A Well-Stocked Pantry

Ingredients, Ingredients, Ingredients…are the three most important essentials to great cooking. My overwhelmingly strong suggestion is to never scrimp on quality ingredients. I’d rather have a little of something good, than a whole lot of something mediocre.

“I’d rather have 30 minutes of wonderful, than a lifetime of nothing special.”

– Shelby Eatenton Latcherie, Steel Magnolias

One of the questions I ask frequently to guests on my FOODTALK radio show is: “What three things are always in your refrigerator?” When I interviewed Paula Deen, she told me: “Bacon, butter, and Mayonnaise.” Mine are Dijon mustard, an array of Kosher pickles, and lots of fine cheeses.” I could easily throw in butter as well. What three things are always in your refrigerator?

This question got me thinking as to what would be in a well-stocked pantry. Here are my picks.


  • Peas
  • Corn
  • Broccoli
  • Spinach
  • Edamame
  • Chicken Breasts
  • Ground Beef
  • Shrimp
  • Almonds, Walnuts, Pecans, Pinenuts
  • Blueberries
  • Corn Tortillas
  • Pizza Dough
  • English Muffins & Bagels


  • Milk
  • Block of Parmesan for grating
  • American, Swiss, Cheddar Cheeses
  • Greek Yogurt
  • Butter
  • Eggs
  • Bacon
  • Lemons
  • Grey Poupon Dijon Mustard (country style and regular)
  • Hellmann’s Mayo
  • Heinz Ketchup
  • Sriracha
  • Pesto
  • Preserves and Jams


  • Pasta
  • Rice: Long Grain and Basmati
  • Couscous
  • Dry Lentils
  • Dried Split Peas
  • Garlic
  • Cereal
  • Honey
  • Vinegars: Balsamic, red wine, natural rice wine
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Soy Sauce
  • Hoisen Sauce
  • Oyster Sauce and/or Fish Sauce
  • 100% Vermont Maple Syrup
  • Sesame Oil
  • Onion
  • Potatoes
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Fresh Tomatoes (never keep in fridge)
  • Peanut Butter (I’m a Peter Pan smooth kinda guy)
  • Panko Bread Crumbs

Canned Goods

  • Chickpeas
  • Black Beans
  • Cannellini Beans
  • Kidney Beans
  • Diced Tomatoes
  • Tomato Paste

Baking and Canning

  • All Purpose Flour
  • Granulated Sugar
  • Powdered Sugar
  • Brown Sugar
  • Baking Powder
  • Baking Soda
  • Quality 100% Vanilla
  • 100% Lemon Extract
  • Hersey’s Cocoa
  • Chocolate Chips
  • Yeast
  • Cream of Tarter
  • Pectin


One lazy Saturday afternoon many years ago, I got a call from my good friend Rosemary Henderson asking me how to prepare a beef tenderloin. Rosemary asked so many questions it was easier for me to just go over and prepare it myself…a smart plan on her part…and I still fall for it to this day. While in her kitchen I looked in her spice and herb pantry and found most all of her spices and herbs were at least 20 years old. When I questioned her about this – all she could say in her southern Mississippi drawl is: “Do they go bad?”

Now, all of us have a tendency at times to keep spices and dried herbs until they are dry, crusty, and so hard they won’t move from the canister…but Rosemary takes this frugal method to a different level than most of us. But we still love her.

Recently this year (2014), way back in her cupboard, I found a box of opened brown sugar from Kash n’ Karry. Well, most of you know that Kash n’ Karry switched over to Sweetbay Markets in 2002. And I have to believe that Rosemary (pictured here with one of her homemade caramel cakes) did not rush out and buy a box of brown sugar the day Kash n’ Karry closed, so this box (which did not have an expiration date) may have been in her panty for 15 years or more.

My suggestion is to buy small containers of spices and herbs, date them, and keep at the most 6 months to a year. Storing them in your refrigerator or freezer will help them keep longer. Below are spices and herbs a well- appointed kitchen should readily keep on hand.

  • Kosher Salt
  • Black Peppercorns
  • Oregano
  • Basil
  • Dill
  • Thyme
  • Red Pepper Flakes
  • Chili Powder
  • Curry Powder
  • Cinnamon
  • Nutmeg
  • Ground Allspice
  • Ginger
  • Onion Powder
  • Garlic Powder
  • Paprika
  • Cayenne

Food Storage

  • Heavy Duty Aluminum Foil
  • Zip Lock Storage Bags
  • Parchment Paper
  • Plastic Wrap


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