Easy and Elegant Life

The Search for Everyday Elegance and the Art of Living Well.


What’s for Dinner

A couple of nights ago, the delightful Mrs. E’s aunt asked me a question that caught me completely unaware.

“I need help,” she began. “I forgot to defrost anything for dinner. What should I make?”

I had no idea. My staples are my staples because I do the grocery shopping and I’ve stocked up. I know what I have on hand to whip up any number of meals. So to paraphrase a local TV commercial: “What’s in your pantry?” Here is a list of things that I consider “basics,” stuff that I can whip into a meal if company drops in on short notice. Forewarned is always forearmed.

My Basic Pantry:
Wine. Red, White and Sparkling. For dinner and to deglaze a skillet to make a pan sauce. Try not to cook with a wine you wouldn’t serve a guest (or drink yourself, anyway.)

Garlic. Fresh. For use in recipes and to rub over bruschetta, or the salad bowl before tossing in the salad.

Olive Oil. Lots of extra virgin, first (cold) pressed. Lots.

Cumin. The secret ingredient to a great many meat dishes.

Sea Salt.

Fresh ground pepper.

A bunch of spices besides cumin. And herbs. Dried and fresh. I’m half Greek, there is a huge container of Oregano in the pantry next to the amphora of Olive Oil. I will also use spice mixes like Hungarian Chicken Rub.

Crushed Red Pepper Flakes.

Lemon and Lime juices. (salads, drinks….)

Olives and marinated artichoke hearts. Not necessarily mixed together.

Nuts (especially almonds and Virginia peanuts.)

Frozen Chicken Breast tenderloins. Or the thin cut boneless, skinless breasts.

Frozen Fish for 2 people.

Frozen or canned green beans, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, peas. And those combination packs of two or more.

Cans of white beans.

Cans of Goya Black Bean Soup.

A couple of cans of crushed tomatoes (sometimes mixed with jalapenos.)

Tuna fish in olive oil.

Frozen Potatoes O’Brien.

Eggs and egg substitute.

Dijon Mustard.

About four kinds of hot sauce.

Arrabiata pasta sauce. (Rao’s is great if you can get it.)

Whole wheat pasta.

Crusty bread.

A package of flat bread.

A pork tenderloin, frozen.

Ground meats (turkey, beef, chicken, lamb)

Fresh fruits and vegetables (especially tomatoes, bananas, apples, pears, red onions, carrots, salad, squash.) Whatever is in season or looks like it is.

A bag of fingerling potatoes.

Maple Syrup. (Works great in stews and sometimes as a sweetener when the recipe calls for brown sugar.)

Tortillas (whole wheat)


I’ll pick up fresh fruits and vegetables as needed and add in meats that are on sale. You’d be amazed at the number of pickup dinners that you can concoct on the spur of a moment, if you’re well-stocked. Fool around on a Sunday and force yourself to make something new from left-overs or whatever you have in the pantry/freezer. There’s always a Tortilla Espagnola, salad, crusty bread and red wine if your experiment goes awry.

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