May 3, 2015

Smarty Cooking School: Staples Part II

My ‘must have’s” and staples…part two J My last blog was all about my pantry must haves, and this week I want to focus on what I always keep on hand in both my fridge and freezer.

You’ll notice that you don’t see any fruits and veggies…what the??? I left those off for a reason.   While I ALWAYS have lots of different fruits and veggies in my fridge, those are things without real “staying” power. In other words, they go bad pretty quickly, so should be used within a couple of days of having purchased them. So while you will always find onions, garlic, peppers, green onions, lemons, limes and cilantro (and I mean, ALWAYS) find them in my fridge…this is more to showcase items that have longer shelf lives that will help you to put a meal on the table without having to run to the grocery store.

Part of my job is to go through my client’s freezers and pantries and try to organize them in a way that they can best utilize the space that they have with items with the most versatility for that families tastes. It doesn’t matter that my family uses a ton of canned beans, because if your family doesn’t eat/like beans…that’s just a waste of money and space. But what ALWAYS gives me angst is when I open a clients freezer and see TONS and TONS of food that has gone bad. Be it freezer burn, expired, or my favorite, “Ummm, what the heck IS that?!!” You know what I’m talking about – that mystery item that’s wrapped in tin foil, NOT labeled and then jammed in a zip lock baggie surrounded by ice crystals. It literally pains me to have to throw all of that food away, but alas, it’s not going to be eaten and it needs to go.

Which reminds me of my favorite Sheyla (my sister) quote, “The most expensive ingredient is the one you throw away.” A-MEN! Who cares that you bought 20 lbs of chicken thighs for $1 lb if you’re not going to use all of it? Unless you invest in a vacuum sealer, it’s going to get freezer burn. Oh, and that cow that you and your neighbors went in on at the farmers market…you know, the deal where you pay a fraction of what you would have paid at the grocery store for like half a cow? Ummm, again…money wasted if all you’re doing is using 1/3 of the meat because your family doesn’t like all of the cuts in that package deal. In some of those instances, your WAAAY better off spending a little bit more, for a little bit less. I know that sounds counterintuitive, but if all you’re going to use is 1 lb of lean ground beef and you paid $6 for it, that was money better spent then the $40 you spent so that you could buy the meat for $2 per lb. Just a thought J but I digress…

Proteins

One “ready made” product that I always have on hand are Perdue Simply Smart chicken breasts/cutlets. If I forgot to take a protein out of the freezer the night before or the morning of, this is a great shortcut for me to get a meal on the table quick! Whether it’s a quick Chicken Parmesan, Chicken Hoagies, or (after a quick slice) chicken strips with Orzo Salad the sky is the limit on this item! I also always have 2 or 3 packages of lean ground beef (I buy mine from Trader Joes – you can’t beat the price and quality on their lean ground beef) on hand. Throw it in the fridge the night before to thaw, and the next day you’ve got chili, burgers, meatballs, picadillo etc… As for chicken breasts, I’m a huge fan of the Fresh Market’s chicken breast, and luckily for me (and you) they are on sale most Tuesdays. We go through a ton of chicken in our home, so I buy 6 breasts at a time, trim them of what little fat they have, separate them into whatever amounts I need for the week, throw them into ziplock baggies and they are waiting for me when I need them. BACON!! I love me some bacon, but I don’t use it that often, and when I do, I usually only need a few slices at a time. My trick is to buy a leaner center cut package and keep it in the freezer, then I just cut off however much I need (using a sharp serrated knife) for that recipe and put the rest in the freezer for the next time. This works best for recipes that require cutting or chopping the bacon.

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Starches

I have gone on and on about my love affair with Trader Joe’s frozen Jasmine Rice, so of course it’s going to make it on my list :-). This is a MUST in every freezer (for people who like rice of course) for when you need dinner on the table quick, and don’t have a ton of time or attention on making several courses. Pop this bad boy in the microwave and concentrate on the rest of your meal.

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For nights when you don’t want to make pasta or rice, but want a quick starch to accompany the rest of your meal, there is nothing better than throwing a few Sister Schubert dinner yeast rolls into the oven. My kids LOVE these, so I like to buy the big bags at Costco. I also am in LOVE with the potato steamer bags. They are basically just cut russet potatoes that have already been peeled! Throw the self-venting bag in the microwave, then put the potatoes, splash of milk a hand full of chopped chives and a few tablespoons of your favorite shredded cheese into the mixer and viola! “Homemade” mashed potatoes without all the fuss! You really can doctor this us a TON of different ways! Shepherd’s pie for dinner…on a weeknight?! Absolutely! Just skip the whole peeling and boiling part :-).

7My kids LOVE pizza, but I don’t necessarily want to order pizza all the time, so we love making our own pizza’s using Trader Joe’s Naan bread. You just preheat your oven while you get the rest of the ingredients ready, then place the frozen naan into the oven for TWO minutes, remove, add all of your toppings and bake until the cheese is bubbling. A LIFE SAVER on crazy nights, and the kids (literally) make their own dinner! All you have to do is put into the oven and take out. Add a salad, some cut up fruit…done and done!

Condiments/Sauces/Mustards etc.

While I have a pretty extensive list of condiments, I should say that my must have’s are: Worcestershire Sauce, different flavored mustards, Chili sauce, milk, eggs and egg beaters, capers, olives (not packed in oil), tomato paste in a tube, Heinz ketchup, lite sour cream, different hot sauces and fish sauce.

8Honorable MentionsSo I wasn’t going add these, since while they are staples in the Clark house hold, they might not be something everyone uses often…buuuttt, I thought I would add them because we love them so much and it might become one of your favorites too.

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10My daughter and I LOVE steamed edamame pods, and our favorites are from Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. I throw a handful into a bowl, sprinkle some water over it, place a damp paper towel on top and microwave for 3 minutes…DONE! Perfect afterschool snack.

I’m personally obsessed with Trader Joe’s fat-free Spicy Black Bean Dip. Spicy, tangy, fat-FREE, and packed with flavor!!! I smear a tortilla with it, throw some shredded leftover chicken, sliced avocadoes, spritz of lime…YUM! Love chips and guac, but don’t love the fat and calories that come along with it? Try this dip with homemade baked tortilla chips!

11If you keep some bags of frozen dumplings or potstickers in your freezer, you’ve got the making of the easiest EVER chicken “wonton” soup. Bring your favorite broth/stock to a boil, add some fresh ginger, a splash of soy sauce, sliced green onions and add your frozen dumplings/potstickers…3 minutes and BOOM! Dinner is served! Or, try this one out!

What about you, Smarties?! I’d love to hear what your fridge/freezer favorite must have’s are!!!

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