I’m asked all the time “what food should I have in my pantry?”
Here’s the secret: Stock what makes your life easier and what works for you. Don’t be tied to what someone says you should have… buy what will take the heat out of the kitchen (Seems like a big “duh” doesn’t it?).
Many “stocking your pantry” articles in magazines or posted on the internet tell you to always have certain things on hand, like dried beans in a bag. But if you aren’t going to remember to soak them prior to cooking, what’s the use of having them take up space?
When stocking the pantry, make sure the canned, jarred and bottled goods have a “best buy” or “use before” date that isn’t just around the corner (or you will have wasted your money). Other items, like flour and sugar, should be placed in containers with tight lids or re-sealable plastic bags once they’ve been opened.
As you’ve probably noticed, I don’t use a lot of canned vegetables. Maybe it was my mother’s influence… she lived out of a can. I remember our cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving still had the can-ring indentations on it. In her defense, she was riding herd on nine children… so, as I like to say, you do what is necessary—sorry, mom, for throwing you under the bus, but it’s not 1958 and we’re not likely to be stuck in a bomb shelter for weeks at a time.
Back to the canned vegetables. I always have canned tomatoes and canned beans in my pantry. I know canned beans of any kind should be anathema in my house because I’m Hispanic. But nachos are my family’s snack of choice and canned refried beans are just easier. I don’t have time to make my own stock. I’ve made it in the past and it is delicious but I just can’t do it these days. So I always look for the low sodium, low fat cans or boxes. I practice what I preach. Well, most of the time.
This is what you should always have in your pantry:
1. Boxed or canned stock
3. Rice (long grain… but maybe Arborio rice, too, because Risotto can solve a Dinner Dilemma and it is great when it is “Clean the Fridge” time)
4. Canned tomatoes and/or tomato sauce
5. Herbs and Spices (buy these in small quantities because they lose their flavor). May I suggest:
-All Purpose Seasoning
8. Vinegar (I’ll leave this up to you. You can buy white distilled vinegar which you can use for everything from scrubbing the floors to making Deviled Eggs… or step it up and buy Sherry Vinegar or a good Balsamic Vinegar or Red Wine Vinegar.)
9. Canola Oil
10. Any canned vegetable that you really like and can’t always get fresh, or don’t have time to prepare.
And the next equally important items:
11. Olive Oil
12. Canned Beans
14. All Purpose Flour
16. Fresh whole garlic
18. Russet potatoes
19. Savory Sauce like Worcestershire, soy or teriyaki (preferably low sodium)
20. Tomato paste in a tube (rarely will you use an entire 6 oz. can)
These items are also pantry items that come in handy, but only if you plan to use them before they go off or get stale once they are opened:
- Pasta Sauce
- Peanut butter
- Jelly or Jam
- Real Maple Syrup
- Tabasco Sauce
If you bake regularly, and I mean more than just during the holidays, you should probably have these items on hand, in addition to the flour and sugar. Buy these in small quantities and make sure they are sealed tight (or in a re-sealable bag) once you open them:
- Baking soda (good for cleaning, indigestion and brushing your teeth, too!)
- Baking powder
- Light and Dark Brown Sugar
- Condensed Milk (sweetened and/or unsweetened)
- Nuts and Dried Fruit, including raisins and coconut
- Chocolate chips
- Vanilla Extract
These basic items are a great starting point… you’ll only need to add fresh ingredients, like meat, fish, vegetables and other perishables to cook some really fabulous recipes!