I love to cook. I enjoy the satisfaction of following a recipe and experiencing the end result – a (hopefully) beautiful and delicious meal. More than that though, I love throwing something together from what I keep in the pantry and having it turn out awesome! Now I know everyone has their staple go-to recipes but I also know that there are some people who are still feeling their way through those aspects of cooking. If you are one of those people, I hope this article will help you get started.
Here are things I always have on hand in my pantry, fridge, and freezer (you can also grab the free printable here):
Cans of chicken broth or bouillon cubes
I always cook my rice in chicken broth, it adds a nice flavor. In fact, anything that you would cook in water you can cook in chicken broth, especially if you aren’t going to drain the liquid. It can also add some nice flavor to mashed potatoes.
Onions, Carrots, Celery, Garlic
These are SUCH versatile veggies and last a long time in the pantry and fridge. They will add nutrition and flavor to many dishes. All of these or a variety of these will taste great in different soups, roasted, steamed, or baked underneath a chicken or pot roast.
**Flavorful tip** Very finely chop an equal amount of onion, celery, and carrot. Sauté in a little bit of olive oil or butter and then mix it into your already cooked rice. It is a great way to get in extra veggies and it tastes SO good.
“Boil ‘em, mash ‘em, put ‘em in a stew.” Potatoes are awesome! Bake them and load them with whatever. Roast them with onions and they complement any meat dish. Boil them in chicken broth, and blend together for a soup. Bake a bunch, chop them up and then pan fry them with onions for a yummy breakfast potato. Mash them (duh). Bottom line, you have potatoes in your pantry, you have some kind of meal to eat. It’s a nice neutral base for a variety of things and they will also last a long time, especially if you keep them in a dark slightly cool location. There is a reason they are so popular in the United Kingdom where everything is dark and cool!
Lemons go great with a lot of things. Use the juice for salads. Bake them lemons with various meats to give them a nice flavor (you cannot mess up the glorious combination of lemon and rosemary on meat, chicken especially). Put them in your tea, your water, your soda. Hungry but don’t want to eat? Hot water and lemon! Sick and fighting a cold? Lemon, water, and honey (and whiskey, if that is how you roll) – most important ingredient? Lemons! If your lemon is a bit hard, pop it in the microwave for 15 seconds and those juices will loosen a bit. Life gives you lemons? Cut ‘em in half and tuck ‘em in your bra…couldn’t hurt, might help ;)
Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar
This flavor combination is my absolute favorite for salads. Plus, a nice balsamic reduction can add some flair to any meat or roasted veggie dish. And olive oil is just good to have on hand for sautéing, salads, pasta, soups, breads. It’s just yummy!
Frozen Chicken Breasts or Thighs, Whole Chicken, Pork Chops, Pot Roast
It’s great to keep meat in your freezer because you know you won’t be starving. Here are a few easy things I like to do with my meat…
Take a whole average sized chicken, put it in a baking dish, add some salt and pepper, put it in the oven on like 300 degrees. I also throw in a few potatoes to bake, too.
Same for the pot roast. Find a lean one, put it in a dutch oven with some whole potatoes, some carrots, an onion (halved), a few cans of green beans, salt and pepper. Cook on 350.
Both of these meals need to be cooked around 2 to 2.5 hours. It’s perfect if you are a church goer and want to come home to a delicious meal.
Cream of Mushroom Soup
Cream of mushroom soup is very versatile. You can mix it with left over mashed potatoes and some milk and have a nice potato soup. I also enjoy throwing a few chicken breasts or pork chops in the skillet, brown them for a few minutes, add a can of the soup, and simmer for 20 minutes. Always delicious, simple, and looks nice on the plate (especially if you garnish with a bit of parsley or chives – anything green).
Dried Onion Soup packets
Throw a thing of this into some soup (it’s great in a pinch if you don’t have real onions). You can also use it to season the outside of a chicken or roast. It makes a great addition to gravies. My favorite thing to do with the DOS is to put some potatoes in a large Ziploc bag, add a few Tbsp. olive oil and the DOS. Shake until covered and bake on 350 around 20 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked through. I also like to use sweet potatoes instead of regular potatoes. You can toss it in a Ziploc bag with some olive oil and chopped potatoes and then roast the potatoes.
I feel like it goes without saying that spaghetti is always great to have stocked and ready to bust out on a busy night.
Cans of Tuna or Chicken
Salads, sandwiches, toppings for baked potatoes, meat for a soup, a nice addition to mac n cheese…Tuna and chicken are cheap and easy (like me, *wink*).
Ever since I read fellow Splendry contributer Dara’s article about Salsa Verde Chicken, it has been a regular in my pantry. Read more about it here. But more importantly, go and make it immediately. I have found it to be versatile, delicious, and super forgiving.
You can put almost anything savory in a tortilla which is why I always keep them on hand. Quesadillas, tacos, burritos (breakfast and otherwise), meat and cheese, butter and honey and they also have a long shelf life. Tortillas are awesome. You can even use the whole wheat ones, but I prefer flour.
Hearty, nutritious, and cheap.
To me, pasta and potatoes share the same awesome qualities. You can put almost anything on it and it will be delicious. We always have some kind of pasta handy, even tossed with garlic, butter, and parmesan cheese, you have a meal.
I LOVE beans! Cover them with 2 inches of water, soak them over night, then throw them in the crock pot with whatever you want. 8 hours later – a cheap, nutrition, and delicious meal. This is such a forgiving dish. Throw in a meat, some spices, liquid to cover, and some veggies and you can create lots of fun combinations. Here are some variations I like:
- Ham hock, chopped onion, carrots, celery, garlic, and any bean
- Spinach, curry powder, onions, carrots, and lentils
- Sausage, Cajun spices, veggies, and red beans
Basically, add something salty, a variety of veggies, and enough liquid (chicken broth is great) to cover the beans so they will be soupy and you have a delicious meal. You can serve with cornbread or rice. Love the one pot dishes!
Toasted, most nuts make great complements as toppings to dishes. It adds a bit of extra protein and some great texture and flavor. It is especially nice over rice.
So, there you have it – my pantry basics.
This has worked well for my family over the years and I hope it gives you a place to start. There is something so satisfying in knowing that I can make some form of delicious and nutritious meal when grocery money is low or I have not had time to go to the store. I would be interested to know, what are your pantry staples? Share in the comments section. I am always looking for new and exciting ways to liven things up.
Originally posted September 21, 2015