There are a few things I always keep on hand and consider essential for a well-stocked kitchen. Okay, so maybe it’s more than just a few, but here are some highlights. I’ve been meaning to add this page for a while, so please be patient as I add and update information in my pockets of free time (really, you heard that loud laugh from where you’re sitting?). There’s even a special section on baking with a few helpful guidelines—like eggs should always be room temperature for baking and the reason why.
In The Fridge
eggs, butter, milk, cream, buttermilk, seltzer or sparkling water (for old fashioneds, of course), extra firm tofu, mixed greens, carrots, apples (these last two are available year-round at the farmers’ market), homemade chocolate ganache (you never know when you’ll want hot cocoa), homemade bouillon (my new love), Parmesan cheese, homemade marinara sauce, an array of condiments and more often than not, homemade ricotta cheese. This is also where I store my spices to keep them fresh—that cabinet above the stove in most kitchens is the quickest way to zap them of their real flavor.
In The Freezer
ground beef from Grazin’ Angus Acres or Wilkow Orchards, bacon (I love the smoked butt bacon from Flying Pigs Farm) rendered leaf lard (also from FPF), frozen peas (kids love them, and I’m starting to grow fond of them too), assorted fruit (I bought a ton of strawberries and blueberries from the farmers’ market before the season ended).
In The Pantry
sugar, cake flour, all-purpose flour, whole-wheat flour (though to be honest, I often have to throw it away because it spoils quickly and I forget to store it in the fridge—if you do this, make sure to let it get to room temperature before using), Scharffen Berger chocolate semi-sweet and bittersweet baking bars and baking chunks, SB cocoa powder (and thanks to SB for stocking my test kitchen), Valrhona cocoa powder, brown sugar, confectioners’ sugar, baking soda, cornstarch, cream of tartar—wow this just the baking supplies, and I could go on. I also keep Barilla boxed pasta, canned chickpeas, canned red kidney beans, dry lentils, steel cut oats, tomato paste, canned tomatoes (San Marzano and Pastene ground peeled). I also have some goodies I canned last summer, including peaches, tomato jam, tomato relish and strawberry jam.
Unless otherwise noted in a recipe, here’s a general guide for the ingredients listed in my recipes.
Eggs are always large. The type you choose to buy is a personal decision. I strongly suggest supporting your local agriculture and buying them from a farmers’ market (or neighbor if they own chickens!). They should also always be room temperature when baking, especially cakes, unless you like curdled, grainy cakes. Here’s more info on that from Baking 911.
Butter is always unsalted, but I’ll tell you a secret. It’s okay to use salted. Even David Lebovitz debunks this myth in his book The Sweet Life in Paris. Just omit the salt if you do so.And if you’ve never tried homemade butter, here’s a very easy picture recipe to get you started.
Salt is always kosher. I haven’t owned a box regular table since I moved out of my mom’s house, and probably only use it when I go to the local diner these days. There are a lot of varieties out there, not including the exotic, and they all vary in weight, so if you decide to use a different one, make it is equivalent (running to go weigh 1/4 teaspoon of salt…) 1 gram for each 1/4 teaspoon of salt. You can do the math, so that means 1/2 teaspoon equals 2 grams, and so on.
Vanilla extract is always pure. This is one ingredient even my mom never skimped on. At any given time I actually have a few different varieties on hand. Currently, I’m stocking Tahitian, Madagascar Bourbon, Butler and good ‘ol McCormick’s. The Tahitian comes out for special recipes that benefit from a slightly floral vanilla essence instead of the more assertive bourbon or mainstream brands.
Flour is always all-purpose and unbleached. Invest in a good brand, like King Arthur, to achieve a superior taste. One of the larger supermarkets sometimes has it on sale, allowing me to stock up. I speak from experience when I say store brand flours are generally less inferior and really make for a lack luster baked good. I tried this short cut while recipe testing a cookbook, and from the moment I opened the bag and felt the texture, I knew no good could come of it. If you know of a store brand that delivers a great-tasting finished product, please let me know and I’m happy to investigate some more and let the rest of the world know.
This list is sure to grow as I find the time to update and add more things, so check back because I’ve only just begun!