Ever just stood in your kitchen wondering what to cook? Staring into a stocked fridge and not seeing a recipe flash before your eyes? Opening and closing cabinets and not finding a solid jumping off point?
Stocking your pantry with some basics will help reduce this paralysis. (Last summer I talked about how I combined Farmer's Market picks with pantry items to restart our tradition of cooking together in the kitchen.) To get you started, here are some tips from James A. Beard as well as my basic pantry inventory.
When it comes to food the only way to save money is to plan ahead. Planning doesn't have to mean boring. In How To Eat Better For Less Money, James A. Beard states "[m]y underlying purpose in this book is to help you develop imagination and interest in your cooking without straining your budget. There is a flavorful, rewarding approach to inexpensive eating, but you have to work at it. ... [This book] presents an approach to food and cooking that will give your meals individuality and zest at modest cost ... ."
My favorite section of the book is "The Instant Meal: A Guide to Impromptu Cooking." In addition to a few shortcut recipes, it outlines the basics for meats, fish, vegetables, gravies, soups, miscellaneous, and more. While some of the suggestions might not be to your taste and international flavors are absent, it's a good starting point.
I created an Excel spreadsheet with the complete original list along with my expansions. For example, I need to have Thai sauces on hand. I also need to have a variety of rices and pastas available. Another challenge for me is that all prepared soups and mixes need be refined-sugar and dairy-free. When I find a brand that will work, for example Imagine Soups, often they'll no longer be available when I return to a grocery store (Safeway and Trader Joe's have replaced them with their own branded versions which include ingredients that I can't eat), so planning ahead is crucial.
When I was in undergraduate, I was able to entertain and to eat a variety of flavorful food through careful meal planning and judicious use of canned goods. Besides pasta dishes, my freezer was always stocked with hearty soups, including a version of the Three Bean Soup I now eat frequently for lunch.
What's in your pantry?
Bedside Reading is a monthly series, published the first week of each month (Monday for family-related picks, Tuesday for fashion, Wednesday for home, Thursday for food, and Friday for design), featuring books, magazines, or blogs that I enjoy.