Maybe you constantly face that "kitchen full of food with nothing to eat" problem that you get when you stock up on the wrong stuff, or maybe you'd like to increase the bang for your buck by finding multiple uses for every item. Whatever the reason, you're ready to venture into a world where a well-stocked kitchen is essential. So here are the essentials of stocking your kitchen.
The Essential Spice Rack:
Ten Seasonings Every College Student Should Keep on Hand
10) Thyme. Dried thyme has an earthy-yet-delicate flavor that enhances many foods. To try: Toss a generous pinch with diced potatoes, a drizzle of olive oil, and salt to taste; and roast in a preheated 425-degree oven for about 30 minutes or until the potatoes are soft.
9) Lemon pepper. It's both lemony and peppery, but it comes in a single container. What's not to love? To try: Combine it with salt to taste and use this as a rub on chicken or fish.
8) Chili powder. Chili can be a lifesaver: Cook once, eat for three days. To try: Even if you don't have time to make a pot of chili, you can use this powder to quickly season pan-fried veggies. You can do this with salt only, or in combination with some of the other spices on this list, such as cumin and oregano.
7) Cumin. Include this flavorful-yet-versatile spice in Central American-, Middle Eastern-, and Indian-style dishes. To try: Use it with salt to season beef for taco filling.
6) Crushed red pepper. Make friends for life out of the people who went in on that pizza with you. To try: It's versatile enough to be used in many meat, vegetable, and pasta dishes; and, of course, on pizza. Use it sparingly until you know how much you like.
5) Cinnamon-sugar. You don't have to be a kitchen guru to be familiar with this classic component of many sweets and breakfast foods. To try: Stir it into your morning oatmeal.
4) Oregano. You may already know that dried oregano goes great on pizza and pasta. It's also common for non-Italian-inspired recipes to call for it, particularly New Orleans-style dishes. To try: Sprinkle it on a plain cheese pizza to really get an idea of the flavor.
3) Garlic salt. There are very few culinary challenges that a little garlic salt won't overcome. To try: Stir it into steamed veggies, rub it into chicken or beef with a little black pepper prior to cooking, or even sprinkle it over buttered toast to make the world's easiest garlic bread.
2) Whole black peppercorns with grinder lid. Whole peppercorns tend to maintain their flavor longer than ground pepper. To try: Buy peppercorns in a container with a grinder lid so you can use them whole in certain recipes or enjoy them fresh-ground on almost any of your favorite foods.
1) Sea salt. Instantly elevate just about any dish with sea salt. To try: Sprinkle it over meat, salads, baked potatoes… even ice cream with caramel sundae sauce. Just remember to use it sparingly—compared to table salt, a little goes a long way.
11 Flavor Enhancers that Every College Student Should Keep on Hand
11) Honey. Makes a sweet addition to breakfast foods, snacks, or desserts.
10) Soy sauce. Great for stir-fry, an easy meal that can be ready fast.
9) Worcestershire sauce. An essential ingredient in many simple beef marinades.
8) Barbecue sauce. For an easy dinner, just salt chicken breast cutlets or tenderloins, pan-fry over medium heat with vegetable oil, and coat with a little barbecue sauce. Nothing to it!
7) Pickles. Instantly upgrade cold-cut sandwiches, burgers, and more.
6) Fruit jam or jelly. Adds an original touch to homemade desserts, sauces, dressings, and marinades… and of course, when you don't feel like being that fancy, you'll need it for your PBJ.
5) Peanut butter. In addition to sandwiches, you can use it in smoothies, or spread it on apple slices or rice cakes for a snack. If you're allergic to peanuts, try a sunflower- or soy-based butter.
4) Salad dressing. Choose your favorite and keep it around. A bagged salad is a quick, easy way to get your veggies.
3) Hot sauce. It just makes everything that much better.
2) Mustard. Essential for many easy-to-make foods such as cold-cut sandwiches and burgers.
1) Ketchup. There are few condiments as versatile as ketchup. That said, please don't put it on something that doesn't mesh well and dare someone to eat it—your high school cafeteria days are over, my friend.
The Essential Pantry:
Nine Nonperishables Every College Student Should Keep on Hand
9) Taco shells. Tip: Start a regular taco night. Offer some basics like lettuce, cheese, and salsa, and request that everyone bring an unusual topping to share. Once word of your taco night gets around, the toppings bar will become a legendary smorgasbord. Friends. Made.
8) Pasta and sauce. There aren't many meals that can beat pasta where speed is concerned. Plus, when time allows, you can experiment with variations by adding different combos of meats and steamed veggies.
7) Soup. Remember when we said there aren't many meals that can beat pasta for speed? (We hope so—it was just a second ago.) Anyway, canned soup is an exception.
6) Canned beans. They're great to have around for many easy, one-pot recipes. Red kidney beans and black beans are particularly versatile.
5) Canned tomatoes. If you're new to cooking, you'd be surprised how often you see these pop up in recipes. If you're not new to cooking, you probably already have several cans of tomatoes.
4) Instant rice. Many styles of cuisine include rice. A quick-cooking variety has the added benefit of instantly transforming that last meager spoonful of leftovers your roommate left for you into a full meal.
3) Flour. Another way to make friends? Learn to bake.
2) Sugar. The well-stocked pantry has both white and brown sugars.
1) Oil. Vegetable and olive oils are the most versatile. Either can be used for cooking, though one or the other may be more appropriate (when in doubt, use vegetable oil—olive oil adds a very distinct flavor). Olive oil can be drizzled over salads or sandwiches, by itself or with certain vinegars such as red wine or balsamic.