Do you ever look in your pantry or fridge and feel like there’s nothing to make for dinner – even though you swore you just went to the store a couple days ago? Especially on those nights when you’re running late, your teenager brings a friend home for supper and you want to finish the dishes in plenty of time to watch Modern Family?
That’s when it pays to have a quick-fix kitchen. What I mean is, having a pantry, fridge and freezer stocked with the key ingredients you need to make your favorite quick meals.
To create your “must-have” list, think of your four or five go-to meals – a couple of family favorites, one that’s good enough to serve company, another that can go together in minutes. Then, break down the key ingredients in each of these meals. There’s your basic pantry list. Every time you go shopping, take inventory; if you’ve used up all of the tomatoes or rice, these go on the list, so you never run out of the essentials.
Your list would be different than mine, but here are some of the things I keep on hand so I can handle surprise guests, late nights at work, and those nights nobody can think of what to make.
Chicken and beef stock: Essential for quick soups, stews and sauces; it also can give rice a richer flavor than cooking it in water.
Dried pasta, at least two kinds: You need some sort of starch to go with your meat and veggies, and pasta cooks faster and, to me, is more versatile than rice or potatoes. Keep spaghetti and penne at a minimum; add macaroni and other specialty shapes if you really eat a lot of pasta.
Canned beans: I love the flavor and versatility of dried beans, but who has two or three hours on a weeknight? This is a great shortcut for soups, stews, chili and all kinds of Mexican and Mediterranean dishes. Choose your favorites; we keep pinto beans, black beans, chick peas and a couple of cans of refried beans as well.
Canned tomatoes: A quick sauce for meat or fish, pasta sauce, soup, even vegetarian dishes like ratatouille –canned tomatoes are another shortcut that I consider necessary. Keep several varieties, including tomato paste, sauce, and chopped.
Pantry staples: If you really think about it, most dishes you make on a regular basis probably rely on a core of ingredients. Mine includes olive oil, vinegar (red wine and balsamic), Tabasco, Worcestershire, favorite dried herbs, flour, sugar (white and brown), kosher salt, bread crumbs (Italian AND panko) and salsa.
Fresh vegetables: if I have no other vegetables in the house, I’ll always have garlic, onions, bell pepper and jalapenos – the best at adding quick flavor to almost any dish.
In the freezer: There’s always, always chicken breasts in my freezer; buy in bulk and freeze in family-size bags, enough in each one for a meal. I also keep lime juice; tortillas; and ground beef.
In the fridge: Eggs, bacon, butter, sour cream, plain Greek yogurt, and a big hunk of parmesan cheese, ungrated.
Luxury Items: Keep a few extras – Dijon mustard, jarred pesto, sundried tomatoes, olives, real maple syrup, and/or artichoke hearts – that you really love and that can elevate a simple, dull dinner into something a little more special.