Pantry Checklist

I wanted to make a checklist that you could print out for pantry essentials. Click the link to open and get print options. The first one is the basic list; the second one has the not so basic list added to the basic list.

More Pantry Notes

I broke one of my rules of keeping a lot of chicken stock and broth in the house. I was making dinner a few weeks ago, using up stuff I had in the house. I knew that I had an open container in the fridge. What I didn't know is that it only had a few tablespoons left in the box and I was trying to make a sauce. I had to make my husband run to the store to pick some up. He saved the day and the sauce was fantastic. Now there are 4 containers in my pantry so I won't be running out anytime soon.

After I posted the second pantry post, I started thinking about some things I have in my pantry that don't fit into the categories I already listed or they are more specific things in those categories. I also listed which stores you can find the ingredients at. So here are some things that you'll find in a not-so-basic pantry:

Oils-Peanut Oil and Sesame Oil are some oils you may want to have on hand. Peanut oil is great for frying and can be used as a substitute for canola or vegetable oil in Asian recipes. A lot of Asian recipes will call for Sesame Oil as part of a stir fry or as a finishing item in sauces.

Vinegars-There are hundreds of types of vinegars on the market-you'll find the most variety at stores like Whole Foods, Uncle Giuseppe's, and Williams-Sonoma. Some vinegars I use often are red wine vinegar and champagne vinegar. At these specialty stores, you can find specific types of red wine vinegar such as a Cabernet red wine vinegar.

Rice-This is an ingredient that also has many varieties. They vary in size-for example short grain vs. long grain and also the starch content in them. Arborio rice is a short grain rice and the rice most often used for risotto. The starch content in this particular type of rice is what makes the finished product so creamy. (You can also use carnaroli rice for risotto but arborio is more readily available.) Basmati rice is also a good rice to have on hand if you like to cook Indian food. This is a long grain rice that has a subtle fragrance to it.

Panko Breadcrumbs-Panko is now readily available in supermarkets. It's an Asian type of breadcrumbs. These breadcrumbs are lighter and a course cut to create a crispier crust. You can use them in the same way you would use regular breadcrumbs-flour, egg, and the panko last. They are also nice because you can use them to create a healthier recipe by baking them. Because of their texture, they are great for baking things that are traditionally fried. For example, you could make a quick baked chicken tender by coating the chicken tenders with oil, seasoning, and rolling in panko. Then bake on a cookie sheet and they will be extremely crispy on the outside.

Canned Tomatoes-There are a number of brands of canned tomatoes but my favorite type are from the San Marzano region of Italy. I don't think any other type of canned tomatoes can touch their flavor. I also find that you don't need to cook them as long as other varieties because of that great flavor. They are still a little tricky to find at regular supermarkets but the specialty shops noted above should have them. The Waldbaum's that I shop at does regularly carry them but it differs from store to store. The label usually stands out to me-they have a white background with red tomatoes around the can. The different types have different color bands on the the white label. For example, the whole peeled tomatoes have a dark green band.

Herbs de Provence-This is a dried herb blend made up of lavender, savory, thyme, fennel, and rosemary. There are sometimes other herbs in addition to these such as basil, chervil, and sage. This flavor profile is used a lot in the south of France. One of my favorite recipes uses this seasoning and some salt and pepper on a grilled flank steak with goat cheese sprinkled on top.

Smoked Paprika-There are many different spices and spice blends that you can find in the grocery store. This has been my secret ingredient lately because I'm loving the heat and the smoky flavor it brings. It's not in your face hot like chili powder or cayenne pepper. The smoke hits you subtly at the end. I use this in all recipes that call for regular paprika. You can find this at specialty shops but many supermarkets now carry specialty spices by McCormick. They are in a glass bottle with a dark lid and there are a wide variety of the spices.

Cupcake Stop & Farmer's Market

About a month ago, Justin and I decided to go into the city to see 300 Days of Summer because it wasn't playing out here yet. We went in the afternoon and decided we would walk to Grand Central Station for an early dinner because the dining concourse downstairs has great food.

I've been teaching classes at Williams-Sonoma again and the next morning I was teaching a class on summer produce. As we were leaving the movie theater and walking to dinner, we saw a farmer's market. I decided to pick up some stuff for the class. I got some great Pennsylvania corn (Justin scolded me because it wasn't LI corn and it wasn't late August haha), onions with the shoots still on them, fresh tomatoes and zucchini. The class went really well and the food was so good because it was so fresh. It was a pain walking around Manhattan with bags and bags of produce but so worth it.

As we were walking, I looked up and noticed a cupcake truck and said we should go there after dinner. Justin said we're going now I took you this way to come here. I was so excited! They tweet where they will be each day but they have a few locations that they are usually at. Check them out at: and

I couldn't decide on a flavor because they all looked so good so we decided to get a dozen minis. They were the perfect size to pop in your mouth in one bite and they were so moist. I probably ate two right there and still had some to take home. My favorite was the peanut butter and Justin's was the oreo. All of the frostings were so good and not too sweet. If you're in the area, you should definitely check them out.

Perfect Pantry: Part 2

I'm back after a little hiatus. It's been a busy summer so far but I've been mulling over ideas for this blog. Getting inspiration from a lot of places. Here are some more things you'll probably find in your pantry or that are great to have on hand because a lot of recipes call for them.

Broths/Stocks-Broth and stock are very similar and a lot of times in recipes they're used interchangeably. The difference is that stock is made from the bones and a broth is made from meat and bones. For example: if I'm making my own chicken soup, sometimes I buy a whole chicken, pour cold water to fill the pot and simmer. Then I can also use the meat in the soup. That would be a broth. Sometimes though I'll make chicken soup with a leftover roasted chicken. I will take all the meat off of the bones and then put the bones in a pot of cold water. This would be a stock. The idea is that the flavor is very similar and it's hard to tell the difference especially in a recipe where you're using a little. I usually use stock when I'm making a chicken dish (because the flavor is a little bit stronger) and broth when I'm making a sauce or a meat other than chicken (for example: pork). I like to keep a lot on hand because I use it a lot. The two brands I use most often are: Kitchen Basics Stock and Swanson Broth.

Canned Tomato Products-There are so many types of canned tomatoes-tomato paste, tomato puree, tomato sauce, whole tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, etc. I tend to have at least one can of each of them but I use whole tomatoes most often. I make my homemade tomato sauce with some tomato paste, whole tomatoes and crushed tomatoes. You'll see different combinations of the tomatoes in a lot of recipes though and it just depends what you like. For tomato paste, I usually buy the one in the tube because I usually only use a tablespoon or two at a time and that can goes to waste. You can usually find it in a little box right around the canned tomatoes.

Canned Tuna-Tuna is a staple because you can make tuna salad, a tuna melt, or you can add it to some mac 'n cheese. It's an instant protein item that is already cooked so it's great in a pinch. I also keep canned chicken in the house which is good for chicken salad and dips.

Beans-I'm not really a bean person so I don't keep many types of beans but there are some recipes that I will buy beans for. I like cannelini beans (medium size white beans) and they can be used to make a white bean dip or added to a soup or stew to make it more hearty. Dried beans require a lot of extra work because you must rinse them and soak them overnight so I rarely use them. If using canned beans, check the recipe, but most times you should rinse them before you add them to the other ingredients.

Prepared Sauces-Mayonnaise, Ketchup, Mustard, Tabasco/Hot Sauce, BBQ sauce, Soy Sauce. The condiments you obviously want to use as condiments but they can also be used in other sauces or dips. The sauces are great to have on hand and they can also be doctored up with some other spices or flavorings (Sandra Lee-style).

Peanut Butter & Jelly(or jams/preserves)-Besides for obvious reasons like sandwiches, these are also great bases for sauces. Some Asian sauce recipes use peanut butter in them. Jellies/jams/preserves can be used as a filling for a cake or heated to make a glaze for a cake.

Baking Ingredients-Flour, Brown Sugar, Granulated Sugar, Powdered Sugar, Vanilla Extract, Chocolate, Baking Powder, Baking Soda. These are the basics for creating most basic recipes. You may want a variety of flours-cake, whole wheat, all purpose, etc. You may also want a variety of chocolate such as chocolate chips, dark, white, and milk chocolate bars.

Dry Mixes-Cake Mix, Brownie Mix, Cornbread Mix, Pancake/Waffle Mix. It's good to have these on hand. You never know when you're going to want a brownie sundae one evening or pancakes on a Sunday morning. Cornbread makes a quick side dish especially with BBQ foods.

Dried Herbs-My favorites are dried Basil, Oregano, Thyme, and Bay Leaves.

Spices-I always have paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg, red pepper flakes, chili powder, coriander, and mustard powder.

Perfect Pantry: Part 1

As promised, this post will be about setting up your pantry. This is one of those things that makes your life easier if you plan ahead. If you have certain things on hand you don't have to stop on the way home from work and wait on the line with everyone else who did the same exact thing. Since we don't have our own place yet, our pantry isn't set up like this but when we move into our house these are things that I will make sure we have on hand. 

I'll start with the most basic things that I use for almost everything I make. Salt, pepper, oil and vinegar. Now since I'm a chef, I have a little bit more variety of these than most people but here are the essentials: 

Salt-recipes always call for kosher salt-even if it doesn't say that in the recipe. This type of salt has the lowest sodium content which means you will need more of it. The salt found in most grinders is similar in flavor and texture to sea salt but has been processed to have less moisture. (It needs to have less moisture so that it does not break down the grinder mechanism.) It has a higher sodium content than kosher salt so if you're using this, be careful not to oversalt.   
Pepper-most recipes will call for fresh ground pepper. Affordable pepper mills are easy to find-Bed Bath and Beyond, Williams-Sonoma, and even Target and they come pre-loaded with pepper. You can also get an inexpensive disposable pepper mill at grocery stores or Costco. 

Oils-There are a variety of oils out there but how much cooking you do, what types of cooking you do, and how much space in the pantry you have will determine which ones you need. The two you should always have are: Extra Virgin Olive Oil, and Canola/Vegetable Oil. Olive oil is good for drizzling or dipping bread in, salads, and sauteeing. Canola or vegetable oil is good to have for anything that requires a more neutral flavor such as Mexican or Asian cooking, baking, or pan or deep frying.

Balsamic Vinegar-This vinegar is not just for salad dressings although it does make a great one. In my previous post, I talked about a marinade made with balsamic dressing. Balsamic is also very good with chicken-you can make a pan sauce with it for chicken breasts or as a glaze on roasted chicken. You can also buy a cheap balsamic vinegar and cook it down so it becomes a fancy glaze like what you get in a restaurant. (I'm willing to bet that they made it the same way. ) It's a very versatile vinegar that adds a lot of flavor to a lot of dishes.

Now let's talk about the staples. These are the things that your parents always had in the house so you knew you'd never starve. They're also usually pretty cheap so you can build a dish around them. A lot of these things you probably have in your pantry too:

Pasta-I like to keep a variety of shapes and sizes on hand. I also like to have elbow macaroni (for mac 'n cheese) and egg noodles (a quick and easy side dish with some butter, dried herbs and breadcrumbs). 

Rice-White rice is cheap and relatively easy to cook (unless you are me). It's good in soups and casseroles and also a great base for a stir fry. If you add a few ingredients-onions, chicken broth, and some spices-you have a pilaf that's a great side dish. (You can keep some boil-in-bag rice in there too-I won't tell). 

Couscous-Couscous is the absolute easiest thing in the world to make. You boil some chicken stock or water. You pour in the couscous, stir, take pan off the heat, cover, and walk away. Come back in a few minutes and you have a side dish that you can make in 5 minutes. (1 1/2 cups liquid to 1 cup of couscous). You can add flavors that you like but usually I add onions, paprika, and some herbs. I've also done carrots, raisin, and dried apricots. It doesn't cost a lot either. 

Breadcrumbs-They make the best topping for a casserole or as a breading for a chicken cutlet. I go through them very quickly so I like to have a back-up. Nothing is worse than having "club hand"-the expression I first thought of working on the breading station at my very first restaurant job. You end up having more breading on your hand than on the ingredient you are breading. The last thing you want to do is to have to wash that off and run to the store. I prefer the plain variety so I can add my own flavors because the seasoning differs from brand to brand and I tend to buy whatever's on sale so I don't necessarily know what they taste like. 

That's it for now. Check back later in the week for the second part of this post and a printable list of all the ingredients I've talked about. (Thanks Sara.) 

Marinades 101

I asked for some suggestions from friends about what they'd like to learn more about so the upcoming posts will include topics on those suggestions. This one is actually based on Marisa's facebook status last week about marinades. What can I say I was inspired.

First, let's go over the basics-including the things that are not so obvious. Marinades are usually used for one of two reasons: (1) to tenderize meat and (2) to add flavor to meat. You can also marinate vegetables- a great idea if you are grilling or roasting them. A marinade usually consists of three components:an acid-lemon juice/vinegar/wine, a fat-usually oil, and seasoning-herbs/spices. Fresh herbs are really nice because they give such a great and different flavor from dried herbs. Usually I will chop fresh herbs but sometimes I will also add a sprig of that same herb into the bag or dish I'm using to marinate something.

Let's move on to setting up the marinade. I personally like to use large ziplock bags and always place a sheetpan or casserole dish underneath in case of leakage. I like to whisk up the marinade-starting with the acid and other flavorings and adding the oil in last. (This is the same way I would make a vinaigrette as well.) Then I pour the marinade into the bag and add the protein. Generally 6-8 hours is a good amount of time for beef, lamb or pork. For chicken, 4-6 hours is a good guideline. For fish 1-2 hours and shrimp 30 minutes-1 hour.

Now for the recipes:
These come from Williams-Sonoma and are really basic. They use food processors or blenders but I would use a whisk.
You can use this one for chicken, pork or steak. It's a little bit on the sweet side.

Balsamic Rosemary Marinade

For seafood and chicken, you can't go wrong with a citrus and garlic marinade.

Citrus Marinade


Busy Busy Busy

It's been awhile but here are some updates. My husband finished up the Biggest Loser competition at his school. His team came in third place so they didn't win any money but he lost the most weight on his team. He ended up losing 28 pounds-12% of his body weight. I am so proud of him! The past few weeks we haven't really been dieting because we wanted a break. I ended up losing about 7 pounds. I have only gained back 3 pounds (and that's including eating ice cream haha) so I'm very happy. I think the biggest thing was portion sizes and that's why I haven't gained it all back. My allergies have been much better so next week I think we will start eating healthier again. 

We started seriously house hunting a few weeks ago so we've been very busy. I'm really excited to be buying a home. We hope to be in a house by the end of 2009. For the tax credit but also because we'll be married for a year in August (:-O) and our goal was to be in a house or at least seriously looking by our anniversary. Looks like we're right on track. We live with our in-laws rent free in the basement so we are able to save a ton of money but it will be really nice to have our own place. 

We've been crunching some numbers in order to figure out how we'll afford said house and as we thought it's going to be very tight budget-wise. So lately I've been trying to cook up (pun intended) some budget-friendly recipes. One of our friends got us a budget cookbook which has some great ideas in it. Also when your pantry is set up it's easy to come up with something cheap and easy. (Next post I will be posting about setting up a pantry and some things I consider essentials so stay tuned.) Right now we cook for ourselves but our pantry is not as extensive as I would like. I'm excited to have that in our own house. Today I'm making a recipe from Cooks Illustrated's Best Make Ahead Recipe. It's one of my favorite cookbooks. I bought it when I was entertaining the idea of being a personal chef. It's really cool because it explains how to add flavor to something that is frozen. It also has desserts in it. Yum. I will post pictures later.  

Diet Week 2

Ok so this dieting thing isn't so bad after all. It's forcing me to actually think about what I eat. I've been keeping a food journal-found this great app for the iPhone called Lose It. It's a free app and has some cool features. I put in all the food I eat for the day-some things you have to play around with and pick the closest match. For example, I had 3 chicken fingers on my salad at lunch today so I had to put in chicken fingers, fast food. At least it gives an idea of the calories I'm eating. You can also log your weight each day, I haven't been very good at doing that though. I have lost about 1-2 pounds but I have to admit that I haven't been exercising because my allergies are kicking the crap out of me these past few weeks. I'm having really bad asthma attacks out of nowhere which I've never really had before. I want to do some yoga on the wii fit at least this week but I won't make any promises. I'd like to say that I feel better because I'm eating better but with this allergy hell it's really hard to tell. I'm feeling better about myself in general because I have decided to do this and am actually doing it. So that's a nice feeling.

I've also been experimenting with some recipes and this past week I've come up with some good ones I think. :-)

This recipe is inspired by Barefoot Contessa's chicken meatballs for Italian Wedding Soup. Her recipe comes from her new book Back to Basics. I love her recipes because they're classic and always come out great. I made meatball subs last night and they were a big hit. They are small and you can fit 2 on a roll.

Chicken Meatball Subs

1 pound ground chicken
2 tbsp dried oregano
2 tbsp dried basil
2 tbsp dried parsley
1/8 tsp mustard powder
3 tbsp skim milk
1 egg white
1 cup breadcrumbs
Salt and pepper, to taste
Whole wheat rolls-Weight Watchers or Martin's Whole Wheat Potato Rolls
Speedy Tomato Sauce-see below or store-bought tomato sauce.
1/2 cup part skim mozzarella cheese or parmesan cheese

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Combine all ingredients for meatballs except breadcrumbs. Mix together with hands. Add breadcrumbs a little bit at a time until mixture is no longer sticky but holds shape when pinched.
3. Using a small ice cream scoop or tablespoon measure, portion out meat and roll into balls. Place on a parchment paper lined sheetpan or nonstick sheetpan.
4. Bake for 20 minutes turning once. Remove from oven and let rest for 5 minutes.
5. Toast rolls and heat sauce.
6. Cut meatballs in half and place 2 on one side of each bun. Ladle sauce over meatballs and top with cheese. Cook for 5 minutes or until cheese is melted.
7. Serve and enjoy!

My husband asked me to make tomato sauce like I used to-before I got all fancy haha. It isn't cooked for hours so you really get the taste of the tomatoes instead of sauce.

Speedy Tomato Sauce
1 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1 yellow onion, diced
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 tbsp dried basil
1 tbsp dried parsley
1 28 oz. can Crushed Tomatoes, preferably San Marzano tomatoes
Salt and pepper, to taste.

1. Heat olive oil in a dutch oven or large sauce pan. When shimmering, add onion and garlic. Sweat until translucent-about 3 minutes.
2. Add herbs and tomatoes. Break up tomatoes using a wooden spoon. Add salt and pepper to taste.
3. Cover and cook for 5 minutes. Remove garlic cloves and cook sauce for 2 more minutes. Ready to use now or can go into refrigerator for use later.


For the second time in my life I'm going to try dieting. Last time I did this I was working full time, going to school full time, and planning a wedding. I did it for a month and gave up when I lost only 7 pounds and was starving all the time. I don't think I did it right and also I wasn't in the right mindset. 

Ok so now I'm seriously going to try to do this right this time. My husband's school is doing "the biggest loser" so he's been dieting since March. There's about $300 a person going to the team that wins and he has three more weeks left. So this past week he's been trying really hard and I decided I would do it too. Couldn't hurt to lose some of the newlywed 15 could it? 

A little background is probably in order. I am a chef. I went to culinary school and loved every second of it. The two things you will hear most often at culinary school are: "fat equals flavor" and "add salt and it will taste better." These phrases are 100% true but not kind to your waistline. Those two things are also the reason food in a restaurant tastes better than food at home (most times-not always). The chef has figured out the balance of how much salt brings out the flavor perfectly and how much puts it over the edge and makes it taste salty. I am pretty close to mastering this and now I have to unlearn it to cook healthy food. 

So last week I attempted to make a stir fry with beef and sugar snap peas using only 2 tbsp of Soy sauce and 1 tbsp of Sake. This ended with me having a meltdown and then saying f it and adding about 2 tbsp of Soy sauce and 1 tbsp of Oyster sauce (the dark brown salty sauce used to make beef w/ broccoli). My husband had to talk me down because I was freaking out that I am a chef and can't make it taste good. He has to tell me that healthy food doesn't necessarily taste good and that it's not me. So for now, I'll be researching more healthy recipes. Wish me luck; I think I'll need it. 

My first blog

I can't remember if I've ever blogged before (maybe about wedding planning ugh) so I'm going to call this my first one. I'm just going on about random things-usually food and my husband. So welcome. I hope you enjoy. 


About Me

My photo
Culinary school grad figuring out how to cook for two people semi-healthy. After learning how to cook in huge batches with tons of butter and salt, this proves to be a challenge. Learning how to be a wife and homeowner.