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I am a person that cooks dinner almost every night of the week, except the nights we eat leftovers. Over the years I have developed a core group of ingredients that I use frequently and I always keep on hand in my pantry. Those of you that are experienced cooks probably do the same, but for those of you that are relatively new to cooking might benefit from hearing what works for a long time cook.

I don’t like to have to go to the grocery store every day, so I’ve found these are ingredients that aren’t terribly perishable and in a pinch can be thrown together to make some sort of tasty meal.

In addition to my pantry and fridge, we are also blessed to have a drop freezer. We have this out in our garage and use it to store meat, sandwich bread, leftovers, etc. This ensures I have a variety of meat on hand. When I do buy nice cuts of meat or fresh seafood, I do try and cook that fresh before freezing. Having the freezer allows me to buy meat that is being marked down at the store and if I can’t cook it immediately, I can pop it in the freezer. It also gives us plenty of room for those huge packages from the warehouse stores! We were lucky enough to find our freezer at a garage sale for $40 several years ago. I’ve never regretted that purchase!

So back to the pantry! Here are some of my staples and what I use them for…

• Canned Tomato products (Sauces, casseroles, etc.)

   o Tomato Sauce

   o Tomato Paste

   o Diced Tomatoes

   o Crushed Tomatoes in Puree (This is the base for my home made marinara sauce.)

• Enchilada Sauce (both green and red)

   o I don’t make “enchiladas”, but I make an enchilada casserole that my family loves! I smell a future    blog post!

   o Sometimes, I’ll also just put chicken or pork in the slow cooker with this sauce and make pulled meat to use in tacos or burritos.

• Beans (Great for chilis, soups, and casseroles)

   o White (Northern or Canneloni)

   o Kidney

   o Black

   o Fat free refried (I love the fat free variety. I think they taste just as good as the regular!)

• Rice

   o Brown

   o Jazzmati/Texmati, some kind of mati!

   o Arborio (Risotto)

• Pasta (In trying to eat healthy, I almost always use whole wheat pasta)

   o Spaghetti

   o Fettucini

   o Lasagna

• Flour, sugar (white and brown), baking powder, baking soda,salt, pepper, and a wide variety of spices

• Vinegars

   o Apple cider

   o Balsamic

   o I’ll admit to having red wine vinegar, but I rarely use it!

• Olive and Canola Oils – Both in bottled and spray forms

• Extra bottles of our favorite condiments and dressings

• Pre-made Sauces

   o Curry

   o Frontera Sauces (Carnitas, Tacos, Barbacoa, etc.)

   o It’s great to have a few of these on hand for the days you don’t have a lot of time to invest in cooking or just don’t feel like it. They can help make a tasty meal easy to pull off!

• Soups

   o Chicken Noodle!

   o Tomato

   o Cream of Mushroom (Great for making sauces and casseroles)

   o We’re not a huge canned soup family, but I like to keep a few on hand for when family members get sick.

• Canned Veggies???

   o Nope! I used to use these, but have stopped. Instead, we eat fresh (preferably organic) or frozen.

• Tortillas – Both corn and my low-fat flour ones!

• Snacks

   o Popcorn

   o Tortilla chips (can be crumbled in soups or casseroles too!)

   o Salsa (good for cooking and dipping)

   o Granola Bars

   o Apple Sauce cups

   o Crackers

• Baking Mixes/Supplies – I always like to have a few on hand. With kids in school, you never know when you’re going to need to whip up something for a bake sale or school gathering!

   o Brownies

   o Corn muffins – We love these with chili!

   o Breakfast muffins

   o Cakes

   o Cocoa Powder

   o Chocolate Chips