Have you ever been in a situation where you had some friends stop by unexpectedly and you wanted to offer something with drinks but you didn't have much in your pantry or fridge? Are you tired of buying dinner out or eating fast food instead of making something more nutritious for yourself and family? In today's busy world and hectic schedules, we all have time constraints. I think that we can all agree however, that the thought of a home cooked meal could be a good thing. This can be a reality with some organization. I have compiled a list of pantry items which are great staples to always have on hand. On days when we cannot stop by the supermarket before getting home; we can still manage to make something quick, nourishing and wholesome. In addition, I have offered a few tips for organizing your kitchen time for faster preparation with the help of a few time savers.
I have divided my list into 3 parts: pantry storage, refrigerator, and freezer. These are guidelines for items which I always find useful to have at my house. I am assured that at a moments notice I can be ready for the unexpected.
Pasta: spaghetti, penne, fusilli or any of your favorites
A few cans of Roma tomatoes, whole & peeled
Good olive oil
Vegetable or canola oil
Rice: white or brown or quinoa
Garbanzo beans or black beans, canned
A few cans or boxes of chicken stock or vegetable stock
Vinegar: white, balsamic or apple cider
Soy sauce & Worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper
A few cans of tuna
Dijon mustard & yellow mustard
Hot sauce: Caribbean style, Sriracha or Tabasco
Baking powder & Baking soda
Dried fruit: raisins, cranberries, apricots
Nuts: peanuts, almonds, cashews, pecans, walnuts
Tortilla chips, potato chips
A bottle of jam ( your choice)
Dried spices: garlic, basil or Italian, cumin, pepper flakes
Cheese: Cheddar, Parmesan, cream cheese, pepper jack
A few cans of evaporated milk ( a great help when you are short of fresh milk)
Yoghurt, Greek, plain
Lemons or limes
Fresh fruit : Apples, grapes ( these last a long while)
Onions, white and red
Potatoes & carrots
Frozen peas, frozen spinach
Italian sausages or Bratwurst
Chicken breast or thighs
Bread: baguettes, small dinner rolls, sliced bread
You can make some quick hors d'oeuvres with cream cheese. This is a versatile ingredient and can be used to make dips and spreads. Cream cheese goes well with salsa and can be served with chips or on crackers. Sauté chopped onion, garlic and tomatoes. Add a can of drained tuna, lemon or lime juice and a dash of hot pepper sauce. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve over a half block of cream cheese. Serve with crackers or toast slices.
A quick fruit and nut bowl can be made mixing dried fruit and nuts. If you have any pretzels on hand, you can also add a packet to the mix.
A fruit & cheese plate can be made with some cubes of cheddar, pepper jack, Brie or goat cheese. Arrange olives, whole almonds or walnuts and any dried or fresh fruit (dates or apricots or grapes, berries or apple slices) to a pretty platter. A lovely addition is also some fruit jam or preserves and even a drizzle of honey. Voila… your guests will be delighted.
Crudités can be quickly made from carrot sticks, celery, broccoli and cucumbers and served with a dressing of yoghurt. The plain yoghurt can be jazzed up by adding some chopped parsley, Dijon mustard, crushed garlic, salt and pepper.
Garbanzo beans can be made into a quick hummus. Blend a can of beans and a clove of garlic Add lemon juice, salt and pepper. Traditionally tahini is used in hummus, but if you do not have that on hand, add a tablespoon of peanut butter and some olive oil. If you have some ground cumin, definitely add a pinch. Serve with pita chips, crackers or crudités.
Grilled cheese sandwiches are also easy, hearty and highly appreciated!
Marinara sauce: A can of whole tomatoes or crushed tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, onion, sugar, wine, basil, oregano, red pepper flakes and sugar. Cook together for 20 minutes.You may add sautéed sausages or chicken breast and serve with your favorite pasta and the tomato sauce.
A few fresh elements incorporated to a can or bottle of spaghetti sauce can elevate a humble sauce. Fresh herbs like basil, parsley, some red wine, pepper flakes a bit of sugar will make it taste spectacular. An Alfredo sauce can be whipped up quickly with bacon, garlic, heavy cream and parsley. Serve with grated Parmesan and lots of fresh black pepper. If you'd like, you may add frozen peas or sliced mushrooms.
For a delicious Mac 'n cheese, prepare a bechamel by cooking a tbsp flour and 2 tbsp butter. Add 2 cups milk and 1 cup grated cheddar, 1/2 cup American cheese, mustard, 2 tbsp grated onion, salt and pepper to taste. Mix in cooked penne or macaroni. Sprinkle with extra cheese. Bake in an ovenproof dish for 20 minutes. Cooked bacon, cubes of cooked sausage or chicken can complete this to make a one dish meal.
Great vegetarian salads can be made with quinoa, vegetables such as red onions, tomatoes, cucumbers and fresh herbs. A fresh salad I enjoy is made with dried fruit, ( apricot pieces, dates or oranges) red onions, parsley. Serve with a lemon vinaigrette: olive oil, lemon, salt and black pepper. Perfect as a side dish with grilled meat.
Eggs are a great and versatile ingredient. Omelettes come together quickly and can be eaten at anytime of the day or night. Pancakes are also mixed readily with eggs, milk, flour and baking powder. Boiled eggs are wonderful for salads.
Another very effective thing is preparing ingredients before hand and freezing them for later use. I do this often and helps me out in so many situations. Cook and season ground meat and freeze it in batches. This can be quickly thawed , reheated and seasonings adjusted for use in tacos or quesadillas. I make batches of Spaghetti bolognaise sauce and chile con carne. They are very useful quick ready made meals.
I freeze bags of bread for use during the week. Sandwiches are a staple for work and school and I do not have the time to go to the supermarket or bakery everyday. I buy fresh bread and freeze once I get home. When I need it, I can defrost for 15 minutes at room temperature or reheat in an oven like fresh bread. This also always me to be able to consume different breads without wasting. I only thaw what I need.
Butter and grated cheeses freeze well and can be defrosted to room temperature in about 15 minutes. Never freeze cream cheese, yoghurt or sour cream. The texture and consistency will never be the same after it defrosts.
Chicken pieces can be seasoned and frozen in portion packets. If you plan on cooking chicken that evening, remove a seasoned pack in the morning and leave in the lower part of the fridge until you get home. A chicken stew with potatoes and carrots or baked or grill chicken pieces all can be achieved in about 30 minutes cooking time.
If rice is a staple at your home, a rice cooker is an excellent acquisition. Rinse your rice and measure the water required. Plug it in and forget about it while you work on another dish. When it's done it will stop on its own and remain warm. No more burnt rice!
Fresh herbs such as parsley, green onions, and cilantro may be washed and cleaned. Chop in small pieces and freeze them in ziploc bags. An economical way to freeze at their peak for use later. I love this huge time saver. Whenever I need some chopped herbs, I just take some from the freezer bag and add to my recipe. If you have lots of basil, make pesto and keep refrigerated for use in pasta sauces.
I have a recipe for an all purpose green seasoning which saves me so much time and effort. It is a delicious mix of herbs for seasoning meats and a good base for a rice and beans. Recipe available in a previous blog post. I also really find that a huge time saver is crushing or grating several heads of garlic. Afterwards, I place in a jar and cover with olive oil and refrigerate. When I need to sauté or season meat, I already have my crushed garlic on hand.
Grate large pieces of cheese, label and keep in freezer bags for use in bechamal cheese sauces, omlettes and quesadillas or tacos.
I hope that you find these tips useful and encourage you to plan ahead for your next major supermarket trip. It's worth it to have a pantry, fridge and freezer stocked with items which will make life easier on a daily basis. Recipes are available on previous posts of Guyanese Girl Haitian Soul.