Stock Your Pantry with The Staples
Happy New Year my friends! A few weeks ago, I asked for reader requests to kick off 2011! Well, it's here now and I couldn't think of a better way to kick it off then to go back to the basics.
When my lovely cousin asked me to do an article about pantry staples, I immediately started writing it in my head. I think it's important for anyone, no matter what your living situation, to have most of these staples on hand. People often ask me how I have enough time to cook at home so often instead of going out. The answer is a well-stocked pantry. I usually have over half the ingredients a dish requires at home already and I try to use my grocery store trips to get fresh foods and replenish these staples when they run out.
Having a well-stocked pantry also allows you to whip up an easy meal in a hurry if you have no other ideas. I was going to wait until after I go to the grocery store tomorrow, but then I thought wait! if this is about pantry staples...then I should have all this stuff on hand even though I haven't cooked in my own kitchen in almost 2 weeks!
I vividly remember the first time I really stocked my pantry. I guess I must have done it somewhat during my senior year of college when I lived in an apartment...but I was living with 3 other girls and let's be honest, I was in college and I didn't really eat that well. A couple months after we graduated, the hubby and I moved into our first apartment. During the move, I was horribly sick with a high fever and was having an allergic reaction to the medicine the doctor gave me. The whole thing was quite miserable...HOWEVER, not even all of that yuck could detract from my excitement for going to the grocery store the first time. Armed with a list similar to the one I'm about to give you, we headed to Wal-Mart and loaded up. By the time we were done, our cart was practically overflowing and the check-out lady was looking at us as if we were slightly crazy. I quickly explained that we were building a pantry so she would quit judging us!
If the thought of building a pantry from scratch seems daunting, take comfort in the fact that many of you reading this are not going to be starting at the very beginning. You probably already have a lot of these things on hand and after reading the list, you can just fill in the gaps. If you are starting from the beginning, yes it is expensive, yes it takes a while, and yes- it's almost impossible to find enough cupboard space to store everything....but it's worth it! If you want to eat healthy, stocking your pantry with healthy foods and time-savers is a great way to get started.
So here we go! I've organized this list the way my kitchen is organized because it was the easiest way for me to make sure I wasn't forgetting anything. I have a cupboard right by my stove, a little area of the counter and a drawer where I store a lot of my spices and condiments. It looks like this:
Then I have a walk-in pantry where I store the rest of the stuff.
And finally, I added a little list of some of my fridge and freezer staples.
Here's the list! I debated for a while about whether to write little asides about each thing..I feel like some of you will only want the list, while others want to glean as much info as possible...so the list is big and bold, but my thoughts are also included :) I didn't want to bore you with pictures of every single thing, but I tried to give you the general idea...don't judge me by my messy cupboards!
Kosher salt- I rarely add salt when cooking but when I do, I use a pinch of this.
Peppercorns- Freshly ground pepper is so much better than pre-ground. If you don't have one of these Graviti pepper grinders I highly recommend getting one. I got one from my mother-in-law a couple years ago and have since given them as gifts to several people. Just stick in some batteries, fill with peppercorns and when you turn it upside down over your food, it automatically grinds the pepper for you!
Spices- I started by buying a set of jarred spices, and then built on my collection by adding ones that weren't included in the set. However, there are several in my set that I never use, so if I were doing it again, I would probably just buy empty jars and fill them with spices I know that I use. Some of my most commonly used spices are: cumin, paprika, cayenne pepper, oregano, basil, parsley, rosemary, dry mustard, cinnamon, curry powder, chili powder and thyme. I also keep sesame seeds, poppy seeds and salt-free seasoning mixes on hand, as well as garlic powder to use in a pinch if I run out of fresh garlic!
Extra virgin olive oil- a healthy fat that I use in most of my cooking
Balsamic vinegar- great to have on hand to make salad dressing or pour over roasted vegetables
Decaffeinated tea- for when you're feeling sick, cold or nostalgic :)
Honey- I love the honey bear but I suppose any shaped bottle will suffice...remember these little guys?
White wine for cooking- You can find this specifically designed to keep in your pantry cupboard for cooking, but a regular bottle of white wine will also work!
Pam cooking spray- I don't use this often since I use Silpats, but every once and a while it comes in handy, especially for loaf pans and muffin tins!
Worcestershire sauce- great to add a few dashes to meatloaf or stir-fry
Tabasco-especially if your hubby is obsessed with hot sauces like mine is...see below
Vanilla extract-100% pure please!
Whole wheat pastry flour- expensive, but a great way to make your baked goods a little healthier!
Canola oil- another healthier fat that you can use to replace butter
Regular vinegar- use it to make your own buttermilk!
Red wine vinegar
Low sodium chicken broth- Imagine is by far the best brand I've found as far as low sodium content. As you know, now I make my own veggie broth and freeze it, but it's always a good idea to have some store-bought on hand!
Canned beans (no salt added)- make sure to rinse them even if they don't have salt added. Use in a pinch when you run out of dried or don't have time to make them.
Tomato paste (check sodium content)- most recipes only call for a Tbsp or two of tomato paste. Scoop the rest out of the can and into a ziploc bag. Press to flatten and freeze. When you need some more, just break off a chunk.
Spaghetti sauce (check sodium content)- read the labels to find the one with the lowest sodium content. Use when you don't have time to make your own.
Diced tomatoes (no salt added)
Crushed tomatoes (no salt added)- use to make your own spaghetti sauce
Dried beans- one of the cheapest forms of protein, easy to make a big batch, freeze and pull out when needed!
Tuna- I get the kind packed in water. Great way to add protein to salads or casseroles
Chickpeas- another inexpensive protein source. Add to pasta dishes and salads or roast them for a snack!
Cream of chicken/mushroom soups (Healthy Request)- can be used to make enchiladas, crockpot dishes and even gravy in a pinch
Evaporated milk (Skim)- I don't use this often but occasionally a recipe calls for it and it's nice to have on hand
Garlic- While buying the pre-minced kind in the jar is convenient, make sure you look at the label to see what else is in that liquid. I opt for fresh cloves of garlic and mince them up right along with my vegetables or use a garlic press:
Onions- I keep both red and white in stock. I seem to buy at least one onion every time I'm at the store, even if I don't need them...I'm not sure why
Dried chili peppers- they come in big bags, last forever, and are a great way to add some heat to your favorite dishes like Clam Spaghetti
Brown Rice- uncooked or low sodium instant- just check the sodium content. I love Uncle Ben's 90 second brown rice, but some of their varieties are really high in sodium
Bread crumbs- I usually buy unseasoned and then add the spices myself, or you can make your own with some stale bread!
Cornstarch- Great for thickening sauces and soups
Cornmeal- great to make muffins, cornbread and sprinkle under your homemade pizza dough to keep it from sticking to your pizza stone
Quaker oats- add them to cookies and baked goods to make them healthier or use them to make homemade granola
Panko Breadcrumbs- I use these to bread my fish and chicken
Pasta- I always keep several boxes on hand, including spaghetti noodles, lasagna noodles, bowties and elbows
Cereal- Healthy cereals like Cheerios and Kix are a great way to start your day
Instant oatmeal- Watch the sugar content. I love the pre-packaged fruit flavored ones, but they can be high in added sugars. I've started buying plain and adding in my own mix-ins like pumpkin cinnamon or strawberry banana
Crackers- check the labels. Look for whole grain, low-fat, low sodium and low sugar. I like Kashi Original 7 Grain
Macaroni and cheese- a childhood favorite in the blue box. I usually have one box on hand for emergencies :)
Bisquick- great for pancakes, waffles and biscuits or cornbread in a pinch
Other Pantry Staples
Smart Balance peanut butter
Mixed nuts- great to pack for a morning or afternoon snack. Mix with dried fruit and cereal or crackers to make your own trail mix.
Granola bars- check the labels!
Fridge Staples Condiments
Syrup- also look for alternatives like yogurt to dip your pancakes in instead
Teriyaki sauce- look for low sodium
BBQ Sauce- check the sugar content or make your own
Low-sodium soy sauce- still use sparingly...even the low sodium kind is high in salt!
Low-fat salad dressing- I love Newman's Sesame Ginger or even better make your own!
More Fridge Staples
Stick butter- unsalted please!
Tub Butter- I like Brummel and Brown Yogurt Spread
Vanilla yogurt- I put it in scones and other baked goods!
Parmesan cheese- lasts for a long time and you can use sparingly
Lemons-use for the zest or juice to help brighten the flavor of dishes
Whole wheat tortillas- check the sodium content and make sure the ingredient lists whole wheat first!
Low-fat string cheese- great for snacking...takes you back to childhood!
Low-fat Mozzarella cheese
Low-fat Mexican cheese
Chopped spinach- great to add to lasagna or other pasta dishes
Sandwich bread- look for 100% whole wheat, low sodium and high fiber
Steamfresh veggies- good to use when your favorite is not in season.
Frozen fruit- great to have on hand to whip up smoothies!
Ginger- store in a ziploc bag and grate with the microplaner when needed
So there you go, my friends. Hope this helps get your New Year off to a great (and organized) start!!
I'll leave you with this image that the hubby noticed in his beer while we were eating dinner today...do you see the bird on the branch?
So tell me...what's on your pantry staple list that I forgot to mention?!