How to keep a well-stocked kitchen

Cooking is one of my favorite things to do. There’s little more rewarding than craving a particular dish or flavor and being able to whip it up in minutes in the comfort of my own pajamas. The ability to do this, though, starts with a well-stocked kitchen.

This isn’t something I’ve always been able to pull off. I went from living at home with my parents to a university with an unnecessarily gourmet cafeteria to working the tech industry, where we are provided with breakfast lunch and dinner and never have to think about feeding ourselves. Sure, I’d occasionally decide that I wanted to test out a new recipe, but that would involve huge shopping trips to stock up on each necessary ingredient and ultimately end up costing more than it would have at a restaurant! It wasn’t until I started seeing my graduate-student boyfriend and, ultimately, until I lost my job, that I learned what it means to truly stock one’s kitchen.

I used to order a lot of takeout, so the first things I tried to cook were the things I used to order — tikka masala and naan; thai red curry; japanese tonkatsu curry… As it turns out, these dishes are preeeeeetty simple. The bottleneck ends up just being finding the ingredients themselves, before just throwing them all in a pot.

Tonkatsu curry

So, here’s what’s in my kitchen right now:

Basics

Pick these up at the corner store as needed

  • A dozen eggs
  • A quart of whole milk, a block of cheese, a tub of plain yogurt
  • Flour, sugar, salt, kosher salt, baking powder, corn starch
  • Scallions, an onion, garlic, ginger, some persimmons (in season!)
  • Sandwich bread, peanut butter, jam/jelly, cereal
  • Maple syrup
Vegan mushroom udon

Specialty food

We pick this up as needed in a bi-weekly shopping trip to the local Chinese market

  • 2 cans of Thai red curry paste
  • Canned bamboo shoots, canned straw mushrooms
  • Coconut milk
  • Red miso paste
  • Soy sauce, mirin, shirodashi (liquid), hondashi (powder), sesame oil
  • Japanese curry roux
  • Sauces: oyster sauce, hoisin sauce, sriracha, dark sauce, tonkatsu sauce, okonomi sauce, kewpie, char siu sauce, black vinegar, fish sauce
  • Spices: garam masala, cardamom, turmeric, star anise, white pepper, black pepper, crushed red pepper, cayenne, paprika, nutmeg, cumin, five spice, coriander…. etc
  • Fresh noodles for soups and stir fries
  • Frozen udon noodles for lazy miso soup nights
  • Dried mushrooms
  • Thai chiles, lemongrass, galangal (we keep these in the freezer)
  • Canned fish packed with beans
  • Beef tendon meatballs, fish balls, fish cakes (frozen)

Tip: It really is worth going to the Chinese market for your spices, as you can buy them in bulk and they are unbelievably cheaper than those glass jars at Safeway. Also, lots of the specialty items are way marked up at regular markets (or you end up with white-people brands like Thai Kitchen)

Prawn mee

Bulk items

Pick these up at Safeway or Costco and freeze as needed

  • Chicken thighs and any other meat (e.g. the 10lb hunk of pork shoulder we found on sale)
  • Olive oil, vegetable oil, Worcestershire sauce, ketchup, etc
  • Chicken stock or bouillon (we also like the vegetable + beef varieties)
  • Rice, dried pasta noodles, panko
  • Yeast
  • Lime juice
  • Frozen seafood (we like the one from Trader Joe’s)
  • Canned San Marzano tomatoes (whole), tomato paste
  • Semolina (for making fresh pasta)
Kimchi

Leftovers

Whether it’s for lunch the next day or frozen til the next rainy day, we always cook the full recipe

  • Pho broth, frozen
  • Ramen broth, frozen
  • Chashu/ramen egg marinade, frozen
  • Tikka masala and naan (to be fair I’m about to eat this right now)
  • Kimchi
  • Spicy sausage pasta sauce, frozen
Challah

Misc Items

When your kitchen is fully stocked, you only ever need to run out for one or two things to complete a recipe — this is what we happen to have now

  • Gai lan
  • Silken tofu
  • Napa cabbage
  • Capers
  • Bacon
  • Ice cream (shh)

This may seem like a lot — and it is— but it’s all ingredients we acquired organically through our cooking adventures, and it’s all things we use again and again. I’m not saying to go out and buy it all at once — instead, find a few recipes you really like making and learn how to keep all the important things on hand.

If you need some ideas, here’s a few dishes I can whip up with minimal shopping at any given time…

Miso soup, oyakodon, Thai curry, tom kha, Japanese katsu curry, tikka masala and naan, french toast, lasagna, congee (chicken porridge), pulled pork, fried chicken, hokkien mee (Malaysian noodles), challah, mac & cheese, german pancakes, and a zillion more things.

Happy eating!

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