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Basic ingredients

What every kitchen cupboard should have

Ever opened your kitchen cupboards or fridge, stared bleakly inside at all the hundreds of miscellaneous half-used bottles, jars and packages and wondered what to make for dinner?

Only about six times a week.

While the cupboards might be filled to overflowing, they may not be filled with the right stuff.

Having the right ingredients stowed away in the kitchen cupboards is the first step to get a cooking-friendly kitchen, a kitchen primed for any gourmet meal.

The ingredients don’t have to be expensive and they don’t have to be from far flung exotic places. They just have to be there, readily available so that you can whip up a tasty salad or a filling pasta dish, a zesty steak or a fancy pizza.

Lauren Piper, the owner of the Whistler Cooking School, shares some of the secrets of her shelves.

The school is coming up on its two year anniversary next month and over the past two years, Piper has had the chance to stockpile her school with all the necessary ingredients that some of the best chefs in the Pacific Northwest could ever want.

These chefs, like Brock Windsor from the Bearfoot Bistro and Bob Dykes former chef of Umberto Menghi’s II Caminetto and the Fish House in Stanley Park, use them in their creations at the school when they walk students through the preparation of a gourmet meal.

Piper starts off her list with some canned goods, the most important of which are canned tomatoes.

Lining the shelves of the school are cans of San Marazano tomatoes, Piper’s top choice. An organic brand of tomatoes called Muir Glen comes in a close second.

"We use (canned tomatoes) for any kind of tomato pasta sauce," she said. "We’ll use them for making Gazpacho and probably a hundred different stews. We use them all the time."

Canned tomatoes seem like they would be a staple in any kitchen but Piper then rhymed off some other not-so-common canned goods, among them anchovies and capers.

"We do a lot of Mediterranean classes and in Provence anchovies are used all the time and in Italy they’ll use them too, so we seem to need those on a regular basis," she said.

Tuna is another staple, along with artichoke hearts, which she said are great for throwing on top of a pasta dish or a salad or even a pizza.

And rounding off the canned good section are canned beans, specifically chick peas and black beans.

"They really are a good second to actually cooking the beans yourself," she said.

Moving on from the canned goods, Piper then gives the run down on some essential grains.

She keeps a variety of rice and pastas on hand at the school at all times. Usually there are three different types of rice to choose from: Thai, Arborio and regular rice.

The pasta comes in all different shapes and sizes.

And recently cous cous, the large grains that are about the size of small peas, has become a must-have item in stock.

"We’ve been working a lot with the big Mediterranean cous cous," said Piper. "Not the little grains but a bigger grain which is toasted."

Piper started bringing in famous area chefs to the school to teach locals and visitors a few tricks in the kitchen.

Students are broken up into small groups of about three and four people and are set up with all the implements of the trade, as well as the ingredients for the chef’s chosen meal.

They are then walked through the preparation of the meal.

Piper said most of the chefs cook with olive oil to some degree, even if it’s mixed with a little vegetable oil.

She keeps a lot of really good olive oils on hand for the chefs to use, specifically extra virgin olive oil.

"Extra virgin is good for all the salads as well as being really good for you," she said.

Going hand in hand with the extra virgin olive oil is some great balsamic vinegar.

Piper doesn’t just limit her vinegar to balsamic. She keeps about eight to 10 different choices on hand, fruit flavoured or otherwise.

"We use a local raspberry and cherry one a lot," she said.

Likewise there is always a good mix of mustards to choose from, between five and six.

And topping off the bottle goods section – the wine. There are always bottles of red and white and they’re not for sipping.

Piper also has a balsamic reduction that she said could go on almost everything.

Still, there are things at the Whistler Cooking School that cannot feasibly be duplicated in home cupboards due to space and money. For example they have over 100 different spices on hand.

"We have things that you can’t even think of," said Piper.

But if she had to break it down and recommend a few key herbs and spices for people to cook with she comes back with some old regulars: salt and pepper.

"You can’t go wrong with salt and pepper," she said.

Piper prefers the fresh flavour of sea salt as opposed to table salt.

"It’s really nice for finishing things like when you’re done cooking a soup or you want to put salt on something at the last minute to give it a little kick," she said.

"Sea salt just has a really nice clean sea flavour."

Good peppercorns are never far from hand either.

Piper said oregano, basil, cumin and turmeric are good for the dried spices.

For the more adventuresome in the kitchen, Piper then listed the essential baking goods: flour, baking soda, baking powder and sugar.

At the school Piper puts vanilla beans in the sugar to give it some extra flavour.

With just a little yeast in the cupboards, she said anyone could be on their way to making bread, focaccia or some pizza dough.

"If you have the flour and a little bit of oil and some yeast, you can pretty much make a nice pizza dough," she said.

And there’s one more essential item in the baking section: chocolate. And she always has different kinds of chocolate.

As far as a baked desert goes, "You can pretty much get by with chocolate and flour," she joked.

So throw out the boxes of Kraft Dinner, the jars of pre-made spaghetti sauce and the instant noodles.

Start stockpiling these simple items and then start cooking.

With these ingredients on hand, you can be set to bring to life many tasty recipes from scratch.

All you need now is a good sharp knife and a cutting board.