5 Things I Never Thought I’d Have in My Pantry


12 Apr 5 Things I Never Thought I’d Have in My Pantry


Can you keep a secret? After going on and on about Homemade This and From-Scratch That, I’ve come to realize there is a spot for convenience foods in my life and in my cupboard. While I prefer fresh to tinned, homemade to reconstituted, the food snob in me has learned to make concessions. I just don’t usually broadcast them for fear that fessing up will get me banned from the culinary section of the Internet — or at least pelted with organic heirloom tomatoes.

While the following items are to food what K-Mart is to fashion, they do the trick — under specific circumstances. So here is my culinary confession. My pantry contains the following non-artisan, non-organic, far-from-fresh items. And I’m not about to give them up.

1. Instant coffee

What I use it for: Chocolate Mousse. Chocolate Cake.
Why: It makes chocolate taste more intense.
What I don’t use it for: Coffee.

2. Instant Tapioca

What I use it for: Best Raspberry Pie Ever. Capital letters earned.
Why: Raspberry Pie isn’t answer enough? Okay, it helps set the filling without using so much sugar you can’t taste the raspberries or so much flour it gets pasty.
What I don’t use it for: Pudding. Fish eyes. Ick.

3. Shortening:

What I use it for: The odd rolled cookie recipe and fool-proof pastry (although I am now a hardcore, butter-only pate sucree fan).
Why: It’s a vegan/non-dairy substitute for butter or lard for pastry. It also makes cookies crisp, which now and again is the goal.
What I  don’t use it for:
Cakes or  frying.

4. Corn Syrup:

What I use it for: Caramel corn and pecan pie.
Why: Don’t panic. This isn’t the same as the scary high-fructose stuff that manufacturers use. I’m talking the old-fashioned grocery store kind. It’s less sweet than sugar and when cooked, helps produce a smooth texture.
What I don’t use it for: Pancake or waffles topping. That’s what maple syrup is for.

5. Red food colouring:

What I use it for: Pink Angels Squares and other iced goodies for special occasions. But just a few drops.
Why: Sometimes you just have to be whimsical.
What I don’t use it for: Red Velvet cake. No one needs to consume a whole bottle of this stuff.

Okay, so now that I’ve aired my dirty culinary laundry, what items in your pantry do you consider hiding when food snobs come to visit? Tell me what you use it for and why. It’s okay. You’re among friends.

Photo © jinterwas. Published under a Creative Commons License.


  • terry
    Posted at 09:31h, 12 April Reply

    What I use it for: Hubbie’s coffee on the rare occasion when I’ve let us run out of cream.
    Why? To keep the poor man from crying.
    What I don’t use it for: MY coffee, lol.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 20:13h, 12 April Reply

      I’d file this one under self-preservation. I heartily approve of your reasoning — and your clearly drawn line. Kudos.

  • Connie
    Posted at 11:19h, 12 April Reply

    Oh dear, I have instant coffee (same use as yours), corn syrup (I add a little to the cinnamon roll filling to make it sticky) and red food coloring in my pantry. You’re right, one should have to consume a full bottle of coloring. I do make red velvet cake, though, but never for me. I only make it when someone requests it for his/her birthday.

    Cake Mix and Frosting in a can
    What I use it for: Quick cakes
    Why: Just in case I need something to take somewhere at the last minute!

    I do try to doctor it up with a little more vanilla, melted butter instead oil and milk instead of water.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 20:16h, 12 April Reply

      At least you make the effort, and bonus points for kicking things up a notch. Pure vanilla, right? :-)

      Confession: If I don’t have time to bake, I will pick something up at the bakery. No bonus points for this.

  • NS Foster
    Posted at 12:30h, 12 April Reply

    Omigosh! I have corn syrup! And it completely IS for waffles! (I’m sorry, I grew up with this; we never had maple–maple syrup was actually a strange taste adjustment when I started cooking with it later in life.)

    Uhm, that’s all I got. Mentions of corn syrup just amuse me.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 20:17h, 12 April Reply

      As a kid, I would have killed to put corn syrup on my pancakes. Funny how our childhoods affect us in later life.

      I wasn’t a huge maple syrup fan until later in life. Now? Love it.

  • Sheryl
    Posted at 12:37h, 12 April Reply

    Guilty of:
    Instant coffee, for: coffee-flavoured cookies, coffee truffles, seekrit ingredient in chili

    Corn syrup, for: cooked fondant for candies (peppermint patties), dipping popcorn in (screw caramel)

    Red dye, for: same as Charmian. Yay, made from bugs!

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 20:19h, 12 April Reply

      You put instant coffee in chili? I’m intrigued. I’ll have to try it.

      And I agree, corn syrup is good for candies, although I never tried dipping popcorn in it…. until now…

  • Jill Silverman Hough
    Posted at 13:14h, 12 April Reply

    Yay you for your “confession.” We all buy plenty of convenience foods, when you think about it. I mean – do you make your own bread? Or cheese? Well, maybe sometimes, for fun, but not always…

    My confession – things in cans. I want the richness of tomatoes in my wintry braises, and I’d rather have canned than fresh in January, thank you very much. I also keep canned soup on hand – if I get hit with a cold, I want chicken soup, and I don’t want to make it myself.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 20:21h, 12 April Reply

      Tinned tomatoes are perfectly acceptable to me, although I try to preserve my own (in the freezer). Tinned soup is one item I haven’t bought in years, but I can definitely see your point. When you need it the most, you’re too sick to make it.

  • Maggie
    Posted at 20:08h, 12 April Reply

    I confess that I have Cheezwhiz. For toast in the morning. So there.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 20:23h, 12 April Reply

      A bold confession! Very brave. You might be dodging tomatoes, but at least they pair well with cheese and toast :-)

  • Sally - My Custard Pie
    Posted at 02:13h, 13 April Reply

    Agree totally about red velvet cake – no way am I ever eating one or making one!
    I came out publicly and admitted to having instant mashed potato granules in my cupboard the other day. It’s all Nigella Lawson’s fault – there is a great potato cakes recipe in Express.
    I use golden syrup for cakes and biscuits (cookies) – not sure if this is the same as corn syrup but I love it (we used to have in on porridge as children).
    Baked beans and HP sauce. Homemade is nice but…..!

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 11:47h, 14 April Reply

      Well, as long as you aren’t using the potato flakes for mashed potatoes…

      And I think golden syrup is an exception since it’s British and there exotic and rare — right?

      Thanks for opening your cupboard for us.

  • Lisa MacColl
    Posted at 20:06h, 13 April Reply

    Pancake mix in box…why? I have a 6 year old kid who loves pancakes. I can make her a kid sized version. What I never use it for? My own meal. I loath mix-pancakes.
    Instant coffee. Guilty as charged, but it is necessary for cafe de leche cheesecake. I never, ever drink instant coffee. I’d rather just have hot water.
    Corn syrup. Yeah, somewhere in the back of the cupboard. It’s for my grandmother’s brown sugar candy.
    I have already confessed to Cheez whiz on toast…and celery sticks.
    All colours of food colouring. See item 1 above. Also, for many years, the only way my kid would eat scrambled eggs was via something I called a princess egg. Tinted them a pretty colour and served them in a fancy ramekin…needs must and all that.
    Boxed cake mix…We have an easy-bake oven and boxed mixes are cheaper than the ones they try to get you with for the oven, which is exactly the same thing, only in smaller quantities. I’ll do the math and save the money.
    Hanging head in shame now and slinking away.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 11:50h, 14 April Reply

      Cafe de leche cheesecake? Oh, that’s the best excuse I’ve heard yet.

      Interesting use of pancake and cake mix. I hadn’t factored kids’ smaller appetites into the equation.

      And I just LOVE the coloured eggs. My father tried green eggs once, and it bombed, but your princess eggs? Pure genius!

  • Dan @ Casual Kitchen
    Posted at 21:35h, 13 April Reply

    Charmian, I’m glad you have your priorities straight regarding maple syrup!!!

    Dan @ Casual Kitchen

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 11:51h, 14 April Reply

      My priorities are always straight when it come to maple syrup :-) Other foods? Not so much…

  • Monica Bhide
    Posted at 21:38h, 13 April Reply

    I love reading your blog! You are so funny! I have instant coffee as well and LOVE it. :-)

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 11:53h, 14 April Reply

      Thanks, Monica. High praise coming from you.

      Glad to know you have instant coffee in your cupboard, too. Should anyone criticize me for it, I can now say, “Well, Monica Bhide has instant coffee in HER pantry!” and they’ll see the wisdom in this odd culinary purchase.

  • Amy Proulx
    Posted at 08:11h, 15 April Reply

    I think of Pierre Berton’s “Ersatz Food”, where he called instant coffee “What balderdash!”. I have a husband who craved instant coffee during his war years. Now I’m stuck with caseloads of it every time it goes on sale.

    I remember reading Pierre Berton’s recipe as a kid, “How to make instant coffee almost palatable”. One must make ersatz-coffee in a cup of warm milk. It’s worth hearing his rant from over 40 years ago:

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 10:15h, 16 April Reply

      Great link, Amy. You know I love a garden simile. And a “Nation of Morons” is a great phrase, too.

      Thanks for the clip!

  • Mary Ostyn
    Posted at 10:23h, 15 April Reply

    We major in real food at our house, but there are a few holdouts:

    –Instant coffee, used as flavoring in recipes only.

    –Powdered creamer, because I choose to splurge in other areas. And because I splash in way too much real cream if I have it, thus forcing myself to run more miles.

    –Ramen noodles, because my kids adore them with a passion. Except the way I do ramen is better than average: al dente noodles (an art with ramen!) with generous slivers of cabbage, carrot, ginger, garlic, and sauteed chicken. And skip all but one of the seasoning packets. That is proper ramen.

    Here via Casual Kitchen. Nice to ‘meet’ ya!

    Mary, mom to many

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 10:18h, 16 April Reply

      Nice to “meet” you too. Thanks for taking the time to pop over from Dan’s and comment.

      Your ramen noodle jazz-up solutions sounds great.

  • Helene
    Posted at 12:26h, 15 April Reply

    I have to admit that I have 4 of the 5 in my pantry. I kind of like the corn syrup in certain baked goods.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 10:20h, 16 April Reply

      I agree, corn syrup is essential in certain baked goods — a fact I am slowly coming to terms with.

      Which item don’t you stock? I’m guessing food colouring. Am I right?

  • Lorraine
    Posted at 16:41h, 15 April Reply

    Bouillon cubes. I use them in loads of savory recipes that need a little extra oomph: dal, sauces, soups and my version of “homemade” condensed soup–basically, a thick white sauce with minced onion and bouillon cube– for topping meatloaf and such.

    I used to feel guilty, but not after Marco Pierre White declared Knorr bouillon cubes the “…best f***ing ingredient in the world, let’s not kid ourselves…genius product.”

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 10:25h, 16 April Reply

      Great quote, Lorraine! Such a refreshing burst of honesty from someone who has earned the right (and Michelin stars) to be a food snob.

      I gave up bouillon cubes when I started making my own stock, but must admit they do add flavour. I think Knor does a better job than other brands — more flavour, less salt — so will reconsider this for certain dishes. It’s definitely a mental block with me. :-)

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