This week I got home from a friend's house, it was drizzling out, and I had "nothing" to make for dinner (or so I thought). So, I began opening up my cabinets to see what I had that could be thrown together for a nutritious and fairly quick dinner.
My eyes were immediately drawn to a box of orzo and since it was raining and icky out I thought pasta could be comforting. I looked at my canned goods and saw garbanzo beans and chicken broth. I knew I could whip something together...pasta and beans are a natural pair. So I made a sort of blended pasta e fagioli (with garbanzos in place of white or cannelini beans) using only items that I had on hand. It was yummy and only took about 30 minutes to whip together.
For singles, couples or family dining, it is a great idea to keep your pantry stocked with items that you can throw together - it really makes life easier when you just don't feel like going to the grocery store. Having a selection of canned, boxed, jarred and long lasting refrigerated items on hand can make life simple and can help you make satisfying, quick meals.
I recommend going through your cabinets now, check for expired items and throw them away. Then print a list of items from those below and shop. Keep these items in stock and replenish them as needed. Obviously don't include items you don't like (for me that would be sardines) or don't eat very often and buy more of those items that you use regularly (low sodium chicken broth, olive oil, canned diced tomatoes for me).
Beans: An assortment of canned (white, garbanzo, black) and dry. You can also use the dried beans to help weigh down a pie crust when par-baking!
Oils: Vegetable or canola, sesame and olive oils. Consider buying a spray bottle to add your own olive oil to (instead of buying those already canned and very expensive per oz).
Mustard: Jarred Dijon or whole grain and dry (dry mustard adds a nice touch to macaroni and cheese!)
Pasta: Assorted sizes and grains (whole grain, whole wheat, and even gluten free rice pasta are available now).
Rice/grains: Arborio for risotto, white/brown and whole grain for easy side dishes. Also couscous, quinoa and barley for soups and hot or cold side dishes.
Sugar: Brown (sealed tight so it doesn't become a rock), white, confectioners and agave and/or stevia (for those not using true sugar sweeteners)
Honey: to add to hot tea, Asian stir-fry and in place of sugar in some recipes
Canned tomatoes: whole San Marzano's or Italian plum tomatoes for marinara, paste (for thick and rich sauces), diced (no salt added) for a quick sauce to serve over spaghetti squash, fire roasted for zing
Dried and fresh herbs: I have just about every herb known to man in my cabinet, it's important to smell and taste them every few months to make sure they still taste the way you should. I also buy and grow fresh herbs. I wash, trim and freeze them in freezer bags (labeled!) for future use. Trader Joe's also sells Dorot frozen cubed herbs like cilantro and basil that I keep on hand. These are a life saver!
Onions, garlic and shallots: I use one or more of these in most meals. Keep them in a cool dry place and they will last a while.
Flour: If you bake a lot consider buying bread or cake flours but an all purpose flour should do well in most cases. The regular grocery store has an array of different flours available these days from rye to whole wheat to gluten free flours.
Sauces: Low sodium soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, hot sauce (like Cholula or Tabasco), Worcestershire (I mix this with ground turkey, egg, bread crumbs, salt and pepper for a great flavor!). Any of these sauces can add more flavor to your dishes.
Broths/Stocks: I keep vegetable and chicken stock on hand either home made and frozen in easy to defrost containers, or bought from the store (low sodium!) and kept in my pantry. Use for soups, gravy, basting...
Nuts: I always have raw almonds in my cabinet, they can be used as a quick snack, can be ground into almond flour for baking, chopped for cookies and browned with brown sugar and butter with other nuts and herbs for a party snack. I also like to have walnuts (for salads) and pine nuts (for pesto).
Vinegars: I have white, apple cider, champagne and good balsamic. Rice wine is also a good one for Asian dishes. Balsamic can be reduced for a gorgeous thick sauce to put over meats, fish and even strawberries!
Baking supplies: Baking powder and soda, chocolate, dry yeast, various extracts and sea salt are all must haves for me, but leave these out if you aren't a baker.
Frozen items: I always have a bag of frozen, uncooked large shrimp in my freezer that I can thaw quickly to make a stir fry or shrimp tacos. I also keep frozen corn, peas and fruits for smoothies. Butter also freezes well. I buy lots of sweet cream butter when it's on sale and throw it in my freezer.
Other items to consider, depending on your taste and what kind of food you enjoy cooking: olives, anchovies, jarred artichokes, jarred red peppers, capers, clam juice, ketchup, maple syrup, vanilla extract, corn meal...
What are some of your favorite items that I might have left off the list? Feel free to share with us here!
Chow for now! :)