Yesterday, I mentioned that I can make entire meals out of items that I call my “basics”. The way I do that is by stocking my pantry, refrigerator, and freezer with inexpensive items that can be used in hundreds of different combinations to create new meals all the time. Even changing one ingredient in a dish I’ve made 27 times can drastically change the taste and give me something new. It’s fun to be able to do that and stocking my pantry well opens my possibilities. I’m not suggesting you buy everything on the list but I’m frequently asked what kinds of things I keep in my pantry so here it is.

Before I really get into the list, I wanted to talk about flours. I keep several on hand because I use them a lot. Different flours have different levels of protein so they work differently. You want more protein in items like bread and less in items that you want light and fluffy, like cakes and cookies. When buying flour, buy enough for about six months to a year and put it in a hard, sealed container to avoid a weevil infestation. I’ve kept flour for longer than a year and I’ve never found weevils but better safe than sorry.

  •  All-Purpose.  I buy unbleached. It’s a good middle-of-the-road flour as far as protein is concerned so you can use it in just about any recipe, although specialty flours will produce better results when the recipe calls for them. If you don’t use flour that often, buy All-Purpose only and get the others occasionally if you need them.
  • Cake.  It’s lighter so it’s great for delicate items like cakes. Despite what you might hear elsewhere, adding cornstarch to A.P. flour does not make it cake flour. Cake flour is milled finer and it’s bleached, which results in a low protein content. Don’t bother with that A.P. flour / cornstarch mixture, just use A.P. flour. It won’t yield the same result as cake flour but neither will that silly mixture.
  • Bread or High-Gluten.  It’s high in protein so it holds up well when kneading, which makes it ideal for breads. I bake a lot of bread so I keep it around. When my grandmother started using bread flour instead of A.P. flour for her wheat bread, there was a noticeable difference. Little did I know she stopped buying A.P. flour and used bread flour for everything. Once I baked some biscuits at her house and they were the worst batch I ever made. Over the next few weeks, I made my grandparents homemade pasta and cookies and they were both awful. I felt like a culinary failure. Until I discovered that she was using bread flour universally. Fortunately, she started buying A.P. flour again and uses bread flour for her bread only. Let this be a cautionary tale.
  • Wheat.  We all know that whole wheat flour is better for you than white flour so it’s good to sneak some into breads and pancakes. Plus, I use it a lot because I bake a batch of my grandmother’s aforementioned incredible wheat bread at least once a week. My friend, Dedra, would probably write a testimonial about that bread if I asked her to. She’s obsessed. If you’re subbing wheat flour for A.P. flour in a recipe, don’t sub more than half the wheat flour. So if the recipe calls for 2 cups white flour, use no more than 1 cup of wheat with the white (although I usually go with a 2:1 ratio, 2 white and 1 wheat). Wheat has a harsher texture and makes baked goods incredibly dense when you use too much.
  • I don’t stock Self-Rising Flour. There’s no special milling involved with it, it’s just A.P. flour with baking powder and salt. I convert all my recipes that call for self-rising flour to A.P. flour with the necessary adjustments to the salt and baking powder. If I try a new recipe that calls for self-rising flour, I’ll usually make up a quick batch (1 cup A.P. flour, 1 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp salt).

Now on to the list. Here’s what I (almost) always have in my pantry:

Granulated Sugar
Powdered Sugar
Light Brown Sugar
Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
Vanilla Extract  
Corn Syrup 
Maple Syrup   (not that sugary pancake syrup stuff)
Baking Powder
Baking Soda
Corn Starch
Bars of good baking chocolate, semisweet or bittersweet

Distilled White Vinegar
Apple Cider Vinegar
Red Wine Vinegar
White Wine Vinegar
Rice Wine Vinegar
Balsamic Vinegar
Vegetable Oil
Pure Olive Oil 
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Sesame Oil
Rice Wine
Worcestershire Sauce
Soy Sauce
Fish Sauce
Oyster Sauce
Hot Sauce; Louisiana or Tabasco, Sriracha, and Sambal Oelek
Bacon Grease, because I’m from the Southern half of the U.S. and it’s almost required

Kosher Salt  (I don’t use table salt)
Black Peppercorns
Ground Ginger
Ground Cinnamon / Cinnamon Sticks
Ground / Whole Cloves
Whole Nutmeg
Ground Allspice / Allspice Berries 
Dried Oregano
Bay Leaves
Dried Thyme
Dried Rosemary
Dried Parsley
Mustard Powder / Mustard Seeds
Colman’s Mustard
Celery Seeds
Onion Powder
Garlic Powder
Old Bay Seasoning
Cayenne Pepper
Red Pepper Flakes
Chili Powder
Ancho Chili Powder
Curry Powder
Smoked Paprika
Shichimi Togarashi   (a great Japanese spicy mixture)

Pasta   (my favorites are spaghetti, linguine, vermicelli, lasagna, mini penne, and rigatoni)
Rice   (Jasmine and Arborio, I don’t like brown rice)
Couscous  (standard and Israeli)
Bread Crumbs  (homemade… literally just ground up leftover bread left out to dry)
Beans   (red, black, pinto, black-eyed peas)
Lentils   (usually green)
Steel Cut Oats

Tomatoes^   (I canned my own last year so I’ll do that every chance I get but if buying them from the grocery store, I usually buy diced or whole stewed)
Tomato paste   (I don’t know why but I can’t bring myself to buy the stuff in the toothpaste tube)
Sun-Dried Tomatoes
Olives, black & green
Cannellini Beans
Coconut milk
Cream of Coconut
Peanut Butter
Chicken Stock   (not broth, and only if I don’t have any in the freezer)
Beef Stock   (not broth, and only if I don’t have any in the freezer)

Potatoes   (Idaho, Russet, New, Red, or Sweet… it all depends on the day)
Yellow onions
Red onions (occasionally)
(Fruits & veggies vary by season and current prices)
Herbs, grown in flower pots on my window sill


This list may look like a lot but my loft has the tiniest kitchen ever, without a pantry, and I can easily get all my dry foods, dishes, glasses, pots, pans, and utensils in it. When I say the tiniest kitchen ever, I mean two overhead cabinets, four lower cabinets (not including under the sink), three smallish drawers, and one exposed shelf. I had to put a commercial rack in my spare bedroom off the kitchen to hold all my small kitchen appliances and serving dishes but everything else is tucked neatly away in my tiny kitchen.

We’ll go through the refrigerator and freezer in our next post. It’s time for me to start dinner!

Next Post:  How to Stock Your Pantry, Part 3
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