Thursday, July 2, 2009

How to Stock a Pantry

One of the things that contributes most to my health is cooking my own meals at home. I do eat out, but notice when I go through phases when I am cooking less that the bathroom scale--not to mention my bank account--tends to catch me at it.

So rarely is there an evening that I can't, if I expend a little effort, put together a real meal for myself just from what is in my pantry. Here is a rundown of how I keep my pantry stocked.

Salt and Pepper. I don't use much salt, but having some good quality seasalt is good for a little seasoning of meats and to throw into sauteed spinach. I go through one container in about three years. Pepper should be in a peppercorn grinder, which you can get for about twenty bucks. If you have a bulk food section in your grocery store, they can be purchased really cheaply there.

Pasta and Rice. I like to have some nice pasta around, along with a couple of different kinds of rice. Wild rice is great with some toasted nuts tossed in, and I am learning to make reasonably good risotto. But the stuff in the bag that you can steam in three minutes is genius, and really pretty healthy if you buy the brown variety.

Canned fish. I like to have high quality tuna around, but any kind is good to have in the house. And I love anchovies (admittedly, not for everyone) ground to a paste in my mortar and pestal and thrown into salad dressing.

Canned Tomatoes. Good for a quick pasta sauce, combined with a few fresh herbs and some freshly ground pepper, along with some anchovies, if you like them.

Garlic and Green Onions. I use garlic every day, whether I put it in salad dressing--it's really easy to make your own, and it tastes infinitely better than the preservative-filled stuff on the shelves--and it smells wonderful when you cook it.

Lemons and Limes. Use them in marinades for meat and in salad dressing. They keep for around two weeks, so you don't need to buy that nasty stuff in the plastic lemon.

Eggs. The nicest fast food you can find. If I am in a pinch to feed my kids, eggs and bagels and fruit make a nice healthy meal of comfort food. I hard boil them and put them in my salad (in fact I am doing so right now as I write) and if you get good at making omelettes and quiche, which I am not yet, there are tons of options.

Nuts. I love pine nuts especially, and get those also in the bulk section at my beloved Central Market. I heat a little olive oil, and then toast them very carefully and toss them into tuna or salad. But walnuts and almonds are also great and can combine easily with lots of ingredients.

Vinegar. If you have the white wine and balsamic varieties, you're set.

Olive oil. You don't have to buy the stuff that's fifteen bucks a bottle, as even the cheapest stuff is better than corn or canola oil. Keep it in a dark cupboard and don't let it get hot. I go through a bottle every week or two, and my cholesterol is well within healthy bounds.

Cheese. I keep a little fresh parmesan in the house. It's got a great, tart taste and you don't need much on top of grilled asparagus or cooked chicken to give it some extra zing.

Chicken broth. Lots of people make their own (sometimes I make my own vegetable broth with a spring of fresh rosemary--which I, ahem, borrow from my neighbor Judy's very large plant--a carrot, a clove of garlic, a green onion and some salt) but having a couple of containers on hand is great when you want to throw together a soup or stew from leftovers.

Mustard and Worchestershire Sauce. I use Dijon and Worchestershire in my favorite salad dressing. See below, and enjoy!

Sue's Favorite Dressing

Juice of 1 lemon

Two tablespoons of olive oil

One tablespoon of white wine vinegar

One teaspoon Dijon mustard

Dash of Worchestershire sauce

Two anchovies, ground to paste

1/8 cup of freshly ground parmesan cheese

Three turns of freshly ground peppercorns


  1. But you don't have Kraft Mac-And-Cheese on the list – Wes wouldn't know what to do! Actually - Our pantry list is pretty close to the same. One thing that I try and keep in fridge is fresh parsley and/or fresh cilantro. Fresh herbs in pasta or rice can hugely improve the dish!

  2. That salad dressing sounds delicious. I will have to try it - I'm a big salad eater.