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From Basic to Brilliant

It Starts with Pantry Staples

Looking to change up your regular recipe routine? The key to making quick, easy changes to an ordinary dish is having a well-stocked pantry with the right essentials. Make a list, and stock up the next time you’re at the grocery store – especially if these items are on sale.

Dried Herbs & Spices: rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil and Italian seasoning blend, ground cumin, cayenne, chili powder, crushed red pepper, ground cinnamon, ginger, Chinese 5 spice, Madras curry powder, Kosher salt, and ground black pepper, and white pepper. (Remember: dried herbs are dried and need to be re-hydrated in some sort of liquid in order for the flavor to emerge. Think sauces and marinades.)

Canned Goods: black beans, cannellini, chick peas, coconut milk, fire-roasted diced tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce, artichoke hearts, and roasted red peppers.

Pastas/Noodles/Rice: spaghetti, penne, elbow, soba noodles, vermicelli, egg noodles, long grain white rice, basmati rice, couscous, brown rice, and wild rice.

Frozen Vegetables: corn, spinach, broccoli, edamame, and kale.

Stock: chicken, vegetable, and beef. (Any unused stock can be frozen for later use.)


Now for some recipes using some of these staples:

Chicken Chili
In a large saucepan, sauté a large chopped onion in 2 tsp olive oil. Add 2 Tbsp minced garlic, 2 Tbsp chili powder, 1½ tsp ground cumin, and stir. Add to the pan a 10-oz package of frozen spinach or kale, a 10-oz package of frozen corn, one can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes, one can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed, and 2 cups of cooked, shredded chicken. Stir well and add 2½ cups water. Simmer about 15 minutes until thickened. Add your favorite toppings. Serves 4.

Malaysian Curry Chicken
In a large zip-top bag, combine 1 Tbsp canola oil, 1 tsp ground turmeric, 1 tsp Madras curry powder, 2 tsp finely chopped fresh cilantro, 1 tsp grated lemon rind, 1 tsp minced fresh garlic, and a pinch of kosher salt. Add to the bag 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts and massage until the chicken is well coated. Bake or grill the chicken. Serve with basmati rice cooked in coconut milk and steamed broccoli.

Spicy Jerk Chicken with Pepper Fried Rice
In a large zip-top bag, combine ½ tsp each of curry powder and salt; ¼ tsp each of cayenne and ground ginger. In another bowl, combine 1 Tbsp soy sauce and 1 Tbsp white wine. Add 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into stir-fry strips to the spice mixture in the zip-top bag. Shake to coat. Heat 1 Tbsp vegetable oil in a large skillet or wok. Add the chicken and sauté until no longer pink in the center. Remove from pan.Swirl in another tablespoon of oil and add 2 diced bell peppers. Stir-fry about three minutes. Remove from pan. Add another tablespoon of oil. Swirl and add three cups of cooked long grain rice. Stir until heated through. Add the soy/wine mixture. Return chicken and peppers to pan and cook until heated through.

Christine Wansleben, chef and owner of Mise En Place Cooking School, lives in the West End, where she cooks up a storm with her husband and their twins.
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