It ain't dinner 'til the house is filled with smoke...
by Keb

The Essentials


Some stuff you just have to keep around the house. You don't even realize that you have it but, boy, do you notice it when it's gone. Last week, my husband and I were making dinner and realized that we had no garlic powder. Now, I don't sit around thinking about garlic powder and I was not aware that was something I used very often. It always seemed to me that garlic powder was that stuff that my brother put too much of in his spaghetti sauce. Actually, now that I think about it, that was garlic SALT which explains why he now takes daily blood pressure medication. Anyway, I got to thinking about kitchen staples and all those things you always assume that you have in your kitchen. Off the top of my head, here are some of my absolutely essential kitchen items.

Olive Oil. No cooking would occur in my home without olive oil. It goes into everything. We buy it by the gallon jug and it gets used quicker than I would like to admit. Now, I'm not entirely sure about the differences between "virgin" and "extra virgin" and all of that, so I wouldn't call myself an expert. I just know that we need this stuff.

The Dried Spices. PAPRIKA is the biggest here. My husband recently went to the "big box" store and bought what looks like a lifetime supply of paprika. It goes into potatoes, onto chicken and steaks, and into various vegetables. Garlic powder, dried basil, oregano, and onion powder are pretty essential. If you have this, plus a little thyme, you can make a kick-ass dry rub for chicken. Just take about a teaspoon of all the above (paprika, basil, oregano, thyme, onion) add some salt and pepper, coat some chicken breasts in the mixture, put it in a pan with some olive oil, then cook 5 minutes a side on fairly high heat. That's some chicken.

While I'm on the subject, peppercorns are essential. We bought some of the multicolored peppercorns recently (the peppercorn melange for your hoity-toity types). It goes into the pepper mill and then onto just about every dinner. You know you need salt and pepper.

Minced garlic. I am a lazy, lazy person. I have a garlic bulb in my fridge but it's starting to sprout because I use so much jarred minced garlic. It seems like every recipe I make calls for it and it's just so much easier to throw a teaspoon of that stuff into the pan than to go to the trouble of peeling and mincing garlic. My big cooking book tells me that the pre-minced stuff isn't as good as freshly minced. I guess I could agree with that but I haven't tasted that much of a difference in sauces and stuff.

The Starches. Pasta and rice always need to be around the house. I just assume that they are in the cupboard. Cous cous is a newcomer to this category but it's a good friend of mine. Anything that sits in a pot for 5 minutes and becomes dinner is a friend of mine. I generally keep around a bag of red potatoes because you can bake them, broil them or mash them up for an easy dinner thing.

And finally...

Cheese. You always need some grated parmesan in the house. What works for me is to keep wedges of parm and asiago cheese in the freezer. Then I can pull them out and grate them onto anything. Asiago is also a friend of mine and it's edging out parm in the "tasty cheese" category. I'd throw asiago on my breakfast cereal if I weren't too sleepy to do all that grating most mornings.

OK, so now I'm throwing this out to you all. What do you NEED? What is always around? Hopefully, I'll come back in a week or two with some reader suggestions. Of course, it could well be that I'm speaking only to myself here. That's fine by me, but I figured that I'd check. So, write to me!

© 2002, 2003. All images, text and
design, except where noted,
property of
and Keb.
Any use without permission
strictly prohibited.