Kitchen Focus

Just like a carpenter is only as good as his toolbox, a home chef is only as good as his pantry. While there are days when everything is made from special ingredients gotten fresh that day, those are usually limited to special occasions and what we consider the "norm" is more likely something whipped up at the last minute using ingredients we have on hand. Therefore, it's important to make sure that your pantry is well-stocked and has a wide variety of ingredients that are sure to aid in your culinary adventures ... even if they need to be limited to five ingredients and twenty minutes!!!

Rather than talk vaguely about what a good pantry should include, I'm going to give you a tour of my own. You may choose to avoid some of the staples that I have and add some that are missing. However, the mix of things should give you a good foundation to build on in your own home. So, without further ado, welcome to my pantry:

  • Jams and Jellies: Makes excellent AM spreads, sauce additions and even fillings for desserts and the like.
    • low sugar orange marmalade
    • black raspberry all fruit
    • four fruit preserves
    • lemon curd
    • apple jelly
  • Vegetables & Beans: Handy for adding to soups, casseroles and other dishes needing some healthy touches.
    • sliced mushrooms
    • diced tomatoes
    • pearl onions
    • roasted red peppers
    • artichoke hearts
    • bottled salsa
    • black beans
    • pinto beans
    • red kidney beans
    • white beans
    • chick peas
  • Canned Seafood: Anyone who appreciates the comfort food that is tuna casserole knows this category is a must.
    • tuna in spring water
    • tuna in vaccum pouches
    • lump crabmeat
    • chopped clams
  • Canned Fruits & "Sauces": I like having a variety of canned fruits on hand for everything from sauces to eating out of the can!
    • pineapple in unsweetened juice -- crushed and chunks
    • mandarin orange segments
    • peaches in light syrup
    • pumpkin puree
    • whole berry cranberry sauce
    • apple pie filling
    • peach pie filling
  • Soups and Broths: Whether or not you are making soup, condensed canned soups and broths are a must. I use them almost daily.
    • low sodium, fat free chicken broth
    • low sodium, fat free beef broth
    • mushroom soup base
    • vegetable soup base
    • fat free condensed cream of mushroom soup
    • fat free condensed cream of chicken soup
    • evaporated skim milk -- I know, not really a soup or broth, but my choice for reducing the fat in cream soups
  • Dried Beans and Fruits: These items are great for adding flavor and fiber to a wide range of meals.
    • black-eyed peas
    • red lentils
    • chick peas
    • sweetened dried cranberries
    • pitted whole dates
    • apricots and plums
    • raisins
  • Grains: Variety is key here -- and I don't think having mixes on hand is a sin either!
    • rice -- white, brown and wild
    • pasta -- a variety of shapes
    • flaxseed and thick-rolled oatmeal
    • couscous
    • cajun gumbo mix
  • Staples: These are those things that don't necessarily fit into any one category, but you'd be lost without them.
    • flour -- white and whole wheat
    • sugar -- white, brown and powdered
    • baking powder and soda
    • cornstarch
    • oils -- cooking spray, olive, extra-virgin olive, canola, chili-infused and roasted garlic-infused
    • vinegars -- red wine, balsamic, rice wine and sherry
    • hot, soy and teriyaki sauces
    • fat free sweetened condensed milk
    • instant pudding mixes

Now, I didn't include the spice rack or refrigerator in the list above 'cause those are other articles! Enjoy the process of organizing your pantry and happy cooking!

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