Stirring the Pot: Pantry Raid

“It never ceases to amaze me,” my friend Nancy says. “Your refrigerator is practically empty, and yet you can produce a three-course dinner without a major trip to the supermarket!” Nancy and I have been observers of each others’ refrigerators for the past 30 years, so this is not a random comment. (Her fridge is always full, by the way.) My fridge was spartan — besides the requisite milk, eggs, a variety of cheeses, yogurt, and salad ingredients — even while I was raising five children.

The secret to my success? Staples — and I don’t mean the office supply store.

The meagerness of goods in my fridge lies in sharp contrast to the abundance in my pantry and freezer. Even now, when I have fewer mouths to feed, you will always find a 5-pound bag of flour in my pantry and a pound of butter in the freezer. You never know when you’ll need to whip up a cake in a hurry.

And so, as a service to you, Dear Reader, as well as to my grown children who have requested and lost this so many times, I offer The Very Subjective, Idiosyncratic, Essential List:

A well-stocked pantry (for those without dietary restrictions) will have:

Ruthie's well-stocked pantry allows her to avoid last-minute grocery trips. | Photo by Ruthie Cohen

Ruthie’s well-stocked pantry allows her to avoid last-minute grocery trips. | Photo by Ruthie Cohen

  • Rice
  • Pasta (assorted shapes)
  • Dried lentils or split peas
  • Pretzels or pita chips
  • Canned tomatoes
  • Jarred tomato sauce
  • Cans of assorted beans, including black, cannellini, garbanzo, and kidney
  • Cans of corn
  • Cans of seafood and fish, including clams, tuna, and sardines
  • Tahini
  • Dried herbs and spices, including but not limited to roasted garlic powder, ground rosemary, cayenne pepper, cumin, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and spice blends such as Greek or Cajun seasoning
  • Several heads of garlic
  • Cartons of vegetable or chicken stock
  • Evaporated milk
  • Honey
  • Flour
  • Sugar
  • Salt
  • Oats
  • Unsweetened cocoa
  • Vanilla extract
  • Cornmeal
  • Brown sugar
  • Baking powder
  • Baking soda
  • Dried fruits, including apricots, cranberries, and candied ginger
  • Chocolate chips
  • Olive oil
  • Vinegar


A well-stocked freezer will have:

Optional and seasonal:

  • Assorted frozen vegetables, including broccoli, carrots, edamame, chopped greens, chopped onions, peas, and string beans
  • Assorted frozen fruit, including berries and rhubarb
  • Butter
  • Proteins such as ground beef, chicken parts, Cornish hens, lamb chops, sausage, steak, and turkey breast
  • Sliced bread
  • Assorted nuts
  • Quinoa
  • Canned pumpkin
  • Canned cranberry sauce
  • Anchovies
  • Buttermilk powder
  • Sweetened condensed milk

Take frequent inventory. If you run out of something, replenish it immediately. When the pantry and freezer are well stocked, your visits to the supermarket will focus more on the outer perimeter of the store, notably the fruits and vegetable aisles, fresh fish and meat displays, and the egg and dairy sections.

Behold the following recipes. Just one mad dash to the market necessary for the dairy products.

You’ve got this!

Presto Ragout

A quick-to-assemble, savory, soupy stew.

2-3 sausages, veggie, chorizo, or spicy chicken sausage
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups chopped greens, such as collards, mustard, or turnip (frozen or fresh)
1 can cannellini beans
1 can chopped or baby clams
1/2 cup grated cheese, such as Parmesan or Asiago

Remove sausage from casings. In a high-sided pan, heat oil. Add sausages and sauté, breaking up the meat until crumbly. Add garlic and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes until garlic softens. Add greens and mix with the sausage.

Pour about 1/2 cup of the liquid from the cannellini beans and 1/2 cup of liquid from the can of clams into the pan. Bring to a boil, partially cover the pan, and simmer until greens soften, about 5 minutes.

Add the cannellini beans with their remaining liquid and the clams with their remaining liquid. Cook until heated through. Sprinkle with cheese and serve. It goes great over pasta.


Cornbread in the Round

Use a pie pan or a cast iron skillet for even baking and for cutting into lovely wedges.

3/4 cup white or yellow cornmeal
1  1/4 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons buttermilk powder
1 cup water
1/4 cup butter
1 egg

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Grease a pie tin. Blend cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and buttermilk powder in a bowl. (Note: If you have fresh buttermilk or milk on hand instead, add one cup with the rest of the ingredients and omit the water.)

Melt butter in a 2 cup measuring cup. Add the water and lightly beat in the egg.  Add butter mixture into dry ingredients and mix until moist.

Pour into pie tin and bake for 20 to 25 minutes.


Very Berry Crisp

2  1/2 pounds fresh or frozen berries
1/4 cup sugar
6 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg (optional)
1/2 cup oats
1/2 cup pecans or walnuts

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Grease a decorative casserole or 9-inch square pan. Mix berries with sugar. (If using frozen berries, no need to defrost prior to assembling.) Spread berries evenly in pan.

To make the crumble topping, a food processor works best. Place butter, brown sugar, flour, and cinnamon in the bowl and pulse until mixture clumps together like coarse sand. Add oats and nuts to the bowl and pulse to combine.

Spread topping over the berries.

Bake 40 to 45 minutes.

Ruthie Cohen
Ruthie Cohen moved from New Jersey to Bloomington in November 2011. Every day she marvels at her good fortune to be living in this gem of a town. When she is not devising recipes in her kitchen and feeding her friends, Ruthie practices and teaches yoga at Ekah and Bloomington Yoga Collective.