The question I get asked the MOST, hands down has to be: “What are your staples?!” To me, that’s a two-part question because I have ‘Pantry Staples’ as well as ‘Freezer/Fridge’ staples. So I’ll make it a two-part blog with today’s concentrating on my pantry “must have’s”. With these ingredients on hand, I can whip up so many quick and tasty meals for my family without even having to make a trip to the grocery store. Pantry items (particularly the dried and canned items) have excellent shelf lives, so it’s great to stock up on your favorites when they go on sale. You’ll be so happy you did on those hectic nights when all you seem to have time to do is open up a can or boil some water. If you go one step further and keep a range of spices, oils and vinegars on hand, you can turn what would be a very boring can of beans into a delicious meal!! Take a blank canvas such as rice or pasta, and turn it into a quick and healthy side or main dish. Below are some of my favorites, as well as some recipes for you to try.
Oils and Fats
Oils and fats get a pretty bad rap these days, but really we all need fat in our diets…you just need to choose healthier options. I try to cook relatively healthy, which is why I choose to use whipped peanut butter, extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil and grapeseed oil – pretty exclusively. There are times that I will use small amounts of butter, but you’ll never get a recipe from me using shortening. That’s not saying I won’t eat something that has it, but if I don’t buy it, I won’t use it…it’s that simple.
Sugar and Spice
I’m not going to lie; I’m kind of obsessed with spices. I literally built my island around how I could store my spices so that they were easily accessible, and within arms reach (if I have to get out a step stool every time I had to get an ingredient, I’d never use it. And let’s face it, at 5’1” (and ½ thank you very much 😉 …I’d need to get it out A LOT! Even though I have a bunch of fun spices, there are some that I would consider staples – I use them ALL THE TIME in so many different combinations. The ones in the picture are the ones that I would say are my ‘must haves’: Garlic powder, Onion Powder, Cumin, Chili Powder, Cinnamon, Coriander, Sweet Paprika, Smoked Paprika and Crushed Red Pepper flakes. Salt and black pepper are also a must, as well as honey, brown sugar and regular granulated sugar. *Garlic Powder and Onion Powder are sometimes sold as “Granulated Garlic” or “Granulated Onion”.
I’ve also been asked what spices/brands I like the most. I use two brands almost exclusively Penzy’s and Spice Ace. I would recommend first buying smaller sizes (1.5 oz) at a time and see how much you use them before spending more money on larger sized ones. If you sign up for Penzy’s newsletter, they always have a coupon for free small spice jars that you can try and always have great recipes as well! Also, both Penzy’s and Spice Ace prices and quality are awesome!
Pastas, Rice and other Dried Ingredients
Grocery stores have some great sales on everyday items such as pastas, rice and dried beans. Be proactive and take a quick peak at their website to see when your favorites are on sale. I do, and I always stock up on my favorite brands – the shelf life is long, and I can make SO many quick meals for me and my family. I always keep different shaped pastas (I use orzo, couscous and linguine the most), as well as lentil beans and rice (I use jasmine and basmati the most).
Again, these bad boys go on sale ALL.THE.TIME! Stock up smarties!! Canned beans are a MUST in my pantry, all kinds. Open up a can of chickpeas/Garbanzo beans, give it a quick drain and rinse and BOOM, you’ve added instant protein to your salad. Black beans are SO versatile! Easy breezy side dishes, to veggie burgers, and Cuban Black beans made easy (skip the whole soaking of the beans part!) – this is a can you will always find in my pantry. Also, I LOVE me some canned tomatoes and jarred tomato sauces – all kinds, but my favorites have to be crushed tomatoes, (plain) tomato sauce, petite diced tomatoes and basic marinara (be careful with marinara’s – there are a ton of brands that have so many ingredients that you don’t need – like a lot of added fat. My favorite brands are Cucina Antica and San Marzano (in that order). Simple, high quality ingredients, very low in fat and SO much flavor! You can add depth and flavor to so many dishes, as well as making them super quick to: soups, chili, sauces etc…
Vinegars and Sauces
I’m one of those people who uses a lot of vinegars…I love the extra little kick it gives to so many dishes. Add a splash of rice wine vinegar, handful of chopped fresh cilantro and scallions to a bowl of plain steamed rice…BOOM! You’ve gone from blah to, “can you make that rice again?!” status. The ones I seem to reach for the most are: Red Wine Vinegar, White Wine Vinegar, Balsamic and Rice Wine Vinegar.
I tend to make a lot of Asian inspired food – for the most part the recipes are quick and easy, tend to be pretty healthy and have so much flavor! So needless to say, I have a lot of Asian ingredients that I like to keep on hand in both my fridge and pantry. I wasn’t going to add this section, because a lot of the items aren’t everyday items for many, but maybe it will inspire you to try some out :-). I buy most of my Asian ingredients at the Super G Mart. It’s a little on the far side, but so worth the trip. You canNOT beat the prices, and the ingredients are very authentic to that specific region. I buy most of my Brazilian, Italian and Spanish ingredients there as well. If you’re a foodie or know someone who is, make sure you tell them about this little gem. My pantry must have’s for these are: low-sodium soy sauce, Rice Wine Vinegar (Unseasoned), regular Rice Vinegar, dark Mirin (more Japanese style) and light Mirin (more Korean style), Toasted Sesame Oil and Regular Soy Sauce.