It occurred to me (at 3 a.m.) that we might have skipped over a very important piece in our pursuit of healthy eating.

It starts in the kitchen cupboard, refrigerator and freezer. Having the right ingredients on hand is the best way to ensure you’ll have everything you need to cook in a pinch. And, you’ll be less likely to reach for nutrient-deficient items (aka junk food) when hungry.

Many of these pantry staples require a little love once opened, and some of them should be stored in the freezer from the onset, if you have space. As with many perishable foods, air is the enemy. Nuts and seeds are in this camp and can quickly go rancid if not stored properly. This applies to whole-grain flours, also.

Oils, vinegars and condiments

Oils: Extra-virgin olive oil, grapeseed oil, walnut oil, sesame oil, unrefined coconut oil

Vinegars: Raw apple cider, red-wine, balsamic, rice

Condiments: Dijon mustard, chili garlic paste, organic tamari sauce (gluten-free version of soy sauce), prepared pesto, salsa, hot sauce, seasonings, sea salt (plus flavored, like lemon/thyme), whole black pepper

Dried herbs and spices: Ground cumin and cumin seeds, cayenne pepper, chili powder, crushed red pepper, rosemary, thyme, oregano, Italian seasoning, tarragon, ground cinnamon, ground ginger, turmeric; vanilla extract; dulse flakes (a salty flavor enhancer made from dried seaweed; nature’s “MSG”); fresh garlic

Canned and bottled goods (look for organic, BPA-free): Canned tomatoes, tomato paste (also in carton/glass), artichoke hearts, reduced-sodium broths, unsweetened applesauce, whole coconut milk, dried or canned beans (cannellini, kidney, black, chickpeas, garbanzo beans; dried beans are the better choice over canned but require more time for cooking), line-caught tuna and wild salmon

Grains and legumes: Assorted whole-grain pasta; brown rice, quinoa, barley, rolled oats, dried lentils

Baking products: Whole-grain flours and whole-wheat pastry flour (store in the refrigerator or freezer); gluten-free flours: rice, quinoa, oat, almond, coconut, millet, buckwheat; aluminum-free baking powder, baking soda, stevia (a sweetener extracted from plant leaves, in dried or liquid form), coconut sugar (tastes like brown but better for you), raw, local honey, pure maple syrup, raw cacao or carob powder, extracts like vanilla, almond, orange, peppermint, silken organic tofu

Nuts, seeds and dried fruit: Organic raw walnuts, almonds, cashews, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower, flax and chia seeds, dried apricots, dates, cranberries, raw almond, peanut or walnut butter

Beverages: Mineral water, green and other herbal teas, coconut water

Freezer basics: Frozen organic fruits – load up in summer from the farmers market; frozen organic vegetables: broccoli, corn, peas, spinach, etc.

Peanut Butter and Brownie Pie

This thick, rich, deep-dish peanut butter cream pie has a fudge brownie crust, made with a surprising (and healthful!) ingredient. Everything here comes right out of your newly stocked pantry. This recipe is vegan and gluten-free.

For the crust:

About 1½ cups cooked black beans (or a 15 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed)

2 Tbsp. almond milk

2 Tbsp. peanut butter

1½ Tbsp. olive oil or melted coconut oil

3 Tbsp. any type flour

1/4 cup dark cocoa

1/2 cup coconut or palm sugar

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. vanilla

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Dash of salt

For the peanut butter cream filling:

24 oz. firm tofu, divided

1½ cups creamy peanut butter, divided (sometimes I substitute almond butter and almond extract, too)

3/4 cup maple syrup or agave, divided

4 Tbsp. olive or melted coconut oil, divided

2 tsp. vanilla, divided

Dash of sea salt (or espresso salt from Whole Spice)

About 1/2 cup cocoa for dusting on top

Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease an 8- by 8-inch baking dish.

Combine the beans, milk, peanut butter and oil in a food processor and process until they’re very smooth. Add the remaining crust ingredients and keep processing until you have a smooth, slightly fluffy dough. Spread or press the dough into the bottom of the pan and bake for 10 minutes. Let the crust cool while you make the peanut butter cream filling.

If you have a large-capacity food processor or blender, just dump everything in there and blend until smooth and creamy, then spread it on the brownie crust. If you don’t, put half of everything in (12 oz. tofu, 3/4 cup peanut butter, etc.) and blend until smooth and creamy. Scrape down the sides as needed. Spread the first round of filling on the crust. Repeat with the rest of the ingredients.

Dust the pie with cocoa using a fine mesh sieve or strainer.

Refrigerate for at least 2-3 hours before slicing. Keep the pie covered in the fridge and try not to eat it before dinner.

Karen would love to hear your queries, comments and cravings at