Main | Allspice (Recipe: garlic chicken on skewers) {gluten-free} »



In an imperfect world, can there really be a perfect pantry?

Of course not.

So what's this blog all about, and who am I to be writing about "perfection"?

My name is Lydia Walshin. Before I became a food blogger, I was a contributing editor and food writer for Rhode Island Monthly, a big glossy magazine in the smallest state in the US, for four years, and I've written about food for newspapers and magazines since 1991. I learned how to cook by watching Julia Child on television; by hanging out in my grandmother's kitchen, I learned why we cook — to feed our families, to give joy to our friends, to strengthen our communities, to share with those in need.

My husband and I live in a log house in the woods, where we have a kitchen large enough for groups of friends and family to come and cook together. In fact, as I write this, I should be setting up the kitchen for the arrival later this morning of the Wednesday Lunch Group, one of four cooking groups of adults and kids that have been meeting in my kitchen every 5-6 weeks for many years, to try new recipes, improve their skills, and giggle.

Every group starts with Pantry Raid, a menu featuring four recipes that each rely on one great item from a well-stocked pantry: balsamic vinegar, frozen raw shrimp, puff pastry shells, instant couscous. And I start that first cooking session by handing out a list of The Perfect Pantry, including dry, wet, frozen, preserved, and concocted basics that I use over and over again.


A bit subjective, you say? Yes, indeed. What's perfect for me will not be perfect for you, and each group proves that by adding its own bits of perfection (instant coffee, yes, though whipped cream in a can will never be part of my personal perfect pantry). We're not talking about semi-homemade anything, by the way. Pantry items are the staples that enhance the best fresh ingredients, and make great cooking possible.

When I first set about creating The Perfect Pantry checklist for Ninecooks' cooking groups, I realized I had to justify every item on the list, which made me think about why it's in my pantry, and how I use it.

And that's what this blog will share with you, one condiment, one spice, and one package of rice noodles at a time.

Please share your own favorite recipes as we explore each pantry item, and let me know what's in your perfect pantry.

Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.


An exciting blog, opening a world of possibilites.
My pantry always has dried beans of all sorts. And of course, cornmeal.

Thanks, Marcia. Yellow cornmeal, or white, or both? I have yellow in my pantry.

Whenever I go down the aisles of a Supermarket, I am amazed at the variety. However, I tend to pcik out the same things - the familiar. It will be great to have a resource to find new staples so I can expand my concept of what the basics are.
Thank you Ninecooks!

Both yellow and white from Quaker!
Jonnycake meal from Carpenters grist mill,stone ground from Kenyons, blue cornmeal from New Mexico, grits from Hoppin' Johns in South Carolina.

i am always trying to keep a full having recipes that i can get quickly online and that i have the ingredients for makes my heart go PITTER PAT
rock on sister Lydia
is that a photo of you miss L?

Ditto Jennifa- Rock on , Sista Lydia!

Yes, ladies, it's a picture of me and my jambalaya....

Always have a variety of canned beans to use in soups, salads, casseroles etc. Looking forward to your first item and recipe.

Since becoming a ninecooks groupie I have added a few elements to my essential pantry:
Cans of coconut milk & chipotle peppers in the cabinet; shrimp & and spicy turkey kielbasa in the freezer; and smoked paprika on the spice rack!

How great - what a useful collection of information and dialogue. I'm a pantry - spice - condiment junky - so it's fascinating to get insight into other people's collections!
Way to go ninecooks - thank you AGAIN Lydia!!

Tasty Blog! Allspice! I first encountered its wonder in a somewhat complex recipe for Chou en Farce Tante Caroline by Simone Beck in her book SIMCA'S CUISINE, a really excellant and unusual menu cook book. The kicker was the spice combination: allspice, cumin,paprika and saffron layered with cabbage, forcemeat and cream. TO DIE FOR! Although I remember once time I served it and a woman said, "It's sort of like corn beef and cabbage". She nearly did die.

Oh, Lydia, memories of Cedars from my years on Union Park! Did you ever have the halvah at the Syrian grocery? I love the perfect pantry. Many thanks.

Fran, the Syrian Grocery was, and is, one of my favorite stores anywhere. I shopped there almost every day when I lived down the block. The vats of olives....the spices....and yes, the halvah. Thanks for sharing the memory!

About the pie crust- I use Pillsbury crust for making quiche and it came out just fabulous- my guests didn't even know the difference! I highly recommend this brand for quiches.

My pantry is always active, as I am constantly buying in bulk. I buy canellini beans & pasta and anchoives and other goods either on sale or by going to places like Costco's and BJ's. Last Sunday, Bob & I had some company and decided to have swordfish and veggies for dinner. I bought a package of portabella mushrooms (8 in a pack) and wanted to grill them. I looked for some other flavor to enhance them and came up w/sund dried tomato & basil topping and Gruyere cheese. I bought the topping and usually use it on crakers or as bruschetta, but this added some flavor to the mushrooms! Also, a summer pasta salad came up yesterday and is quit refreshing. This was made w/canellini beans and tuna.

Portabella caps (8)
extra virgin olive oil
garlic salt
fresh black pepper
sun dried tomato & basil topping
approx. 16 slices of Gruyere cheese (small squares-2 on each mushroom)
fresh organo, thyme and parsley

Set grill on med-high...brush olive oil and sprinkle garlic salt and pepper on both sides.

Grill until soft, then, add a layer of topping, fresh herbs and chesse and turn off the grill. Close the grill top and let set until cheese melts and serve.

Summer Pasta Salad

1 lb favorite pasta (I used shells by Barilla)
1 can albacore tuna - rinsed well
1 small can sliced olives
1/2 red bell pepper (or a whole one if you choose)
2 stalks of green onion sliced thin
1 can canellini beans - rinsed well
a handful of fresh basil
kosher salt, pepper and chilli pepper for taste
mayonnaise (I used Helman's light)
Paul Perdhome's redfish spice for added zest

Boil pasta...let cool some and do not rinse
Mix in the pasta after the other ingrediants are mixed separately, giving the time for the pasta to cook and cool.

In a medium sized bowl, add all ingrediants and mix w/mayo and then, add pasta and more mayo if desired.

Serve at room tempurature or cold.

P.S. I cook to taste and do not measure a heck of a, in making the mushrooms and pasta dishes, start out w/a pinch of the salts and adjust to your liking.

Pamela, welcome to The Perfect Pantry, and thank you so much for sharing your wonderful pantry recipe. I'd never had tuna and cannellini beans together until about ten years ago, when I wrote an article about a grocery store owner who loved to combine the two.

Great concept, all around. I look forward to continued inspiration!

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.