The home cook needs to have a well-stocked pantry and fridge. Generally speaking, we all buy groceries with a few recipes or dishes in mind. When doing so, we purchase the main components of the recipe, such as the protein, produce, and any grains, etc. The smaller things like cooking oil, baking powder, or dried thyme is often forgotten about.
Ensuring that your fridge and pantry are well stocked will help to reduce or eliminate meal-time stress. As a rule, fresh ingredients are always better, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with relying on packaged, canned, or dried ingredients to pull a meal together. I never realized how true this was until we moved to a countryside town! Now, I take full advantage of sales and stock up whenever I can. Here are some of the items that I always keep on hand!
Unless otherwise stated, I used a non-expensive, all-purpose flour. My go-to brand is Robin Hood, but oftentimes, I purchase Five Roses as well. They’re both readily available everywhere and the work well every time.
Sticks of butter are usually more expensive, but I do buy them occasionally if they’re on sale. Mostly, I use the popular two-pound block of butter found here in Canada. I use salted butter in all my recipes unless I state otherwise. If you use unsalted butter, be sure to add a dash or two of salt in baking recipes.
Whenever a recipe of mine calls for sugar, it’s regular white granulated sugar. If any other type of sugar is being used, I will specify. When using brown sugar, I always use dark brown sugar rather than the lighter, golden brown sugar. The dark is richer and more flavourful. Coarse sugar, sometimes referred to as sanding sugar, is used sometimes for decorative purposes. Coloured sanding sugars can be found at any bulk or baking supply store. Turbinado sugar can be found at any grocery store. Powdered sugar or icing sugar, is most always called confectioner’s sugar in my recipes.
I always use large eggs in all my recipes. Try to use room temperature eggs. To do this, place the eggs in a bowl on your kitchen counter for 20 -25 minutes before using. If you’re in a hurry, fill a bowl with hot tap water and set the eggs in for 2-3 minutes to bring to room temperature. This is vitally important when beating eggs into softened butter!
You can spend a fortune on vanilla extract, but I do not. I use the Watkins brand whenever possible. When baking cookies or cakes that are white, or when making a vanilla frosting, use white vanilla. The regular brown/amber vanilla extract will strip away that bright white colour. Homemade vanilla extract is a good idea too. Push 5 or 6 good vanilla beans into a glass, swing-top bottle. Fill with vodka and soak for 4-6 months. Give the bottle a good shake every 2 to 3 days.
Whenever my recipes call for milk, I use regular 3.25% homogenized milk.
Whipping cream or just cream is always 35% cream. It can be a little expensive, but it makes a recipe something extra special.
Baking Powder & Baking Soda
Nothing fancy here! I use regular store brands and get great results every time. Be sure they are not expired. To test baking soda, sprinkle ½ teaspoon into a glass with equal parts water and vinegar. If it bubbles, it’s still good. For baking powder, do the same with just hot water and look for fizzing/bubbling.
When using chocolate in baking, I tend to use chocolate chips more than another other type of chocolate. My favourite is milk chocolate, but semi-sweet, or dark chocolate are certainly great substitutes. Store your chocolate chips in large mason jars to keep the chocolate fresh. Ghirardelli is my favourite brand, but it’s hard to find where I live. I mostly use Hershey or Nestle.
In my opinion, the best cocoa powder one can possibly use is Fry’s. It’s very inexpensive and you can find it just about anywhere. It has the best chocolatey flavour whiteout a big price tag.
My pantry has canola oil, which is what I most commonly use for deep frying. My condiment caddy near my cooktop, has extra light olive oil, which I use almost daily. There’s also a can of cooking spray and a bottle of sesame oil. I never cook with sesame oil, but I do use it in marinades and when finishing a dish.
Watkins carries a large variety of extracts and I can’t help but buy them all! When baking, you can easily change up the flavour of a cake or cookie by using a different extract. Commonly, vanilla is used, but try using orange, lemon, peppermint, coconut, anise, or coffee. Those are my personal favourites.
If you bake as much as I do, you might have a good collection of food colouring. I stock both liquid and gel colourings. Liquids are great for frostings or for colouring boiled eggs, but 99% of the time, I use gel food colouring. Wilton is my trusted brand, and they have every colour you could ever want when baking.
My fridge is never void of sour cream – never! I use sour cream in baking quite often and love it in my Sour Cream Scones! When baking, I use 5% sour cream. When preparing nachos or stirring sour cream into soups or dips, I use full fat 14% sour cream. Full fat tastes much better, of course, but the lighter sour cream will yield better results in cakes and cookies.
In most recipes, I don’t find any difference when using light or regular fat mayonnaise. In my experience, they both work well. The only thing you should remember when purchasing mayonnaise is that you should buy the brand that tastes the best to you. We only buy Hellmann’s.
Nuts & Seeds
When buying nuts, I like to buy only the amount I need. Stored nuts will lose their flavour, especially if the package has been previously opened. To bring out the best flavour, always toast your nuts and seeds until they are slightly browned and fragrant.
Unless otherwise specified, all my recipes with oats use regular quick cook oats. I buy a large bag from Costco and keep it stored in an exceptionally large mason jar. It stays fresh for months.
My everyday salt is sea salt. I use it in and on everything. Iodized salt is not ever permitted in my kitchen. It adds a metallic taste to everything, and I would never use it in any recipe. In addition to sea salt, I keep a small jar of fleur de sel in my pantry. It’s a finishing salt and is great for sprinkling over finished dishes. It’s particularly good sprinkles over chocolate balls and truffles.
Spices & Herbs
I have a weakness for spices and spice racks. Here’s the general rule – only buy small amounts. Dried spices and herbs will lose their flavour in a few months. To prolong their life, keep them away from windows with direct sunlight.
I have made some great meals with the help of canned beans and I feel panicked when my stock gets low. Keep canned chickpeas, navy beans, black beans, and kidney beans on hand. They make it quick and easy to make chilies, soups, and casseroles.
Until I discovered that I could cook dried beans in an instant pot in about 30 minutes, they were not often found in my pantry. Now, I keep a few bags close by all the time.
Corn, peas, beans, etc. All of these are so inexpensive and can be stored in your freezer for long periods of time. Many of my recipes will use frozen produce. Look at the bag and read the ingredients. If your bag of frozen corn has more ingredients listed than just corn, find one that doesn’t. There’s no need to have preservatives in there at all.