Pantry Basics | Food, April 2012

Written by on March 30, 2012 in Food, From this Issue | April 2012 - No comments

A Well-Stocked Pantry

Eliminate last-minute trips to the store by ensuring you have the basics

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It’s time to end those inconvenient last-minute runs to the grocer. A well-stocked pantry, fridge and freezer ensure you have on hand the ingredients you need. Start by putting together a list of core food products to save you time and money –– and help you eat well too. By stocking your pantry and fridge with healthy staples, you can rest assured you have the necessary ingredients for nutritious and satisfying meals. Tony Hanslits, national dean of culinary education at the Chef’s Academy, shares these tips on basic items to complete your ready-to-go pantry.

Canned goods


Canned goods like whole plum tomatoes are great staples to have on hand.

Canned whole plum tomatoes can be used to make sauces or added to chili and other soups. You can even roast them, Hanslits says.

Take canned whole tomatoes, lightly squeeze excess juice from them and then smash them flat, he suggests. Season with salt, pepper, garlic and a bit of thyme. Then roast in the oven at the lowest possible temperature for one to two hours.

Canned beans are a great protein source without the fat. Try kidney beans, chickpeas, cannellini beans and black beans.

Other handy canned goods include tuna; chicken, beef and vegetable broths; and cream soups for casseroles.


It’s easy to spice up dishes when you have seasonings on hand such as a variety of salts, thyme, dried bay leaves, nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, ground ginger, pepper and breadcrumbs.

Eating Well suggests also stocking caraway seeds, chili powder, ground cumin, paprika, crushed red pepper, dill, sage, oregano and Italian seasoning blend.

As far as fresh items, it’s a good idea to have garlic; onions; and lemons, limes and oranges (to use for zest), Eating Well recommends.

Simple but substantial staples


Tony Hanslits' organized pantry helps him prepare meals with ease.

Fresh pasta is great, but for long-term storage, buy tube pastas, such as penne, rigatoni or macaroni, or string pastas, like fettuccini, linguini or angel hair.

Limited groceries on hand? Make Hanslits’s “poor man’s pasta” by tossing cooked pasta with olive oil and minced garlic. Throw in some veggies or Parmesan cheese and you have a meal ready in minutes.

Rice, including brown and instant varieties, is another staple for your pantry. Brown rice provides greater nutrition, Hanslits says. For better texture, soak it 25 minutes before cooking.

Bottles and jars
Staple ingredients and condiments include yellow and Dijon mustards, ketchup, pesto, mayonnaise, salsa, soy sauce, horseradish sauce, and lemon and lime juices.

Red wine, white wine, rice and balsamic vinegars can be used for salads and to add to vegetables.

“Use vinegar in place of sauces to reduce calories in your meal,” Hanslits suggests. “For example, try putting vinegar on mashed potatoes instead of butter.”

“Purchase good-quality oils in quantities that you will readily use within three months before they start to ‘lose their love,’” Hanslits says. This includes extra-virgin olive oil and other seed and nut oils, like sesame and walnut.

According to Eating Well, other handy staples include barbecue sauce, Worcestershire sauce and Kalamata olives.

Baking basics should include flour, sugar (white, brown and confectioners), cornstarch, baking chocolate, chocolate chips, nuts, baking powder and baking soda, Hanslits suggests.

Other items to have readily available include honey, applesauce, oatmeal, maple syrup, dried fruits, peanut butter, powdered sugar, shortening, extracts (including vanilla, almond, lemon and peppermint) and yeast.

Refrigerator and freezer
Basics to keep in the fridge include milk; plain Greek yogurt, which can be substituted for sour cream; Parmesan cheese, cheddar cheese and eggs.

In the freezer, keep a supply of frozen vegetables, frozen berries and fruit juice concentrates. It’s also a smart idea to freeze meat bought on sale.

Tips to Keep Your Pantry Organized

Keep frequently used items at eye level or a more reachable level.

Separate items into “zones,” such as canned goods, baking items, seasonings, pasta and rice, and cooking mixes.

Keep the labels turned to the front of the pantry. Place larger or taller items in the back.

Look through your pantry once a month to reorganize the items on the shelves. Check expiration dates to keep food fresh. Note which items need to be replenished, and make a list to take with you on your next grocery-shopping outing.

Cooking with oils


Experiment with different oils to find which ones you prefer.

Choose the right variety that meets your needs

There are plenty of oil varieties on the market. Some are good for cooking and others for finishing dishes. Store oils in a cool, dark cupboard, away from heat sources, such as your stove or other cooking appliances, to keep fresh. Here are some oil basics and tips to help you choose the right ones to keep on hand in your pantry:

Canola –– A popular oil that is low in saturated fat and contains omega-3 fatty acids.

Corn –– Corn oil works well for grilling, stir-frying, sautéing and making salad dressings.

Grapeseed –– Grapeseed oil is an all-purpose variety that can be used to lightly sauté foods. Buy in larger quantities as it has a longer shelf life –– up to one year.

Olive –– Try varieties and brands before purchasing larger quantities. Don‘t use one that doesn’t taste good to you. Test and compare pure to extra-virgin to discover what’s best for you in preparing meals, Hanslits suggests.

Palm –– Palm oil is high in saturated fat and is commonly used to fry foods.

Safflower –– This variety is ideal for salad dressings, baking, frying and marinades.

Sesame –– Available in toasted or plain, sesame oil adds a deep, rich flavor to “finish” foods, like Asian dishes. Buy in smaller quantities as it has a shorter shelf life of up to six months.

Soybean –– This popular variety is low in saturated fat and a common source of vitamin E.

Walnut –– More expensive and nutty tasting, walnut oil is best used as a finishing oil on salads and pasta.

How to use vegetable oils

Light to medium heat for sautéing and making sauces: Canola, grapeseed, safflower, sunflower or soybean.

Medium-high heat for baking, frying, sautéing and roasting: Corn, grapeseed, safflower, sunflower or soybean.

High heat for grilling and deep-frying: Cottonseed, canola, corn, grapeseed, safflower, sunflower or soybean. Source:

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