I have been asked a few times how I’m able to just “whip something up” for dinner with only the ingredients on hand. I guess I spent enough time watching competitions on TV like “Chopped” that I see it as sort of a challenge. Of course in our country, it is easy to run to the store to get whatever it is you may be missing to round out a meal you are making, but I try to avoid that if I can. Make do with what you have!
Now, however, as we sit in the middle of a global pandemic and have been asked to “shelter in place,” running to the store to grab something is frowned upon and could even mean putting your health at risk, so making do with what you have has become more important. With extra time on my hands at home, I (like many of you) cleaned out and organized my pantry and my freezer, and in doing so really took mental note of what it is that I really need to cook. What are my true Kitchen Staples?
When it comes to staples and what should be in your pantry, a lot of that has to do with what you like to eat. If you don’t eat Asian food, then you probably don’t need soy sauce, sesame oil, or fish sauce. My list below shouldn’t be viewed as hard and fast rules; rather it is a suggestion. These are the items I use in my daily cooking life, and they may come in handy in yours, as well. In fact, you may have staples in your kitchen that I don’t have in mine. So take the list and customize it to your needs and likes.
My staples are organized in the following categories:
- Dry Goods
- Canned Food
- Oils, Liquids, and Sauces
- Dairy and Dairy Substitutes
Below is an outline with some comments and explanations, but I also created a printable shopping list version that you can take with you to the store (or use to place your online pick up order!) Click here:
- Rice: I always have a white long grain rice like jasmine or basmati, a brown rice, and Arborio (used for risotto)
- Pastas: I have a variety here as well including Asian rice noodles, traditional spaghetti, and a gluten-free pasta. Pasta varieties are specific to application, so depending on what I’m making I will buy specific to that dish, however having at least a one box of spaghetti on hand will be helpful!
- All-Purpose Flour: I have lots of flours, but for the average cook, AP flour will do!
- Sugar: granulated, powdered, and brown
- Starch: either corn or tapioca
- Panko Bread Crumbs: if you are gluten-free Trader Joe’s sells rice crumbs that are a great substitute
- Baking Soda
- Baking Powder
- Cocoa Powder
I have LOTS of spices – too many, probably, but I’ve narrowed down my list to the ten I use most often. I also included my 4 favorite spice blends at the bottom of the list. Obviously if you have all the ingredients you can make your own blends, but it is so much easier to have your favorites pre-mixed.
- Sea Salt
- Black Pepper
- Garlic Powder
- Onion Powder
- Ginger Powder
- Lowery’s (or Trader Joe’s) Seasoning Salt
- Old Bay
- Greek Seasoning – I use Konriko because it doesn’t have MSG (some brands do)
- Italian Seasoning
I don’t buy lots of canned food. When it comes to vegetables I prefer fresh or frozen, but there are definitely some canned/jarred items I always have on hand
- White Beans: I use cannellini, but any will do
- Tomato Products: diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, and tomato paste (one of each)
- Marinara: yes, it’s easy to make your own, but there are some high quality jarred pasta sauces out there that are worth a spot in your pantry
- Broth: I ALWAYS have a carton of chicken broth and a carton of vegetable broth in my pantry, and sometimes a beef broth as well.
- Peanut Butter
- Apple Sauce
- Diced Potatoes: I know you are thinking canned potatoes are weird, but they are super convenient if you are in a pinch. Just be sure to drain and rinse first!
- Water Chestnuts
- Tuna Fish
Oils, Liquids, Sauces
Some of these should be stored in the refrigerator others are fine in the pantry; read the labels to determine where to store these.
- Olive Oil
- Canola Oil: or another “neutral” tasting oil that you can cook and bake with
- Sesame Oil
- Red Wine Vinegar
- Apple Cider Vinegar
- Balsamic Vinegar
- Soy Sauce
- Fish Sauce
- Worcestershire Sauce
- Hot Sauce: At least one, but a variety is nice. I have Tabasco, Valentina, and Sriracha
- Heinz Ketchup: there is no other brand.
- Mustards: regular yellow, and Dijon
- Real Maple Syrup: Sorry, I do not buy maple-flavored corn syrup, because that what most of that stuff is.
Which produce items you have on hand are going to be determined by season and geography, since we don’t all have access to the same fresh produce on any given day. Generally in the summer, I try to shop local farmers markets to get the best of the season (cucumbers, beans, squash, etc.) but there are still produce items that I like to always have on hand for cooking. Below are my “must haves” but of course, this varies with the addition of seasonal items.
- Potatoes: Golds are my favorite, but I also like the baby potatoes because they cook up fast! And of course, russets for baking.
- Vidalia Onion: not everyone can get these so a sweet yellow onion will do
- Green onions
- Ginger Root
- Lemons and Limes
- Green Beans
- Salad greens: spinach, arugula, and/or kale, and even good ol’ iceberg!
- Fresh Herbs: I have an herb garden, so I don’t need to buy many, but my most used herbs are fresh basil and cilantro
I use a combination of real dairy and plant-based dairy in my every day cooking. I’ve learned to adapt a lot of recipes to use dairy-free alternatives, but for some things there is just nothing like the real thing!
- Milk of Choice: we use Almond
- Parmigiano Cheese: only the real stuff!
- Plain Yogurt or Sour Cream
Remember, things don’t last forever in the freezer; it’s just a slow rot compared to your fridge! Check out the web for information on how long items like chicken, beef, and seafood are actually good for in the freezer.
- Veggies: peas, green beans, butternut squash cubes, and broccoli florets are usually it.
- Rice: Trader Joe’s frozen rice is my favorite, but you can get other brands in the grocery stores as well. For me, this is a great alternative if I don’t have time to cook a pot of rice after work
- Bread: A frozen baguette is great to have on hand!
- Non-Dairy Whipped Topping
- Nuts: Nuts go bad, so if you are keeping them on hand store them in the freezer. I usually have some chopped pecans, almond slices, and peanuts on hand for recipes
- Leftover Staples: you can freeze tablespoon size portions of things like broth and tomato paste for later use!
- Butter: Yes, you can freeze real butter and if you aren’t using it regularly you should so it doesn’t go bad and develop an off taste.
- Chicken: I have either individually frozen boneless skinless chicken breasts or tenderloins. They thaw quickly for weeknight meals
- Fish: Same as above, individually packed and frozen portions of fish are easy to thaw and cook up quickly
- Fries: I always have a bag of Alexia French fries in the freezer – they are great in the airfryer!
Questions or comments? Use the feedback form below and let me know what you find to be an essential staple in your kitchen!