Every cook's cupboard needs basic ingredients. Here is what you should stock up on. Buy bulk and organic when you can -- buying bulk saves money because you can get the precise amount you need.
You could have iodized salt, sea salt and kosher salt on hand. Each one tastes a little different.
Don't use pre-ground pepper. It's like using sawdust. Get yourself a good pepper mill and stock up on high-quality peppercorns. For a splurge, I recommend Tellicherry peppercorns.
3. Olive Oil
With 120 calories a tablespoon, you really don't want something without taste. Get oil that has flavor. I recommend extra virgin olive oil because it has the lowest amount of acid, and it has the nutrients intact. Because they are expensive (you could blow your whole paycheck on them), look for the moderately-priced ones at stores in your area. Buy the smallest available bottles and taste the oils. You can do this with your friends. Good olive oil should taste good. You should like to have it in your mouth. It shouldn't be too bitter, acidic or too offensive, but it shouldn't be flavorless. Store olive oil in an area that is dark and away from heat. Use it up quickly. Olive oil has about a one-year shelf life. Remember: It's pressed in the winter.
Always keep red wine vinegar and cider vinegar on hand in your cupboard. After that you can have fun: sweet and sour, woodsy balsamic has many uses; Japanese rice vinegar has a soft taste; Chinese black vinegar is a lot like balsamic; try aged sherry from Spain, Japanese salted plum vinegar or malt vinegar from England.
Here are three basic shapes to keep in your kitchen: Something thin (spaghetine, spaghetti or linguine), penne (small, hollow pasta with ribs), and a curly cue (fusilli). Usually pastas imported from Italy have a higher quality. Rice noodles from Asia are light, delicious and they go into salads. Japanese soba buckwheat noodles or whole wheat pasta are good to have on hand.
Don't cook with something you wouldn't drink. It doesn't have to be expensive, but it should be drinkable. Maybe an inexpensive California jug wine. I keep some red and some white on hand.
7. Dry herbs
I like fresh herbs (remember: they can be frozen), but if they are not available to you, keep dry ones on hand. My favorites: basil, oregano, tarragon, rosemary, sage, marjoram, bay leaves and thyme. Always buy whole leaf herbs, nothing powdered. Cinnamon, cumin, coriander, nutmeg and allspice I buy whole and grind in a pepper mill.
8. Other items:
- Sugar (brown and white)
- Tuna fish
- Favorite flavorings (sauces/barbecue/salsa/soy/nuoc mam)
- Canned tomatoes
- Tomato paste (in a tube)
- Variety of mustards
- Canned corn
- Canned beans, chickpeas, etc.
- Dried beans
- Favorite preserves
- Canned broth
9. And in your freezer:
- Fresh herbs
- Chicken breast
- Frozen tomatoes