Sunday 5 February 2023

Kitchen/Pantry Bare Essentials ~ Where to Begin and How to Use Them (every day preps)

Most of this post was originally a part of this much longer one, posted near the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For everyone who says or thinks, "I wouldn't even know where to begin!", when it comes to home cooking, prepping, learning to save more money and be more self sufficient, etc, this post is for you!

This lists out basic things you need to have on hand in your kitchen in order to make a meal from just about anything - or even just from those things, in times of desperation. 

  I'm listing them in order of importance, so if you are on a REALLY tight budget, you know what things to prioritise and buy first. 

Please note that ALL of this assumes you have a source of potable water. If you don't have water, you won't need to worry about food, because dehydration will get you far faster than hunger. It doesn't even have to be bottled water from the store, if your municipal water is safe to drink! Just fill some empty milk jugs, soda/juice bottles, or whatever sealing containers you have with tap water and keep them on hand. Bottled water is further down on the list, but still included as an essential to get in your pantry or stored somewhere in your home when you are able.

1. Oil/Fat (vegetable oil, coconut oil, lard, bacon grease, shortening, butter, ghee... any kind of fat will do.)
2. Flour
3. Salt (Note: If you only have one kind of salt on hand, it should be iodized salt, for the necessary nutrients it contains.) 

These first three items are the most crucial, and, along with some water, can provide you with at least basic sustenance for far longer than you might think. We're talking weeks or more here. No lie.

Yeah, you are going to get unhealthy eventually, you won't be running any marathons, and you'll get really tired of it, but you won't starve. And with minimal add ins - whatever scraps or bits of pretty much anything, you can turn a few, random bits of things into an actual meal that will make whatever you have stretch as much as it needs to.

With nothing but flour, oil, salt, and water, you can make:

Fried dough/biscuits
Dumplings (no oil needed)
Sourdough starter and bread
Pasta (The linked recipe calls for olive oil, but ANY oil or fat will do)
Roux (the base for many sauces and gravies) and, with that, a simple gravy for your breads or sauce for your pasta.
pie crust
Hardtack (extremely long lasting survival bread rations)
And surely some other things that I am forgetting. Add in sugar and baking soda or powder to that, and the list more than quadruples!
But before we get to those extras, lets move on to a higher priority item...

4. Dry Beans

These are next on the list because they are a valuable source of protein and other nutrients that will help give you energy and keep you going, so you are able to function better and longer. 

Beans are pretty versatile too. You can make them sweet or savoury, and, depending on what spices or other things you toss in, can be cuisine from pretty much ANY part of the world! Even without extra stuff to put in it though, other than some salt, they will provide nutrition and calories, and can keep you going a lot longer than just the flour based stuff.

5. Milk Powder

Typical powdered milk, unless you get Peak milk, or similar higher end milk powder, admittedly does not taste very good for drinking, but it DOES provide calcium, vitamin D, protein, and other nutrients we get from dairy. 

This one is especially important if you have children in the home, but adults need dairy too; women more so than men. Besides the nutritional value, this also expands your food options a lot. 

With milk, you can turn your roux into white sauce to put on your pasta, or white gravy, AKA country gravy. You can add the milk powder into breads for texture, flavour, and extra nutrition, add it into beans/soups/etc to make them into a creamy dish. You can even use the hardtack recipe, rolled out thinner and cut smaller, to make cereal - hot or cold.

6. Sugar

Once you add sugar into the mix, you can sweeten things, and also speed up the process of culturing yeast for your bread. It's also good for adding some calories and quick energy to things.

7. Baking Soda
8. Baking Powder

These open up your baking quite a bit, as they provide leavening to things. So now you can add quick breads, biscuits, pancakes, and more.

9. Pepper

It is amazing what a difference in taste you can get with just adding some pepper to things! Other spices are great too, but if you can only get one type per shopping trip, start with pepper.

10. Spices/dried herbs

What and how many spices you decide to keep on hand is completely up to you, but I encourage building up your spice cabinet a lot, even if it is only one new thing per month! With different seasoning, you can turn even the simple fare with only the items above into a great variety of different, tasty dishes.

11. Dried veggie mix

This keeps pretty much forever, and will add lots more nutrition to your diet, along with more taste, texture, and variety, and will help keep you from getting scurvy. (NOT a joke!) One pound of dried veg mix will last a long time, takes up very little space/weight, and at under $12.00(USD), It's cheaper per prepared pound than canned stuff, which isn't as good, weighs more, and takes up a lot more space.

12. Rice

Don't get the instant/minute stuff! It doesn't keep as well, doesn't taste as good, has a weird texture, and costs a lot more per pound. Go with regular old rice. If you're getting long grain, parboiled is fine, just as long as it is ONLY parboiled. It's not really a survival NEED, but it's a very good way to make meals more diverse on the cheap, plus most rice you buy is enriched with minerals and other nutrients. It doesn't matter what kind(s) you get. Pick your favourite. Or get a few kinds and find your favourite. I keep several varieties on hand, cause I use them for different things. If I HAD to stick to only one, I'd go with basmati, but that's just me.

13. Peanut butter

A good source of quick protein, flavouring agent (mix into a basic roux and toss with pasta and a couple soy sauce packets - instant faux Thai noodles, or add into pancakes or biscuits for a whole new treat, for instance), sandwich filler, etc.

14. Steel cut oats

Rolled oats are ok, if you must, or if they are what the food pantry gives you, but they don't store quite as long and have less nutrition and texture. Again, not a dire need, but expands your options exponentially. Home-made granola, anyone? The main ingredient is oats!  

15. Bottled Water
16. Canned Goods 

Of course, different varieties of a lot of these things are ideal to have on hand, but start simple and work up from there. 
If you can afford to stock up right away on bulk amounts of everything on the list, great! It saves more money in the long run. 
If you can't, start with a 10 lb bag of flour, a big-ish bottle of oil, and one of the big, pour spout cans of store brand salt, and add more from the list as you can, and start making things with them! 

Now, don't just keep it around for emergencies! 
Make these staples part of your regular routine. Cook at least one meal from scratch, or close to it per week.
Start by making something WITHOUT shopping for specific ingredients. You can do this!
Look in your fridge and cabinets and see what you have, and do an internet search for ingredients on hand recipes. 
Get used to cooking with your staples and what you have on hand, as well as trying out recipes that sound good (there are lots on this blog!), or making things you already know how to prepare.
 Get familiar with your kitchen and get comfortable figuring out what goes well together. 
Before you know it, you will be inventing all kinds of cheap, nutritious, and delicious new dishes (Write them down for when people taste them and beg you for the recipe!), and you'll be much better prepared for life's curveballs, and well on your way to building that well stocked larder, now that you have a good foundation!

For those who are in a lot more dire straits than others, or who find yourselves using the food bank or other food assistance program for the first time; Most food banks/pantries can help you with these staple items if you don't already have them and you ask, even if they aren't giving them out in the regular bags/boxes, and having those on hand will make it so much easier to make the regular, weekly items go much farther and turn into delicious meals, rather than random packages of stuff. 
The vast majority of my recipe inventions that make their way into this blog were a result of using whatever was on hand, on sale, in my bargain box of "imperfect foods" or from the food bank, so I can tell you without a doubt that you can make great meals with almost anything and almost nothing!

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