Having cooked at a lot of friend's houses I've learned never to assume! I'll list some basic ingredients I'll hope you have. It's not a bad idea to have most of these on hands anyway...just in case you need to make that late night snack or breakfast to impress any overnight guests!
- Kosher Salt - Yes it matters. It doesn't have the iodized taste of table salt and is very easy to see while seasoning food. You don't need fleur de sel or sea salt per say. Morton's is just fine you don't need to get super fancy.
- Pepper Mill with peppercorns - If you're using the picnic paper pepper shaker, you might as well not use pepper at all. A good mill can run you $20 or more. I've had mine for 10 years...the mill will probably be full of pepper to start. I like mills that are metal since the wood ones wears over time.
- Onions - Cooking is all about building flavor and onions are the main ingredient of mirepoix. You don't need to buy a 5 lb bag but 2-3 just in case is good - yellow or red works.
- Garlic - I won't get to anal if its fresh or if you want to buy the jar kind I'm happy you're cooking...if it's in a jar you might as well get the big jar since you'll need more. If you get fresh, and you should, keeping it at room temp with the onions.
- Flour - Buy a bag, then buy a god plastic container you can store it in. You finally have a use for the canister set your aunt got you for the holidays.
- Sugar - canisters never come alone. White sugar no need for the fancy brown kind...that stuff becomes a rock anyway.
- Lemon Juice - Acid is a key fundamental in cooking...again having a fresh lemon is nice but a bottle of lemon juice isn't the end of the world.
- Cooking Oil - I love using grape seed oil for cooking since it has a really high smoke point, but if you can't find it vegetable oil works to.
- Olive Oil - Extra Virgin - you can get fancy and buy some great olive oil but if you're at the local grocery store extra virgin will have the best flavor for a salad dressing. If you're ever in the Mediterranean or at a winery...ask them if they sell olive oil from the vineyard!
- Vinegar - Balsamic is a standard - pay the extra for the balsamic from Modena, if you hate balsamic then champagne, sherry or red wine vinegar can work as well but will carry the flavor. Keep the white vinegar for the cleaning supplies.
This is pretty basic....if you want to get fancy and keep other stuff around - Soy Sauce, Sesame Oil, Truffle Salt, White Pepper, Pasta, Eggs, Mustard - preferably Dijon and Honey. I'll list every ingredient but this stuff keeps your shopping a little lighter and you can snack on something decent.
You can have an amazing home and a nice kitchen but certain basics need to be around so you can cook effectively. I have a wok but you don't need a wok to cook a stir fry. Again having the below list of equipment is a great start and you can get as crazy with pots and pans as you want...I have more dishes, serving wear and glasses then I need. Cooking is fun not a job!
- Knives - I know I'll write about this from time to time but I always get asked what kind of knife do you have? Do you like Japanese or German Steel? Right unless you're on TV, get a knife that's comfortable. I like my 8inch chef's knife, serrated bread knife, boning knife, and a utility knife. The rest is all for show. You can pay as much as you like just keep the knife sharp.
- Cutting Board - Color coded? Wood? Plastic? Wood is more sanitary but plastic is more affordable. Do you have the space for more than one? Get a good board you like but, BUT the key is making sure its decent size and won't slide all over.
- Sauté Pan - or a frying pan...12 inch is fine unless you plan on cooking for the masses. Also get an 8inch non-stick omelet pan and ONLY use it for eggs. Trust me if matters! If you're getting non-stick on your pans then get wood or heat resistant plastic cooking tools. ALSO if you can get oven safe pans get them...saves on clean-up later.
- Pots - I would get 2. One nice and big for pasta and another 1-2qt so you can boil a potato. Glass lids are great so you can see what you're cooking.
- Colander - you need to drain hot liquids safely!
- "Cookie" Sheet - I use that word because that's what we all grew up on. Rule one...make sure the pan fits in your oven! Second, pay a little extra for the heavy gauge metal it won't burn the food as easily and will last longer. I always use tinfoil but you need a pan that can hold up to high heat.
- Cooking tools - Wood spoons, heat resistant plastic spatulas, and a pair of tongs. A whisk is nice but not essential.
I'll do my best to cook using only these tools to show you can cook awesome food without a million dollars worth of equipment.