Prepping the Pantry
It is 5:00 p.m. Thursday, after a long and difficult day at work, and you need to cook dinner. While you have planned meals for most nights, tonightâTMs dinner is designated for using up all the produce not eaten yet in the week. Now what do you cook? A diverse pantry greatly lessens this dilemma. The dry goods, staples, spices and oils we keep in our pantry can help to simplify cooking meals at home. Dry goods and staples that keep for fairly long periods of time, stored correctly, include onions, garlic, dried beans, nuts, grains and pasta. I try to purchase items in large glass jars as these can be cleaned and used to store grains, nuts and dried beans. Since pasta has a wide variety of sizes, finding glass can be difficult, except for the smaller variations. Canned tomatoes and canned beans are other options for a well-stocked pantry. Both of these can be used to create a quick soup with the addition of onions, garlic and whatever is left over from the week, including veggies, rice, meat proteins or eggs. One quick dinner option is to sauté freshly chopped onions and garlic in olive oil, add what has not been eaten yet, along with canned beans and tomatoes, add water if needed, bring to a boil and simmer. If you have already cooked rice, grains or pasta, these can be added, or make some fresh if you want. To add eggs to a soup, they need to be tempered. This is done by placing the egg(s) in a heat-proof dish, like a Pyrex measuring cup, and very slowly adding the hot broth to the egg(s) while whisking vigorously. This egg-broth mixture is then added back to the pot of soup. By adding egg to a soup, the broth becomes creamy and there is more protein, which has important health benefits. Spices, spice blends and canned coconut milk, as well as a variety of oils, also make for beneficial pantry staples; they keep for a long time and can alter the flavor of ingredients quickly and easily. Coconut milk can be added to a sauté of leftover vegetables, with or without meat protein, to create an Asian-flavored stew. A warm salad of unused roasted vegetables on top of a grain such as farro or brown rice, drizzled with a toasted sesame oil or chili oil, creates a delicious meal from leftover foods. When making grains, whether farro, rice or pasta, I always make more than needed for the meal that day. It takes no more time to cook extra and saves time when preparing other meals for the week. The same is true when roasting vegetables; the extras can be made into future meals without needing the cook time. Grains in the refrigerator can be warmed the next morning and topped with a cooked egg for a breakfast that is quick to make and full of protein. Beans warmed and added to grains become a meal, especially when topped with pantry staples like salsa.