For years now I’ve been following a little tip when shopping to help expand my experience in the kitchen and food knowledge. This is a very simple exercise you will learn so much from. Want to hear it? You should try it! Here it is:
- Everytime you go shopping pick up something different, something you’ve never used before or heard about. Just one. Go home and research it and try and find a recipe to use it in.
Jumping around in the blogosphere I noticed many people don’t know what to keep stocked in a pantry, or are asking for a nice list to reference. In particular, inexpensive products and ingredients you should always have on hand to make hundreds varieties of recipes and transform basic foods into something you can be proud of. Not to mention, consuming the food with even greater satisfaction. So, I’m going to list my top ingredients I think you should have in your pantries at any given time. Any mix will do, you don’t need the whole list.
- Onions (Very inexpensive and can be put in almost anything)
- Tomatillos & Tomatoes
- Garlic (Very inexpensive and can be put in almost anything, has great health benefits)
- Orange/Lemons/Limes (Offers great taste you can put in many things to add a punch of flavor. And, the most important thing about them- the zest from the peel. They can be frozen after you juice them to use the peel later)
- Bananas & Plantains
- Sweet Potatos
- Vinegar (Red Wine Vinegar, Balsamic Vinegar, Sherry Vinegar, Rice Wine Vinegar, etc…they can be used in many dishes as the ‘acid’ to add flavor, and they come flavored)
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil (A must in the kitchen. You can find large bottles that won’t break the bank and they will last you a very long time. There is no need to be cooking with vegetable oils or butter.
- Dried whole wheat pasta (Tons to choose from)
- Beans! My favorite, and very inexpensive and so many to pick from. Dried bags are very inexpenive as well as canned. Beans I most often buy are: Northern, Butter, Garbonzo, Dark & Light Kidney, Lima, Black, Lentils
- Rice & Grains (Tons to pick from and will last you months. I keep mine in the refrigerator once I open the bag. And I’m not talking about instant rices or rices you can cook in 3 minutes, stay away from those. I buy Lundberg Rices and higher quailty brown rices. I’m taking about genuine grains: Barley, Quinoa, Bulgur)
- Herbs (Generally I stay away from dry herbs because they add little taste to a meal, but there is really no choice during the winter unless you order it from somewhere. You can freeze fresh herbs. Small mixed packages can be found for $2 now and each one will add great flavor to many dishes.) I always have: Garlic, Oregano/Parsely/Basil/Thyme blend (Italian blend), Cayenne, Cumin, Curry, Cinnamin, Cloves, Ginger, Allspice, Nutmeg, Variety of Salts, Pepper, Chili Powder, Cream of Tarter
- Fruit! (You can purchase fruit- whatever you can afford and eat it plain or put it in so many dishes and desserts during the week, sweet or savory. )
- Nuts! (There are an abudance of nuts that can be purchased now very inexpensively. Small little baking packages as well as larger bags can be found in the baking aisle. The good ones to eat that offer great health benefits are of course almonds & walnuts)
- Frozen veggies ( The Steamfresh packs are insanely good. Some of them are so fresh and tasty eating a bag of veggies is like a dessert. I’ve seen them for $2 a bag containing several servings and great sale prices!)
- Raisins (So cheap, and can be thrown into many dishes or eaten as a snack)
- Oatmeal (Inexpensive, insanely good for you (not the instant kind) and will last several weeks)
- Parsely (Inexpensive and you can add it to almost any dish)
- Cilantro (Fairly inexpensive and you can add it to anything, breakfast in the morning, a pesto, mexican dishes and other dinner dishes)
- Kosher Salt & Sea Salt (Not too bad on price, seeing that a box or container will last you almost an entire year. Kosher Salt and Sea Salt taste better and have bigger grains you can see and will use less of. )
These ingredients cost a tad bit more, but nevertheless, more options & taste if you can afford it here and there:
- Dried Fruit (Fairly inexpensive and you can put it in many dishes)
- Mushrooms (Fairly inexpensive and the higher quality ones can be found on sale)
- Capers, anchovies
- Wine (even a $5 bottle of wine will add huge taste to a dish)
- Gourmet cheeses (prefereably from overseas, higher quality. Goat cheese & Feta are probably the least expensive ones. You can find them for $3 – $5 and will last longer than a bag of processed cheese. You use less becasue the taste and quality is so much higher. Other cheeses like gruyere, gorgonzola, blue, gouda, asiago, ricotta, romano, parmigiano reggiano to name the ones I frequently purchase when I have the extra dough. Also, I have found if you shop at smaller “organic shops”, “Speciality shops”, there gourmet cheese are HALF the price when compared to your local grocer. For example I got a huge chunk of jalapeno gouda from overseas for $2.50 and last week a huge chunck of parmigiano reggiano from overseas for $3! Usually you would pay upwards of $6 for that same block in your local grocer)
- Smoked Salmon
- Pineapple, Mango
TIPS ON STORING FRUITS AND VEGETABLES
It seems many people try and eat better and buy all these new things only to have them rot or not taste good becasue they don’t know how to store them. This is unfortunate, so a quick list of what to do with certain ingredients.
Fruit - I rarely put fruit in the refrigerator. Fruit doesn’t necessarily have to ever go into the fridge unless it’s on it’s last legs or you seem to like eating your fruit semi frozen:) Fruit needs to ripen at room temperature usually for a couple days before eating. When you buy it from the grocery store chances are the piece of fruit is rock hard. It has to ripen and develop it’s flavors on the counter- not in the refrigerator. I have several inexpensive bowls I throw all my fruits and veggies in to ripen, and it’s a really nice accent in your home.
Apples – I keep them on the counter always and usually they last almost two weeks sometimes. I usually wait at least 2 days before eating them, they will get sweeter and sweeter the longer they sit. You do need to watch them though, once they ripen (3-4 days) depending on the humidity in your home they might need to head to the fridge. I have never had this problem though, my apples never see a fridge.
Bananas – Bananas never see a fridge either, you can tell if they are going fast. The only time they go in the fridge is when for some reason they weren’t eaten during the week and they are dark and I want to make a bread from them.
Lemons/Oranges – They never see a fridge either. They stay on the counter so they get nice and ripe and juicy. Ever try and juice a lemon for dish while it’s been in the fridge? Good luck having that work out.
Pineapples/ Mangos/ Peaches/ Nectarines/ Plums – Counter! Unless you haven’t eaten them and they develop soft spots.
Strawberries/Blueberries/Raspberries/Blackberries – These are a much different story. They have to be kept in their container with the air holes in your refrigerator in the open. They can’t go into a box or crisper, they need air and usually last a week.
Vegetables purchased seperately need to stay on the counter also to ripen. Especially things like butternut and acorn squashes. They usually will last almost two weeks if for some reason I don’t get to them. But, you gotta watch them. Things such as zucchini, yellow squash, cucumbers, eggplant need to stay on the counter also to ripen to their taste expectations, but will only last several days on the counter before they start developing soft spots. They will then last a long time in your refrigerator.
Mushrooms. Everyone knows you do not wash mushrooms in water. They are like little sponges, just wipe off dirt with a papertowel or shake them up in a colander quickly. They also need to stay in those packages with the holes, once opened they HAVE to go in an airtight container. Preferably glass.
Peppers – Need to be kept in the fridge. In bags with plenty of air in the crisper, or an airtight glass container.
Onions. Onions are fine down in a crisper in the open box. Or they can be kept in the bag, untied! Never tie your bags with ingredients in them, that will keep moisture in and begin the rot/mold process. If you buy herbs and onions and potatoes this way, I always throw them in the bag and never tie them. If you don’t want your refrigerator dirty, like me, you can keep them in the bags but keep them open and very loose. They need air.
Herbs. Especially fresh herbs found in bunches, if they have to stay in the bags for several days, make sure the bags are in the crisper and very open and loose. Same thing for spinach bunches, kale, collards etc.. Often I will tear holes in the bags for more oxygen to the ingredients so little moisture develops and keep them in the crisper. They do better with less air, these types of ingredients should not be kept in the open refrigerator in bags, they will not last. Where there is moisture rot and mold will begin. Once they are used though they need to go into an airtight container, preferably glass. Ziploc bags also work. Same with those little plastic packages of herbs you buy, that’s too much air and they will go quickly. It’s smart to put those directly into an airtight container, preferably glass, otherwise your little spurlge will go into the trash.
Kitchen Shortcuts & Tips
Ever roasted garlic? It’s easy. Put a huge piece of garlic on a piece of foil, pour some olive oil on top and close foil tightly so air can’t get in. Roast in oven on high heat, 400 degrees for maybe 20-30 minutes.
Kitchen Shears. Invest in a good pair of scissors for the kitchen only. You can use them to cut up things instead of making room on a cutting board to shop it.
I used scissors to quickly cut slices of deli meat for this pizza. I’ve even used scissors to but pita pieces into slices!