The Staple Ingredients Leslie Always Keeps in Her Fridge and Pantry (And the Weeknight Recipes She Makes with Them)

Plus, the containers she swears by for keeping it all organized.
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Our team bombarded Leslie the other day about her cooking habits. Let me explain: In spite of nightly plans, Leslie always manages to make cooking a priority in her life (she brings in lunch every day, and makes dinner almost every night). She's ordered takeout two times, total, in the three years she's lived in L.A. After a particularly impressive lunch, we accosted her with questions: What do you keep in your fridge? How long do you spend cooking? How often do you go to the grocery store? She's probably the best person to ask—she was, after all, a Food Editor for years before we hired her. It wasn't long before I realized what I really wanted was for her to lay her entire strategy out in a post: fridge and pantry staples, budget, recipes, frequency of grocery runs. Without further ado, here's every single item Leslie keeps in her pantry and fridge. Next week she'll be sharing the rest of her grocery shopping strategy, budget, and what a week of cooking looks like for her! - xEmily

My fridge and pantry is seriously edited from the days when I was a Food Editor, when I considered Moroccan, Israeli, and Lebanese couscous to all be equally vital "staples" and regarded store-bought salad dressing as sacrilegious. These days, it's a priority to simply have a well-enough stocked pantry and fridge so that I can make a beautiful meal, even if I'm just foraging from what's already at home. In an ideal world, I can bring home a basket of vegetables and create something memorable from the spices and shelf stable foods I already have in my pantry. Of course, the items I keep in my fridge, freezer, and pantry change from week to week, and depend greatly on the season, but I make a real effort to keep the following staples in my freezer, pantry, and fridge at all times: 

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For years, I housed all condiments and sauces on the bottom shelf of my fridge, above the crisper drawer. These days, I keep almost all of my condiments in the door, so that I can clearly see them. The effect is two-fold: I don't buy too many, and am able to be inspired by them. The realization that I have capers may lead to a last-minute lemony-caper sauce for fish. As a result, I often rotate through the condiments I have, but always keep these core staples on hand: 

Jams: I always have at least two jams in the fridge—apricot, so that I can make these disgustingly delicious chicken thighs, and some sort of berry since it's delicious on buttered toast, and I love a PB&J every once in a while!

Soy Sauce, Coconut Aminos, and Pickled Ginger: Some variation on a rice bowl is 90% of what I make when it isn't coming from a cookbook, so Jonah and I keep these condiments on hand for pouring over sautéed vegetables and rice (and maybe some salmon, if we're feeling fancy). 

Vietnamese Fish Sauce: Just a few shakes of this extremely umami-rich sauce can punch up any vegetable. But you've been warned—use it sparingly. 

Ketchup, Yellow Mustard, and Relish: This burger sauce is the best burger sauce of all time, which I pour all over 'Beyond Burgers.' I keep these staples in my fridge so I can make burgers any time inspiration strikes (plus these staples forever, and sometimes I crave scrambled eggs with ketchup because #childhood). 

Dijon Mustard: Essential for homemade salad dressings (my favorite is just dijon, red wine vinegar, olive oil, and honey), but also a great chicken marinade in a pinch.

Mayonnaise: If there's one reason Jonah and I break up, it's because I've been known to eat mayonnaise out of the jar with a spoon. I love it shamelessly. I use it all the time to turn rotisserie chicken (a fridge staple) into curry chicken salad with chopped celery, and currants, or make egg salad, or put together sandwiches. It's obviously better when you make it yourself, but I'm not always feeling so ambitious. 

Sun-Dried Tomatoes: My first day at Food52, I pitched a recipe with sun-dried tomatoes and the universal reaction was, "Woah! So retro!" I guess they had a shining moment in the '90s, but I never got the memo. I use sun-dried tomatoes in every pasta I make (I make this one all the time, with soyrizo). 

Oil-Packed Capers: Use 'em for scampi, a fish sauce, pasta! On toast! On bagels! I can't imagine a world, or fridge, without capers. And I usually use oil-packed simply because they're easier, but salted is similar—you just have to rinse them. 

Castelvetrano Olives: I keep a jar on hand for the rare gin martini, or chopped in pasta (you can use them anywhere you would sardines for a briny kick). 

Chopped Garlic: Fresh garlic is so much better, but it's also more work. I keep a jar of ready-chopped garlic in the fridge for lazy days!

Our fridge, taken on Sunday evening after meal-prepping

Our fridge, taken on Sunday evening after meal-prepping

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Each week, I purchase the ingredients for whatever larger meal I'm making Sunday evening (more on that in next week's post!), but I also always make sure I'm stocked with the following items. With the ingredients below, I'm pretty much guaranteed I won't not only go hungry, but have something delicious I can whip-up last-minute: 

Rotisserie Chicken: Every Sunday, I buy a rotisserie chicken and break it down as soon as I'm home, removing the meat from the bone and cutting it into bite-sized pieces. That way, I have a protein readily available all week that I can either add into pasta, throw on top of lunch, turn into sandwiches, or eat as a snack. Easy!

Free-range, organic eggs: I eat eggs like nobody's business, starting with three for breakfast every morning (don't worry, I have low cholesterol). A friend of mine who's a talented nutritionist recommended that I splurge on the expensive eggs since the nutritional value you get from eggs that come from well-fed, well raised chickens is dramatically different. I also splurge on ingredients I know are more ethically sound whenever possible, though that's a work in progress because sticking to budgets is important too. 

Spinach: I go through the equivalent of two large bins of spinach every week (I buy spinach at the farmers market whenever possible, but prep and refill a large plastic bin I keep in my fridge). I eat it with my eggs each morning, and like to have a ton on hand for rice bowls and pastas, since I try to incorporate a vegetable or leafy green into every meal, and it's just the easiest thing to have on hand!

Dressing: Sometimes I make my own dressing, but sometimes I pour Organic Girl's Green Goddess Dressing on my greens and call it a day! 

Cheese: For Christmas last year, I gave Jonah a Cheese Grotto in 'Small.' The Grotto keeps cheese fresh for significantly longer, like months instead of days for some cheese. I always make sure to have Parmesan on hand ('Prairie Breeze' is our favorite), plus a creamy cheese or blue because life is better with cheese.

Unsalted Butter: At the start of every week, I cut unsalted butter into tablespoon portions and place them in a Weck jar, so that it's readily available to throw into my Bulletproof Coffee each morning. I also keep unsalted butter on hand, as opposed to salted, because it's better for baking. 

Greek Yogurt: We keep Greek yogurt on hand for Jonah's breakfast, but also because it's delicious as a sour cream replacement on top of dishes like shakshuka. Last night, I ate it on top of this rice, and it was 10/10 good! 

Miscellaneous vegetables: I always make a point of grabbing a few extra vegetables, so I can cook them up mid-week when I start running low on, or sick of, whatever I cooked on Sunday. I'll usually grab a few zucchinis and sweet potatoes, or whatever looks good! 

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La Croix: I drink a lot less booze than I used to, but still love the satisfying routine of cracking open a "cold one" at the end of a long day. I would love to curb my habit, but it's a routine I truly look forward to and at least it's better, for me, than automatically reaching for a beer! I always make sure to have a few in the fridge. 

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My freezer is always so packed to the gills you never know what's going to waterfall out, whether frozen bananas (for banana bread!), acai packets I impulse-purchased at Trader Joe's ages ago, sliced and frozen bread, or ice trays. But there are really only two staples I make sure I always have on hand: 

Peas: One of my favorite pantry recipes of all time is this risotto from Goop since it's delicious, and you really only need three core ingredients (which you can then add to depending on what else you have on hand!). It's helped me out in a weeknight pinch many a day and makes tons of servings. 

Vanilla Ice Cream: The worst imaginable thing in this world is baking a pie and realizing you don't have any vanilla ice cream to put on it. We always have one pint, plus one or five as backups...

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As much as I wish my pantry looked like The Home Edit, it sadly does not (although I dream of the day I have Perrier bottles perfectly lined against a wall in my walk-in pantry). Alas, what I can vouch for is that it is totally functional, organized, and effective for nearly all home cooking needs. 

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These pretty much go without an explanation needed, but happy to address specific questions in the comments!

All-Purpose Flour
Bleached White Flour
Light Brown Sugar 
Turbinado Sugar
Almond Flour
Oatmeal
Baking Powder
Baking Soda
Chocolate Chips

Here are the containers I used: Glass jars with clamp lids and 5.5 Qt. Oxo Good Grips Container

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As pretty as the grains look poured into plastic bins, we were getting little rice mites in them, so we keep them in their bags within the container

Orzo Pasta
Jasmine Rice 
Quinoa
Lentils
Rice Paper: I keep these on hand for making the rice wraps I wrote about here
Soba Noodles: Delicious cooked up with just some miso, tofu, and vegetable broth. 

Here are the containers I used: Oxo Good Grips Cereal Dispenser

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All of the Spices: I have a wide collection, but the ones I use most often are smoked paprika, nutmeg, crushed red pepper, and I'm addicted to Jane's Krazy Mixed Up Salt

Vinegars: I have a ton of them, but I use red wine vinegar and rice vinegar far more often than anything else, including balsamic. 

Oils: I keep coconut oil spray on hand for quick sautées, but also use olive oil, canola oil, and avocado oil frequently. 

Sweeteners: I keep date syrup, honey, and coconut nectar on hand for sweetening tea, yogurt, and dressings and marinades. 

Here is the lazy Susan I used for the spices.

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This shelf is where I keep essentials for lazy, unplanned weeknight meals. 

Beans: I keep garbanzo beans and black beans on hand, since they're just so easy. For a truly uninspired but still tasty weeknight meal, I'll sauté spinach with some rinsed and drained garbanzo beans, then serve it over rice. I also like grating a ton of Parmesan into a pot of warm black beans, slopping that over some rice in a bowl and serving it with a fried egg. Easy! 

Nut Butters: I love nut butter, and keep basically every flavor imaginable on hand (Wild Friends is my favorite brand!). 

Canned Vegetables: I always have several cans of diced tomatoes on hand for baked dishes and shakshuka, and will slice beets over a bowl of rice with chicken and sauerkraut (are you detecting a theme here?). 

Overflow and Misc: I keep vegetable and chicken broth on hand for risottos and soups, and extra fridge staples in the pantry, as well as sardines (for pasta!). I also always have a packed of Lipton's Onion Mix on hand for this recipe, mentioned above. 

Here are the containers I used: Can dispensers (one of a few I could find that was less than a foot deep)

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I make my own granola and bars, so I like to keep all the essential ingredients on hand, as well as some extras for snacks, trail mixes, and recipes. 

Dried fruits: Dried cherries, dried cranberries, and pitted dates (for smoothies and this amazing appetizer). 

Nuts: I keep every nut I need for the Eleven Madison Park Granola, my forever go-to as well as a few miscellaneous and roasted options for snacking, like roasted cashews which I could eat all day. I also keep crackers on hand for cheese plates! 

Here are the containers I used: 1.5 Qt. Oxo Good Grips Container and 2.5 Qt. Oxo Good Grips Container

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Everything that doesn't fit on top goes down here! It's also where I keep "seasonal" ingredients, like hot chocolate mix. The best thing about it is the hanging shelf of chocolate bars. 

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I have space for a small "beverage cart" in my pantry, where I keep my coffee machine (because I have about two-square feet of counter space, and that's a generous estimate). 

Coffee and MCT Oil: I drink bulletproof coffee every morning, which I add MCT Oil and a tablespoon of unsalted butter to then mix with an immersion blender in a mug before pouring it into a to-go cup. 

Tea: I love having English Breakfast tea and decaffeinated options, like Trader Joe's Mint Tea and Yogi 'DeTox' tea on hand!

Reishi Hot Chocolate: I love Reishi Hot Chocolate blended with some coconut butter for a rich post-dinner drink.  

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I often buy any fruit that looks good at the farmers market (I mean who can resist stone fruit in the summer??), but keep the following staples on hand:

Apples: Jonah teases me for splurging on organic Honeycrisp apples which are like 5x what a normal apple should cost (so 50 cents a pop instead of 10), but I love them. I eat one almost every day at work with a couple of tablespoons of nut butter. 

Bananas: I always have bananas on hand, which Jonah and I usually each grab while running out the door as "second breakfast." (We would make horrible intermittent fasters.)

Avocados: If avocados are reasonably priced and grown in California, I'll grab a few! I love having them on hand to put on my eggs or add to rice bowls for some additional fat. 

Lemons: Luckily for us, we have a lemon tree outside our apartment! And this being California, it somehow has lemons year-round?? I always pull a few to keep in our fruit bowl to squeeze over vegetables (spinach sautéed in olive oil with lemon juice and nutmeg is where it's at). 

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Spanish Baked Rice with Chorizo and Chickpeas
Apricot Jam Chicken
Brown Butter Pinot Noir and Black Olive Sauce with Skate
No-Recipe-Needed Grain Bowl
Pasta with Pesto, Chorizo (or Soyrizo), and Chicken
Squash and Arugula Salad (with Rotisserie Chicken)