This is a basic list of items that every home cook should have on hand at all times. I find that keeping these few items in my pantry makes it easy to come home and whip something up without being in a pinch and having to run out to the store to grab some obscure ingredient. I know my "Pantry Provision" list by heart. Being familiar with yours will also help save a few bucks as you can stock up on these items when you catch a good sale in the grocery store.
1. Chicken Stock- using chicken stock in a recipe livens things up without really doing any extra work. I love using Chicken Stock as opposed to water in rice, cous cous, and grits. Give it a try and you'll find that it punches things up a bit with no extra effort.
2. Crushed/Diced Tomatoes- there are countless things you can do if you have a few cans of tomatoes on hand. Not only are they incredibly healthy but perhaps also one of the most versatile items you can have on hand. One can of tomatoes lends perfectly to soups, stews, pasta, or rice dishes.
3. Frozen Spinach- Vitamin and mineral laden spinach can add depth and breadth to any meal you make. From soups to pasta to meat dishes, spinach will give your dishes some umph while simultaneously making anything you cook just a little better for ya.
4. BEANS!!!- I love to keep a variety of beans on hand. Beans add fiber to your food. Even if you are in a pinch and can only muster to open a can of chicken noodle soup for dinner, open a can of beans too and add a couple tablespoons of beans and squirt of lemon and you have a delicious soup fit for any Manhattan restaurant.
5. Lemon- lemon is a natural flavor enhancer which can give your food big flavor without having to add tons of sodium. I always keep a few lemons on hand and use them on chicken, seafood, for salad dressing, and soups.
6. Italian Parsley- much like lemon, parsley is a great way to make any food taste a little more fresh and homemade. Parsley will easily keep for a week in the produce drawer of your fridge. Just snip a handful off and add to any dish to liven things up a bit.
7. Pasta- Buy a few boxes whenever you see pasta on sale. There is no limit to the things you an do with a good ol' box of pasta. It will keep for ages and you can use it as a side dish, an entree, or even dump some into soup. I like to keep some of the twirly kind of some of the bite size kind... (i.e. spaghetti and orzo). This will give you a ton of options.
8. Feta cheese- Feta is a lower calorie, protein rich cheese that has a rich salty flavor. It will easily keep in the fridge for a few weeks. A fistful of feta is a beautiful accompaniment to any mean. Add some to a salad, over pasta or rice or even just as a snack with a nice slice of tomato.
9. Nutella- This is great to have on hand to make an instant desert. Spread some on a frozen waffle and you have breakfast. Put a little on a banana and you have desert! Nutella will keep for ages and you cant go wrong when you are in the mood for something sweet.
10. Vanilla Ice Cream - Ok, so truth be told I am a chocolate fan. But Vanilla Ice Cream is the perfect blank canvas that you can dress up or down as much as you want for a decadent desert. I love to just bake fruit like peaches or apples with a sprinkle of cinnamon and sugar and then serve with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream. Killer!