How To: Set Yourself Up In the Kitchen, Part 2: Pantry Staples




If any of you have seen the movie Nights at Rodanthe with Diane Lane and Richard Gere, you remember the scene where they are playing baseball in the kitchen with Jean’s pantry “staples” that have been holding on for the past 20 years or so. Diane Lane, shot after shot of Jack Daniels, pitches cans of okra, Spam, Vienna sausage and so on. I laughed really hard because of the fact that when going down the canned goods aisle at the supermarket it never seizes to amaze me what can be packed into a can. And it all seems like a good idea at the time, doesn’t it? As a beginner cook, canned collards and carrots may look attractive. Don’t go there, but do think about items that could be used over and over again in recipes. The items listed here cover the basics.  

EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL contains antioxidant properties and can be used for cooking and on its own for dressings, of course. There’s always this debate to go with the virgin or the pure—who knew there would be a difference, but in oils there is—but I find to get the best bang for your buck, go with the extra virgin which has a clean, non-overpowering flavor.

CANOLA OR VEGETABLE OIL has a higher smoking temperature than olive oil and therefore can be used for sautéing (i.e. Asian cooking), deep frying etc.

BROTH (CHICKEN, BEEF OR VEGETABLE) provides that I’ve-been-cooking-this-for-hours flavor. I recommend using a low-sodium chicken broth so you have control over the amount of salt; and one that re-seals. However, if you really want to stretch your dollar, make your own—it has a set-it-and-forget-it type commitment.

DRIED PASTA is something that you have to have. It makes for a quick and easy meal hot or cold that has endless possibilities.

WHITE VINEGAR has more uses than just for salad dressing find them here at Vinegar Tips.  You can use it to tenderize meats and to disinfect; the key is to use it sparingly.

WHITE OR BROWN RICE is good plain and is one of those endless-possibilities type items for almost any cuisine.

CANNED TOMATOES (WHOLE, DICED, PURÉE) is for the most part associated with Italian cooking, but it works just as well as a substitute for fresh tomatoes—of course nothing beats fresh. A lot of recipes call for whole tomatoes for the reason that those tomatoes are the pick of the litter; however, don’t be afraid to use diced tomatoes as a time saver. Tomato purée (no seasoning) is generally used to make tomato sauce, but I won’t say anything if you opt for tomato sauce (already seasoned) if you’re not into that. 

CANNED BEANS (BLACK BEANS, KIDNEY BEANS, CHICK PEAS) is a great added protein and flavor for salads and works for great sides.   

CANNED TUNA (PACKED IN WATER) there is the option to have it packed in oil as well, but personally I’d like to be my own judge as to how much oil I use in my dishes. Canned tuna is great hot or cold—search beyond those tuna sandwich recipes.

BREAD CRUMBS you can choose between Italian or plain, but plain gives you the versatility to add whatever spices you want to it.

GRANULATED SUGAR is not just for tea and coffee. 

ALL PURPOSE FLOUR has so many uses. A tip: you can make pancakes at a fraction of the cost if you make it from “scratch” than if you buy pancake mix.

BAKING SODA is used in all baking recipes and pancakes. A small can will take you a long way. An extra box in the fridge or any smell accumulating area works wonders.

BAKING POWDER also used in every baking recipe.

PURE VANILLA EXTRACT can be expensive but the “good” stuff is pure in flavor and you will only need a small amount in a recipe. Look at this as an investment item.

CORN STARCH is the universal thickener, and for the most part works consistently better than flour for that purpose.

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