Creating a Beyond-the-Basics Pantry

So, you have your tomatoes, broth, rice and more pasta than you knew you could buy; you could survive weeks without hitting a market. You're all set, right?

Well, hold on. Your pantry can be more than a stack of cans. It can become a valuable personal collection.

This is how I began to think about it after an eight-ounce jar of honey mustard landed in my cart during a moment of list-abandoning extravagance. That evening, I spread two tablespoons of the golden goo atop four pork chops and popped them in the oven. What emerged were the best pork chops I've ever baked.

Next, I tried mustard-glazed turkey breast and grilled mustard shrimp. Dispensed a glob at a time, that one jar transformed half-a-dozen ordinary dishes with no more effort than lifting a spoon. I was a new woman. Could it be any easier to transform the succession of good, quick meals I counted on into new and more exciting fare?

Mustard was just the beginning. The market is filled with lots of other tiny jars that can add a new dimension to baked meats, stir-fries and stew:

  • Mango chutney
  • Pine nuts
  • Pickled cocktail onions
  • Roasted red peppers
  • Oil-cured olive paste
  • Smoked clams
  • Sun-dried tomatoes

What's more, you don't need a recipe -- throw them in as you would chopped onions. Use only one unfamiliar ingredient at a time, and start with about two tablespoons. Taste and add more, depending on your preference.

If your regular supermarket doesn't carry these ingredients, try a different chain. Some supermarkets group these items on a "gourmet shelf" in an obscure part of the store. Specialty shops and catalogs are other good sources. If all else fails, ask the store manager to special order.

If you buy one new ingredient every time you go to the store, before long your pantry will grow beyond the basics and become a truly personal collection, reflecting your taste, style and creativity.

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