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Keeping the pantry stocked with staples

Published April 22. 2010 05:00PM

On a whim, I decided to make buttermilk biscuits this week. We were having green bean casserole and I love serving biscuits with casseroles.

I bustled around the kitchen, gathering the ingredients I would need. Hmm I'm a bit low on white flour and sugar!

I had just enough flour and sugar to make the biscuits, but I'll need to pick up a new bag of each on my next shopping trip.

There's nothing worse than starting a recipe, only to discover that you're missing a few key ingredients. Meal planning helps, of course. If I had known I was making biscuits, I could have planned ahead and picked up the ingredients that I needed. But cooking should be fun and sometimes spontaneous.

There are times that my kitchen adventures lead me to new recipes midweek. For times like this, it's important to keep your pantry and fridge stocked with a few staples.

Many of these staples have a long shelf life, which means that you can stock up when you see a good sale. Don't run out of these items, or any other pantry staples that your family uses often!

Flour - I don't bake often, so a five-pound bag of flour lasts a long time. We prefer to use all-purpose white flour. It works well as a general cooking, baking, and bread-making flour, and can be used to thicken soups and stews as needed.

Sugar - Sugar also lasts a fairly long time in our house, except during apple-pie season. Because sugar has a long shelf life, I prefer to buy a few bags during the holidays when sugar goes on sale. Look for name-brand sugar coupons during the holidays, too.

Eggs - If you make meatloaf, stir-fry, or any kind of breaded meal, you'll need eggs. They're a great binder for many different types of meals and a great meal in themselves.

Bread crumbs - My mother chops bread for her meatloaf. I use breadcrumbs. It's a huge timesaver and seasoned bread crumbs add a great taste. You can also use breadcrumbs to coat chicken or beef before baking or frying.

Salt and pepper (or salt substitute) - The basic seasoning for any meal. Cooking amplifies the taste of salt, which means you get more flavor for the same amount of sodium. Salt substitutes also work well.

Spices and seasoning - Spices and seasonings taste great and add lots of flavor without adding fat or calories. My favorite spice is oregano, and I use it liberally! We also use garlic and onion powders to spice up our meals.

Canola or olive oil - It goes without saying that fried foods are unhealthy. But a small amount of oil will add a lot of flavor, and "healthy" oils and fats can be part of a balanced diet. The American Heart Association recommends the use of unsaturated fats, which can lower your risk of heart disease and high cholesterol in moderation. Olive oil and canola oil are great sources of monounsaturated fats.

Salad dressing - Use dressing on salads, or add a small amount of dressing to a stovetop meal for a burst of flavor and color. "Italian chicken" is one of our favorite fast dishes warm a small amount of Italian salad dressing in a shallow pan, then add boneless, skinless chicken breasts.

Lemon juice - Lemon juice also works well as flavor-booster. Like salad dressing, you can add a small amount to a pan and use it to sauté chicken. You can also add a small amount of lemon juice to milk when a recipe calls for buttermilk.

Tomato sauce - Yes, tomato sauce is great on pasta. But it also makes a great cooking base or a topping for cooked meats. My husband loves to eat "pizza burgers," which are hamburgers topped with tomato sauce and cheese. Tomato sauce also makes a great base for casseroles. Buy a few jars when they go on sale for a fun, nutritious boost to meals.

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