Planting seeds of health and happiness

Pantry Staples!

March 31st, 2014 / cat / 0 comments

Here you go: a list of pantry staples that will make it easier to cook regularly — and by instinct rather than depending solely on recipes.

Of course, this list could change dramatically – depending on the cuisines that influence your cooking, and logistical things, like how much space you have! Take this list, like all advice, with a grain of salt, and leave suggestions for pantry basics I’ve left out! Art, flavor, food: they are all one! Enjoy!!

  • Good Sea Salt
    Maldon Sea Salt is a nice flakey salt that many chefs prefer for finishing. It costs about $7 for a box that will last you a long time. It makes a noticeable difference if you salt your food with it. Trust me. For salting while you cook, a $2 box of coarse kosher will work.
  • Black Peppercorns and a Good Peppermill
    You can buy peppercorns in a container that also grinds them, but usually this is a big waste of plastic since you cannot refill the container. There are a range of peppermills to choose from.
  • Good Quality Olive Oil
    My rule of thumb is to get the best you can afford, and don’t buy more than you can use in a few months because it will go rancid. I love Eden and Costco brands.
  • Chicken (or Vegetable) Stock
    Have a few cartons of stock around for risottos, simmering vegetables, and just giving extra flavor to your stove-top and oven-prepared dishes. Shelf-stable, packaged stock (or broth) comes in 32oz (4 cup) cartons, and handy 8oz (1 cup) containers. I prefer to make my own and freeze!
  • Dried Pasta
    Perhaps the most obvious pantry staple. If you have several shapes, you’ll be halfway to dinner. I keep one long, like spaghetti and several shaped pastas. Everyone loves pasta!
  • Dried Spices
    Pick your favorite 5! Curry, Celery Seed, Old Bay, Vogel mix, and Cumin are mine — I cook mostly vegetarian.
  • Vinegar of Several Varieties
    Don’t get lost here. Start with balsamic, then try white wine vinegar. If you cook with Asian-influenced flavors, a bottle of rice wine vinegar will help.
  • Canned Whole Plum Tomatoes
    If you have room, keep several large cans on hand. Many meals for me start by dumping one into a pot and then adding whatever else I have around. Stews, braises, pasta sauces, bruschetta purees. It’s pretty much endless. Yet fresh tomatoes or sundried are my ULTIMATE favs!!!
  • Rice
    With brown and black rice in my kitchen, I always feel like I can pull something together. Those are my preferences – one for health reasons, the other for taste and texture. There are many varieties of rice: choose at least two.
  • Dried Mushrooms
    Dried porcini mushrooms pack the most punch, but buy what you can afford. offers a pound of bulk organic dried porcini for $25, which may sound expensive, but that is a lot of dried mushrooms, and they keep well in a sealed container (I use a canning jar.) Trader Joe’s shoppers can buy an inexpensive bag of dried wild mushrooms ($1.99 for an ounce, enough to get you through a couple of meals so buy a few packets), a mix of porcini, shiitake, cremini, and oyster mushrooms.
  • Capers
    Either packed in brine, or salt, capers are an essential ingredient in many Mediterranean dishes from Pasta Puttanesca to Salad Niçoise. They instantly add a tang and pungency to chicken, fish and pasta. Try pairing them with lemony flavors. Olives as well!
  • Anchovies
    Cured fillets, packed either in olive oil or salt (which have a longer shelf life), add depth to salad dressings, pasta sauces. Just one or two mashed up fillets can be that “magic ingredient” you’re looking for when something just isn’t tasty enough.
  • Dried Red Pepper Flakes
    When you want a little spice in any dish, a pinch of red pepper flakes added during the cooking process will go a long way. Cayenne works too!
  • Dijon Mustard
    Slather it on roasts, add to salad dressings, plop a dollop of it on your cheeseboard. MUSTARD in general!! Love it on fish!
  • Nut Oil
    A small bottle of walnut or hazelnut oil will go a long way as a base for salad dressings, or a quick finishing drizzle on finished pasta dishes, meats, or cooked vegetables.
  • Nuts
    If you keep one kind of nut around, the pine nut gets my vote. Then, second, sliced almonds. They turn in a few months, so really use them if you have them, or keep unused nuts in the freezer. Toasted in the oven or in a skillet, they’re great in salads, in rice dishes and smashed up as crusts for meat and fish.
  • Lentils
    A quick legume that makes a nice warm side-dish, or a fresh, cool salad. The tiny green French variety is my favorite. Yellow lentils are common in Indian cooking.
  • Quinoa
    Cooks quickly and is delicious warm or cool. Takes to cooked vegetables, or finely chopped fresh vegetables.
  • Almond Butter and Coconut Milk
    I know they are not in the same category but if I am out of these, I am out of food – I LOVE them both!

Eat Well, Be well, Stock well! BE PREPARED!

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