses, some canned tomato, and olive oil. If you like stir-frys, you’ll need to have rice, soy sauce, honey, ginger, and toasted sesame oil.
So, the first step in building a pantry (Note: I include the fridge and freezer here.) is to think seriously about what you (and the people you cook for) like to eat. The second step is making a list of the foods you typically buy at the grocery store.
The third step is the most time consuming. You need to make a comprehensive list of everything in your cabinets, fridge, and freezer. Once you have done that, you can start to sort the list. Highlight everything that you buy and use regularly. Circle those items that you don’t use often, but that store well and you use periodically (this might things like some spices, vinegars, jams, mustards. etc.). Finally, cross out anything that you can’t remember why you bought it or decided you didn’t like it once you got it home.
Guess what? You can donate or toss everything you crossed out. The things that you highlighted will be the basis of your pantry. The circled items are things that you can use up and not replace until you need them again.
Let me give you an example. Here are my basics:
With those items in the house, I can whip up any number of meals. With the addition of some fresh veggies and some meat, the possibilities are endless.
Once you’ve made a tentative list, pull everything else out of the cabinets and move it to an accessible place in the fridge or freezer. The goal before the end of the year is to use all those things up and to not replace them unless absolutely necessary. As you plan meals, focus on recipes that use up those items. As you grocery shop, buy as little as possible to keep meals on the table. Until you are down to your essentials, resist the temptation to stock up.
Once you are down to the things you consider essential, grocery shopping is easy. Replace any of the essentials where stock is low and those fresh or special ingredients you need for planned meals.
It’s a lot of work for the next several months to get you to a smooth routine.