Let’s talk about the pantry, or cupboards where you store the essentials for cooking. Whether you’re a new cook or just returning to the kitchen due to the economy, a well stocked pantry is a must. This can be overwhelming if you’re on a tight budget, so try to include one or two items a week when you grocery shop, and you’ll be all set by the time winter arrives.

Take a look in your pantry now, and look at the dates on any flour, sugar and perishables ( yes..they do perish, flour gets buggy, sugar gets hard, etc ). Check your cooking oil, too…is it rancid? While looking in there, take a soapy rag and clean it out! Toss what needs to be tossed, but notice the size of the container it’s in…did you need that much? I’m a big fan of buying in bulk, but only for items I use a lot of.

Grab a piece of paper and pen and start making a list. I divide my list is 3 columns; must have, need soon and not sure. This method doesn’t work for everyone, so make sure your list is comfortable and familiar to you or it might end up in the trash can along with items you’re throwing away.

In the must have column, write the items you need to replace first, in the 2nd one the items you will be buying soon, and the 3rd, items you might want to get but aren’t real sure you’re going to make that particular dish you need the caviar or whatever for. Keep your cooking habits in mind. For instance, if you’ve never turned your oven on, you probably don’t want to buy flour.

Start watching your weekly food ads, or look online to see when your grocery store is having a sale. When canned goods are on sale, stock up on your favorites; if possible buy enough for a month or longer. The same is true for rice, pasta, stuffing, jars of spaghetti and other sauces. The less often you have to run to the store, the more you save. I have yet, in all my years, managed to go to a store and purchase just the one item I needed at the moment.

The list below is by no means complete. Choose what you want and place it in the appropriate column of your list. Your pantry should eventually be stocked well enough to prepare almost any dish.
If you need spices, a list of can be found here.

All-purpose flour
Granulated sugar
Powdered sugar
Brown sugar
Extra-virgin olive oil ( for salads )
Regular olive oil ( to saute’ )
Cooking oil ( vegetable )
Shortening ( Crisco or your favorite )

Baking soda
Baking Powder
Corn syrup
Maple syrup
Powdered milk
Evaporated milk
Condensed milk

Can of cocoa ( I use Hershey’s )
Bag semi-sweet chocolate chips
Bag butterscotch chips
Peanut Butter
Chopped nuts ( assorted )

Catsup ( Ketchup )
Worcestershire sauce
Soy sauce
Vinegars ( cider, white and balsamic )
Dill Pickles
Sweet Pickles
Olives ( green and black )

Assorted boxes of gelatin and pudding
A few cans of frosting
At least 2 kinds of cake mix
Assorted muffin mixes ( I use Jiffy and make little pound cakes with them )

Saltines and assorted crackers
Cans of tomatoes, tomato sauce, and tomato paste
Variety of canned soups, especially creamed

Vanilla extract
Almond extract
Lemon or orange extract ( they are often interchangeable )
Vanilla beans
Cinnamon sticks

As I mentioned, this is not a complete list. Only you know what you and your family enjoy so adjust accordingly. With any luck you’ll be well stocked before the first blizzard and able to stay home and relax
( with a fresh pot of homemade chili ) instead of running to the store!