I love it when I have the urge to cook, or have just seen a recipe on TV or read it in a magazine and want to make it RIGHT AWAY – and can!  The first time this happened to me was when I visited a new friend at her home in Southampton, NY. We were with several others, lolling about for the weekend, sitting on her deck and reading magazines. Suddenly a recipe for corn chowder leapt off the page and into my mouth. My friend Trudi, a fab cook, heard me marvel, then joined me in reading the recipe.  We looked at each other, got up from our sun-kissed lounge chairs and ran into the kitchen. Why?  Because ALL the ingredients we needed we had!  I never forgot the joy that preparing the soup and sharing it with the rest of our crowd gave us. And the only reason that happened was because WE HAD ALL THE INGREDIENTS IN THE PANTRY! Note the lesson.

So, what does a cook’s cupboard contain?  Let’s make a little list:

Everything you need!
Everything you need!

Seasonings: Kosher salt, sea salt and a pepper grinder are basic.

Sugar – extra fine if you can find it, regular if you can’t. Ask your grocery store’s bakery department if they have it, and if so, maybe they’ll sell you some. It’s a fine grind, also known as caster sugar in the UK.

Extra-fine, or caster sugar.
Extra-fine, or caster sugar.

Flour – plain flour, all-purpose flour, self-rising flour — are all used for different purposes. Get them unbleached if possible and buy the top quality. Keep it in the freezer for best baking results.

Corn starch, lemon juice, vanilla paste (or a good-quality vanilla extract). Don’t get the vanilla that is merely colored and flavored sugar water. Read the ingredients label.

Cooking oil – I use Canola oil primarily. It doesn’t flavor the food you’re cooking in it and has a high smoke point. A note on oil: olive oil is good for some low-heat sauteing, but permeates the food with its flavor.  Use it only in specific recipes or as a dressing. Extra Virgin olive oil is a stronger flavor so be cautious when using it.

Great stock gels that produce a rich flavor when mixed with hot water.

Stock – chicken and beef. I also keep the vegetable pots of stock in my cupboard for when the rare recipe calls for it. An Oxo cube, a British product, is a lifesaver when your sauce needs a little utz. Find it in the “imported foods” aisle.

Flavorsome addition to sauces and gravies.
Flavorsome addition to sauces and gravies.

Butter – Salted and unsalted. I buy it in large quantities and keep some in the freezer so I don’t run out.

Whole milk and heavy whipping cream.  Just a dash of the cream turns a dull sauce into something to marvel at! Use 2% milk only if you must.

Just knowing that you have the ingredients above allows you to make a brilliant puff pastry, loaves of bread, a pie or quiche crust and glorious gravies — all without making a shopping list!

Get cooking!

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