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What staples do you ALWAYS have on hand?

Hi there--
So here it is again, I'm getting ready to make dinner, and I feel like I have nothing in the house to cook. Either that, or I'm hot and tired and not too creative right now. Nonetheless, it got me thinking about all of you creative chowhounds --

What food items do you always have on hand to put together for dinner? If I were to go to the store this weekend to stock up, what should I get? I have eggs, bread, cheese -- normal stuff. But what items are your go-to items? The ones you make sure never to run out of?

Thanks! I'll get back to marching between the fridge and the pantry hoping for inspiration now...

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  1. All-purpose flour and bread flour.

    Usually some kind of pasta.

    Olive oil and a few types of vinegar.

    Usually have a few kinds of stock in the freezer (beef, chicken and veal, when I'm on top of things).

    Eggs, milk, yogurt, a few cheeses, butter. Chunky hummus--definitely a staple.

    Lots of spices.

    Fresh garlic, onions, potatoes.

    Then everything else is what's fresh, in season, and interesting.

    1. corn tortillas, salsa, eggs, cheese, dried fettuccine or linguine, frozen demiglace, good old fashioned smoked bacon, cubed and frozen, frozen veg from Trader Joe's

      Oh, and soy sauce

      1. Everything David has listed, plus some greens and veggies for a salad.,,,,,,
        A couple of tomatoes/celery/carrots/cucumbers....Greens
        Some tinned fish like tuna in EVOO/salmon/anchovies/sardines.
        We're talking Pantry here... Capital P.
        Great bread.
        You know.... something you can actually EAT! Without too much trouble.
        Don't forget the wine!

        1. Shaoshing rice wine. #1 always.

          Crushed red pepper
          Good Coarse Sea salt
          Flat leaf parsley (in fridge or herb garden)
          Parmesean Reggiano
          Spanish Chorizo- store in freezer if necessary, adds heaps of flavor to everything.
          One bottle excellent champagne, because you never know when you'll need it.

          1. Other than a cabinet full of condiments, I almost always have:

            -chicken stock
            -canned tomatoes of some sort
            -a hunk of parmesan in the freezer
            -a bag of frozen peas
            -dried Asian staples like mushrooms and seaweed
            -furikake (the little glass jars of dried fish, seaweed, sesame seeds, etc. in the Japanese aisle)
            -Taiwanese style dried shredded pork
            -dried Asian style noodles (usually Korean wheat noodles)
            -dried pasta, various shapes

            What all this means is that when I'm in dire straights and need to make something straight out of the pantry, I can almost always make:
            -an "Asiany" noodle soup with whatever leftover vegetable bits I have in my fridge, some dried mushrooms, and a dash of sesame oil and soy sauce
            -a seaweed egg flower soup if I have enough leftovers that I don't want to cook, but not enough to really be a meal
            -penne arrabiata
            -pasta carbonara
            -a big bowl of warm rice sprinkled with furikake, dried shredded pork, and a drizzle of tea oil or sesame oil.

            But those are my quick pantry-friendly comfort foods, so that's what I stock up on. My friend, for example, can make a meal out of half a hunk of brie, and her three staples are: bacon, brie, Trader Joe's pate.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Pei

              Wow, really great suggestions!! Truth is, I personally could make a very happy meal from a hunk of brie as well, but I do have others to feed in my family as well!

              I'm making my shopping list now -- planning on hitting the grocery store and the farmer's market tomorrow.

              1. re: bards4

                I hear you, but I'm not sure I could eat brie as a meal on a regular basis (or should, at least).

                I actually really get a kick out of saying "Hey, we cooked completely out of the pantry today and still managed to have a really healthy, balanced meal."

                Ditto on the bubbly. I always have one cheapo bottle and one expensive bottle tucked away.

            2. I don't see it see it listed, but rice is something I never let myself run out of. On those days when you just want something really simple, just about anything goes with or over rice.

              Others for me are garlic, onions, dried pasta, kosher salt, peppercorns, sugar, flour eggs, and oil - the basics really.

              1. Carrots/celery/onions

                Lettuce and random veggies for a salad. I also typically have canned artichoke hearts, hearts of palms, garbanzos that I can add to a salad to jazz it up a bit.

                Eggs - scrambled, poached over a salad, frittatas, quiche, omelettes, egg salad (with mayo)etc

                Parmesan cheese, typically some other type of cheese - cheddar, brie, goat cheese , depends on what looks good. This can go with a salad or with egg based dishes.

                Chicken stock - this with the mirepoix above can become the base of just about any soup - chicken noodle, pureed or "cream of" any veggie, even beef stew (yes, I use chicken stock in beef stew) Plus its useful for cooking rice or couscous or braising meats of veggies. Making pan sauces.

                I usually have yogurt and fruit of some sort for snacking.
                The fruit can quickly be cooked for dessert if needed = cobbler. (or just if its starting to become too ripe, I cook it into a topping for greek yogurt or cottage cheese or oatmeal or even icecream for company)

                Meats or chicken or fish I tend to buy fresh only as needed.

                The freezer always has some curry sauce (for vegetable curry) or other sauces for making into dishes (eg roasted red pepper sauce for crab cakes or fish, base for making shrimp as in shrimp and grits, homemade tomato sauce, base for cioppino, a stone crab bisque that can go over fish as a sauce or be a soup on its own) and some various soups or stews in individual portion sizes for when I have no time to cook.
                I also have some demiglace frozen in there. Also a sauce that just needs shredded chicken or turkey and a pie crust to become pot pie. I like to make sauces or bases or gravies that just need the fresh meat and veggies addeed, because the sauces reheat just fine, but meat and veggies tend to be a little more finicky.

                1. Pretty much the same as the other posters, but will add:

                  frozen uncooked shrimp
                  frozen ground beef,veal and pork
                  tubed tomato paste concentrate have also added basil and onion tubed
                  jarred marinated mushrooms
                  boneless skinless chicken breasts
                  dried mushrooms
                  arborio rice

                  1. Local and Japanese rice, flour, dried black beans, different dried pastas, powdered milk, yeast, baking powder, baking soda, cornmeal, corn starch, masa harina, couscous, lentils, dried green peas.

                    Nori, gari, soba, rice noodles, Viet rice wrappers, mung noodles, miso paste, tamarind, wakame, ume, tsukemono, dashi, wasabe, mirin, fish sauce, oyster sauce, shoyu, hoisin, fermented black beans, aburage, dried shiitakes, matsutakes, porcinis,

                    Brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, specialty coffees and teas.

                    Dried African game meat, dried squid, dried fish.

                    Canned or jars or bottles: corn, beans, tuna, sardines, anchovies, caviar, tomato paste, olives, capers, mustards, olive – toasted sesame – canola- peanut – corn oils, vinegars,

                    Red and green onions, carrots, tomatoes, lettuces, chives, chiles, bok choy, napa, cucumbers, ginger, garlic, bananas, melon, papaya, pineapple, limes, lemons, oranges, mint, cilantro, raisins.

                    Plain and blue maize tortillas, breads, Oaxaca cheese, Parm Reg, Pec Romano, Mozzarella.

                    Milk, orange juice, sausages, home made yogurt, home made soups, home made stocks, fish, chicken, oatmeal, eggs, butter, cream, granola.

                    Tons of spices.

                    1. feta, parm regg, gruyere
                      tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, celery, red and white onion, potato, lettuce
                      kalamata olives
                      basil, cilantro, parsley
                      eggs, milk, greek yogurt, butter
                      lemons, limes, oranges
                      dry pasta, rice, couscous, barley
                      pinto beans, lentils
                      tuna and sardines
                      canned tomatoes, canned green chiles, coconut milk,tomato paste,
                      frozen corn and peas
                      demi glace
                      sugar, ap flour, bread flour, ww flour, corn meal
                      maple syrup, honey, molasses, brown sugar
                      pecans, pine nuts, pistachios, walnuts
                      raisins, dried apricots

                      and well stocked spices, condiments, oils and vinegars

                      1. Okay, staples? Well, the obvious: flour, sugar, Bisquick, sea salt, kosher salt, filled pepper mills, coffee beans, peanut oil, olive oil, butter, 5 or 6 different pastas, rice and bean thread noodles, rice paper wraps, nori, 4 or 5 different types of rice, Kikkoman and Yamasa shoyu/soy sauce, lots of vinegars, Noilly Pratt white vermouth, Worcestershire sauce, A-1 steak sauce, ketchup, 5 kinds of mustard, hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, miso, soup base, dried beans, split peas, canned broths and stocks, mayonnaise, capers, a couple of jars of black truffles, a bunch of different types of pickles and relishes, several different types of nuts from walnuts to pine nuts, currants, raisins, dried pineapple, dried apricots, and a pretty expansive variety of herbs and spices. Oh, and syrups; maple, Mrs. Butterworth's and several kinds of fruit. And a bunch of other stuff.

                        Now, supplies to help me whip up something on the spur of the moment? Well, I always have several kinds of canned tomatoes, including whole, chopped, sauce, and paste. Canned albacore. Okay, I have ONE can of Spam in the back of the cupboard. Canned milk (for great onion rings). Water chestnuts. Bean sprouts. Enchilada sauce (red and green). Taco Bell refried beans. Okay, a couple of jars of Colavita pasta sauce, but it's good for pizza too. Canned Hatch chiles, whole and chopped. At least 5 diffrent cheeses on any given day. Cake mixes. A variety of meats, both cuts and species, in the freezer, along with frozen fish and other denizens of the deep. A variety of frozen "instant party" food such as mini-quiche, frozen pot stickers, tequila-lime chicken wings, mini barbecued ribs, bacon wrapped scallops and stuff like that. Great super-crusty frozen par-baked breads. Frozen tamales. I'm too lazy to go inventory the freezer.

                        Generally, I have a pretty well stocked kitchen, but..... That doesn't mean there aren't times when I think, "Damn! I wish I could think of something good to make for dinner." I don't think such thoughts have anything at all to do with what you have on hand. It's just part of being human.

                        1 Reply
                        1. Good question!

                          I always have

                          *some pasta, rice, or grains like barley or quinoa
                          *homemade chicken bouillion or a good facsimile
                          *lemons or frozen lemon juice & zest
                          *homemade tomato sauce
                          *frozen foods such as shrimp, scallops, bacon, ground meats
                          *variety of crackers
                          *spices including cumin, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, oregano, thyme, sage, pepper, cayenne,lavender, vanilla, black pepper
                          *brown sugars
                          *canned things like artichoke hearts, chick peas, roasted red peppers
                          *dried things like black beans, garbanzos, navy beans, milk powder
                          *frozen vegetables
                          *frozen puff pastry, pizza shells
                          *capers, green peppercorns, mustard, olive oil, butter
                          *white flour, white sugar, maple syrup, cornstarch, sea salt

                          1. I gotta say, I'd LOVE to stop by for an impromptu dinner at any of your kitchens!! Really making me evaluate my own pantry and freezer. Thanks for all the great replies!!

                            1. I have way more stuff than I need in my house. I'm sure I don't need to explain that to other foodies, though.


                              frozen chicken thighs and pork chops (which I often cut the bone off and sliver for a stir-fry)
                              breasts (which I usually slice horizontally and pound to cutlets)
                              bacon, frozen into four strip packages (to season things, make spinach salad, etc.)
                              rarely am I without some other tasty meat item like country ham or chorizo or pepperoni

                              Grains and dry legumes:

                              rice, several types (jasmine, sticky, etc.)
                              flour, several types (regular, ww, cornmeal, chappati, etc)
                              pasta, several shapes, asian noodles
                              at least one whole grain (like barley or bulgur or rolled oats)
                              pink beans
                              split mung dal
                              black beans
                              white beans


                              butter (frozen)
                              rarely do I not have one of: cream, sour creme, plain yogurt, buttermilk

                              Frozen things:

                              green peas
                              usually corn
                              homemade chicken stock
                              my supply of whole grain flour and some seeds and the like
                              some food I deliberately made to freeze as leftovers
                              pizza (not for ME. For spouse.)

                              Canned items:

                              tomato paste
                              garbanzos (sometimes they are homemade and then frozen, though)
                              often canned chopped green chilis

                              Lying around:

                              potatoes (most likely russets)
                              dried fruit (like cherries and raisins)
                              e.v. olive oil
                              other neutral oil
                              dark sesame oil (in my fridge)
                              lard (real rendered stuff, in fridge)
                              many spices, cumin is the most used, probably, most are whole
                              cornstarch, soy sauce, dried shitake, baking soda, mustards, vanilla, ketchup, etc.


                              Parmesan, Pecorino, plus another random cheese
                              cashews plus another nut (currently almonds, often walnuts)
                              ginger root
                              a lemon or a lime
                              rarely do I not have a serrano or the like
                              sourdough starter
                              jam (again, for spouse)
                              capers, anchovy, various condiments

                              Whatever looked good:

                              Multiple vegetables, some for raw, some for cooking
                              an herb (cilantro, mint, parsley, etc.)
                              maybe some meat or seafood (always frozen around here)
                              often an extra, like mushrooms or a radish

                              I can make most anything off of this if I got some good produce, and I can produce whatever bread I like to go with it. For example, a weirdo waldorf is usually possible where I use celery, frozen peas, parsley, yogurt/mayo combo, dried cherries, walnuts, etc. A simple tomato pasta sauce is of course possible. I can make several types of Chinese dishes. I can make many soups and breads. I can make baked beans. I can eat chicken piccata, I can make a cheese sauce, a pilaf, german potato salad, doro wat (served on the sticky rice instead of injera), a vegetarian indian meal on flatbread, whatever.

                              1. - Rice
                                - Dried pasta
                                - Frozen chicken breasts/thighs/drumsticks
                                - Olive oil
                                - Soy sauce
                                - Garlic
                                - Onions
                                - Dried cranberries
                                - Vinegar
                                - Ginger

                                Since it is the summer, I almost always have these fresh veggies on hand now:
                                - Tomatoes
                                - Summer squash
                                - Fresh basil (I have several plants growing on the patio)
                                - Bell peppers
                                - Greens for salad

                                1. Okay, based on all your wonderful suggestions, I was inspired today! I made it to the farmer's market and found all kinds of yummy produce to use throughout the week. (I took a quick break in between to have some divine radish sandwiches with a fresh-baked baguette and great butter...)

                                  Then I hit Trader Joes and picked up some pasta, couscous and jasmine rice (I always have Japanese sticky rice in the house, but I wanted to try something different), pizza dough and pizza toppings, various canned beans, frozen chicken tenders and breasts, frozen shrimp, salmon for my salmon-lovin' son, bacon, prosciutto, bread, tortillas, a variety of frozen ready-to-use items for last minute eating, and a few more items to replenish my pantry. I'm ready to take on the week and am so excited about the possibilities! Again, thank you for your great inspiration!

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: bards4

                                    I have to have these items on hand:

                                    Chicken breast (frozen)
                                    Ground beef (frozen)

                                  2. Things I absolutely always have around:

                                    pasta, noodles, rice, polenta
                                    olive oil, peanut oil, sesame oil
                                    garlic, onions, ginger
                                    dried and canned beans
                                    canned sardines, anchovies
                                    a huge stock of dried herbs/spices
                                    fresh parsley
                                    one or two types of cheese
                                    fish sauce, soy sauce
                                    Marigold buillon powder
                                    frozen chicken or pork

                                    I buy most fresh items (meat, vegs) a couple of times a week. It helps to know that I usually have enough stuff in the pantry to turn the fresh stuff into whatever I want.