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Be prepared for holiday baking with well-stocked pantry

By Jessica Karley

Forum News Service

The holiday season is almost here, and for many that means the added stress of dinner guests, extended visits from family and impromptu parties.

To help ease the stress of the holidays, I prepare my gift list and make sure my “pantry” is properly stocked with what I consider to be kitchen basics.

This might seem like a large task, but in the long run, it helps minimize the amount of time you spend in the grocery store.

The term “pantry” is used loosely here. I don’t expect everyone is lucky enough to have an entire closet dedicated to food, but I do hope to offer a list of items to have on hand, so you can tackle any last-minute meals and come out looking like Martha Stewart, the ultimate party host.

Here’s my list of top pantry items:

Dry Goods

1. Flours: Whole wheat and all purpose.

2. Yellow cornmeal.

3. Panko bread crumbs: Plain or Italian seasoned.

4. Graham crackers: Whole or just crumbs.

5. Dried fruits: Raisins, cherries, apricots.

6. Sugars/sweeteners: Granulated, dark brown and powdered, honey or agave nectar.

7. Cocoa powder.

8. Extracts: Pure vanilla, almond, mint.

9. Boxed cake mix and 1 or 2 brownie mixes: It’s key to saving time. The mixes can easily be doctored up and made into something special.

10. Chocolate chips.

11. Flax seeds: They’re healthy and serve as a great substitute for eggs in baked goods. Use 1 tablespoon of ground flax and 3 tablespoons water 1 large egg.

12. Nuts: Mainly walnuts, pecans, almonds and pine nuts.

13. Dry Pastas: I stock spaghetti, linguini, penne and gnocchi.

14. Grains: Quinoa, wild rice, brown rice. I also like to have the 90 second pre-cooked rice packages on hand as a speedy side dish option.

15. Crackers and chips: Pita chips, multigrain crackers and tortilla chips.

16. Canned tomatoes: Diced tomatoes, tomato paste and tomato sauce.

17. Canned fruits/vegetables: I avoid most of these other than pumpkin, squash, applesauce and artichokes.

18. Pasta Sauce: Your favorite kind.

19. Pizza crust, pizza sauce, shelf-stable pepperoni: An easy way to keep the kids busy.

20. Canned or dry beans: Pinto, black, garbanzo.

21. Dried peas and lentils.

22. Oils: Olive, canola, coconut.

23. Flavored oils: Lemon, white truffle, chili.

24. Vinegars: Balsamic, red wine, apple cider, white and balsamic glaze.

25. Nut butters: Peanut, chocolate-hazelnut.

26. Oatmeal.

27. Jams and jellies: Can be used in pan sauces for sautéed chicken breast, pork chops or steak or used as a glaze on  meats or fish. I like to keep cherry jam, raspberry jelly and orange marmalade on hand.

28. Syrups: Maple, molasses, caramel.

29. Salts: Kosher, iodized, assorted fun sea salts.

30. Black pepper grinder: Single-use/pre-filled grinder in your spice section works fine.

Herbs and Spices

Dried spices have a shelf life of six months so, unless it’s something you’re going to use a lot of, buy smaller containers and only purchase ones you will use. Here’s my list of must-haves:

Garlic powder, dill, sage, thyme, oregano, cinnamon, cumin seeds, ground cumin, dry mustard, mustard seeds, curry powder, smoked paprika, paprika, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, red pepper flakes, cayenne pepper, dried rosemary and poultry seasoning.

Fridge and Freezer Basics

1. Garlic.

2. Ginger (stores great in the freezer)

3. Frozen berries.

4. Sour cream.

5. Cream cheese: 1 to 3 blocks.

6. Shredded parmesan cheese

7. Shredded cheese blend: I stick to a basic Monterrey jack.

8. Eggs

9. Milk: I drink soy, so I don’t use this in a lot of recipes, but my son and guests drink it.

10. Heavy whipping cream: Everything is better with cream.

11. Dry white wine: I prefer chardonnay because it’s not as sweet and has a bolder flavor.

12. Fruit juice concentrate: I have orange, apple and lemonade on hand.

13. Capers

14. Ketchup

15. Mustards: Classic yellow if you like, whole grain and Dijon.

16. Hot sauces: Sri racha, Cholula Tabasco.

17. Barbecue sauce

18. Mayonnaise

19. Butter: Preferably unsalted.

20. Lemons and limes.

21. Apples.

22. Oranges.

23. Baby Carrots.

24. Yellow Onion.

25. Celery.

26. Frozen Vegetables: I don’t use these very often, but for last minute meals or appetizers when fresh isn’t an option, I use chopped spinach, green beans, broccoli, and corn make great choices.

27. Parsley: It doesn’t keep as long, but it’s a quick and inexpensive way to top off a dish. It also adds great flavor to a simple pasta dish. (Try my Lemon Chili Pasta recipe.)

28. Pie crust: It will keep for a long time and can easily be turned into a rustic tart for a 30-minute dessert. (Use apples that you already have on hand.)

29. Boursin Cheese: A garlic and herb goat cheese. It’s great in sauces, mashed potatoes and also served on crackers as a last-minute appetizer.

30. Pre-made appetizers: 1 or 2 of these on hand won’t hurt, and it can help bide your time in the kitchen. (Store-bought, homemade and frozen.)

These recipes incorporate your well-stocked pantry items, and they never fail to impress guests. My Cherry Mustard Pork Chop is a crowd-pleaser because it’s a perfect balance between tart and sweet. It pleases me because it’s a dish that I can prepare from start to finish in less than 30 minutes. Serve this with a 90-second wild rice blend and a quick vegetable. My second recipe is for those of you with a little bit of a sweet tooth, White Chocolate Pumpkin Truffles.

Once your teeth break through the rich and creamy white chocolate shell and your taste buds hit the pumpkin pie filling, you’ll want to keep the entire tray for yourself. If you decide to share them with others, they make the perfect little nibble to have out on Turkey Day. I figure that they must be better for me than eating all of that pie, right?

Well — maybe after eating three or four of them, it doesn’t make much of a difference!

White Chocolate Pumpkin Pie Truffles

2 12-ounce white chocolate chips

1 cup pumpkin puree

¾ cup graham cracker crumbs

3 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

¼ teaspoon iodized salt

4 ounces cream cheese, softened

2 tablespoons amaretto liquor

In a medium bowl, combine pumpkin puree, graham crackers, pumpkin pie spice, salt, cream cheese and amaretto. Using a hand mixer, blend until smooth. Chill for 2-3 hours or until able to be formed into balls. Add more graham cracker crumbs if needed. (Mixture won’t form perfect balls and will be a little on the loose side.) Place in freezer and chill until hard. Form pumpkin mixture into bite-sized balls. Make them on the small side because the 2 layers of white chocolate will add a lot of bulk. Melt white chocolate in microwave. Start with 1 minute, and then stir every 30 seconds until mixture is smooth. Dip pumpkin balls into white chocolate and place on a sheet tray lined with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Chill until hardened and repeat dipping process one more time. Store the truffles in your refrigerator for up to 1 week or freezer for up to 3 months. Makes 12-18 truffles (depending on size preference.)

Cherry Mustard Pork Chops

4 8-ounce bone-in thick cut pork chops

3 teaspoons kosher salt

2 teaspoons cracked black pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 9.5-ounce jar bing cherry jam (I used Dickinson’s Family brand)

1 9.5-ounce whole grain mustard

1 cup dried cherries

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Season pork chops on both sides with salt and pepper. In a large sauté pan, heat olive oil over high heat until shimmering. Add pork chops to the pan and sear for 4 minutes or until golden brown. Flip and sear on remaining side for 2-3 minutes. Remove pan from heat and place pork chops on oven-safe serving platter or in another pan, golden side up. Place in the oven for 10 minutes or until internal temperature hits 145. Remove meat from oven, cover with foil and let rest for 5 minutes before serving. Meanwhile, return original sauté pan to heat and add cherry jam, mustard and dried cherries. Whisk together until smooth and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes. Pour sauce over pork chops and enjoy! Serves 4.

Karley can be reached at Read her food blog at