10 Pantry Staples You Can't Do Without

These versatile pantry staples not only come in handy, most of them can serve up double-duty, too.

Having these items on hand can make life a lot easier -- especially around dinner time.

  1. Dried beans (black, split pea, navy, or black-eyed pea): Slow cook or boil beans on the stovetop for a warm, satisfying meal. They also make a great taco or burrito filling the next day.
  2. Pasta: With a shape for every taste, you can easily transform your kids' favorite pasta into a main or side dish.
  3. Tomatoes/tomato puree/tomato paste: Aside from the starring role tomatoes play in homemade spaghetti sauce, you can spread the thicker tomato paste on ready-made pizza crusts or English muffins.
  4. Peanut butter: Try mixing some peanut butter with boiling water and a splash of soy sauce for a peanut dressing to toss with noodles or drizzle over warm spinach leaves. And, of course, a PB & J just wouldn't be the same without the PB.
  5. Old Bay seasoning: This seasoning is not just for shrimp boils anymore. Old Bay blends in nicely with burgers and turkey meatloaf. It even adds zest to evening omelets.
  6. Shallots: Sliver or dice a garlic-scented mini-bulb and sauté it as a flavorful ingredient for meats and soups.
  7. Extra-virgin olive oil: Great for when you sauté vegetables and stir fry chicken strips. And because olive oil is high in monosaturated fats, it's perfect for homemade salad dressings.
  8. All-purpose, unbleached flour: While any all-purpose flour will do, stick with the unbleached variety to thicken sauces and light gravies.
  9. Cane sugar: This staple can lend a subtle sweetness to suppertime recipes. Use it to whip up cake batter and cookie dough, too.
  10. Rice (brown or jasmine): A healthy accompaniment to a variety of dishes, rice also takes on the flavors it's mixed with, such as light coconut milk or chicken stock.

About the Author:
Joe LoCicero is the founder, with his wife Lori, of Practical Whimsy (TM), a company devoted to family style with products, tips for entertaining, and recipes at practicalwhimsy.com. His books include The Complete Idiot's Guide to Clear Thinking and Cake Decorating for Dummies.
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