This weekend, at our Chinese New Year party, one of the topics that popped up was how to have the right ingredients on hand to help with getting dinner on the table and having a well stocked pantry. Regular readers know that this is definitely something we’ve touched on before – having a well-stocked kitchen is one of the most important aspects to getting dinner on the table quickly and easily. You need to have basic items on hand, and once that’s done, you’ll be able to make any number of dinners on a moments’ notice. I promise. With just a grocery carts’ worth of key ingredients in your kitchen, you’ll be able to whip up dinners in a flash, perfect for those harried weeknights when you have a limited amount of time to spend in the kitchen.
Along the lines of keeping a well-stocked kitchen, there are a couple of things I do that helps:
1. Put together a list of pantry essentials and make sure to keep them stocked at all times. See below for list examples, and custoimize it so it suits your own likes, dislikes, and dietary restrictions. It’s a starting point, but a good one.
2. As soon as you use something up, put it on your grocery list right away so you won’t be caught without it.
3. If there are favorite recipes that are heavy in your rotation, when you buy the ingredients, buy multiples; that way you’ll always have what you need on hand to make it a few times. If a tried-and-true recipe calls for a can of diced tomatoes, for example, when I buy it, I’ll buy three or four; that way, I’m always ready.
4. If an ingredient is on sale, stock up and take advantage of the low pricing. Don’t just buy one. Skim your local grocery store circulars weekly and stock up on pantry essentials when they go on sale. Typically, you can buy 2 or more of the item at the sale price; take advantage of that.
I’ve come up with the above guidelines over the past few years, and rarely find myself short of something needed for a quick, last minute meal. Sure, if I’m making a new recipe or something special, I’ll need to hit the grocery store. But having a well-stocked pantry means I can easily make 5-10 meals without having to hit the grocery store, making busy weeknights or impromptu dinner parties that much easier, or those needed grocery trips a lot quicker.
One of Rachael Ray’s cookbooks, Express Lane Meals, expounds on the whole pantry thing, giving you a list of what you need to stock your kitchen. You can see her Pantry Cheat Sheet below. The cookbook is a great one to have on hand for its tutorial aspects. Next to each recipe is a helpful grocery list of what items you need to buy to make the dish. If you used the Pantry Cheat Sheet, each recipe requires a minimum of extra ingredients, and the cookbook as a whole assists you with prepping your pantry so you always have key components on hand.
One of the most important things to putting a meal on the table quickly is having a well-stocked pantry. Twice a month I go to the store in search of staples like garlic, onions, canned tuna, canned beans, dried pastas, jarred tomato sauces (just make sure the first ingredient is tomatoes, not sugar!), frozen peas and spinach, chicken stock, capers and herbes de Provence – the basic that will enhance a dish and bring a meal together in a hurry. Then, once a week I purchase fresh produce and meat. I find it’s easier to pick up one or two things than to be overwhelmbed by tracking down every single ingredient in a recipe.
So there you have it, folks. The secret to getting a great meal on the table every night … pantry preparedness.
Now, it’s your turn… what are the essentials you always keep in YOUR pantry?
Rachael Ray’s Cheat Sheet
“Go-to Basics You Should Keep On Hand”
Baking and Spices Aisle
Curry paste or powder
Paprika, smoked and regular
Red pepper flakes
Coarse black pepper
Spicy brown mustard
Roasted red peppers
Bread crumbs, plain and Italian
Vinegar: red wine, balsamic, and a mild one like cider, rice or white wine
Dairy and Deli Cases
Heavy cream or half-and-half
Grated Pecorino Romano
Small, red baby potatoes
Yukon Gold or small, white boiling potatoes
Frozen chopped spinach
Canned Goods Aisle
Chicken stock in a box
Beef stock in a box
Italian tuna in EVOO
Tuna in water
Canned Alaskan salmon
Diced fire-roasted tomatoes
Diced tomatoes, regular and petite-dice
Canned crushed tomatoes
Canned tomato paste
Canned tomato sauce
Chipotle chilies in adobo or dry chipotle powder
Canned black beans
Canned chick peas
Canned cannellini beans