Let's say you're nineteen, and in six days you go back to school, far far away from Mom and the happy home kitchen, where you just got through washing about eight bazillion dishes so maybe we should be calling this post Escape From the Happy Home Kitchen, but anyway.
So say you're going back to school and this year, because you are an official Big Girl On Campus, you are not moving back into the dinky dorm with the electric kettle balanced on the edge of the shared sink, oh no: you are moving into An Apartment. With Friends. And a Kitchen. And No Meal Plan. Which means . . .
No, try again. I mean, it could mean Pop Tarts. You can have Pop Tarts for dinner (just don't tell me if you do). But what you hope, and what I hope, is that it means cooking for yourself.
And really, you're a pretty good cook. Those pork chops last night: good. Brownies: to die for. Dijon chicken: delish. Fancy tuna salad with craisins and grapes and pine nuts: a thing of excellence. So we know you can do this, right? But what we also know is that it's a lot easier to cook good meals in a reasonably well-stocked kitchen, which yours will not be -- until you stock it, that is.
You'll be going grocery shopping right smartish, I presume, since they who do not grocery shop should not eat. So let's think about what ought to go on that first list, that list not only of what you want to eat RIGHT NOW, but of what you want to keep on hand so that you can make what you want to eat RIGHT NOW, day after day after day.
Item 1: The Spice Rack
This is important. Spices can be a little pricey, but a bottle will last you a long time and see you through many different kinds of meals. Buy them now, and you're set.
Here are my staples:
ground black pepper
white pepper (good on pork; Julia Child loved it on just about everything)
*I know, I know. Better to use fresh. But when you're in a hurry, and you don't have a car to get to the store, it's nice to have a reasonably imperishable supply that doesn't grow green stalks when ignored.
I feel as though I'm forgetting something important on the spice list, but I can't think what, and I'm too lazy to go look at my own spice collection. Anyway, that's more or less my list of basics, without which the kitchen cannot function. After the first shopping trip, you can strike off that part of the shopping list and only replenish things as they run out.
Item 2: The Cupboard
* 1 5-lb bag flour
(whatever kind you like. I'm a King Arthur Whole Wheat kind of person myself. Even for brownies)
sugar or honey or both
cocoa powder (also really good in homemade chili)
oil: I'd get both olive oil (not extra-virgin, for cooking) and coconut oil. You can get some extra-virgin olive oil to have on hand for salad dressings. Keep it in the cupboard, out of the light, when you're not using it, and it will stay non-rancid longer.
***can diced tomatoes/tomato paste
*For those who like to bake. Otherwise, don't bother, though you do use flour for things like sauces. A sack of flour will last you a good while. You may wish to put your flour in a glass canister to keep bugs out of it, and to keep it from spilling annoyingly in the cupboard. So "glass canister" would be a good item to add to the list for the first shopping trip.
**more expensive than making your own soups and dried beans, but let's be real. This is a college apartment, not a third-floor homestead. Look for sales and stock up on whatever is marked down this week. These are good for emergency meals, when you're in a hurry or out of everything else.
***The Organic Food Stasi want you to know that eating canned tomatoes will kill you. Mom wants you to know that eventually and inevitably something will kill you, and canned tomatoes are one of the slower methods. Meanwhile, they're awfully useful for chili, soups, pasta sauces, dumping on chicken or pork chops with some herbs, and so on.
Item 3: The Fridge
These items you will buy weekly:
*You might plan 3-5 meat meals per week and buy very small packs of the meats you want: chicken, pork, beef. Alternatively you can buy a huge pack of, say, boneless pork chops or chicken thighs, and cook it up at one go, then use the meat in different ways for days on end: a pork chop for dinner, then a pork sandwich for lunch, then chopped-up pork in stir fry or fried rice or a burrito . . . A rotisserie chicken can last you for several meals, too. Omelettes are a good Friday and emergency stand-by, as are the tuna, beans, and soup you have stockpiled in your cupboard.
**Don't go that overboard on fresh fruits and veggies -- that is to say, don't buy more than you can eat before they go bad. Besides, you have . . .
Item 4: The Freezer
When I was in college, the freezer was where you kept your Lean Cuisine. You, however, are smarter than that.
frozen vegetables: chopped spinach, green beans, peas, lima beans, whatever you like
frozen fruit: blueberries, raspberries, peaches (good for smoothies, for putting in muesli and oatmeal, for making cobblers for dessert, and so on)
maybe some frozen meat: a bag of chicken leg quarters (cheap, and you can pull one out at a time, at need, and they'll last you a long time) or burger patties.
I have to go finish making dinner now, and I'm sure I'm forgetting all kinds of things. Please feel free to fill in my blanks for me in the combox. Oh, and pop tarts. Don't forget the pop tarts.
ADDENDUM: In Which the College Girl Gets All Domestic Goddessy (yes, that's her real hair)