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.

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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!