Thursday, September 1, 2011

Finishing up the Pantry.

I remember asking Elinor and her roommate Julifer recently what the best day would be for my blog entries, and they replied Thursday afternoon or evening. Somehow this seems to be the day that makes the coming weekend more real for college students. I suppose that is the same for many adults. It’s also a good day to start thinking about and planning what you want to cook over the weekend. It occurs to me that it might be helpful to provide recipes in the coming blogs that can be made on Sunday and used for a few nights during the week too.

In the meantime, let’s get back to our pantry set up. Last week I gave you the run down on your dry goods, today I want to focus on perishable items found in your ‘Fridge and Freezer.

Let’s talk condiments first. You will only need regular to small size containers:

·         Ketchup, Relish, Mayonnaise, Yellow and Dijon Mustard and Pickles.

I’m not going to suggest brands, by the time you are in your 20’s you pretty much know what flavors you like. Keep an eye out at the store; these items are frequently rotated on sale. When you see a “buy-one-get-one free,” or “two-for” sale snap them up. Check the dates, but typically these are items with long shelf lives.

Condiments are typically used for sandwiches. Again, less is more when purchasing Lunch Meat and sliced Cheese. Purchase only what you will eat within a few days. Lunch meat will generally stay fresh in the ‘fridge 3-5 days from the time you purchase it. If you find a good deal and want to buy more, divide it when you get home and freeze it. Cheeses last a bit longer, but better safe than sorry. Divide and freeze if you think you won’t finish it in time.

On that note let’s talk Bread. If your kitchen tends to be on the warm side you might want to consider keeping your bread in the ‘fridge. Bread and bagels fair well in the freezer too, just make sure they are wrapped tightly and placed in a zip lock freezer bag.

Some thoughts on dairy items:

·    Milk is a must-have. Brand and type is up to you. If you are not a regular user of this beverage you might want to consider having Parmalat containers in the cabinet. Milk generally stays fresh for 7 days after opening. While bigger containers are a better value, in the end it’s money down the drain if you don’t consume it. Check the expiration dates carefully.

·    Yogurt is a great way to get calcium in a fast and flavorful way. If you are lactose intolerant like me, go for the non-fat variety. This is another item rotated weekly on sale. Find a brand you like and stock up when you see the sale. Shelf life on yogurt tends to be long, so look for dates a few weeks out when shopping.

·    Cream Cheese, Butter and Spreads: again, watch for the sale and pick up a pound box of unsalted butter sticks. If you don’t plan on using them right away, drop them in the freezer. On the subject of spreads, there are many out there. You basically want to stay away from anything that is loaded with trans-fat. Your goal should be a total of 20% or less total fat. Why bother? Well, spreads are a fast and easy way to “butter” your toast in the morning. Let’s face it, when you pull the butter stick out of the ‘fridge it’s pretty solid and not easily spreadable. But you will need it for cooking and baking.

·    Last, but not least, Eggs. Yes, I have an opinion here too, but first a small commentary on organic ingredients: Sometimes it’s just not possible to buy organic items if you are on a budget. (What are they anyway? Organic items are basically those that have been produced using methods without synthetic pesticides, synthetic fertilizers and/or chemical additives. In some cases the difference in cost is minimal and in others significant.) For now, let’s focus on eggs. The cost difference is probably only about a dollar a carton; or $1.99 vs. $2.99. So forget the candy bar at check out and do yourself a favor; go for the organic, farm raised eggs. The chickens are fed only organic feed, are free to roam the outside and are not raised in cages. The product is just so much tastier and healthier than the mass produced variety. I promise to delve more in to this subject later - we just need to get through our task at hand!

Other basics for the ‘fridge:

·    Soy Sauce, Hot Sauce, a favorite Salad Dressing, Jam, Hummus, Salsa, Bread and Bagels.

On the topic of fruits and veggies: the best rule of thumb is to not over buy. Get what you need for the week and stop. The last thing you want is for items to go bad and have to be tossed. Good things to have on hand are:

·    Apples, Pears, a bunch of Bananas, Carrots, Grape Tomatoes, Celery to make sticks for dipping.

·    Other basics: Lettuce, Tomato, Broccoli, and Zucchini, maybe even Eggplant that can be pan fried or grilled.

On that note, let’s move to the Freezer. The freezer is a holding place for items you want to save for a later date, or when you’re too tired to cook a whole meal. For instance, if you make lasagna on Sunday break it down in to individual portions and freeze. A perfect dish for those nights you are just too tired to cook after a long day. Add a small salad and/or a side of veggies and you are set.

In terms of the basics for the freezer the vegetables that translate well (in my opinion) are Corn, Peas and Spinach. Beans tend to be horribly soggy when cooked as well as broccoli. If you really like to eat those veggies just buy them fresh and steam. Corn, peas and spinach are always on sale. Look for the “two-for” deal and stock up. They can be boiled or micro-waved in a snap for dinner. Later I’m going to give you a few recipes in for using chopped spinach - which will help stretch your burgers and frittatas. It’s a freezer staple I always have on hand for us. Let us not forget your freezer will also be home to ice cream ... find a good quality brand and look for the sale.

Moving back to the ‘fridge, I’m sure you noticed I haven’t touched on proteins, other than lunch meat. We’ll talk more on that subject when we get into some recipes. In the meantime, if you do pick up poultry or meat at the market, and know you won’t be cooking it right away, break it down into manageable portions and freeze it. Get a good quality plastic wrap and heavy freezer plastic zip-lock bags. The last thing you need is freezer burn on your food. Freezer burn is that unappetizing frost that forms on frozen foods that have either not been sealed tight or have been kept in the freezer way too long.  It leaves an unpleasant metallic taste after cooking.

So my last thought this week is on bacteria ... aren’t you excited?! Harmful bacteria can survive freezing. If present, once thawed they will begin to grow again. It can also be found when food, intended to be in the ‘fridge, is left out on the counter. Take extra precaution once you get things home. Wash your hands before and after repackaging your proteins (i.e., chicken, fish and meat). Always use separate cutting boards for your proteins and immediately place in the sink when finished. Fruit and veggies should always be washed under running water before consuming. The only caveat would be items specifically marked “ready to eat” or “washed.”The very last thing you need is to get sick from a dirty counter, dirty hands or contaminated food.

Next week I was thinking we would jump in and do a Chicken Soup from scratch. One will be a basic with noodles and the other spicy. Have a great Labor Day and get yourself to a farmers market this weekend!

Buon appetito tutti!

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