If you want to spice up your recipes and save money, you need to begin with a well-curated cupboard. What should you have within arm's reach at all times?
Start with a good salt and a good pepper. One suggestion is to keep two salts on hand: a kosher salt and a high-quality salt to use as a finishing touch on whatever you are serving. And of course salt can't be far from pepper, so stock your pantry with real peppercorns and a quality peppermill.
Next, make sure you have an oil that can withstand high temperatures for tasks such as searing, grilling, and sautéing. In addition to that high-heat oil, stock a good quality olive oil. Just like the finishing salt, it's going to provide a lot of flavor to your recipes.
Now add some vinegars to your pantry. For a lower-end acidity, use cider, rice, or champagne vinegar. Then add a workhorse acid such as white or red vinegar to your shelves.
Then stock your pantry with sweetness. Aside from the standard sugars that are available, you can add something with a lower glycemic index, like honey or agave. Both of these sweeteners can thicken your recipes, mellow out flavors, and improve the final product.
In addition to the salt, the sweet, the pepper, and the acid, keep some savory items in your pantry, such as tomato paste or soy sauce. Another option is mustard, which is great in vinaigrettes and marinades. Finally, keep on hand a good hot sauce or chili paste for a kick in soups and bean dishes.
After you've stocked your seasonings, make sure you have a selection of starches available. Options include pasta, potatoes, or rice. For meatless dishes, look for grain options like faro and barley. These grains are good for you and are also easy to make.
Another important item to have on hand in your pantry is high-quality canned tomatoes. They are very versatile and can become everything from a simple tomato sauce to the base for a soup or a stew.
Finally, keep some sort of protein on hand, such as oil-packed tuna. For a meatless option, stock a few types of nut butter, like almond or peanut. And don't forget to make sure you have some dried beans in your cupboard as well.
For more cooking tips and tricks, check out host Aida Mollenkamp's book, "Keys to the Kitchen."