Inventory story

Apr. 29, 2014 @ 10:57 AM

Well, it’s official. The Kid is a bona fide adult. Our little chef has an awesome job in the area, cooking at an amazing restaurant, for an incredible executive chef.

And two weeks ago, my baby moved into a bright, shiny, new apartment.

We would have been overjoyed to have our own grown-up nerd living in the basement forever. But for some reason, living in a dirt-floored, spidery crawl space with expansive 4-foot ceilings didn’t appeal. 

What? It has an outside access. It’s sorta like a real apartment.

After all the boxes and furniture have been delivered and unpacked, then it’s time to stock the larder.

The idea behind a fully stocked pantry is to have enough varied provisions on hand so that when you cook, you only need to buy the fresh stuff. 

These recommendations are based on what our family eats, and the way I cook, but the fundamentals are there. Of course the list will change according to your own tastes and any dietary restrictions.

First up shelf stable goods: flour, both all-purpose and cake flour, if you bake. White sugar, brown sugar, and powdered sugar. Cocoa and leavening agents (baking powder and baking soda). Cornmeal. Vanilla extract, almond extract, cinnamon and whole nutmeg. Some dried fruit, oats, tea bags and coffee. Liquid sweeteners, like honey and maple syrup.  And of course, kosher salt and peppercorns.

White, brown and wild rice. Pastas, one long type like linguine, one large extruded pasta like penne, and one small style.  A bag of dry beans, and some canned: I usually have cans of garbanzo and pigeon peas.   

Beef and chicken stock. Canned tomatoes, and tomato paste. Chilis and tuna. You need two types of oils, an extra virgin olive oil, and a light, neutral tasting oil with a high smoke point for frying; I use grape seed, but canola or peanut works well, too.

Flavorings and spices: Worcestershire sauce and at least two types of vinegars.  Dijon and whole grain mustard. Jarred spices, like smoked paprika, cayenne, dry mustard, and spice blends (I love Goya adobo). As for herbs, fresh is usually best, but there are a few exceptions. Woodier herbs are OK, like bay leaf and rosemary. I also keep dried thyme on hand in case I can’t get my hands on fresh.

Fridge staples:  mayonnaise, ketchup, pickles, capers, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, and jams and jellies. Depending on your uses, whole milk, skim milk, and heavy cream or half-and-half. Eggs and butter. 

Your freezer’s also part of your pantry. Bread and cheeses will keep a long time, and you then have it when needed. A couple of bags of frozen veggies and fruits. I keep peas, shoepeg corn and berries. Salad shrimp is also terrific to keep on hand because you can toss it into many dishes. I also keep nuts in the freezer. And don’t forget ice cream. 

In the produce trade, hardware is hardy, storable items. Apples, onions, shallots and garlic, as well as boiling and baking potatoes.

If your kitchen is well-stocked, you can even cook dishes without leaving home to pick up extra ingredients.  A fave of mine is this easy pasta salad.

Pantry Pasta Salad

½ pound large shaped pasta like rotelle, cooked and drained, but not rinsed

1 cup frozen peas, defrosted

1 cup salad shrimp (optional)

¼ cup sun-dried tomatoes, drained and julienned


1 cup mayo

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Pinch of sugar

Water to thin

Salt and pepper

Whisk together mayo, vinegar, and sugar.  Thin with water until it’s the consistency of thick, creamy salad dressing.  Season and taste.  Place pasta, peas, shrimp, and tomatoes into large bowl.  Add dressing a bit at a time, until it looks way too wet.  Let sit at room temp for about 30 minutes, and the sauce will soak into the noodles, and tighten up.

Serves 4-6 as a side.

     Setting up a kitchen is a bit of a chore. But when it’s done, it’s done. Then you just need to replenish items as you use them up. And when you’re hungry, even if you don’t feel like going to the store, there’s always something to eat. No matter what you’re in the mood for.

Thanks for your time.   

Debbie Matthews lives, writes and cooks in Durham. Her email address is