A Few Ingredients Is All You Need
With a handful, or two, of ingredients, your options are nearly limitless.
I admit it. I eat out at restaurants far more than I should. I like going to a bar, having a couple of drinks, trying new food, and really just hanging out. Perhaps it’s because I’m an ambivert, or whatever fad term people want to use. But it’s hard on my wallet, being a “starving” writer and all. So I do try to cook as much as I can. And honestly, I’m rather impressed with myself.
But perhaps I shouldn’t be. It’s amazing what you can do with a handful of ingredients. Ensure that you have a well stocked pantry, which doesn’t cost much to keep full, and you can make a lot of food, if you’re in a pinch. Add in a handful of fresh ingredients, and the options are nearly limitless.
Core Pantry Ingredients
The initial cost of setting up a pantry supply might be a little high, but maintaining it isn’t that hard. You could probably do without a number of items on the list, but having them all will mean that you can have a lot more variety in things you make.
Flour, salt, sugar, oil, vanilla extract, vinegar, baking soda, baking powder, and yeast are enough ingredients to make a number of kinds of breads and pastas. I’m a decent bread baker at this point. I’m still working on getting pasta down right. But it’s so nice being able to just grab some ingredients and end up with fresh baked bread in a few hours.
These ingredients are cheap and last for quite a while. If you’re willing to take the time, you can even keep a sourdough sponge going and never have to worry about yeast again. I did this for a time, and had a pet sourdough sponge named Buster. I certainly do miss Buster. He (they?) made great pancakes!
There are also a bunch of no knead bread recipes out there, which rely on fairly long rise times and high moisture content. I use about a 2:1 flour to water ratio when baking most of my breads. I’ll also use a lot of oil if I’m trying to make a super soft white bread, or when I’m making pizza dough/focaccia. Pinch of Yum has a nice and simple no knead recipe, which uses that ratio. The recipe calls for an 12-18 hr resting time, which allows the yeast to do the work that kneading would normally do.
Herbs and Spices
Okay. I left out a few ingredients. Really, the ones above are enough. But we really should add some spice to our lives. If you have enough space, growing fresh herbs will give you an endless supply of them. But dried herbs work just fine in a lot of recipes. And you can buy a whole set of herbs for a reasonable price. A small set can run about $30. A large set can be more pricey, especially for a fancy one. The Simply Organic Gourmet Top 24 Spices Set on Amazon runs a little over $150, but the jars will probably last you a good year or two.
Eggs and cream are probably two of the most important fresh ingredients, though powdered milk, condensed milk, etc could also go in your pantry if you don’t want to worry about spoilage. With these ingredients, you can make even more kinds of pasta. You can make cakes, custards, ice cream. The other day I made something like a dutch baby, which is a cross between a custard and a pancake. All I needed was milk (I tried it out with powdered goat milk), eggs, sugar, flour, a pinch of salt and baking powder, and a half stick of butter.
Now, I didn’t include butter on the list above. Why not? If you have cream, you can make butter. You can make cheese. You can make yogurt. I’ve even made some basic cheese curds from powdered goat milk. It turned out alright. Personally, I wish I had a few chickens and a goat, and then I’d be set on eggs and cream.
As another suggestion, if you happen to use actual vanilla beans in your recipe, taking the leftover beans with the seeds removed, and soaking them in a spirit, like bourbon, is a great way to create your own vanilla extract and get double usage out of those vanilla beans. Vanilla is expensive, so extending their use as much as possible is a great option.
Fresh veggies are probably the next most important items to add to the fresh ingredients list. With the above list, you could already make homemade cheese ravioli and other nice pasta dishes, with some tomatoes and other veggies, you can make wonderful sauces to go with your pasta dishes. Fried ravioli in a homemade tomato sauce? What could be better?
Getting Started and Revitalizing Stock
I think every house should have a well stocked pantry. It’s probably one of the most important investments you can make when getting a house, or even just getting your first apartment. So one of the best housewarming gifts that you can give a person is something that they can use to stock it. If you’re worried about getting the same stuff someone else is giving the person, the easiest option is to just give a gift certificate.
If you're cooking and baking at least a few days a week, odds are you'll cycle through your pantry ingredients rather quickly. Still, it might be a good idea to do an annual cleanup and restocking. I would suggest major pantry restocking as part of a spring cleaning routine.
Originally published in The Spiritual Anthropologists Blog on Medium