Cooking Sucks.

Fast, easy recipes and kitchen tips for those who hate to cook, but feel like they have to anyway.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Stocking Your Pantry

There are many pages all over the net with tips and notes for stocking a pantry. Most of these will be next to worthless for you, because they assume you would rather cook than have your teeth pulled, which is likely not the case. The number one rule for stocking your pantry/ kitchen shelves is this: there is no weakness in shopping for convenience. Remember that our goal is to meet or reduce 15 minutes of prep time with five ingredients per recipe, so that means we will rely a lot on boxed foods, canned goods, and one-skillet/pot meals in general. With that in mind, shopping becomes a lot less daunting, as we will certainly never need the appropriate “staples” required to grind our own wheat kernels into flour, or whatever ridiculous crap our “love to cook” friends will often do. Below, see the bare minimum listing. Below that, see some tips for “extras”.

Baking and Spices

• Salt and Pepper, natch. If you hate to cook, but cook to impress, I suggest a sea salt grinder and pepper mill, simply for the haute cuisine appearance of grinding your seasonings into the pot as you go. In addition, pick up some “targeted” spices, such as poultry spice, steak spice, etc. Then you don’t have to remember what goes on what.
• All-Purpose Flour
• Bisquick
• Crisco


• Mayo, ketchup, and mustard – the basics.
• Other condiments can be picked up ad hoc according to the recipe you are making. Avoid keeping everything you can think of on hand all the time – it wastes space, and if you hate to cook, it will likely go bad before you use it.

Fridge – Eggs, cheese, milk, and butter. Outside of that, shop for the fridge in terms of what you plan to do. If you follow this Blog’s advice, you’ll be creating a personal cookbook, and shopping weekly for it. If you go some other route (i.e., different recipe every day, etc.) then shop accordingly. Don’t fill your fridge – instead, fill an envelope with this month’s grocery money, and do your refrigerated shopping as you go. Rule of thumb: buy it to use it, not to stock up.

Freezer – the freezer’s different. You can shop till you vomit and fill your freezer with the meats from your personal cookbook (ground beef, steaks, chicken breast, bologna and other lunch meats, etc), frozen dough (bread dough, croissants, etc.), convenience foods (i.e., frozen waffles, microwavable taquitos, etc).

The advice above is minimal – however, I wouldn’t spank anyone who chooses to keep the following stuff on hand as well:

Garnish – Remember the old saw about real estate, where location is everything? In cooking, the same can be said about presentation. The simplest of recipes are elevated to grand status with a few tidbits of garnish. Now certainly, I’m not suggesting you learn to carve whales out of watermelons or make a rose from a radish, but even when serving a simple meal for Dad and the kids, a little sprinkle of this or that can go a long way. The easiest way to think about garnish is to consider colors and contrast. A little extra color does the trick, but always make sure your garnish colors contrast the colors of the dish. For example, when serving mashed potatoes (white), a tiny sprinkle of dried dill (green) on top will make it stand out. When serving pancakes (brown) a light dusting of powdered sugar (white) on top will give it that professional appearance. In most cases, your garnish will not alter the flavor of the dish at all, as you are only using a tiny amount for color. I suggest keeping the following on hand:

Parsley Flakes
Dried Dill
Dried Thyme (for poultry)
Paprika (great for picnic-type salads)
Powdered Sugar

Fancification – Similar to the garnishes above, these items are little tidbits you can toss into a dish to make it seem like you’ve got actual skill. Again, think contrast – serving a crispy green salad? Add some sliced almonds and chewy white raisins to make it extra special. Serving wild rice (savory) on the side? Stir in some dried apricot (sweet) and bask in the compliments of your guests.

Dried fruit (raisins, apricots, etc.)
Dried nuts (peanuts, soy nuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, macadamias, etc.)
Granola (btw, I’ve often found granola cereals to be cheaper than mixed bags of granola in the baking aisle)
Seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, etc.)

– Be it Kool-Aid, Crystal Light, Lipton’s team mix, or coffee, keep ‘em on hand for a quick, add-water-and-stir solution that will make your meal a little more exciting.

Sweets – Always, and I say always keep some vanilla ice-cream on hand. Add to that a bottle of chocolate syrup or some fruit preserves, and you have instant dessert whenever you need it (“Honey…. I brought the boss home for supper!!!)

So there it is – a very short list and one big piece of advice: you don’t have to have a walk-in pantry in order to get by in the kitchen. Just keep a few things on hand all the time, and do a weekly grocery trip based on what you will be cooking.


  • At 8:23 PM, Blogger Aj said…

    Great suggestions!
    I recommend not buying too much flour. I don't cook with it too frequently, and found out the hard way that if it sits too long that buggy eggs inside can hatch and infest the pantry! What a pleasure that was.

    I keep what little flour I have in the freezer for this reason.

    Would you mind if I added your blog as a link to mine? I really enjoy it.


  • At 7:59 PM, Blogger Jake said…

    Howdy, AJ. I had that happen once. It was truly bugshit insane with the consequences. Before I knew it, every single box full 'o powder in my kitchen (flour, Bisquick, etc.) had little wormholes in the plastic, and dead or crawling worm bodies in them. I was horrified. My answer? Tupperware. These days I'm a little on the broke side to afford a full compliment of name-brand plastic containers, but if weevils are an issue, storing stuff in airtight containers will lick it. Also, these days, I've moved towards buying the little chibi bags of flour instead of the bigguns. That helps a lot.

    I'd love it if you added me to your blog - in fact, I'd like to add yours, if I knew how... I'd just tuck it into the links section, right?

  • At 9:55 AM, Blogger Aj said…

    Yep - woo hoo! A regular web ring...kinda.

    ...ziplock bags work pretty well too. At least if the little nasties hatch, they can't get too far!


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