A Well Stocked Pantry – Refresher Course

by Cate on March 1, 2007

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.

In the same vein, Cooking Light magazine did an interview with Giada DeLaurentiis last year when her cookbook, Giada’s Family Dinners, came out, and she talked about how she stocks her kitchen:

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
Ground allspice
Bay leaves
Chili powder
Ground cinnamon
Ground coriander
Ground cumin
Curry paste or powder
Fennel seeds
Grill seasoning
Whole nutmeg
Dried oregano
Paprika, smoked and regular
Poultry seasoning
Red pepper flakes
Dried thyme
Coarse salt
Coarse black pepper
White sugar
Brown sugar
All-purpose flour
Cayenne pepper

Condiment Aisle
Hot sauce
Dijon mustard
Spicy brown mustard
Worcestershire sauce
Roasted red peppers
Peanut butter
Bread crumbs, plain and Italian
Vegetable oil
Vinegar: red wine, balsamic, and a mild one like cider, rice or white wine

Dairy and Deli Cases
Heavy cream or half-and-half
Unsalted butter
Grated Pecorino Romano

Produce Aisle
Flat-leaf parsley
Idaho potatoes
Small, red baby potatoes
Yukon Gold or small, white boiling potatoes

Freezer Case
Frozen peas
Frozen corn
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
Anchovy fillets
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

Grocery Aisle
Long-cut pastas
Short-cut pastas
White rice

Liquor Store
White Wine
Red Wine
Dry Sherry

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Lydia March 1, 2007 at 4:43 am

Nice to see that everything in Rachael Ray’s pantry is also in mine — and then some! I’ve managed to find more than 200 items in my pantry, enough to fill a blog….


Erika March 1, 2007 at 1:30 pm

I love the concept of Express Lane Meals. I’ve been working on trying to come up with my own version, using the recipes I store on Mastercook, but it’s very slow going.

Some pantry staples for me not on her list include whole Indian spices (coriander, cumin, cardamom, fennel seed), Indian curry paste, whole nuts- almonds, walnuts, and pecans; chocolate chips, baking chocolate, raisins and craisins, fruit canned in juice, and fruit juices.


Anonymous March 1, 2007 at 2:20 pm

Thank you, Thank you!

I love it! I’m going to stock up on the items you listed. I think that’s half my problem, I don’t have anything at home to start cooking with.

Thank you, I know that took a lot of time.


newlywed neighbor March 1, 2007 at 2:27 pm

Thank you so much! I’ve printed the list out and am planning on hitting the grocery store after work.


Alisha March 1, 2007 at 3:49 pm

I agree with the pantry staples idea and always have. In fact, my friend would laugh every time she’d be in my kitchen just from the sheer amount of stuff in my pantry.

My goal for the next month, though, is to actually write down and categorize those pantry meals so that when it does come time to make one I’m not left standing thinking “okay, now what was it I could make?”


Claire March 1, 2007 at 6:26 pm

Right now I don’t have much of a staple pantry…not much cooking as it’s just me. But I think once I have a family these would be good staples. I try to keep chicken broth, beans, flour, green beans, peanut butter, and lots of fruit on hand. OH Yes…a must is yogurt, that’s breakfast everyday!


Andrea March 1, 2007 at 6:33 pm

Thanks for the quote from Giada, and for Rachael’s list. My own pantry is virtually identical to Rachael’s, except I keep baking supplies on hand and a few more vinegars and oils or spices. It has served me very well.

Great post, as usual!


Cate March 2, 2007 at 1:57 am

Lydia – wow, 200 items? Sounds like a lot, but I bet it adds up fast.

Erika – interesting that because Rachael Ray doesn’t cook, her list excludes all baking items.

Anonymous – you’re quite welcome! :)

newlywed neighbor – whoo hoo!

Alisha – that sounds like a great idea.

Claire – you and Nicholas agree on the yogurt – ge goes through easily 2-3 yogurt or yogurt drinks a day.

Andrea – it almost seems like she should have put togethe a separate list for people who bake too.


Amy Vallery March 21, 2007 at 3:42 am

Great article! I feel like I could have written it myself, because I do every one of your four tips. I’ve commented on it in my blog here and included a couple of my own pantry recipes: http://blogginglight.com/2007/03/20/pantry-cooking/


eksendia April 28, 2007 at 12:00 am

Like Erika, I have a collection of recipes in the computer. Instead of stocking the pantry, I made the program to keep track of my grocery purchase. After 2-3 months when the purchase pattern is set, I receive the reminder weekly on what’s running low in my kitchen automatically. In the beginning my husband was little bit skeptical, but now he actually loves going shopping for me!


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