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Cooking from Scratch: Cupboard Basics

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I love cooking from scratch! It gives me pleasure to create wonderful meals for my family and it lets me know exactly what my family is putting into their bodies. As my girls will tell you, dinner at our house had everyone around the dinner table no matter how crazy our schedules seemed to be. It was a great way to make sure everyone ate healthy and you could find out all kinds of things going on with our kids, some you might not even want to know.

These days there are many shortcuts. At the store, you can find all kinds of quick-fix meals, pre-marinated meats, frozen dinners and bag salad, just a few of what’s available for a quick meal with little effort. Yes, it’s fine once in a while, but it’s not the same as a homemade meal from scratch. Keep in mind that cooking from scratch will reduce your dependence on the grocery store, save money on meal expense and feed healthy and balanced meals with very few preservatives to the people you love and care about.

To do this, you have to keep certain essentials on hand. What do you need to keep in the cupboard, the refrigerator and in the pantry to successfully create these meals? Let’s talk about the basics; remember, being prepared is half the battle of cooking from scratch. My list may seem long, but once you find the basics you and your family love, you can narrow it down. It’s all about the love at home and family.

Pantry
Brown rice: Healthy, hearty and a great base for meals.
Pearled barley: A tasty grain that is very filling.
Whole wheat pasta: Unless you make your own pasta, whole wheat pasta is a better choice.
Potatoes: Quick and easy to prepare and can be eaten hot or cold.
Onion: Used as a base for many meals.
Garlic: Like onions, fresh garlic adds tons of flavor to your dishes.

Cupboard
Whole wheat flour: It is so much more filling and nutritious than white.
White flour: Not as healthy as wheat flour, but important for thickening gravy and, of course, baking cookies
Cornmeal: Excellent for coating pans or keeping pizza dough or rolls from getting soggy, not to mention cornbread and stuffing.
White sugar: Used for baked goods and preserving foods such as jam, bread and pickles.
Brown sugar: Used in many desserts, it can also be made by combining white sugar and molasses.
Rolled oats: Not just for breakfast but used for baking desserts, bread and even processing to make flour.
Baking soda: This is a leavening agent important in baking.
Baking powder: Also a leavening agent.
Cocoa powder: Important to have around to skip cake mixes and can be also used for homemade hot cocoa milk mix.
Vanilla extract: It’s pricey but worth it for the best flavor in baked goods and even French toast. Make your own by soaking vanilla beans in vodka for several months.
Chocolate chips: Chocolate is chocolate; what else is there to say?
Olive oil: Perfect for sautéing, homemade dressings and sauces.
Coconut oil: It has a long shelf life and is perfect for making pie crusts, granola bars and seasoning cast iron pans.
Soy sauce: Adds a warm savory flavor to more than just Asian cuisine.
Bread crumbs: For coating things to be fried or baked.
Nuts: Not just for baking or cooking, good for a healthy snack.
White vinegar: A basic ingredient in many pickle and dressing recipes, it also is a natural cleaning product for kitchen surfaces.
Honey/maple syrup/molasses: Natural sweetness that brings more nutrients and minerals to the table than white sugar.

Spices
Salt and pepper: Basic seasonings for all dishes.
Kosher salt: Kosher or pickling salt is essential to home-canning vegetables. Basil, oregano, dill, chili powder, cumin, cayenne, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, garlic powder.
Bouillon or broth: A quick and cheap way to add tons of flavor.

Refrigerator
Milk products: Milk, butter, yogurt of your choice.
Apple cider vinegar: Just like white vinegar, apple cider vinegar is used for pickles and dressing. It is great for boosting the immune system and is used in many herbal remedies.
Yeast: If you want to cook from scratch bread, bagels or pizza dough. It can be stored for quite a while in the refrigerator.
Applesauce: It’s much more than a snack; it can replace eggs in many baked goods when the hens refuse to lay or you’re having vegan company.

This is my essential needs list for cooking from scratch. These items, along with fresh fruit, vegetables and proteins bought weekly, make cooking from scratch doable. Take the time and the benefits will be well worth your effort.