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The Well-Stocked Pantry: Legos for Food Preps!

This past year we have seen a lot of panic buying at the grocery stores due to concerns over shortages arising from the governments' responses to Covid. Eggs were almost impossible to purchase, and baby chicks for the new backyard enthusiasts were just as scarce. I did a recent podcast on this topic, please check out my show page, The Red Hot Chilly Prepper!

The three fundamentals of preparedness and survival are food, water and shelter, in no particular order. Assuming the latter two being available in the present situation, I want to focus on food – particularly the building blocks of every home-cooked meal, the pantry.

Many people are tempted to simply purchase a large supply of ready-made food or freeze-dried food for long-term storage. However, frozen lasagna, pizza or other similar products take up a lot of space, don't last long in the freezer and are vulnerable if the power goes out. I also advise against relying solely on freeze-dried foods as they are not optimal if that is your only food source over time.

A more efficient plan is to consider making your own meals, keeping the basics on hand. By doing so, you will require less storage space, have more flexibility and fresher foods. You can also balance the flavors or sodium content to your liking or requirements.

Let's start with some absolute basics, then we will branch out and I'll explain the many ways you can use them. Think Legos for cooking! This list was inspired by Jamie Oliver, The Naked Chef, author of a fantastic book for beginning and “seasoned” chefs! Final word: I know many people are struggling, but do get the best quality ingredients you can; it will make a difference!

Oils: Extra virgin olive, sunflower, coconut (cold-pressed, organic, GREAT for baking!), almond, etc. I personally never use canola, or “vegetable.”

Vinegars: Red wine, white wine, apple cider (unfiltered, organic), champagne, rice, balsamic (aged, best quality even the glaze!).

Salts: Kosher, sea salt, table, Himalayan.

Sugars: white and brown (molasses if you want to make your own brown sugar)

Flour: All purpose, self-rising, cake, almond, coconut, etc.

Mustards: whole grain, dijon, champagne, and, plain yellow, if you must! Honey: Best you can get with active pollen. If you know a local source, all the better. If you know a bee keeper, make friends with one!

Nuts: pine, almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, etc.

Meal Basics You can Build From: Pastas; Rice (avoid instant). Rotate these items, as their shelf life tends to be more limited, brown rice more so than white. You can also use these ingredients to add quantity to meat or fish dishes so they go further.

Legumes: I prefer canned, as the dried ones take a lot of time to prepare. But if you have the time, by all means, use them! I especially love dried peas for home made pea soup! For canned, consider garbanzo, kidney, black, pinto and chili beans. You can add them to most any recipe, soups, salads, casseroles, etc.

Miscellaneous essentials: baking soda, baking powder. Cooking spray (I prefer to avoid it, but you can't argue its convenience!) Corn Meal. Corn starch (to thicken sauces).

Gettin' Fancy: Capers (in butter sauce for salmon, YUM!), olives (black, kalamata, green, etc.), sun-dried tomatoes (add to pastas, sautéed shrimp, salads...). Soy sauce ( I prefer light sodium option). Fish sauce, oyster sauce, red and green curries, enchilada sauce, Verde sauce. Dried mushrooms are easy to re-hydrate and use in soups, stews, or as a side their own.

Canned Fruits and Vegetables: Pineapple is great for slow cooked chicken teriyaki dishes; string beans, corn, tomatoes for soups, stews, chili...), green beans, corn, and peas are easy to add for soup, stews, chilis, casseroles.

Spices: I can't overstate the value of having a wide variety of spices. From appetizers to desserts, they always come in handy, and they can make or break your dish. I always try to get the best quality, organic, etc. of every ingredient, but some I use so often that it just makes sense to buy them in bulk, especially since spices can add up very quickly in cost. I am not ashamed to admit I buy quite a few in 20 ounce containers, such as chili powder, taco seasoning (yes, you can make your own!), red chili flakes, cinnamon, garlic powder/garlic salt, onion powder/dehydrated onion, dried parsley.

Black peppercorns are great for making stock. Aromatic herbs, bay leaves, oregano, basil, rosemary, thyme, nutmeg (ground or whole), cloves, fennel seeds, caraway seeds, paprika (hot, sweet, spanish), ground mustard, ground ginger, turmeric, sage. Pretty much anything you want, but these are my favorites.

White pepper is a must have for any soup that requires a roux, such as cream of spinach, or zucchini soups. I don't use it often, but when I do, it is a must have!

Putting it all Together: As overwhelming as it may seem to the new cook/prepper, these ingredients will provide you with what you need to make dips for bread, bread itself, dressings, marinades, sides and main dishes. I particularly love the flexibility this gives you for making your own salad dressings. Want more of an ingredient, add it! Less? Use less. When you buy something from the store, you will either like it or not; this way you can tailor your meals to make even the pickiest of eaters in your house happy, and you will avoid the harmful ingredients (chemicals, preservatives) along they way.

I hope you find this list useful, let me know what you create with it!

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