A few days ago I got one of the best emails ever… 😀

From a childhood friend that used to live next door to my parents when we were growing up.

She is getting ready to move into her first place with her boyfriend and really wants to get into the kitchen more.

So upon request:  some kitchen basics for someone looking to really get cooking on their own!

Let’s see if I can help?  Hope so 😀

Okay first up, pantry staples.

Oils & vinegar

Olive oil – good for most of your stovetop cooking needs plus easy quick-mix salad dressings (see vinegar below).

Canola or vegetable oil – good for baking and certain high-heat recipes, I always have both on hand.

Balsamic vinegar – great for whipping up a simple vinaigrette, and if you can find white balsamic vinegar (hello Trader Joe’s!) then I’d definitely keep that on hand too.  It’s awesome.

White vinegar & apple cider vinegar – good for specific dishes that need these flavors, I always find myself needing them at sporadic moments?  <— Clueless anyone? 😛

And if you want to impress (with zero effort at all), pick up a fancy vinegar from a specialty store.

I got these while visiting The Cheese Shop in Williamsburg, and they make a fantastic salad dressing when whisked with some olive oil (2 parts olive oil to 1 part vinegar).

Gourmet in a minute, and no one needs to know 😀


These are the spices that I always have on hand and the ones that I find myself using in most of my recipes.

Sea salt, black pepper, oregano, basil, thyme, chili powder and cumin.

Oregano & basil can really spice up any Italian dish, cumin and chili powder are essential for yummy chili and thyme is such a homecooked comfort flavor for dishes like roasted chicken.

I also like to keep some fun spice blends on hand to easily turn a basic dinner into something special & delicious…

Old Bay for steamed shrimp (of course!), key lime seasoning for baked chicken or seafood and mesquite for grilled chicken or beef…

Making life easier one spice shaker at a time?


Soy sauce & worcestershire – I find that I need both of these items frequently, anywhere from making a quick stir-fry to a quick stove-top burger, they always come in handy.

Onions & garlic – these stay good in a cool cupboard forever and are the base for so many dishes.

I always buy bags of onions, I go through them like crazy, and that way I’m not running to the store at the last minute for that missing onion!

Rice & pasta – these can be easily paired with a quick sauce or a protein/veg combo to build a simple dinner.

Bread crumbs – so many recipes call for these and they stay good forever.  Eggplant parm, breaded chicken, you catch my drift.

Canned/boxed tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce and salsa (fits in the tomato-theme right?)

I think we all know how versatile the tomato can be, from a basic marinara to the easiest ever enchiladas, canned tomato (fill in blank) always come in handy!

And quick trick – if you don’t use that whole can of tomato paste or even canned tomatoes, pop them in a ziploc bag and into the freezer.  Then you’ll have them around for next time you need them and nothing goes to waste! (who uses a whole can of tomato paste at once everrrrr, really?)

Shelf stable proteins, like black beans, garbanzos, canned tuna and salmon.

This will make it easy to prep a simple go-to dinner in a pinch – I always like to keep at least one “backup” meal on hand for those kinda nights!

Fast n’ easy cheesy tuna mac or salmon cakes anyone? 😀

Now to the cold stuff…


Eggs – so easy to throw together a quick dinner with eggs on hand.  Frittata, strata, 10-minute tostada?

Plus if you’re doing any baking, chances are you may need an egg or two.

Cheese – I usually have a few different cheeses on hand, cheese is a building block in so many meals.  Parmesan on pasta, cheddar on burgers, mozzarella by the slice for a pizza 😀

Plus on a lazy night, pulling together a plate of cheese with some good bread, maybe some pepperoni or salami, a simple salad plus a glass of wine can’t be beat.

Butter – I probably don’t have to go into too much here 😉  We all love butter!  Whether used as a slather across some fresh bread, a topping for a fluffy pancake, or melted atop a fresh cob of corn…

I use olive oil in most of my stove-top cooking, but on occassion cooking a nice steak in butter or stirring it into some pasta w/ fresh garlic & topping with Parmesan just can’t be beat 🙂


Frozen vegetables – I’m a huge fan of stocking up on frozen veggies, especially during the colder months, that way there is always a healthy side-dish or main-dish ingredient option…

Frozen peas, broccoli, corn, green beans and mixed veggie blends are definitely staples for me.

Pasta parmesan frittata perhaps?

Or maybe a quick stir fry – just add a protein, some sauce and serve over rice and you are good to go!

Bread.  Yes, I know, not normally a freezer item.  However once bread has reached the end of it’s countertop life, I just throw it in the freezer and it will stay good for a long time after!

A quick toast in the oven and the bread is close-to good as new.  Or just thawed on the countertop and used to make a yummy egg strata, deelish.

Same goes for tortillas, they freeze wonderfully and can make an easy quesadilla dinner anytime!  Aren’t you glad you had that cheese on hand now? 😉

On top of these basics, I like to make a weekly trip to the farmer’s market or grocery store for fresh ingredients.

I always have salad basics and fresh vegetables in the cart, depending on what looks good and what I’m in the mood to cook that week.

Same goes for fresh meats like chicken & beef, depending on my menu plan.

And don’t forget the wine 😉  Always… the wine.

Wine:  making any dinner delicious for centuries past and centuries to come.

Just sayin’… save room in the cart 😛