Posted by: Michelle Mitton | January 29, 2009

Tips for a Well-Stocked Pantry

Kerns Juice and NectarsOn Wednesdays I plan out my menu for the week and on Thursdays I do my shopping—the goal is to make only one trip to the grocery store each week and generally I’m able to stick to this. Of course that doesn’t mean that every once in a while I don’t find myself struggling to come up with a last minute idea which is why I keep a supply of extras on hand.

Here’s the stuff I always try to keep on hand and why—if you’ve got your own suggestions please leave them in the comments because you never know what you’ll find in someone else’s fridge.

1. Canned pineapple. I buy canned chunks because of all the canned fruits pineapple is the most versatile. Use it in stir fry or sweet and sour pork, use it for pineapple upside down cake or to puree for pineapple sorbet. Use it as a salsa for seafood or chicken or in a salad. It goes well with pork and chicken and fish, even ham, in fact it pretty much works for any meal of the day in sweet or savory dishes hot or cold and Costco sells convenient pop top cans in nice sizes.

Canned peaches are also a good stocking item because in a pinch you can substitute peaches for mangoes in a lot of recipes such as salsas and purees.

2. Bouillon. You can keep canned broth on hand but it’s bulky, especially if you’re stocking up on beef, chicken and vegetable broths. Instead just keep the bouillon cubes—or better yet the granules—in their little jars. A teaspoon of granules equals a cup of broth which is also nice when you don’t need a whole can. Good for soups, sauces and salad dressings you’re always going to need broth.

3. Kern’s juice. Kern’s is a brand that makes canned fruit juices in all their lovely assorted goodness—usually the kinds of juice that are a little more difficult to come up with. Guava, apricot, peach, mango, strawberry, the cans sell for about $1.29 here and a can or two on the shelf is great for using in desserts or bread or sometimes in sweet and sour sauces. I never know when I’m going to need one but when I do I’m really glad I’ve got them. I also keep coconut milk and cream of coconut on hand for the same reasons–they’re great for Thai and Asian recipes along with desserts.

The Gourmet Garden Minced Spices4. Minced ginger, cilantro. You’re probably familiar with bottles of minced garlic which are so helpful in the kitchen but besides these I like to keep tubes of minced ginger and cilantro as well. So many recipes call for fresh ginger or cilantro and it’s not something I usually carry unless there’s a specific recipe I’m planning.

The tubes keep for weeks and weeks unopened and a tablespoon is usually all you’ll ever need at a time. While they’re not as fresh as the produce (obviously) they taste very good in a pinch and can be used for so many dishes. The brand name is The Gourmet Garden and they have all kinds of herbs and spice varieties.

5. Canned beans. Specifically I keep canned garbanzos (chick peas), black beans and kidney beans. I keep the dry ones of course too but the dry ones take so long to cook that sometimes you need the convenience of the canned and ready to eat variety.

They’re good for everything from hummus and falafel to chili and soup and salad. You can add them to tacos and enchiladas and meatloaf or mash them for vegetarian dishes as well as a great side dish with some cumin and green pepper sautéed in for spice. I rarely have tons of meat on hand–unless maybe it’s some salmon or halibut filets–and having beans really beefs up a last-minute meal.

6. Frozen berries. I’ve always got one of those big Costco bags of berries around because they’re always good for something. I can throw a handful in the microwave and make a quick syrup for pancakes or crepes, I can make a great cobbler or pie, but they’re the best for smoothies when you can throw a cup of them into the blender with some of that Kern’s juice I mentioned and you’ve got an instant smoothie treat. If you want to get really wild use them in a sauce with pork or even chicken and they add beautiful color and vitamins and punch.

7. Canned pesto. This one is so obvious but a can of pesto with a bit of pasta makes an instant meal—throw in some chopped tomatoes and pine nuts if you want to add some extra color and crunch. I use it in soups and sauces and marinade plus straight from the jar for salads or kabobs. Just a can can give you the answer to “What am I going to do for dinner?” A jar of capers or sundried tomatoes isn’t a bad idea either, they’re nearly as helpful.

8. Mustards. This one is pretty obvious but having a good selection of condiments is a must. Keep Dijon on hand at all times plus Worcestershire, soy and all kinds of vinegars. I keep rice vinegar, regular ol’ white, apple cider vinegar, red and white wine vinegars and balsamic at all times and I’m always using them. I also keep Thai fish sauce, curry paste, lime and lemon juice around too—they’re always needed.

Kretschmer Wheat Germ9. Toasted wheat germ. I like to use this stuff when a recipe calls for bread crumbs because it’s healthy and keeps well in jars in the refrigerator. A cup in your meatloaf or in your breading makes your meal that much friendlier to your colon.

10. Crab apple jelly. This one is a little funny but I find that my yearly supply that I make is great for lots of sauces that need a bit of sweetness. I use it in marinades for pot roasts and even things like the sauce for Monte Cristo sandwiches when I pair it up with mustard. A little egg and a little sweet and sour sauce and you can dress up a plain old toasted cheese sandwich in no time. If you don’t have crab apple jelly a good substitue is currant jelly which is easily found at most grocery stores.

11. Anchovy paste. Useful in salads particularly—there’s really no substitute for the kick you get from a tablespoon in the sauce. I know it sounds suspicious but you’re just going to have to trust me on this. Plus it keeps forever in the fridge.

12. Mixed greens. I buy the big container of mixed spring greens from Costco nearly every week because they’re washed and ready to go whenever I need a salad or some greens for hamburgers, sandwiches or wraps. They’ll keep a week or so and with this crew we’ll make our way through a tub of the stuff in about the same time.

13. Frozen shrimp. I like, once again, the bags I can get at Costco with the peeled and deveined tail-off shrimp. It’s so handy to be able to throw some in a bowl of water for a quick defrost before throwing them into the pot of chowder or pasta, on a salad or even as a filling for crepes. They’re the quick and easy way to make a meal feel more filling and substantial without adding lots of calories or fat or work. And if you consider the benefits, a bag for $13 isn’t too bad, that will make several meals for us easily.

Andrew doesn’t care for shrimp that much but he does like scallops so I will also keep a bag of frozen scallops in the freezer because shrimp and scallops can often be used interchangeably in a recipe.

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