Your ideal pantry should feel like a wonderland of endless recipe options. Are those shelves currently looking a little bare? These are the 50 essential staples you should always keep on hand
GARLICIt may do some wild things to your breath, but there’s no denying that a bit of garlic flavor makes most dishes just a little bit better. Want to get that smell off your fingers? Try rubbing them on stainless steel. Science!
DRIED OR CANNED BEANS
Pound-for-pound, dried beans are one of the best values on the shelf. No time to soak? Canned beans ain’t bad either. If you’re craving a cool dip for chips, a bowl of spicy chili or stick-to-your-ribs comfort, beans are your new best buddy:
Whether long, twisted or tied in a bow, pasta is the ultimate vessel for homemade sauces. Tired of spaghetti with sweetened, canned ragu? The opportunities for combination and customization are endless. Try south-of-the-border flavors, a cool pasta salad or an umami-rich red sauce:
Fancy sushi-grade ahi ain’t got nothing on this last-minute lunch staple. Whether we’re craving salad or melty cheese sandwiches, we’re not ashamed to open a can, mix it with mayo and enjoy for any meal of the day:
Olive oil is available in all prices. Use the cheap bottles for cooking and the more expensive oils for fresh sauces, dressings, and infusions. Real extra-virgin olive oil will burn slightly at the back of your throat, and will be smooth, not viscous or sticky on the tongue:
Taco Tuesday is over and you have leftover tortillas. Yes, you could use them to wrap up a burrito or some sliced turkey. But did you consider a macaroni and cheese quesadilla? Or that you could fry them up and make your own chips? Go forth and tortilla:
Every kitchen should include some good stock, especially since it can replace water in almost any savory recipe and add a ton of flavor (ever tried boiling pasta in it?). It’s ideal for soups and stews and can turn any pan drippings into a sauce in no time. I make my own and store it in the extra freezer in my garage.
Yes, you can slather some peanut butter and jelly on bread and call it a day. But why not try your hand at Chinese-takeout-style peanut butter noodles or sweet-and-savory desserts? But for some reason, I always keep mine in the refrigerator.
You’ll find rice on the plates of the majority of human beings around the world. Whether you boil it, steam it, simmer it or fry it, rice is a staple food worth experimenting. The question is: “How many types of rice do you keep in your pantry?”
If the gallon is on its last few days, don’t toss it! You can use the last of it in sauces and gravies, as well as to make fresh mozzarella and milkshakes. Ok, so this in the frig, not the pantry, unless you have a refrigerated pantry.
You should have lemons on hand for both a beautiful kitchen centerpiece and to brighten up dishes like fish and chicken. Try them in this Greek lemon soup, rice or any yellow baked good.
Having eggs in the fridge is a no-brainer. They’re essential if you’re baking or making breakfast at home, but can also be utilized for easy sandwiches, quiche and more.
You might look at a can of tomato sauce and only see pasta, but don’t sell its potential short! Sure, it’s necessary for staples like chicken parm and pizza, but what about as a topping for stuffed vegetables or as a base for your sloppy Joes?
Sure, soy sauce is an obvious choice on top of your Chinese takeout, but what about as part of a sweet and salty glaze for chicken? Keep it in the pantry to use in any number of sauces, or just to flavor steamed rice whenever you forget to order fried:
Plain granulated ain’t got nothing on brown. An essential for baked goods, you can also sprinkle it on bacon for a sweet-savory-bacony twist on breakfast or dessert. Your box is hard as a rock? Microwave to soften.
It’s salty, it’s nutty, it’s cheese a trifecta of deliciousness! Consider keeping extra in the fridge so you can transform almost protein into a parm. Plus, if you don’t have it, what are you putting on top of your pasta? I buy Reggiano Parmesano and freeze it when there is a sale.
Breadcrumbs provide an unreal softness and lightness when mixed into meatballs, and Japanese-style panko is best for adding a crispy crunch to baked or fried foods.
Keep your onions in a dry, cool and dark place (away from the potatoes!) and they’ll last for months. Months during which you can caramelize them, fry them or serve them fresh:
Great for sauces or as a sweetener for tea, oatmeal, yogurt, lemonade and more, this buzz-worthy liquid is the bee’s knees.
There’s no knowing why vanilla became synonymous with bland. The extract from this ancient Mesoamerican bean is complex and fragrant, and is perfect when baked into creme brulee or broiled on grapefruits.
If you’ve ever made your own salad dressing, you’re probably familiar with this Italian condiment. Balsamic vinegar is a perfect complement to fresh tomatoes and mozzarella, works magic in marinades and can be reduced to a syrup and used as a garnish.
Is that box of lentils languishing in the back of your cabinet? Time to pull it out. Lentils are the perfect legumes for making protein-rich soups, salads and cookies.
In addition to being the one condiment you must have for grilling season, barbecue sauce is an easy out when you need lots of flavor without lots of work. Some of our favorite things to slather it on include pizza, chicken wings, and even savory muffins.
Besides being a healthy staple for breakfast or a snack, Greek yogurt can also be used up in a marinade for chicken, as a creamy addition in soup or even in pancake batter. And don’t forget about tzatziki!
Cocoa powder might be the perfect chocolate boost for brownies and cakes, but try it in Mexican food to bring it back to its roots. Mole sauces and spicy Mexican hot chocolate are some traditional options.
Don’t have a maple tree tapped in your backyard? Good thing you’ve got Canada (and Vermont) to pick up the slack. Use this sweet nectar to flavor everything from scones to French fries to roasted meats.
This humble Peruvian tuber is a staple in most all of the world’s cuisines. It can be prepared in every way imaginable and will last for months if stored in a dark, cool place (away from the onions!).
CURRY PASTE & POWDER
Whether you’re using paste or powder, curry is a great flavoring agent for sauces, soups and marinades. Looking for the ultimate quick fix? Curry + coconut milk = instant awesome:
Finish off almost any pasta with frozen peas, add them into a pot pie, or toss them into a salad. Any way you slice it, your freezer should definitely have a few bags of these at all times.
Unlock the potential of salsa by piling it on top of your burgers, adding it in with slow-cooked meats and even mixing it into your rice. Bonus: it doesn’t take up fridge space until you’ve opened it.
Not many ingredients are as versatile as Worcestershire. It adds a salty, garlicky flavor to meat, so it’s ideal for marinades and sauces.
Shrimp is one of the quickest-cooking proteins out there, so when you’re short on time, tap into its amazingness by sauteeing it and serving over rice. And don’t forget about shrimp when you’re entertaining—they’re often at their best when served cold.
Pizza dough is just for pizza, right? Wrong. You can use it to make cinnamon rolls, one-bite appetizers or just some cheesy breadsticks. Plus, it keeps in the freezer for at least a few months.
JAM & PRESERVES
Supplies for emergency PB&Js should always be in your pantry, but the buck doesn’t stop there when it comes to jams, jellies and preserves. You can easily amp-up any dessert with them, or even use them in a sweet and savory sauce for meatballs.
We all love our rices and our pastas, but sometimes we like to move into uncharted territory with starches. Have an adventure with farro, couscous, and quinoa in these grain salads.
If you haven’t explored the mustard world lately, you’re really missing out. There are tons of different varieties and you can use them to add a tanginess to almost any meat, not to mention roasted veggie and sandwich possibilities.
Sucking the water out of fruit not only makes for highly concentrated flavors, it also renders fruits shelf-stable. Store them in the cupboard and use to sweeten baked goods, veggie dishes, grain salads, and stews.
Odds are you’ve got your own ideas about what to do with a can of tomatoes. When it comes to using this pantry essential the options may be endless, but here are some of our favorites.
Did you think cornbread mix was just for making cornbread? Silly goose. You’ve been missing out on some revelatory casseroles and biscuits! Oh, and don’t forget about the hot dogs and sausages you could have been dipping. I just keep cornmeal, as I make my own cornbread – so easy!
It’s a proven fact that bacon makes everything better (we’ve studied it), so you should definitely keep some in the fridge for testing that thesis. You can even add it to desserts for a salty twist, like this bacon brittle. I don’t use it often enough to keep in the refrigerator, so I freeze it.
CANNED ARTICHOKE HEARTS
Didn’t make as much artichoke dip as you expected? Try baking artichoke hearts into a casserole, spreading them over bread with some cheese or just sauteing them with chicken.
Mayo is the base of so many delicious things that it’s almost impossible to not have some in the fridge. What would the world be without chipotle mayo or chicken salad?
Still, have the same jar of pickles from last summer’s barbecue season in the back of your fridge? Pull them out and get to work on some party snacks, dips or even just fried pickle chips.
Firstly, if you can keep a bottle of hot sauce for more than a month without using it, congrats you’re stronger than we are. But if you do find that bottle lingering, fear not, because you can buffalo just about anything (chicken, pizza, fries, your whole life).
You want to whip up a boxed cake but you want it to taste homemade good thing you’ve got coconut milk in the pantry. Use it in place of the liquids to give any baked good extra flavor, or to amp-up stir-fries and seafood.
It’s impossible to keep yourself stocked with fresh berries all the time, so head for the frozen variety. Did you know freezing the fruit actually locks in its nutrients? Use berries for frozen drinks, pies and even homemade sorbet.
Goodbye, movie theater butter, you’re old news. Spice up your life with spiced popcorn or try something crazy and bake those fluffy popped kernels into cookies. I love grated parmesan cheese with my popcorn.
Protein-packed and ready to eat, nuts are a staple in any pantry. If you’re not into them as a snack on their own, try crusting fish with them, or trying your hand at making peanut butter. I store these in the freezer, so they do not go rancid.
Rich with essential nutrients, versatile in their uses and easy to prepare, oats make for an ideal breakfast. Eat them as a porridge, cooked into pancakes or blended into a smoothie:
Puff pastry is like the blank canvas of foods that you can transform completely with the addition of almost anything. Wrap it around chicken and asparagus for a new take on the chicken roll, or use it as a base for inventive pastries.
Most of all, have fun in the kitchen with what you can store in your pantry or refrigerator or in my case, your extra freezer.
Every art studio could use a cozy corner for reading art books. This last week my husband built these two-inch shelves with a lip for setting finished small pieces and works in progress. Now I need to get busy and paint some more small works.
Next weekend he is going to add more shelves for bigger pieces. It is wonderful, as they are all straight on the bottom for once.
Every challenge yourself to something and feel either great about accomplishing it or bad that you failed (the first time). This year I challenged myself to read 75 books on the Goodreads challenge and can very proudly say I accomplished that goal. The year before I attempted to bake every bread in Paul Hollywood’s Bread Book. I made it about 2/3’s of the way and gained a couple of pounds, but did not finish the book. I still love to bake and may just try to finish it. I take my baked goods to my local fire department, so they are enjoyed and not wasted. My wonderful local fire department surprised me with a gift certificate the last two years. That made me cry the first year, as I was amazed they recognized the gift. This year I felt a little guilty as I felt I did not take as much, but will up the ante as the year goes on.
Now with 2019 coming up, I decided I would follow the example of Kevin McPhearson, the author and artist of “Reflections on a Pond”, and paint the view of the water in front of my house every day of the year. If I don’t have time to paint on a particular day, I will take a photo and paint it later. I find it an interesting thought and am hoping it will improve my painting skills.
Don’t be that person at the New Year’s party popping a bottle of bubbly somebody’s face. We’re all for free-flowing Champagne, but we’d also like to see out of both eyes come to the New Year. Here’s the right way to open that bottle and avoid a party foul:
① Remove the foil wrapper. Some slide off with a twist, and others require a little knife work.
② Untwist the wire cage and remove it from the bottle.
③ Twist the bottle, not the cork. The pressure in the bottle will start pushing the cork out.
Put your other hand or a towel over the cork to stop it from shooting out with a bang.
④ Keep your hand in place to prevent the cork from flying.
Watch the video for a full demonstration. It’s so easy you’ll start volunteering your bottle-opening services at every party. Plus, it’s a good way to make sure you get the first pour. Cheers!
Don’t pour your too-salty soup, stew, or sauce down the drain fix it by trying these clever tricks instead.
Here’s a familiar scenario: You’re making a batch of homemade chicken soup for dinner. The recipe calls for two teaspoons of salt but all of a sudden, the salt shaker gets away from you. You realize you’ve added way more than the recipe actually needs. Crossing your fingers no one will notice, you give the soup a taste.
Yuck. Too salty.
No! You don’t have to throw in the towel just yet. Luckily, there’s more than one way to fix a batch of too-salty soup, chili, chowder, stew, pasta sauce, and more. However, some methods work better than others and some don’t really work at all. Below, find several ways you may have heard for fixing over-salted food, and which ones work the best.
Increase the amount of non-salty ingredients.
This solution is labor-intensive, but it’s also the most effective way to diminish an overly salty flavor from a dish. By increasing the quantity of your main non-salty ingredients, the concentration or flavor of the salt will diminish.
So you’re making a creamy Carrot-Ginger Soup, increasing the number of carrots and ginger should help tame all of that saltiness. However, keep in mind that you’re basically re-making the entire dish again, which is a bit of work.
Add salt-free stock or water.
If you’re dealing with a salty soup or sauce, adding salt-free stock or water is the quickest way to fix it. Make sure to choose an appropriately flavored stock (i.e. don’t use beef stock in a chicken soup) so you don’t completely alter the recipe.
Or, if it is a chunky soup, drain and discard about half of the salty broth, leaving the vegetables and meat. Replace the discarded broth with new stock or water. Additionally, you can further decrease the concentration of salt by adding more vegetables and/or meat to your doctored soup.
Mask the saltiness with an acidic or sweet ingredient.
Depending on how oversalted the dish actually is, you may be able to use other strong flavors to bring down the perception of the saltiness. Adding an acidic or sweet ingredient may help downplay the saltiness, but you’ll likely create a completely new dish in the process. Here are a few ideas:
Acidic: Lemon, vinegar, lemon or lime zest, tomatoes
Sweet: Fruit, carrots, honey, sugar
If you have the time and flexibility, this experiment is worth a try, but bear mind that it may or may not save you from tossing the entire thing.
Add a whole potato—or not.
Sorry when you want to fix a dish that’s too salty, adding a potato just won’t do the trick. Believe what you want, but potatoes are not magical‚ and certainly not capable of selectively sucking the salt out of your soup.
In his wonderful book on food science, What Einstein Told His Cook, Robert Wolke actually proves scientifically that adding a potato does not alter the concentration of salt in the water. (Give it a read it to find out exactly how he does it!) So save your precious potatoes and make the Perfect Baked Potato or these Silky-Smooth Mashed Potatoes instead.
There are definitely cooking “rules”. But there are lots of things that were drilled into me in school and later in restaurants that I still swear by to this day, and use in my kitchen at home.
The time, money, and commitment of culinary school aren’t worth it for everyone, but there are certain culinary school tips and techniques that anyone can put into practice at home without spending a single day in (or dime on!) a white chef’s coat. Here are the most useful things I learned.
1. Sharpen your knives.
The first thing we did in culinary school was learning how to chop carrots and onions. The second thing? Learn how to properly sharpen a knife. It’s important to realize that a sharp knife makes chopping so much faster and easier. (Plus, you don’t need to use as much force when your knife is sharp, which means it’s safer, too.) Plenty of kitchen specialty stores, like Sur La Table, will sharpen your knives for a reasonable price — so it’s worth bringing them in when they’re getting dull.
2. Use the right peeler for the job.
If peeling vegetables feels like it takes forever, it’s probably because you’re using the wrong peeler. My advice? Throw away the rusty swivel one that’s been sitting in your drawer for years and order a three-pack of these Kuhn Rikon Swiss Peelers. They’re a culinary school favorite for a reason: The Y-shape makes them more comfortable to handle, and a sharp peeler makes food prep way easier. They’re also cheap enough so that when one gets dull, you can switch it out for a new one.
3. Embrace the practice of mise en place.
The French term translates to “putting in place,” and it refers to getting all of your ingredients out, measured, and prepped before you start cooking. This is how restaurant kitchens get food out so quickly and efficiently. And while you don’t need to be quite so exacting at home, it’s much easier to follow a recipe when your ingredients are all ready to go in advance.
4. Dry meat and fish with paper towels before you cook it for extra-crispy skin.
In fact, you should be drying meat and fish with paper towels before you cook it no matter what. For skin to crisp, you need to get rid of as much moisture as possible — because moisture and steam kill any chance of crisping and browning. This will also prevent the meat and skin from sticking to the pan as it cooks, which is the absolute worst.
5. Don’t default to always cranking up the heat.
Even if you want food in a hurry, ramping up the heat to high isn’t always the best way. Slowly sautéing aromatics like onions, shallots, or garlic in oil over medium-low heat will bring out more flavor and will keep them from burning and getting bitter. Cooking meat or veggies over medium heat will give them time to cook all the way through without burning on the outside. Simmering soups or braises instead of boiling them will cook the ingredients and meld the flavors without making meat tough, or breaking veggies apart.
6. Put some thought into how you cut your vegetables.
Those fancy vegetable cuts you see in nice restaurants? There’s a reasoning behind them besides just looking impressive. Smaller cuts will cook quicker than big ones, so using a mix of both can vary the texture of a dish. And veggies cut on a diagonal will be al dente on the thicker end and soft on the thinner end, which can make them more satisfying to eat.
7. Give yourself enough space to prep, even in cramped kitchens.
Space is tight in restaurant kitchens especially. Give yourself enough space by clearing the countertop of everything you’re not using appliances, flower vases, mail you put down and forgot about before you start.
8. Clean as you go.
You’ve heard this before, but a clean station is so much easier to work in. Wipe down your cutting board after you finish prepping each ingredient. Put pots, pans, and utensils in the sink or dishwasher as soon as you’re done using them. And wash your hands often.
9. Don’t overcrowd the pan.
Food can’t caramelize or brown in a crowded pan. A handful of sliced mushrooms cooked in a hot pan with a layer of oil will come out brown, crisp, and deeply flavored. A whole pint of sliced mushrooms cooked in the same pan and the same oil will come out pale, gray, soggy, and far less flavorful. Same goes for roasted vegetables on a sheet pan, or browned meat in a cast iron skillet. Piling ingredients on top of each other create moisture that gets trapped which means your food will steam instead of crisping or browning.
10. Get yourself a bench scraper.
I often see beginner cooks use their knife to scrape whatever they’ve finished chopping across their cutting board and into a bowl. Don’t do that! Not only is it a bit dangerous, but it’ll also quickly dull your blade. Instead, invest in a $4 bench scraper and use it to scoop up food scraps and transfer things from your cutting board to pots and pans.
11. Know your fats — and what each can (and can’t) do.
Butter is delicious, and we used a lot of it at my French-based culinary school. But butter can’t stand up to high heat since the milk solids in it (which make it delicious) can burn. All oils aren’t created equal, either. Neutral oils, like canola or vegetable oil, don’t add any flavor but are perfect for high-heat methods like roasting, frying, and pan-searing because they can stand up to high temperatures without burning. Flavorful oils like high-quality olive oil, avocado oil, and pumpkin seed oil are less suited for high heat and are better used in salad dressings, or for finishing dishes once they’re cooked.
12. Baste fish to keep it moist as it cooks.
Basting pan-seared fish is one fancy trick I swear by. When your fish is almost cooked, add a big pat of butter to the pan and let it melt. Turn the heat down and gently spoon the melted butter over the fish. The hot butter will cook the top of the fish without drying it out, and it’ll add a ton of flavor.
13. Never toss leftover bones or veggie scraps.
When it comes to making stock, leftover bones and scraps are kitchen gold. You can make chicken stock with nothing but bones if you want. You can also make beef stock with beef bones, fish stock with fish bones and scraps, and so on. Not only is it cheaper than buying stock, but it’s also often tastier, and lets you cut down on waste. These days, I collect bones and vegetable scraps in a sealed gallon bag in my freezer, then make a few quarts of stock every time the bag fills up. You should, too!
14. When in doubt, add salt.
You know you like salt, but did you ever stop to think about why? Salt brings out the flavor, which means well-salted food tastes more like itself than under-salted food. To really maximize all the flavors in a recipe, season with a bit of salt every time you add a new ingredient.
15. And if you added too much salt? Add acid.
If something tastes too rich or heavy, a squeeze of lemon juice or a splash of vinegar can liven it up. Acid also cuts through salt, so if you’ve accidentally over-salted something just a little bit (which, to be honest, happens often in culinary school), you can usually save it by adding acid.
Your turn! What’s your most useful all-purpose tip for the kitchen?