Mysteries of Grocery Shopping Solved
November 07, 2005
First, it is important that you have a kitchen stocked with your basic needs. Every year when I went back to school, my mom would send me away with a list of “kitchen basics” I’d need for cooking everyday. Mom, if you are reading this, perhaps you can post this special list. I cannot attempt to recreate that list here, but among the most essential cooking items, one should always have the following pantry items in stock:
Flour – use white unbleached, a small pack is fine
Olive oil – get a large bottle, I like dark green varieties
Vegetable oil – you need this to guisar your beans, fry your taco shells, etc.
Vinegar – this is a summer item, I prefer red wine vinegar
Salt – Kosher salt is the best for cooking and dining, large flakes make everything yummy
Sugar – again, as a bulk item, you can buy as little or as much as you like.
Beans – yes, if you don’t have these in stock, you must be living la vida loca. I like beans of all shapes, sizes, and colors – I don’t discriminate. Staple and yummy varieties include the pinto bean, black bean, and red bean.
Lentejas – lentils to you non-Spanish speaking folks. Lentils in green are my favorite and make a great soup or substitute for rice when eating fish.
Canned Tomatoes – you can never have enough of yummy canned whole tomatoes.
Pasta – whatever your fancy, you know at the end of the month, you will be eating this – don’t forget sauce if you like the red stuff, or at least olive oil
Rice – another fabulous and versatile staple. If you burn your rice or undercook it, or don’t have a ½ hour to spend babysitting it on the stove, get instant, or partially cooked rice varieties. I use a par-cooked wild rice and long grain white and brown rice often.
Garlic – buy it dry or buy it fresh – I think fresh is always best. Susan says: “Make sure to look on the bottom of the garlic clove to ensure that no black dust is present around the center – this is yucky mold.”
Spices – these are up to you, but I cannot live without pepper, chile piquin (the small whole red chilis used on pizza), cumin, fresh ginger, coriander, basil, oregano. I often buy or use fresh herbs when available.
Papas – papas (potatoes) are like pasta – plenty of carbs, really really cheap, and delicious by themselves or part of another dish. I like russets for baking and mashing, reds for roasting, small fingerlings for tossing in olive oil.
Bullion – bullion is usually a compact cube of some variety of stock and you should have some in your cabinet. I prefer vegetable stock in the juice form out of a box or can. Chicken is always a good thing. Tomato and fish bullion is also available in the Maggie or the Knorr brands (although with a lot of MSG).
Wine – not only to drink, mainly to use for cooking everything. I buy three bottles and go through them all in one – one and a half months. I buy the 3 for 10 dollar bottles of white wine. This is clearly not on my mother’s list!
Well mom, if I forgot something, please add it to this list.
After you got your basics, grocery shopping becomes a lot easier – you are shopping for things that go well with your basics. I organize my list around a vague idea of what I want to cook. Each item you buy should be versatile and be able to go in more than one dish. My veggie list looks like this:
Spinach or Swiss Chard – good for spinach pie, lasagna, chard and garbanzos, or pasta
Mushrooms – need I list all of their uses?
Onions – white are the tastiest
Garlic – again, fresh
Squash – of any variety
Green Lettuces – I like butter lettuce especially for salads
Cucumbers – in salad or by themselves
Carrots – a food basic for soups and such
Celery – don’t need a full head, but it goes in so many things
Bell peppers – in all colors if I can
Tofu – yuck to some and mmmm to me, I prefer extra soft for soups
Green Beans – by themselves or with rice, oh so luxury
Broccoli – again, alone or with pasta it is fantastic
Italian parsley - flat leafed and always cheap, this runs about 99 cents a bunch
Bananas and apples (honey suckles are in season)
Tomatoes, garbanzo beans, other beans when lazy, corn, tomato paste.
Stop buying pizza. I love frozen peas. I also like to buy frozen pasta raviolis, rice or udon noodles for soup, pie crusts (Marie Calendar crusts are great).
1 pint of whipping cream, block of parmesan cheese, 4 sticks of unsalted butter (not the fake stuff).
Okay, this extensive list will help you cook many of the things already on my blog. I promise to note special ingredients for weird dishes which usually consist of curries and miso based soups (in lieu of beef or chicken stock). Also of note is that I don't buy a lot of dairy like cheese and milk - this is because I am lactose intolerant and prefer not to torture others with my bad smells.