How to stock your pantry, fridge and freezer

In an article published in Cooking Light on May 6, 2020, former executive editor Ann Taylor Pittman breaks down how to stock your kitchen with key staples during the quarantine.

Pittman says:

Cooking more at home necessitates maintaining a well-stocked pantry (and fridge and freezer) so that you can take fewer trips to the store.

Here are my top five meal-building staples for the pantry, fridge, and freezer. I’m not listing condiments here or flavor builders like vinegar, soy or fish sauce, or garlic. I hope that you keep those items on hand at all times anyway. Instead, I’m talking about ingredients that really help you pull a meal together and explaining why they’re on my list.

Pantry

Canned beans: Right off the bat, I’m cheating: This pantry item really encompasses several different ingredients—canned chickpeas, white beans (such as cannellini), black beans, and pinto beans—all of which are invaluable kitchen staples. They’re great for chili and other soups, grain bowls, salads, and much more. You can puree them for hummus or blend them with simmered veggies and broth for a “cream of” soup without any cream. Be sure to opt for low-sodium or no-salt-added varieties.

Quinoa: Ordinarily, I’d argue for all whole grains having a place in your pantry. But I get it—many of them take a long time to cook. And even though we all supposedly have more time on our hands these days, we still need quick dinner options. Enter quinoa: It’s done in 25-ish minutes, it’s protein-rich, and it freezes well once cooked (so go ahead and make a big batch and stash some there).

Tuna: Whether you like fancy-pants imported oil-packed tuna (a real treat) or canned water-packed fish (a real workhorse), it’s a great standby for a quick lunch or dinner. It’s delicious on salads, grain bowls, or pasta. Ideally, opt for sustainable tuna.

Marinara sauce: I lean on marinara sauce pretty hard these days. Why? Because aside from easy pasta or pizza dinners, I can use it to braise chicken, pork, or beef, or to poach salmon or shrimp. I can thin it out with water or chicken stock and make soup. I can add some spices to it and crack eggs into it for a quick shakshuka meal. I can stir in some cumin and smoked paprika and toss it with cooked ground beef for tacos, or add a little brown sugar and vinegar and add it to ground beef for sloppy joes.

Pasta: Yeah, sorry, this is another multiple-ingredient entry. But you just can’t beat pasta when it comes to convenience, versatility, shelf life, and kid-friendliness. It’s best to keep several types on hand, including long pasta like spaghetti for fun slurping and short shapes like penne or rotini for catching chunky sauces. For more nutrition benefit, stock whole-grain pasta or pasta made from legumes (such as chickpea pasta).

Fridge

Eggs: I know that they might be a little scarce these days, but eggs belong in every fridge at all times (unless you’re vegan). They are the perfect quick-cooking protein that can turn a sauce or side into a main dish—just put an egg on it! And how many other ingredients give you such amazing options depending on how you cook them, from creamy scrambled eggs to crispy hard-fried eggs to firm hard-cooked eggs? I also like to think of them of them as a great catchall for all the produce that’s on its way out: I can fold limp greens, starting-to-shrivel grape tomatoes, or soft-in-spots zucchini into a frittata or simple scramble.

Tofu: One of the things I love about tofu is its long “shelf” life; it’ll often be good for a month or more after purchase. And it’s great blended into smoothies, simmered in soups, or crisped up for stir-fries.

Greek yogurt: Thick, tart, and rich in protein, Greek yogurt can perk up a grain bowl or soup. You can stir in grated garlic and a little salt and pepper, spread it on a plate, and use it as a base for beans, grains, greens, and/or roasted veggies. Add it to a smoothie or stir some into your oats, and you’ve got a breakfast that’ll keep you fuller longer.

Chicken or turkey sausage: You’ll get more longevity from cooked sausages, which are great to stash away for soups, pastas, and more. But raw sausages are great to keep on hand, too, and typically last longer in your fridge than fresh meat cuts.

Parmesan cheese: Honestly, a variety of cheeses is ideal, but if you had to pick one cheese and one cheese only, Parm would be the winner. It lasts a long time without molding, and it’s delicious on just about every savory dish, where it adds richness and umami depth. It can basically take a ho-hum dinner and turn it into something you’re proud of. You can grate it to a powder, shred it for slivers of salty goodness, or shave it for large flakes of deliciousness.

Freezer

Frozen peeled and deveined shrimp: Here’s why shrimp is always in my freezer: Even when I forget to thaw it ahead of time (which is every time, honestly), I can thaw it in a bowl of cold water in 5 or 10 minutes and it’s ready to go.

Frozen salmon fillets: Much like frozen shrimp, frozen salmon fillets (wrapped in their individual packaging) thaw quickly in a bowl of water. Plus, omega-3s!

Frozen vegetables: OK, I’m cheating again because I’m really touting multiple ingredients grouped under one category—sorry! I don’t love all frozen vegetables (the texture isn’t great for some of them), but I do love frozen broccoli and cauliflower florets, green peas, edamame, and corn.

Frozen dumplings: These have been a lifesaver in my home. I love all kinds of frozen dumplings and sometimes toss them in broth with veggies for a quick “wonton” soup. I’ll stir-fry them with vegetables for an easy dinner the whole family will love. Or I’ll make a filling lunch salad by placing them atop a crunchy salad with a soy-ginger vinaigrette.

Frozen cooked brown rice: Brown rice is a nutritious whole grain with a wonderfully chewy texture and nutty flavor. But it takes a long time to cook. So I like to either cook a big batch and stash portions in my freezer or buy precooked brown rice from my grocery store. It thaws in no time (like, a minute or two) in the microwave and is ready to go. You could also keep pouched precooked brown rice in your pantry, but I prefer the texture of frozen brown rice.

Continue reading the full article for top pantry recipes using these staples.

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