Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Ten Things that Should Always Be in Your Pantry

Keep these ten ingredients around, and you'll always have something to eat -- even on short notice. They're generally cheap, play nicely with each other, and stay edible for six months to a year -- if not more.

*Peanut butter. Mix it with melted butter for an amazing sauce, put it on bread...or just scoop it out of the jar with your finger.

*Canned tuna or shrimp. Good for salad, heaped on crackers, or mixed with pasta.

*Some kind of crunchy cracker. Bread would be excellent -- if it lasted. But a cracker can hang in there for weeks, provided you keep the package sealed. Rye-Krisp is great; so are water crackers. Even plain saltines will do the trick -- but they get stale after a few months.

*Canned soup. One can's a help -- five or ten are an emergency fund, provided you bought them on sale with coupons. My own pantry is never without Campbell's brand chicken noodle soup. (Yes,  I can tell the difference from generic. Stir in an egg for more depth, and/or add a can of tomatoes/green chilies.) Other good soups are chunky-style; these are excellent heated and poured over rice or noodles. Clam chowder not only can be eaten as-is, but used as a pasta sauce, too.

*Pasta. Macaroni, fusilli and those little bows cook fast. Spaghetti and linguine look more elegant. Your choice.

*Dried onion or garlic. Just a shake of either livens up the plainest dishes. Dry onion soup mix is good, but salty.

*Eggs. In just a few minutes time, you can have them scrambled, fried, poached -- or even a fancy-schmancy omelet. Fresh eggs are best, but only last 2-3 weeks in the refrigerator. Keep a jar of dried egg whites in the pantry, and you'll be able to use it indefinitely.

*Dried milk. You don't have to drink it mixed straight out of the box -- but it's a godsend when you're low on regular milk, or the local grocery store ran out because of a blizzard. (This has happened several times in Colorado -- in as little as a week.) Stretch your regular milk further by using dried milk powder for cooking, or mix the reconstituted milk in with the regular to make it go further on a tight paycheck week. 

*Some kind of cheese. A slice of Cheddar or Swiss melted on toast gives you a hot meal in just a minute or two. (It's good in soup and mixed with pasta, too.) Grated Parmesan keeps practically forever.

*At least one complete meal in a can. Corned beef hash, beef stew, even tamales can fit the bill. One old boyfriend's dad swore by La Choy brand chow mein; he was partial to the beef version. There will come a night when you're on the way to the flu...or just got home, cold and hungry...or had a rotten day. Heat it up, put on your favorite movie, and relax.

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