Stocking The Basics
So there are some things that no kitchen should ever be without. You use them in most dishes. Usually it makes sense to buy a decent sized container: bulk is cheaper an you will use it up. That said, if you're completely broke, or not sure of your commitment to cooking, get a small one. Once you save a bit on eating out your budget will loosen a bit and you can work your way up, and if you don't follow through you won't have wasted as much. Here are the things you should generally keep on hand if you plan on cooking regularly:
- Salt. Not the Angelina Jolie character. It will go in nearly everything you make, sweet or savory, spicy or sour. It's been called 'the natural seasoning' not because it is used on everything and tastes natural, but because it enhances the natural flavor of dishes. Just like it dehydrates your cells, if you salt your food the molecules will dehydrate, releasing the juices that give them flavor. You rarely want to taste the salt in a dish, it will just react with your food to give it a fuller, more bodied flavor.
- Oil. There's a lot that could be said about this, I'll try to give you as few details as possible. The thing that really matters is that different oils have different maximum temperatures (smoking points.) Just like water can only reach 2120 F, oils can only get so hot. If you're only going to have one oil (which is fine) I'd recommend canola or vegetable. It is less healthy than olive oil, and there are a lot of dishes where olive oil will add better flavor, but canola is substantially cheaper and more versatile. If you want to spring for both that's fine, but if you're looking for one that you can always use, go for a decent sized bottle of cheap canola or vegetable oil, and you'll be fine.
- Herb/Spice Rack for all of these get a cheap, small container, see which ones you end up using a lot, then get a slightly larger container. Generally it will last for a long time, and these are a great low cost, easy way to add flavor to your dishes.
- black pepper (ground, or you can get a grinder) cayenne pepper, paprika, cinnamon,
- Minced Garlic this may be tough to find at the supermarket if you don't know what you're looking for, just ask someone to help you. It's garlic, cut up really small, and held mostly in its own oil. It will taste infinitely better than the dried, powdered stuff, only marginally more expensive, but be endlessly easier than peeling and cutting your own.
- Bread you should have bread. Whole wheat/multigrain is really good, rye/pumpernickle/other grain breads are also good choices for flavor and nutrition. You can keep sliced bread in the freezer and microwave 1 or 2 slices as you want them so you always have sandwich fixings around but don't have mold. White breads, egg breads, Italian bread, etc. while delicious have basically no nutrition, a ton of empty calories and nothing that will keep you full (which is why you're paying for this anyway.) *flour is made of wheat, so any bread that has wheat flour as its ingredient is NOT whole wheat, it's just trying to be tricky. Aha! Out smarting the wonder bread people, you don't have to wonder at all. Instead, try to figure out why the bar is called Puzzles.
- Milk you know if you drink milk or not. If you keep cereal in the house (recommended) milk is probably a good plan. Get the largest container you will actually finish, because bulk is cheaper, but not if you throw a bunch of it away.
- Butter/butter substitute
- Cheese (especially if a quick grilled cheese sandwich, or eggs with cheese sounds like a nice meal to you)