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By Kimara - Posted on 25 March 2008

            Everyone has little things they do that give them a sense of security. Maybe it’s a secret stash of chocolate or $40.00 “mad money” tucked away in a secret compartment of your wallet or an obnoxiously noisy alarm clock inconveniently located across the room. In college I had a friend that always kept a “back up” boyfriend. There is no universal “security blanket”, but rather individual needs that may appear trite to someone else, but help us breathe a little easier.


            Being the wild and zany individual that I am…I find solace in a well stocked pantry! I’m not talking about having 2 cans of mushroom soup, but rather 12. There are also chick peas and mandarin oranges, water chestnuts and canned salmon. You just never know! Although this may seem excessive to some people, if I see a recipe that calls for crushed pineapple…I’ve got it. Green chilies? I say chopped, whole or frozen? Avocados…of course! Come on, give me something hard! Tarragon, cumin, sage? Yep. Yep. Yep. Rye flour, barley, wild rice…long or short? Fresh carrots, onions, celery, peppers, chives…in the drawer in the refrigerator. You see what I’m saying? I didn’t need to do any special planning when Y2K rolled around…if the world market had collapsed and chaos ensued, I could have feed a family of 16 for four or five months without blinking an eye! I require a well stocked pantry…it’s an obsession…what a shocker!


           My children often tease me about it. HOWEVER, they can come over and say,


“You know what sounds good, Mom? Chicken Enchiladas.”


“No problem”, I say.


“MMMM, apple crisp sounds yummy, too”


“Okay, start peeling apples.”


No one needs to make a grocery run…you just have to forage in the kitchen. (BTW…they, meaning our teasing children, are not above pinching a jar of this or a can of that one the way out the door…saving themselves a trip to the store! “Thank you, Mom”.)


            I’m not sure what prompted this compulsion. It’s not like we were deprived of food as children or ever went hungry. As newlyweds we weren’t poor, living off Mac ‘N Cheese or PB&J sandwiches. And it’s not like I was Scarlet O’Hara, rooting through an abandoned garden, looking for a rouge potato, swearing, “As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again!” I think the explanation is much simpler…I like to cook and I like to feed people. OMG…I’m like Remy the rat in “Ratatouille”!


            I may be a bit over the top…or more to the point…over the cupboards (where “backups” are stacked to the ceiling) when it comes to supplies but in part, that is because I have the room. I’ve had much smaller kitchens, with no back up fridge and freezer, so I couldn’t keep all the supplies I have on hand today. But I find it very interesting, when you talk to other people, what they think falls under the heading of “must have” staples. For instance, I could live without garlic powder, since I have fresh garlic on hand, but my kitchen must have dried basil, parsley and bay leaves. I could do without my jar of spaghetti sauce, but don’t take away my stewed tomatoes and tomato sauce. You can take the margarine, but I’ll keep the olive oil. I could survive with less, I’ve done it before, but I’m delighted I don’t have to.


            Where you are in your life and how much time you to spend in the kitchen, has a tremendous impact on what you’ll find stowed away in your cupboards and fridge, and what you consider “essential”. I might be aghast to find out someone does not own fresh celery, yet they might find it down right disconcerting to know I have almost no prepared foods. So, there you have it…I’m like a squirrel burying nuts in my kitchen on the off chance there will be a hard winter! Rational behavior…I think so. Do others agree? They don’t have to! No one seems to complain when I'm able to make their favorite meal!   


We all have our kitchen essentials…those things that we use frequently and would be lost without. It’s always interesting to hear what other people consider to be staples. So, share, please! Besides the normal milk, flour, butter, and egg variety staples, what do you consider to be basic and irreplaceable in your kitchen?



The first time my brother tasted these I had brought them to a family gathering. After he had taken a bite he asked me, “Did you pick these up at a restaurant?” “No”, I replied, “Why do you ask?” “Well, they’re so good. They taste like something you’d get at a Mexican restaurant.” I couldn’t decide if I had just been complimented or insulted! Anyway, they are extremely delicious, and given the flavor, well worth the effort!



1 can (19 oz) enchilada sauce (any variety)

2 cups diced cooked chicken (I make Chicken Soup then fish the meat out!)

1 1/2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese (6 oz)

1 cup sour cream

1 can (4.5 oz) chopped green chilies

1 package (11.5 oz) flour tortillas for burritos (8 tortillas)

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (4 oz)

Chopped avocado or green onions, if desired 



1. Heat oven to 350°F. Spread 1/2 cup enchilada sauce over bottom of ungreased 13x9-inch (3-quart) glass baking dish. In medium bowl, stir together chicken, Monterey Jack cheese, sour cream and chilies.

2. Spoon about 1/3 cup chicken mixture down center of each tortilla. Roll up tortillas; arrange, seam side down, in baking dish. Top enchiladas with remaining enchilada sauce. Sprinkle with cheddar cheese. Spray sheet of foil with cooking spray; cover baking dish with foil, sprayed side down.

3. Bake 35 minutes. Remove foil; bake 5 to 10 minutes longer or until hot and cheese is melted. Top with avocado or green onions. If desired, serve with lettuce, chopped tomato and additional sour cream.

I do like this topic. I learned a wonderful recipe from here which I can personally make at home. - Marla Ahlgrimm

Nice to see you on, Kelly. When you mentioned making chocolate chip cookies it also reminded me of those late night chats at the kitchen table! There are few comfort foods as soothing as homemade cookies...even if they don't get baked! Hope to see you comment more. If you read carefully, you'll often find a tidbit here or there that bears your face :)

Hey Kelly,
Nice to hear from you!
So I have to ask... do you actually bake the cookies or just sit around eatting the dough like I always remember doing in high school? There was nothing like raw cookie or brownie dough when we needed to complain about a guy ;).

I always read your blog but this one hit home. My roomate (who is also from MI) and I always keep ingrdients for choc chip cookies in our tiny apartment kitchen. You never know when someone is going to need a homemade batch to feel less lonely in the big city. Kelly, SF

Thanks to everyone for this week's comments. Chocolate and coffee...the things dreams are made of :) I didn't mention either but both are in abundance in our house. Actually, Tim is the chocoholic and I'm the coffee drinker. My favorite is the first cup of the day which he brings to me in bed each morning. I'm soooo spoiled! Anyway, Candy, you're not alone with the celery thing. Often, I notice there are piles of celery left on Tim's daughter's plate...guess you need to grow up with them, and my grandson isn't a fan either. Oh well, I'm cooking...they go in :) And Tina, I agree with you, I got a copy of the Joy of Cooking when I first got married, and I've yet to find a cookbook with better clarity than it. It's funny, I wasn't thrilled with it when I first got pretty prictures...but it has served me well over the years. My biggest suggestion to you Lisa, is to have fun with it. Cooking is actually a very creative experience. And addictive...the more you do...the more comfortable you become, and daring! Also, as soon as you can, get your kids in the kitchen with you. If you haven't already, read my blog Kids in the Kitchen...maybe an October or November blog. They can learn along with you and you'll find how quickly they get comfortable helping out. Have a great weekend all :)

Lisa, I didn't grow up in a 'home cooking' sort of house either. Actually, I never really cooked at all until after I got married. I've learned a lot since then, and it just takes willingness to try new things and to make mistakes. (Yes, I've thrown away a few things.) You can do it!! I highly recommend Cooks Illustrated magazine. The recipes run the gamut between easy and hard, but are always accompanied by the "why" of how they developed their recipe, and you can really learn a lot. And the best, IME, reference type of cookbook is Joy of Cooking. Great for all sorts of recipes, easy and hard, and answering questions like, "how do you cut up a chicken?" or "how do you know when a pork chop is done?" or "what the heck are leeks and how do you cut them up?"

I am feeling pretty embarrassed. I am not a cook. My mom worked and we did a lot of take out. I can't think of a single recipe I wanted to get from my mom. When we wanted home cooking we went to my grandmas and she wasn't a very good cook! So when I look at my pantry I see a ton of prepared foods. Cans of Beef-a-roni, boxes of hamburger helper. Freezer has pot pies and stuffed chicken breasts and other prepared foods from the freezer section. I really don't like this. This isn't what I want my kids to remember. Cooking can't be THAT hard, right? I just have to say I'm going to do it. I've been thinking about this for a while now. This can't be the healthiest way to eat. Wish me luck! If I blow up the kitchen its not my fault!

With two young children, our staples always include things like pastas of every shape and size, Kraft macaroni and cheese, tortillas, shredded cheese and regular block cheddar cheese, yogurt, cereal, peanut butter and jelly, applesauce, chicken nuggets, and those types of things. I think I have at least 3 jars of peanut butter and 3 jars of jelly downstairs on our "extra" shelf! Like Michelle, I tend to buy meat from our local butcher on an as-needed basis. If I freeze too much meat, I tend to forget about it for some reason. Or I forget to take it out in time to thaw. John keeps talking about buying half a cow from a local farmer, but I'm not sure I'm up to the challenge of trying to use up all that meat!

Then on the non-kid staples front, I always have the following on hand: pita, hummus, Greek yogurt, tsatsiki, fresh garlic and ginger, hoison sauce, black bean and garlic paste, oyster sauce, fish sauce, garlic-chili paste, salad mix, onions, cream of mushroom soup, canned mushrooms, Lipton onion soup mix, canned tomatoes, canned cannellini beans and black beans, vanilla, bread flour, chocolate chips, unsweetened bakers chocolate (must be able to make brownies at a moment's notice!), and coffee beans from our favorite microroaster (John tends to buy 8 pounds at a time so we don't *gasp* run out).

Then I have my homemade staples, which we always have a stock of on-hand, which would be frozen meatballs, frozen waffles and frozen pancakes. And new to my list! Frozen balls of chocolate chip cookie dough!

My pantry is a little bit full. But I'm sure nothing like Kim's! It's a good thing though that I now have extra storage in the basement and an extra refrigerator down there. They have certainly come in handy storing the 4 gallons of milk that I buy every week and all of that peanut butter and jelly!

If you're interested in adding homemade enchilada sauce to that yummy recipe that you shared, this one is awesome. When I make enchiladas, I use boneless chicken breasts that I have cooked in the crock pot on high for 4 hours with a jar of salsa. Then shred it up. Yum!

Red Enchilada Sauce (makes about 3 cups, can also double and freeze half for next time)

1 Tbsp olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp. minced onion
1/2 tsp dried oregano
2-1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/8 tsp ground black pepper
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp. dried parsley (or 1 Tbsp fresh)
1/4 cup salsa
1 6 oz can of tomato paste
1-1/2 cups water

Heat oil over medium heat. Add garlic and saute about 1-2 minutes (be careful it doesn't burn!). Add all other ingredients except water. Mix all together and then stir in the water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer 15-20 minutes.

So...Michelle comes back from Whole Foods with 3 grocery bags full of beans...$100.00 worth of beans, I might add, and didn't for a minute think this was weird! day I'll do a whole blog with tons of bean recipes ;) We got quite creative! When Tim read this blog he said, "Did you tell them I've forbidden you to buy any more Miracle Whip and applesauce? Those are a couple of things low in the pantry, I forget to look at, and just assume we need. 5 backups of Miracle Whip might be a bit much! But the latest "yikes" was a few weeks ago when Tim was going through the freezer and realized we had 14 pounds of bacon! That's a lot of bacon! I've been adding bacon to just about everything lately! Anyway, since my daughter shared "the bean" incident...thought I'd through the 16 Bean Soup recipe on. It's yummy. Enjoy! (BTW...if you can't find 16 beans, it will taste just as good with fewer.)

16 Bean Soup

2 cups of mixed beans*
3 quarts water
salt and pepper to taste
hamhocks or ham bone, (you may leave out if you wish
this to be a vegetarian meal)
1 green pepper, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 cup celery, chopped
1 large can tomatoes
1 T. sugar
1 T. lemon juice
1 clove garlic, chopped

*16 Beans includes:
-dried peas
-yellow split peas
-green split peas
-brown lentils
-orange lentils
-kidney beans
-cranberry beans
-mung beans
-black turtle beans
-green lima beans
-white lima beans
-great northern beans
-navy beans
-speckled beans
(Can add any other beans. This assortment of beans will provide complete protein should you wish to leave out the meat.)

Bring 2 cups of beans and 3 quarts of water to boil with salt and pepper. Skim and add hamhocks, bone, or whatever. Simmer for 3 hours uncovered.

Add the green pepper, onion, celery, tomatoes, sugar, lemon juice and garlic. Cook an additional half hour or until vegetables are tender. Better if you let this age a day in the refrigerator. With a salad and crusty bread, you have a great meal.

Let me just say that it is hard to really understand how ‘well stocked’ my mother’s pantry really is. For example, there was an incident… “THE BEANS” that took place when I was in college. My mom asked me to stop at Whole Foods and pick up 2lbs of 16 different beans for her preschool to make 16 beans soup for class, to put together a little jar of the dried beans with a recipe for each of the kids to take home to share with their family and to have some on hand for her own pantry. Well, here is the funny thing… the miscommunication. She wanted 2lbs total… as in all 16 varieties of beans combined equaling 2lbs. In my mother’s normal fashion I interpreted these instructions a little different. I dutifully came home with 2lbs of each type of bean. It never crossed my mind that this was excessive. This is my mother we were talking about… 32lbs of dried beans seemed totally within her realm of reasonable. Needless to say we had beans for years on end. I think she finally gave up and threw away the last of them a couple years ago figuring they were in fact past their prime. A well stocked pantry indeed!

My husband and I tend to be more European in our shopping habits only buying for a day or two at a time (at least when it comes to meat)… otherwise I feel like we end up wasting food. Although this is changing as the kids are getting a bit older.

Our must haves include COFFEE and Vanilla Coffemate! Organic poptarts (have I mentioned that I’m not a morning person and the kids don’t get a real breakfast until I’ve had a cup or two of coffee first). Noodles… we love pastas. Carrots, onions, celery, green peppers, bananas, apples are always on the list. Cream of mushroom soup, canned tomato products and frozen veggies are always stocked too. Cheese, salsa, tortillas are also big (fajitas and Quesadas are a weekly staple). We always have a bag of frozen chicken breasts in the freezer too.

Oh do I hate the sight of empty cupboards! I am right there with you. My staples (besides the basics) are cream of chicken and cream of mushroom soup (I try to buy the healthy versions) frozen veggies of all forms-mixed veggies, broccoli, cauliflower, corn; potatoes; tomatoe sauce, stewed tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, etc; dry spaghetti, egg noodles, elbow macaroni; cheese....I could go on and on. I have so many things that I keep on hand "just in case" and they are always used well before they go bad or even get dusty. But no fresh celery for me, I HATE the stuff! ;-)

Morning! I was given a spice rack for a wedding gift. It looks pretty but I’ve only used like 2 of the spices. I’m a pretty basic cook. My basic list would include chocolate in all forms! Chocolate cake mix, chocolate frosting, brownie mixes, chocolate chips, chocolate syrup, unsweetened chocolate baking squares! Whenever possible I add chocolate to everything! (I refrain from putting it in meatloaf and soup but I saw a restaurant on the travel channel that had all chocolate food, including main dishes. Now that’s my idea of a dream vacation!) Guess my chocolate addiction is pretty obvious :) Other than chocolate I’d say I always have tomato soup (more like 4 cans not 12!) because I use it in a lot of recipes, cinnamon, vanilla, onions, curry and tons and tons of hamburger meat! Looking forward to trying the chicken enchiladas. Everyone in the family likes Mexican food although I never make it at home. Have a great week!