No, he’s not a jazz musician, but I hope it got your attention. You probably don’t need to have garam masala in your pantry (unless of course you make a lot of Indian or Asian food, in which case you might), but there are lots of other things that I think would go very well in your pantry. I am going to name a few things that I use on a regular basis that help me tremendously in the kitchen. Most of them you probably have around all the time, and if you do, it can help you create a meal on the fly for a quick weeknight dinner when you don’t want to put a lot of effort in, or for when you have unexpected guests drop by and need something quick to throw together. When it comes to items in your pantry, brand is a personal choice. Use what you and your family like best and has the best flavor for you. There are a few brands I will recommend that I really like using, but do what fits your taste and budget the best.
Everyone has their own list of things they like to keep around in the pantry based on what their family likes best. There are basics like flour, salt, sugar, pepper, butter and milk that most people have around in one variation or another, depending on what you like and what your dietary restrictions may be.These are a few things I always have in the house:
Rice – I always have whole grain rice, sometimes brown rice, but always whole grain. It doesn’t take long to cook and to me tastes better than any quick rice or minute rice.
Eggs – We always have a dozen eggs on head and use them for baking, breakfast, hard boiling to have for lunches or appetizers, or when we have “breakfast for dinner.”
Pasta – While I personally don’t eat it, we always have it in the house, usually in a couple of varieties. If I had the counter space, I would like to make my own, but since our kitchen is the size of a closet, we make do. If you have pasta around, you always have a meal. There are dozens of quick sauces to throw together, or just saute or roast some vegetables to go with it, and you’re done.
Oil – I always have vegetable oil on hand as well as olive oil. I probably use the vegetable oil more, but the olive oil is good for making dressings and sauces. I also keep some cooking spray on hand to use to keep things from sticking.
Vinegar – again, it’s good to have on hand for dressings for salad, and I usually keep white, red wine, balsamic and apple cider vinegar to use with various recipes.
Herbs & Spices – There are hundreds of different herbs and spices you could get (like garam masala), but I have found that I really only use about ten or so regularly. I try to use fresh parsley, thyme and basil, as there is a real taste difference over the dried versions. For dried spices, I use oregano, bay leaves, garlic powder, onion powder, red pepper flakes, paprika, chili powder and cumin. I have others, but rarely use them. Check you dried spices after about 6 months because they tend to lose their potency by then.
Tomatoes – Sadly, fresh tomatoes available in stores here in New York have been bad, to say the least. Unless you grow your own around here, I have found that the canned tomatoes are better. I buy diced tomatoes often to use for things like chili, and keep a couple of jars of crushed tomatoes around for sauce. I do love fresh tomatoes, and ripe ones give great flavor, we just haven’t had good ones in a while.
Broth – I make my own broths now.It may sound like a lot of work, but it really isn’t and it is so worth it. Homemade chicken stock tastes 100 times better than anything in a box or can and is very easy to make. The same goes for beef, fish or vegetable broth and you can freeze them to use whenever you need them (I plan to use a day of blogging to talk about stocks). If you don’t have the time to make your own, I have found that Swanson’s seems to taste the best among the chicken and beef broths available.
Beans – We always have some kind of beans on hand, either dried or canned. They are a great source of protein and can be used in a lot of side dishes, soups, stews and chili. I almost always have red kidney beans, white beans or black beans around to use.
Produce- If you are going to have produce around, you should always have carrots, celery and onions. Use those three and you can pretty much make anything. They are a great base for most sauces, soups, and stews or great for roasting with meat or poultry.I also regularly have white potatoes and garlic on hand to use as well. I try to use fresh produce for our vegetables every day, and when I can’t I do buy some frozen items to have on hand. I am not a fan of canned vegetables – they have a metallic taste to me, usually have too much salt in them to preserve them, and don’t seem to taste as good once cooked. I also always have some kind of fresh fruit on hand, depending on the season. Fresh fruit can be a simple and quick dessert anytime, a nice addition to breakfast, or a great afterschool snack.
Beyond that, there are things I buy from week to week, varying on what our meal plan for that week is going to be. I’ll get more into the meal plan itself tomorrow when I start writing about what’s cooking for the week, but the plan itself basically maps out my shopping list for the week so I know what I am going to buy. I try not to stray beyond that list, with the exceptions of items that may be household necessities that week (i.e. toilet paper, garbage bags, paper towels, Sean’s lunch snacks, etc.). It helps me budget our food shopping for the week and keeps me from buying empty calorie foods we don’t need or shouldn’t have.
So tomorrow we get started on the meal plan. I can tell you, tomorrow’s dinner is nothing fancy, it’s pretty straightforward and easy, but I think that works for a lot of weeknight meals. We don’t often have time for an elaborate meal during the week, so I do try to keep things simple. Get your equipment ready and your pantry set, and we’ll hit the kitchen tomorrow!