Today in my series of Cooking 101, I wanted to list some of the pantry must-haves. These are the essential items you should have in your pantry to avoid any claims of "there is nothing to eat" in your home, as well as to avoid running to the store to buy these items. These items have a longer shelf life, do not need refrigeration, and can be easily whipped up with other ingredients you have to make a quick and easy meal. All of these items can be purchased when they are on sale, so make sure you stock up when you see a sale for them!
Having pasta on hand is always ideal to whip up a quick lunch or dinner meal. Pasta is inexpensive, easy to cook, and virtually has no expiry date. You can make a multitude of dishes as it is very versatile to incorporate with meat or vegetables. Toss in some spaghetti sauce for a quick lunch, add some grilled steak or chicken along with spices for a yummy dinner, or mix pasta with olive oil and vinegar for a simple pasta salad or easy snack. I always buy a few pounds of pasta when it's on sale for those lazy days.
Either canned or dried, beans are very inexpensive, nutritious and filling. Beans can be added to soups and stews, tossed in cold salads, ground into homemade hummus, made into chili, and even added to ground beef or pork. Stocking up on dry beans is beneficial since you avoid the additives and preservatives that come with canned beans. But if you do stock up on canned beans, note the expiration date.
Along with pasta, rice can also be a great grain to stock up on and be used for it's versatility. Add rice to just about any dish you are preparing, such as casseroles, stir-fry, sushi rolls, or as a side dish to meats. Add steamed or grilled veggies and spices for a healthy lunch, or grilled chicken cubes with some peppers for a yummy dinner.
4. Peanut Butter
Peanut butter isn't only great for the good ol' PB&J sandwich, it is very versatile in what it can be used for, much more than people think. Use it in Asian-inspired dishes to add that nutty taste. Add to sauces and dips for a new take on taste. Use it in desserts, spreads or smoothies. Or, for a quick light snack, dip some fruits or veggies in peanut butter. My fave snack: apples dipped in peanut butter. Yum!
5. Stock or Broth
Using stock or broth in place of water will add so much flavour and taste to your dishes. Use in homemade soups and stews, casseroles, and pasta sauce. Grill your meat in the pan with an added splash of stock to maximize the flavour. Cook rice, couscous or quinoa for an added flavour.
6. Canned Tomatoes/Tomato Sauce
If you have stocked up on pasta, why not add tomato sauce to your pantry as well? You can find a large variety of sauce flavours to use in many of your dishes. Canned tomatoes are a great alternative to fresh tomatoes to make your own homemade pasta sauce, chili, or meat dish. Keep a few cans of diced, crushed, and whole tomatoes to fill any recipe that calls for tomatoes.
Flour is a key ingredient in most baked goods, and so should be kept in the pantry at all times. You can also use flour along with eggs to coat and bread chicken, thicken sauces, or make homemade bread.
A great substitute to flour, oats can be used in a wide number of dishes for any meal. Use oats to make your own homemade granola, oatmeal pancakes, add oats to ground meat for meatloaf or meatballs, or make a crumble topping for your dutch apple pie.
Along with flour, this is another key ingredient in many cooking and baking dishes, sauces and drinks. Use it to sweeten your coffee or tea, add to your brownies recipe, or make sweet and sour sauce for your chicken.
10. Fresh Onions and Garlic
Many recipes call for onions and/or garlic to add taste and spice up a dish. A small clove of garlic can pack a whole lot of flavour, and when you add onions to the mix, your sauces, meat dishes, salads and stews will taste delicious. You can even caramelize onions to add to pork tenderloin, grilled chicken or steak, or toss in your pasta.
11. Cooking Oil
Whether you prefer vegetable oil or olive oil, having cooking oil on hand is a must when cooking as you need some sort of fat to cook. Extra virgin olive oil is a healthier choice, as it is packed with antioxidants, is loaded with health benefits to fight off heart disease and cancer, and is packed with flavour and taste.
Vinegar can be used both as a kitchen staple and a household staple. Aside from its benefits to cleaning and deodorizing, it is also a powerful flavour booster. Add white vinegar to sweet and sour dipping sauce or homemade barbecue sauce, balsamic vinegar to make your very own balsamic vinaigrette, or red wine vinegar for your fresh garden salads.
What staple items would you add to this list?