20 Must Have Items for Every Cook, Newbie or Not

In recent conversation, a friend (who considers herself a “newbie cook”), shared a kitchen frustration with me.

“I always want to try new recipes, but it seems I never have the right ingredients on hand! I hate going into the store and searching for products which I may never use again. I wish someone would put everything I need in a basket, wrap it up and put it at the front of the store. That way I could just grab it and check out.”

Of course, that got me thinking. If I had to make a list of the most necessary items to have on hand in my kitchen, what would it contain? So, obviously, I made said list. Since my husband also likes to cook, I had him write a list as well so I could compare the two. As I predicted, our lists were nearly the same. Therefore, here it is…the 20 Must Have Items for Every Cook, Newbie or Not.

  1. Sea Salt – contains more trace minerals than regular table salt
  2. Black Pepper – I prefer freshly cracked peppercorns, myself.
  3. Italian Seasoning – grow & dry your own or store bought; can pretty much be a sub for any Italian herb in a pinch
  4. Canned Tomatoes – can your own; buy organic or glass jarred to avoid BPA can lining
  5. Broth – boil bones to make & freeze your own to always have natural broth on hand; read labels to avoid MSG
  6. Worcestershire Sauce
  7. Soy Sauce
  8. Non-stick spray
  9. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  10. Red or White Wine Vinegar – whatever you prefer; a white vinegar of some sort is pretty versatile
  11. Balsamic Vinegar – way different than others
  12. Fresh Garlic – if you don’t use it often, minced jarred garlic is a sad substitute, but will keep longer for efficiency
  13. Vanilla
  14. Panko or Breadcrumbs – prefer Panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) because they are crispier
  15. Baking Soda
  16. Unbleached Flour – avoid the chemicals in bleached flour
  17. Sugar – buy can sugar to avoid GMO
  18. Brown Sugar
  19. Baking Powder – I prefer aluminum-free
  20. Cornstarch – to thicken sauces or mix with flour to bread anything

***I would like to add that peanut butter, tomato paste and sriracha were close contenders for the list.

By having the majority of these items on hand, it cuts down on the frustration of never having the right ingredients to spontaneously whip up a culinary creation. During our conversation, another complaint was to have to buy an expensive bottle of spice only to use a teaspoon, with the possibility of not using it again. Yeah…that pretty much sucks. No one wants to do that. Although, the solution would be to find a store that sells spices in bulk, where you can purchase as little or as much as you need. Luckily, my local health food store sells spices and dried herbs by the ounce. Or, find several recipes that you would like to try that involves that particular spice and plan to make them all within a certain period of time. Have a friend looking for spices too? Split them up, both the product and the cost! Also, do a little research on the storage and shelf life of products. When stored correctly:

•  Whole spices, herbs leaves and flowers will keep 1 – 2 years.
•  Seeds will keep 2 – 3 years and roots will keep 3 years.
•  Ground spices and herb leaves and seeds keep 1 year.
•  Ground roots will keep for 2 years.

(That’s quite a long time, right?)

So, all of you newbie and seasoned cooks…how does your list compare to mine? What would you add or subtract?

10 Responses to 20 Must Have Items for Every Cook, Newbie or Not
  1. Corrin
    December 4, 2012 | 4:01 PM

    Dorot frozen herbs are a must. I always have garlic and cilantro in my freezer. http://www.dorot.co.il/

    There are a few things on your list that I rarely use (vinegars and corn starch). I do use an insane amount of dill, coconut oil, and lemon.

    • Toni
      December 5, 2012 | 7:12 PM

      I have never heard of Dorot herbs…very interesting and handy! I grow and dry dill, but I don’t use it in recipes very much. I must change this immediately! :)

  2. Nicky
    December 4, 2012 | 4:17 PM

    My list is very similar. I don’t use Italian seasoning, but use copeous amounts of an all purose seasoning intended for barbecueing Instead of non-stick spray, I use coconut oil. On vinegar, I use more balsamic and apple cidre vinegar than white or red wine vinegar. If I could add a few extras, it would be ground cumin, cilantro, and pecans/almonds.

    • Toni
      December 5, 2012 | 7:09 PM

      I added Italian seasoning because I thought it would be versatile for a “newbie” cook…if they didn’t have all of the herbs like oregano, basil, etc. that would make a good sub without purchasing all of those separately. I, too, use an all purpose seasoning that I can’t live without, but it’s an order only type of product so I didn’t bother listing it. I live on balsamic vinegar, especially in the summer…isn’t it the best?

  3. Tammi
    December 4, 2012 | 5:37 PM

    I’ve been debating whether to buy sriracha or not. It is listed in a recipe I want to try, but I have this fear that it will be insanely spicy and kick our butts and I’ll end up throwing the whole bottle away. I have to echo the above comment to add ground cumin and fresh cilantro.

    • Toni
      December 5, 2012 | 7:05 PM

      I was trying to think of all pantry items :) We do Mexican a lot, so cumin, etc. was on my list as well. Though, I had to remember the general population might not use those as much. As far as sriracha, my family puts it on everything. It has a great flavor and you can use as little or as much as you want. Nice to add just a tad of heat to something. :)

  4. Kammie @ Sensual Appeal
    December 4, 2012 | 9:20 PM

    Great list! I actually don’t use sugar or brown sugar very often, but I do use stevia and turbinado instead. I also don’t really use soy sauce, Worcestershire, or breadcrumbs. Instead of regular flour I usually use spelt or whole wheat. But obviously the gist of it is the same :) For me, another thing I use a WHOLE lot is cocoa powder – but that’s probably because I’m a chocoholic, haha.

    • Toni
      December 5, 2012 | 7:07 PM

      I use a ton of cocoa powder too…but then again, I’m a baker. duh. 😀

  5. Alaiyo Kiasi
    December 6, 2012 | 7:47 AM

    I mentally ticked off everything on your list and am glad to say that I have everything. Great list.


  6. Sarah Parisi
    December 8, 2012 | 9:13 AM

    I have almost everything!

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