Stocking A Feastworthy Kitchen, Part 3 – Freezer

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If we’re being honest, I think my there would be a lot of PB&J eaten for dinner during the week at my house were it not for the freezer. I try to always keep mine full to the brim, despite the constant danger of a Ziploc-full of frozen chili falling out and taking off a toe. I guess you could call me something of an adrenaline junkie.

if you, too, would like to live more dangerously, here are a few things you should keep in your soon-to-be feastworthy freezer:

1. Raw AND Precooked Chicken, Portioned
After several dinner parties ended with me saying “Wait, we spent how much?” I started counting costs and quite often, I made waaaaay too much food for the amount of people I was actually serving. One of the most expensive foods that I would overshoot is meat, especially chicken. I came up with a strategy to help keep my meat costs down and my kitchen running smoothly: buying chicken breasts and boneless skinless chicken thighs when they went on sale in the big value packs, and freezing half in 10-12 oz. portions (the amount two people at my house would usually eat) in Ziploc bags. The other half, I would precook in large batches, chop up, and freeze for use in salads for lunches, soups, etc. Having two-person portions simplified cooking for groups of people as I knew that if we were having four people, two bags of chicken would most likely be enough.

2. Frozen Veggies
Look, we all have been at that point. That dark, dark place where you are driving home from work and suddenly realize you have absolutely got to go to the grocery store but it sounds like something you totally don’t want to do right nowSo you stop and grab a pizza, or Chinese, and immediately kick yourself because eating out out of desperation is usually never satisfying. On these nights, having a bag or two of frozen veggies can be a lifesaver – they can usually serve as inspiration for a skillet meal thrown together with what scraps you have left in the fridge or can be stir fried with pretty much any meat and served over rice for a bare bones night-before-grocery-shopping meal that at least (probably) won’t give you indigestion.

3. Frozen, Cooked Beans
In my pantry stocking article, I reference buying dry beans in bulk to save money. However, you just don’t get the convenience you do from canned beans (even if the canned beans come with all the sodium and that funny bean juice smell). Frozen beans are my answer to canned beans. Every time you make a batch of beans, make twice as much and freeze about one meal’s worth in several freezer bags. Lay these bags out flat on a cookie sheet and stick the cookie sheet in the freezer. The next morning, voila! You now have all the convenience of canned beans in a handy stackable format, but without the funny bean juice!

4. Frozen Tomato Paste/Sauce
Has anyone, in the course of making a normal-sized meal, used a whole can of tomato paste? I definitely haven’t. A great way to avoid having to store an awkward, tiny can of the stuff in your fridge until you realize you’ve forgotten about it entirely is to freeze your extra tomato paste (in tbsp sized portions) in ice cube trays. Pop ’em out of the tray and store them in freezer bags to take out as needed. You can also make large batches of homemade tomato sauce and store them the same way. Here’s a quick rundown of my favorite easy tomato sauce recipe:

1 large can diced tomatoes
1 can Herdez salsa
1 small can tomato paste
1 tbsp sugar

Give it a few pulses in a blender depending on the consistency you want, then use it on pasta, pizza, or meat dishes!

5. At least one homemade emergency dish.
There’s no shortage of freezer-friendly recipes on the internet. There are going to be nights when making absolutely anything sounds impossible, and for those nights, it’s best to be prepared. Use gallon freezer bags to replicate the same technique I mentioned for the beans above, and make double batches of your favorite freezer-friendly recipes. Two of my favorites are from Budget Bytes, Zuppa Toscana and White Chicken Chili. 

So, now we’ve covered things you can do to stock your pantry, fridge, and freezer. Hopefully I’ve given you a few ideas and techniques to keep your kitchen ready for a feast at a moment’s notice. Have any upgrades for the techniques I’ve mentioned? Maybe a freezer recipe you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments!

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Stocking A Feastworthy Kitchen, Part 2 – The Fridge

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As near and dear as bulk bins are to my heart, dry goods are only part of the battle – you also have to have a well-stocked fridge and freezer if you want your kitchen to be as adaptable as you are. Knowing you have supplies on hand to make a lazy Monday night skillet meal or to feed a surprise crowd can make all the difference.

The Fridge
1. Fresh Produce
I would suggest keeping 3-4 different vegetables in the crisper at all times, along with some onions. Vegetables are healthy and (with the right touch) can be delicious and versatile. I usually scour my grocery store produce section for whatever is on sale that week and then plan a few meals around that. Most vegetables will keep around a week or so if stored properly, so as long as you can make a weekly shopping trip you should always have one or two options around. An even better strategy is to focus on fresh produce that doesn’t freeze well. For example, I tend to buy things like spinach, zucchini, tomatoes, okra, and cucumbers fresh.

2. Butter
I know, I know – my love of butter is going to earn me an early grave, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take. If I am given a choice of cooking oil that’s not deep frying or high heat, I will almost always choose butter. Don’t even talk to me about the insanity of using VEGETABLE OIL to make waffles or cookies. I know I just spent an entire paragraph singing the praises of fresh veggies, but here’s some real talk: I used to be a crazy picky eater. I would not have gotten this far in my love affair with the veg had it not been for numerous sides of sauteed squash in butter or adding a pat of the sweet stuff to steamed broccoli over a hundred sad, cringey nights. Side note: I don’t do this anymore. Steamed broccoli is an abomination.

3. Minced Garlic (In A Jar)
Somewhere between the crushed sadness that is garlic powder and actually making an effort, there lies minced garlic in a jar. You can probably get enough of this stuff to last three months for less than $3, which in my opinion is a pretty sound investment given that you should really be adding garlic to, oh, PRETTY MUCH EVERYTHING. Or maybe that’s just me.

4. Parmesan Cheese
While it’s definitely worth the investment to shell out for a block of the good stuff (especially with the rind, which can be added to pasta sauces or soups to add some seriously amazing flavor), but even a canister of the cheap stuff will do in a pinch. If you can’t tell, I have a big thing for roasted vegetables as side dishes, and I almost always add a sprinkle of parmesan cheese on top. Heck, I can’t think of many savory items not made better by parmesan cheese. Veggies, baked chicken, pork chops, bread, pasta, rice, popcorn, potatoes… Sorry, what was I saying?

5. Yogurt
One of my favorite breakfast foods, yogurt’s usefulness extends far beyond the crap (Get it, guys? Get it?) Jamie Lee Curtis tries to sell you. Nary a brunch is served at my house without a pretty parfait, and many Monday mornings begin with me shuffling into the kitchen and pouring some raspberries and vanilla on plain yogurt with my eyes still closed. I would recommend buying the giant tubs of plain yogurt and kicking the flavored habit, since that Boston Cream Pie Yoplait is mostly just sugar (and don’t act like you’re even a little surprised, buddy). Plain yogurt can be a healthier alternative to mayo in salad recipes, replace sour cream on tacos and baked potatoes, and can be made into a great marinade or dipping sauce.

And there you have it: You’re five items closer to having a pretty damn well-stocked kitchen. Next up in the series is my secret weapon for entertaining at the drop of a hat – an overflowing freezer.

Stocking A Feastworthy Kitchen, Part 1 – The Pantry

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Hello, internet! I started this blog as a way to document my adventures in the kitchen and the strategies I’ve learned to do so on a young married’s budget. The name, Feast All Week, comes from my personal belief that you don’t have to sacrifice beautiful, tasty food because you’re working with limited funds or time. In short, that anyone can (and sometimes, should!) feast all week.

To start out, I’m going to hit the most basic level – stocking the pantry. Although I include the most basic of all pantry staples – flour, because of its applications in nearly every aspect of cooking – I am going to bypass other staple baking ingredients such as sugar and baking powder.  The items I do mention will be things that are useful on an everyday basis, are almost always incredibly cheap, and will make your kitchen feastworthy.

1. Flour
You would be amazed how often people (me included, sadly) run out of flour. I usually stock up in the bulk bin section of my favorite Sprouts grocery store and store my flour in a plastic cereal container like this one. This mostly serves to keep the super creepy flour bugs out, and sometimes makes it easier to pour or measure from. Flour is used as a base ingredient in almost every baking recipe, but is also great for breading (Feast Rule #1, anything and everything is better breaded and fried.) and in sauces. If you happen to find an awesome deal on flour, go ahead and stock up and store any extra in the freezer until you need it.

2. Yeast
No, I’m not going to tell you to always make your own bread. Though homemade bread is definitely superior in taste and ingredients, I personally almost always have a store-bought loaf in the house However, yeast can up your kitchen game like you would not believe. Having a big crowd over? You can easily get away with serving a big pot of stew aside some homemade bread. Date night? Make a homemade pizza together and spend the money you were going to give the delivery guy on sweet, sweet red wine. Want to really win over your co-workers? Three words: Homemade. Cinnamon. Rolls. Keep a jar of yeast on hand (I like Red Star Active Dry) to have a kitchen upgrade at a moment’s notice. If you don’t think you’ll use a whole jar, feel free to start with the packets or better yet, store your jar in the freezer.

3. Dry Beans
Truly magical, and I don’t mean like you sang in elementary school. We usually have a minimum of 3-4 types of beans in the house and they get used constantly. Again, hit up the bulk section in your local grocery store and stock up! I feel so classy having all different types of beans in glass canisters on my counter. Chickpeas are a great staple, and can be used for a weekday salad or kickass homemade hummus. Great Northern beans can be used for minestrone, pasta, and even baking. Black beans are a staple for any Mexican recipe. Kidney beans make up one half the classic Cajun duo of red beans and rice. Pinto beans are the main ingredient of one of my favorite meals, brown beans and cornbread. Lentils make a great base for an exotic (cheap) vegetarian (cheap) Indian dish that I have even served to company.Can you tell I really love beans?

4. Rice 
White or brown, I don’t discriminate or demonize. Rice is a staple in some of my favorite casserole and skillet meal recipes. Not to mention, it’s a necessity for serving with Indian and Chinese food, which makes it a necessity for, oh, living. Some brave souls would even venture to say that rice can be made into a breakfast food, though I don’t know if that’s a journey I’m personally ready to take yet. I’m only recently coming around to rice as a dessert food, so maybe rice and I will take that next step in our relationship soon. It’s getting pretty serious.

5. Canned Tomatoes
Listen, I know. Canned veggies are disgusting. It took years of therapy for me to be able to trust corn or peas again, but tomatoes… Tomatoes are the exception to the rule. Canned tomatoes are one of the handy-dandiest cheap kitchen staples there are. Whirl some diced tomatoes in a blender and simmer the heck out of ’em for an easy sauce, or start with crushed tomatoes and red wine for something truly breathtaking. Diced tomatoes and green chiles mix with black beans for a great Mexican side dish or with Velveeta (SIDE NOTE: I do not condone Velveeta, except for this express purpose) for Oklahoma queso. They can add substance and flavor to hundreds of quick and easy soup recipes. Just have them.

Those are my five pantry passions, all things that will send me scrambling to the grocery store if I see my supply running low. If you learn to love them, they will serve you just as well. Aside from the five big ones, I have a list of smaller, bit part pantry staples. These things aren’t quite necessities, but I try to keep them on hand as they can serve several useful purposes.

  • Oatmeal: The ultimate cheap and easy breakfast. I often bypass the traditional “hot slop” vibe and use it for homemade granola or protein bars.
  • Honey: For baking, biscuits, and hot toddies. Enough said.
  • Chicken base: Mix with water to substitute for chicken stock in soups and stews, and also to add a savory dimension to sauces.
  • Canned tuna/salmon: Both great to have on hand for a quick lunch salad protein or some bangin’ fish cakes.
  • Mrs. Dash/Your Favorite Salt-Free Seasoning Blend: Mrs. Dash and I have a good thing going. You want the real secret to cheap and easy eats? Take food. Add Mrs. Dash. Eat food, which is now delicious.

Now that you know my pantry secrets, I want to know yours. Did I miss a crucial ingredient to a great pantry? Do you have any new, amazing uses for the staples I have mentioned here? Let me know in the comments!