What do you need in your pantry to cook from scratch?

by Tiggered

A quick guide to stocking up when you want to start cooking from scratch

Cooking from scratch is one of the obvious things to do if you care for your family's and/or your own health. It's the easiest way to eliminate artificial additives from your diet. It gives you almost total control of how much salt or sugar ends up on your plate. If you cook from scratch, your food is fresher, healthier and far, far tastier than any convenience meal diet.

Admittedly, switching from ready-made to homemade can be a bit overwhelming if you haven't been brought up to see such a lifestyle choice as obvious. If you're determined to make the switch anyway, here's a list of basic ingredients you'll need to be able to cook versatile, wholesome meals from scratch.

All the foodstuffs mentioned here have a permanent place in my pantry.

Photo by Tiggered

Non-perishable dry goods deserving a permanent place in your pantry

pantry basics - pastaFlour - good, old plain flour can be always, ALWAYS found in my kitchen. It is the basic ingredient in pancakes, crepes, dumplings of all shapes and sizes, pizzas, bread, cakes, cookies, pastries sweet or savoury, batters, thick sauces... I could probably write a whole new article about uses of flour in cooking. I usually have some fancier kinds of flour handy as well - wholemeat, gluten-free, potato or corn starch - they help in making your homemade meals even more interesting. But only plain flour is a must.

Some sort of dinner grain - rice, buckwheat groats, cous cous or barley kasha, all of them are useful when you're tired of good old potato mash.

Sugar - for desserts, jams and morning coffee.

Dried beans or dried peas - they can be stored pretty much forever and I know at least twenty dishes (each!) that can be cooked with beans or peas as base. Other options include lentils and chickpeas.

Pasta - a constant presence in my pantry, useful when I don't really feel like cooking or need a warm meal fast.

Photo source

Do you cook from scratch?

Veggies I couldn't live without

pantry basics - vegetablesThere are only two kinds of vegetable that are always, always present in my kitchen:

Potatoes - for mash, chips, roasting, baking, frying, dumplings (like gnocchi - learn more here), salads etc. etc. Possibilities are endless.

Onions - somehow, at least some onion is included in pretty much everything I cook.

That's basics covered, but to get your five-a-day you need some more. I serve a salad with each dinner with almost religious dedication, but the type of veg used changes accordingly to my fancy (and seasonal availability). Apart from a few types of fresh stuff, a bag of green peas in the freezer is a good idea. A can of sweetcorn in the pantry. Pickled gherkins are extremely useful when you don't have the time to run to the greengrocer's. Oh, and cabbage, so many things you can cook from cabbage!

I often go for whatever is cheapest in a season and build my dinner around it.

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Dairy and fats to make your pantry complete

pantry basics - dairyMilk - even if you're not making crepes, muffins, creamy mash or bechamel sauce (mandatory for pastitsio or lasagne), it's still useful to have, even if to have something to put into your coffee or tea.

Butter - I don't do butter spreads (a personal preference of mine - but I'm 100% dedicated), so I only use real butter for sandwiches. A definite staple in my household.

Margarine - much cheaper than butter, acceptable as substitute in most recipes (especially in baking). I usually have both.

Vegetable oil - sunflower is a good all-round cooking oil, but feel free to go for olive oil or something fancier if you wish. Anything that stays liquid in room tempetature.

Cheese - I'm a cheese maniac so I usually have more than one type in my fridge (currently: edam, cheddar, mozarella, ricotta and, until yesterday, mascarpone. Oh, and some fruit-flavoured fromage cheese, too. I'm bad, aren't I?). There are so many things you can do with cheese...

Eggs - if you have nothing but eggs in your fridge, you still can cook a meal. That settles it as far as I'm concerned.

Yoghurt and or cream - I don't use too much of either, but I always have some.  Too many recipes call for a spoonful of either.

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Sweet stuff - cooking desserts from scratch

pantry basics - dessertsApart from sugar, flour and baking fat (already mentioned), I always have:

Baking powder and baking soda

Baking yeast

Cocoa powder

Chocolate bars - plain, milk and white

Vanilla extract or some sort of flavouring

Some booze - I usually steal a few tablespoons from my partner's whisky and keep it in a small jar solely for baking

Spices - cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamum, cloves, vanilla, aniseed, ginger.

Raisins and some nuts (almonds or walnuts, usually)

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Seasoning - because details matter

pantry basics - spicesSeasoning can really make or break your dinner, but even so it's amazing how many dishes require no more than salt and pepper.

My spice box is pretty impressive, but I took a long time to build it up. If I were to pick ten most useful seasonings, I would say:

- chili peppers
- garlic
- basil
- marjoram
- oregano
- thyme
- rosemary
- tarragon
- smoked paprika
- bay leaf and allspice

You can add stock cubes (or stock powder) to this list. I know it's cheating, but it makes life so much easier...

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Other bits and pieces

What else comes handy when you're cooking from scratch?

pantry basics - miscI usually have a few cans of chopped tomatoes - with supermarket tomatoes being entirely innocent of flavour, they can be a surprisingly effective substitute. Tomato paste is handy if you're making pizza sauce. Breadcrumbs (the dry kind, for coating meat or sprinkling on baking pan so that the cake wouldn't stick). A jar of pesto (just mix with cooked pasta and voila, your dinner is ready). Vinegar - white and/or balsamic. Rolled oats. Jam (recently - homemade). Ketchup, mayonnaise and mustard. Dried porcini mushrooms (lucky me, my Dad hunts for them tirelessly so I have inexhaustible supply).

That's pretty much it (although I'm sure I've forgotten a thing or two - I'll fix this gap when I can remember what it is that I have forgotten :). Add a piece of meat or two, some bread (I make my own these days, since I was given a breadmaker. Pretty smart piece of equipment, none of my earlier attempts yielded anything remotely as good), cold meats for sandwiches and some fresh veg and you're pretty much sorted for the week: you can cook all your meals from scratch, dessert included.

Obviously, you can adjust my list according to your dietary requirements and preferences.

Happy cooking!

Photo source


A handy gadget for making your own bread

Panasonic SD-YD250 Automatic Bread M...

More foodie pages by Tiggered

Pastitsio - layers of pasta and minced meat in tomato sauce, covered in bechamel, baked to crispy perfection
BLT sandwich (bacon, lettuce and tomato) is the second most popular sandwich in America and absolute number one in UK
How to use kiwi in cooking? What to do with bulk quantities of kiwifruit?
A foolproof recipe for a quick, easy and delicious apple cake.
Updated: 04/08/2013, Tiggered
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Guest on 02/24/2014

I hope so, Tiggered! I am really fed up to here with store bought prepped MUSH and I'm trying to get it out of my diet where possible. I'm OK with pasties, pies and occasional meal deals but I ought to be able to make a curry by now, surely? Even if I cheat to start with and buy a jar of sauce or some curry paste, then move on to making the sauce as well. Chili needs to make the permanent jump from a jar to home made sauce too, as I have a killer diller recipe from my friend's Weight Watchers recipe book that outdoes anything the big companies can come up with.

Tiggered on 02/24/2014

I bet you'll ace it :) There's a hell of a difference between store-bought and homemade curry, too!

Guest on 02/23/2014

My idea of learning to cook something new took a turn last night after I realised that I really do NOT like store bought curry and would far rather have my own version. So, task for the year is to perfect a curry mix. I can cook chili, spag bol, risotto and chicken dishes already from scratch, surely a curry can't be that difficult?

Tiggered on 02/11/2014

True :) I live in cold Ireland, so the only tomatoes with any taste are the canned ones, but still - a can or two always lurks in my pantry. Thanks!

VioletteRose on 02/10/2014

Great list to help those who want to cook from scratch, tomatoes are the only thing I want to add!

CountrySunshine on 02/10/2014

Potatoes, onions and garlic.. main staples for me! I also keep flour, sugar, baking soda & powder and oil. Many baked items need these basic ingredients. Nice list here.... it makes me think about looking into my cabinet to see what's missing!

Guest on 05/04/2013

I should also add tomatoes and kidney beans to that list, I think. Plus frozen chicken and mince. You've started me on thinking about learning to making something new now.

Tiggered on 05/03/2013

I bet every home cook has his or her own list - I hesitated to present my own as the 'correct' one. That's why I'm truly grateful for you sharing yours!

Guest on 05/03/2013

Pasta-head here agrees with flour and seasoning. I also make my own risotto, paella, chicken casserole, stirfry, pizza, lasagne, bolognese, curry and chili con-everything-including-on-occasion-carne. About the only things we don't make are bread and alcoholic drinks! I love my own home made curry and chili ;-) far superior to what you find in the stores. Essentials in my kitchen are baked beans, sweetcorn, fresh cauliflower, broccoli, leeks, onions, potatoes, Tabasco sauce, curry powder, chili powder, oregano, turmeric, paprika, mixed herbs, rice, milk, butter, cheese, flour, sugar, pepper, garlic powder. With those you can make most things. As a teapot on legs, I have to have a regular supply of teabags, and as a wine bottle on legs at weekends, that is a necessity too, but many other things in this house are treated as us-time for my husband and I and making it is as much a part of the meal as eating it and washing up afterwards.

Tiggered on 11/18/2012

No one in my household likes curry (that's why it didn't make it onto my list), but I'm totally with you when it comes to parsley. I wish I had a garden where I could grow some - my experiments with container gardening were not impressive and dried stuff is simply not the same... Oh, and I officially envy you the deer - even if they are a bit on the critter side :)

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