It’s a new year. A new start. So obviously, the perfect time to get your kitchen affairs in order. And that would begin with a clean sweep of the pantry. Could yours ever look like the above? Hmmm? My guess is not if you have a life. You needn’t be an anal librarian who has alphabetized her spice bottles. But you can clean out those who’ve crossed the line into adulthood: those 20 year old babies you’ve had since you got married, divorced, remarried. And stock yourself with everything fresh you need for just about everything you might want to make. After all, there’s nothing that kills the mood more than having to get dressed and make a run to the store (of course, I’m talking about cooking). So, like a Girl Scout—be prepared.

This year, I’ll be sharing some of my favorite staples and the corresponding simple uses and recipes for which I keep them stocked. So, ready, set, start restocking!

January staples–canned tomatoes & chicken broth

These are items I always have in stock; especially during fall and winter. In fact, you can pick up those 28 oz. cans of crushed tomatoes on sale for $1 each: a real bargain that goes a long way.

First of all, it is a must for all pasta sauces after you’ve exhausted any supply of summer tomatoes you’ve had frozen. I saute a big of garlic, onion, celery and carrot in a combo of olive oil and butter, then add the crushed tomatoes, a bit of chicken stock and possibly a splash of wine. (one for me, one for the sauce). I also use it for a hearty tomato/beef soup that warms the stomach and soul during the coldest winter days. * recipe below. And those smaller cans of diced tomatoes (especially the fire roasted variety) are a perfect base for salsa—a topping for nachos, which is just perfect for football Sundays or party appetizers.

The chicken stock comes in handy for all my sauces–it just adds flavor, plus for any au jus needs for meat dishes. In a pinch, I may pick up an already store-roasted chicken for dinner one night. Then save the bones and left-over meat for soup the next night. The chicken broth is a perfect base for the soup. But my favorite use of chicken stock in the winter is for Jacques Pepin potatoes. They are super easy and super tasty. *link to recipe below.

You needn’t be a serious cook to do any of these dishes. And cooking is, well creative and a perfect hobby for those long winter days. Now, give this a try some weekend. I guarantee, you’ll love it.

Spicy Tomato Soup

1 lb. ground beef

4 c cubed, peeled potatoes
1 small onion
3 eight oz. cans tomato sauce or one 28 oz. can
4 c. water
2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp. hot pepper sauce

Brown beef and drain. Add potatoes, onion and tomato sauce. Stir in water, salt, pepper and hot pepper sauce. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about an hour until potatoes are tender and soup becomes thickened.


Jacques Pepin Potatoes

If you don’t try anything else new, do give these delicious potatoes a try some cold, winter day. They are as easy as mashed potatoes, with a decadent potato feel. It’s definitely the flavor of chicken broth—and oh, maybe all of the butter.