By Health Editor
March 30, 2011

I really believe that a well-stocked pantry is the key to making home-cooked meals. Some weeks my pantry is better stocked than others, but there are five items that I am never without:  pasta, tomato sauce, canned beans, balsamic vinegar, and peanut butter.  I typically don't use these ingredients all at the same time, although I guess that might be an interesting pantry challenge!   

Pasta is the most versatile of these ingredients and when the pantry is not so well stocked,  some pasta tossed with a little salt, pepper, and butter is a very satisfying meal.  And it's even better if I happen to have Parmesan cheese in the refrigerator. 

I often add tomato sauce or a jarred pasta sauce to the pasta, but I also spoon it on top of chicken, pork chops or fish, bake, and top with herbs or Parmesan cheese. (Perhaps I should have added Parmesan cheese to my list!)   

Black beans are my favorite kind of bean, but I also like to have pinto, kidney and cannellini beans on hand to make salads and soups.  I have been on a number of trips to Central and South American and am very fond of black beans and rice.  Not only is is a hearty and filling meal, but it's also very cheap.

I like to use all kinds of vinegars in cooking, but my go-to vinegar is balsamic.  I splash a bit on my salads and grilled veggies, use it in marinades, and also love to deglaze the pan with vinegar and broth and make a sauce for pork or chicken.  The rich, sweet flavor of balsamic vinegar is hard for me to resist.

And my fall-back ingredient is peanut butter.  Occasionallly I do use it in recipes such as a satay or a Thai dish, but mostly I put it on toast or waffles for breakfast,  whole wheat bread for lunch, and on crackers for a snack. OK, I'll confess: sometimes I just eat it right out of the jar.   

I would love to hear what ingredients you can't live without.  Maybe I need to add some to my list.