Cooking Straight out of Your Pantry/Fridge/Freezer

Keeping a well stocked pantry/fridge/freezer is an art, a talent, and a huge time and money saver: when your pantry is well stocked, you can make almost anything, almost any time, without dashing out to the grocery store (god forbid).  Is there any one out there who has so much time on their hands, that going grocery shopping is a welcome diversion any time of any day of the week?  I didn’t think so.  Buy what you need ahead of time, keep your pantry, fridge and freezer stocked with essentials, and then even when you don’t have a plan for dinner, and you don’t have a minute to spare, you have no problem.

A well stocked pantry/freezer/fridge doesn’t need to be pretty or spacious.  It just needs to work for you.  I went online to find some photos of well stocked pantries because I knew that my own pantry was no beauty, but they all looked phony and lame to me.  Little matching containers of spices and labeled canisters filled with flour and sugar are NOT welcome in my pantry.  My pantry may not be photo-ready, but it’s ready to bang out a few dozen delicious meals without flinching.  My “pantry” is in at least three different spots in my house.  I have two double-layer turntables that are pictured above, plus a free-standing pantry that contains the big stuff: 10 pound bags of flour, sugar, gallons of olive oil, vinegar, and paper/foil/plastic goods.  And then there are the countertops and fruit bowls all over the kitchen.  This is what my kitchen looks like right now:



Don’t get all tangled up in thinking that you score points for a pretty pantry, and that if you don’t have chalkboard labels on your herbs, you must be doing it wrong. If you could feed a football team without going to the store tonight, I am confident that your pantry is in better shape than the prettiest picture on the internet.

A well-stocked pantry/fridge and freezer are always a work in progress.  Here’s the trick: keep a running list, at all times, of things you are close to running out of, so that you can re-purchase before you run out.  Plan to shop once per week, at a time that is convenient for you (I like to go really early on Saturday morning or late on Monday night, to avoid the crowds and also to get the best and freshest produce).  This way, when you shop, you’ll replenish your pantry and buy any fresh produce/meats/dairy/bread that you anticipate needing that week.  Add to your list all of the things that are in all of your favorite dishes, so that if the mood strikes and you must have that go-to flavor, you can whip it up without worrying about shopping for ingredients.

This means, if you like to cook the things that I like to cook, your “pantry” should contain at least (and not be limited to!) the following:

5 pounds all purpose flour, 5 pounds sugar (powdered, granulated and brown), salt (kosher and table), whole black peppercorns, corn starch, capers, chicken stock, beef stock, soy sauce, worcestershire, sriracha, baking powder, baking soda, vanilla, molasses (yes: if you love gingerbread like I love gingerbread, molasses is a staple), chocolate chips (are you telling me this is not a necessity? pshaw), light corn syrup, honey, maple syrup, rolled oats, seasoned bread crumbs, garlic powder, ground ginger, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, oregano, basil, rosemary, sage, thyme, crushed red pepper flakes, olive oil, red wine vinegar, cider vinegar, dijon mustard, sundried tomatoes, dehydrated mushrooms, canned tomatoes (the more variety, the better), tomato paste, fresh onions, lemons, carrots, celery, parsley, garlic and ginger root, milk, heavy cream, butter (5 pounds), eggs, grated pecorino or parmesan, shredded mozzarella and cheddar (I keep huge bags in the freezer), sour cream, greek yogurt, cream cheese, dried pasta (long and short and tiny for soup), rice (brown and white) pearled barley, lentils, garbanzo beans, chopped walnuts, slivered almonds, polenta and yeast.

In the freezer, you’ll want to keep your favorites: a few chicken cutlets/breasts/thighs, a couple of pork loin, maybe some steak tips, bacon, a couple of pounds of ground beef, coffee, vodka, a couple dozen ravioli and I like to have two or three loaves of crusty bread.  I’ll keep adding to this post as I think of things I have left off this list.  But that will cover a lot of ground.  With these things, you are pretty much in business for any meal or recipe that exists, in my repertoire, anyway.  What you don’t have can be substituted for or done without.  Now let’s get cooking!

Gingerbread, King of Cakes


When you find yourself inside a snow globe, there is one thing to do: make gingerbread.  This recipe will transport you to gingerbread heaven and will make you realize why gingerbread is truly the King of Cakes.

Roasted Eggplant, Poblano & Garlic Marinara

The triumphant tomato takes a back seat in this dish, while our eggplant, poblano and garlic trio team up to steal the show.  I love to add this sauce into the rotation in the winter months: the roasting process will fill your kitchen and your home with warmth (not to mention a savory aroma sent from heaven), this thick, rich sauce will cling to pasta and fill your belly and family with nutrient-packed goodness, and this sauce allows you to go meatless without missing the meat for a minute.

Mushroom Beef Barley Soup

Mushroom Beef Barley Soup is hearty, it’s healthy, and it is the ideal use for that leftover Christmas roast you have been reheating for the past week.  This recipe is going to pre-suppose that you have already cooked your beef and are using it up in this soup.  Send me a comment if you’d like tips on how to cook your beef from scratch for this dish.  And, of course, if you don’t want to use beef at all, leave it out!  This soup can be just as hearty and delicious when prepared vegetarian-style… just use vegetable or mushroom stock in place of the beef stock, and you’re in business.

Italian Wedding Soup

By popular request, here’s my version of the famous Italian Wedding Soup… which is really just chicken soup with little meatballs and escarole. Which, if you grew up Italian, was the only way you ever ate chicken soup, so it’s funny now to call it something else… but there it is.  Mangia!  

Merry Christmas!


Well, we did it.  Another Christmas in the books.  And now it’s time to put it on the blog.  We’ll talk about the fishes of Christmas Eve in another post.  Today, we’re going to talk about one of my favorite menus of the year: my traditional Christmas Day Menu.  I think the thing I enjoy the most about this menu is that it can be prepared entirely in advance, up to a week ahead of time, except for the roast, which takes almost no preparation at all.  And, as is the case on any occasion on which you are making a roast, you get to enjoy that heavenly aroma as it fills your home and entices your appetite all day long, and then take in the credit as though you had anything to do with the magic that happened in the oven while you were relaxing, visiting with family and friends, chatting and lounging.  This menu is hearty and vibrant, fresh and filled with happy colors and textures, satisfying, simple and easy, yet has enough special touches to be worthy of a holiday like Christmas.

Credit for this menu goes to two people: Bobby Flay, whom I assume you all know, and Eric Hammond, a great friend and terrific amateur chef with whom I’ve been honored to swap tricks over the years.  You haven’t lived until you’ve had his Caesar salad.


(Click on the blue words to link to recipes!)

Vidalia Onion Soup with Blistered Cheddar Cheese and Fresh Parsley Pesto


Herb Crusted Standing Rib Roast


Mashed Potatoes (I forgot to take a picture of them, but they were fantastic!  All credit goes to my amazing sister, Maria, who makes the best mashed potatoes EVER.  And maybe she will share her secrets here one day soon!)

Christmas Salad 


Warm Gingerbread Cake with Cinnamon Frosting


From our kitchen to yours: Mangia! Have a happy and healthy holiday season and a delicious new year!


Tuesday Night Risotto

Everybody needs a quick and satisfying, go-to risotto recipe that can be easily thrown together (much to the amazement of your grateful family) and plopped on a plate next to some pork chops or chicken breast or whatever you have in your freezer.  Here’s mine.  It’s not fancy, but boy is it good.  Please don’t be intimidated by risotto.  Better cooks than I will tell you it’s tricky and give all kinds of specific instructions, but honestly, this recipe will keep your fans happy and coming back for more.  Use what you have.  I happened to have a head of fennel and a leek (leftover from Thanksgiving) in my fridge.  This recipe would work with onions instead of or in addition to leek, and you can give or take the fennel.  I happen to love it, but if you don’t, leave it out, and you won’t miss it.  Don’t leave out the love, though, and by that, I mean: be prepared to stand by and stir for the entire 25-30 minutes it takes to cook this creamy wonder of a rice dish.  This recipe calls for about 1/2 bottle of white wine, so you might as well pour yourself a glass and sip while you stir, since you’ll be “stuck” with half a bottle to chill/store, otherwise.  If you put in the work, this dish will love you right back.  And again for lunch on Wednesday.


Cranberry-Pignoli Oatmeal Muffins

I just invented this recipe an hour ago.  I woke up in a NyQuil induced haze (it turns out that I’m not feeling all that well, the day before my 39th birthday), stumbled downstairs on a mission to turn this day around, and out came these muffins.  They are tangy and nutty and not too sweet (my definition of an ideal taste combination). Pour yourself a cup of dark roast coffee, heavy on the steamed whole milk, and whip these up for breakfast.  They will treat you right.


Basic Red Sauce, Part I (Marinara)

This is the Life Force.  “It’s medicinal,” my mother says.  She is right.  My cousin, Melissa, calls it “gravy.”  My brothers call it “sugu.”  We Lindquists call it, “red sauce,” (and if you’re my stepson, you insist that it’s “soup” and drink it from a thermos), but that’s just to distinguish it from “bolognese,” “meat sauce,” “summer sauce,” and from my Grandma Lanzafame’s sauce and from my Nonny Calvano’s sauce and from my own mother’s sauce…  You can see why this is only Part I. There is a lifetime of sauce about which to blog.  This is the most basic version and I entreat you to start your own sauce-making journey right here.  But before we begin, we have to talk tomatoes.


If you are serious about your sauce, and I daresay you are or you wouldn’t be reading this, you are going to want to think about canning your own tomatoes.  There just isn’t any other way to capture the true August-vine-ripened essence of the Fruit of the Gods.


This is my Elizabeth and my sister, Susanne, who comprised 2/5 of the canning team in 2015, pictured here with the product, as my mom would say.


I think we canned over 80 quarts that year.  We are going to have to talk about the canning process in another post, on another day, because it’s JUST TOO MUCH to cover in one post about basic red sauce.  But it had to be mentioned.

For now let’s just agree that when my recipes call for several quarts of canned tomatoes, you are going to know that you need to substitute cans of store-bought stewed, crushed, or whole peeled tomatoes.  Don’t worry.  I do it too, when I run out of the real stuff.  I don’t think my Scandinavian family can distinguish… yet.  But I can, and you will too, once you get hooked on the good stuff.  Anyway, this recipe is good and simple enough to make up for most sins, it will literally “cure whatever ails you,” and should result in a consistent and pleasing enough result to keep you out of the bottled sauce aisle, permanently.  Mangia!



Soft Molasses Ginger Cookies

My favorite winter cookies, these soft molasses ginger bites are perfection when paired with a big, hot cup of peppermint tea.