What’s in your Pantry?

All this week, Special Fork bloggers are revealing what’s in their pantry, with tips for using pantry staples. To celebrate Pantry Week, Special Fork has teamed up with Zojirushi, the Japanese maker of top-quality kitchen appliances, to offer a fabulous sweepstakes prize: the 5.5-cup capacity Zojirushi Micom Rice Cooker & Warmer ($192 MSRP), which not only cooks rice flawlessly, but also steams foods and bakes cakes. Menu settings include: white/sushi, mixed, porridge, sweet, brown, cake, steam and quick cooking. Enter to win!

Around 3 or 4 p.m. PST weekdays, I cruise Twitter looking for people who “dk (don’t know) what to cook” and try to give them answers, tweeting as @specialforksndy.  Problem is, without a well-stocked pantry, it’s hard to act upon my Twitter suggestions, no matter how quick and easy the ideas.

Here are some of the staples I keep on hand so I can always make dinner, even if I haven’t gone to the supermarket. I’m not including the obvious: canned tomato products, chicken broth, pastas and other standards.

In the Cupboard
Rice – I keep a variety of rice on hand including short grain, long grain, basmati, jasmine and brown rice. Rice is the foundation for o-bento lunches and most Asian meals. But it’s also good for rice salads, pilafs and as a bed for soupy and saucy dishes.

  • Make a main dish salad by tossing cooled cooked rice, cooked shrimp, blanched snow peas and red bell strips with vinaigrette seasoned with a little soy sauce.
  • Try a Hawaiian breakfast for dinner: sunny-side up eggs, hot rice and fried linguisa or Portuguese sausage. Drizzle eggs with naturally brewed soy sauce.
  • Katie’s’ Hot Dog Breakfast Rice Bowl, an American takeoff on the Japanese domburi, can double as dinner.
  • Turn any leftover rice into fried rice. Fry cut-up bacon and drain fat. Stir-fry veggies in the same skillet; set aside. Add rice to the skillet and stir-fry to heat, return bacon and veggies to the pan; season with soy sauce and heat through.

Couscous – I buy instant couscous in bulk and love how quickly it can be made ready to eat.

  • Add 1 cup instant couscous to 1 cup boiling chicken broth; turn off heat, cover 5 minutes, fluff with a fork and add rinsed and drained canned chickpeas, sliced green onion, crumbled feta cheese and Italian dressing.
  • Try Jess’s Couscous with Mint Pesto, a really yummy, one-dish vegetarian meal.

Other Pantry Items – I always have on hand coconut milk for Southeast Asian dishes, beans (kidney beans, black beans and cannellini), anchovies, kalamata olives and panko breadcrumbs.

  • Make peanut noodles by combining in a medium saucepan 2/3 cup coconut milk, ½ cup peanut butter, 2 tablespoons lime juice, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, chili paste to taste, minced garlic and sliced green onions; heat over medium low heat, whisking until smooth. Toss with hot cooked spaghetti.
  • Combine drained can corn, drained and rinsed black beans, chopped red bell pepper and onion, and minced cilantro; toss with a dressing of lime juice and olive oil seasoned with ground cumin, salt and pepper. Serve in warmed tortillas.
  • Cut zucchini in sticks, dip in beaten eggs and roll in mixture of panko crumbs and grated Parmesan cheese with dried herbs like basil or Italian seasoning blend. Bake at 450° F until crusty.

I have a separate pantry drawer for a variety wine vinegars, olive oils, sesame oil, mirin (Japanese sweet cooking wine), sake and various spirits for cooking.

And I have the luxury of a shallow, floor-to-ceiling cupboard for my dried herbs and spices, arranged alphabetically. Of all the spices, I tend to use cumin most.

In the Freezer
Tortillas – I keep some in the freezer for those nights when I have to pull together a pantry meal. Wrap frozen tortillas in paper towels and microwave the stack to partially warm; gently peel apart the layers and warm tortillas individually.

  • Combine shredded romaine lettuce with leftover shredded rotisserie chicken, diced tomato, creamy Caesar dressing and grated Parmesan cheese; roll in flour tortillas.
  • Andrew’s Chinese Scallion Pancakes, a takeoff on the classic appetizer, uses flour tortillas for the pancakes. It could pass for dinner in a pinch, with a green salad.
  • Dave’s Scrambled Egg Breakfast Burritos, made in just three minutes, can double for dinner on the run.
  • Use corn tortillas as a convenient pizza crust in easy Seafood Topped Mexican Pizza.

Flatbreads – (pita, naan) also make great pizza crusts. I keep these breads in my freezer, too, ready to defrost as needed.

  • Split pita bread in half lengthwise to make two circles, brush with olive oil, add a thin layer of pizza toppings and cheese; bake at 400°F about 10 minutes until cheese is melted and toppings are hot.
  • Lori’s Cheat it Pizza for Two uses naan bread for the crust.

Other foods I keep in the freezer are nuts (pistachios, almonds, walnuts, pine nuts, macadamia nuts), home-squeezed lemon and lime juice and their grated rinds, extra butter and nori (freezing keeps the sheets fresh). I also freeze Thai bird chiles so I always have some on hand.

In the Refrigerator
My fridge is packed with mustards, pickles, chutney, capers, sun-dried tomatoes and Asian ingredients like miso, hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, sriracha and fish sauce. So many Southeast Asian recipes are really simple and use basic ingredients like ground pork or beef; but hardly any can be made without fish sauce for that that authentic taste.

  • Kra Prao is a Thai stir-fry that you can make in 20 minutes.
  • Hoisin sauce is often used in Chinese stir-fry dishes because it adds a nice, sweet-hot flavor as in this Chicken with Mushroom and Asparagus Stir-Fry.
  • Mix tuna in olive oil with marinated sun-dried tomatoes, sliced green onion, finely minced garlic, lemon juice and olive oil. Serve on hot pasta.

I always have a wedge of Parmigiano Reggiano in the cheese drawer of my fridge, as well as cheeses like Dubliner or Cheddar for pizzas and grilled cheese sandwiches when I need dinner in a hurry.

  • Make a grilled cheese sandwich with sliced Cheddar cheese, sliced tomato and thinly sliced sweet onion. Serve with a salad of prewashed baby greens.

Follow Special Fork all this week for more pantry favorites.

Special Fork is a recipe website for your smartphone and PC that solves the daily dinnertime dilemma: what to cook now! Our bloggers blog Monday through Friday to give you cooking inspiration. Check out our recipe database for quick ideas that take no more than 30 minutes of prep time. Join the conversation on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

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Posted: Oct 7th by Sandy_Hu