The key to making dinner preparation easy, even on the most hectic day, is having a well stocked pantry. And by pantry, I really mean pantry, cupboard, freezer and refrigerator. From this you can create dinner out of ‘nothing’.
The items I always have on hand are pretty extensive. In the pantry, I have several types of pasta, a couple of different types of rice, bread crumbs, whole oats, instant potatoes (I almost always use fresh, but having instant on hand has saved me several times), brown sugar, ground flax, 2 types of honey, a variety of nuts, a variety of dried and canned beans, a variety of canned tomatoes, sauce and paste. There is also a can of pineapple, a bag of dried fruit, a box of corn bread mix and a huge jar of toasted sesame seeds. And of course the basics: unbleached flour, whole wheat flour, baking powder and soda, sugar, etc.
The cupboard is filled with as many spices as I can think of, in the smallest containers I can find, so they aren’t years old when I decide to use them. I have dried chilis and a bulb of fresh garlic – though I always keep dried powder on hand and a jar of fresh in the refrigerator – can’t have too much garlic and each has a use. I also have a few marinade mixes and shake-on rubs, though I usually make my own, having a few ready-made on hand is helpful.
In the freezer there are always boneless chicken breasts and boneless thighs, a least a pound of hamburger, a variety of frozen vegetables and frozen fruits, including a bag of cranberries. Cranberries freeze very well and are a great addition to many dishes, without having to resort to the heavily sugared canned versions. If I make fish, I prefer to use fresh, but tilapia freezes well and is pretty good if marinated and grilled.
The refrigerator door is a great stash of items that can help in a pinch. There is soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, 2 or 3 marinades, orange sauce (a favorite of mine), barbecue sauce (my favorite these days being Sweet Baby Rays Sweet & Spicy), a couple of mustards (I don’t like Dijon – yuck – but a friend reminded me of spicy brown mustard, so I have that on hand), I have several types of wine vinegars and an organic apple cider vinegar, that tastes more like cider than vinegar, lemon juice, limejuice, chocolate sauce, grated parmesan, pickled jalapenos, and a jar salsa that has no sugar or HFC and tastes pretty close to fresh.
So at anytime, with these ingredients, I can make quick beans and rice, any number of pasta dishes, including angel hair tossed with olive oil and parmesan or bowties tossed with spicy crushed tomatoes, Spanish rice or any number of stir-fried dishes. And the best part is that most of these items will be good for months before they have to be used.
What’s in your pantry?