A well-stocked pantry can save the day when trying to get dinner on the table quickly. But the supplies you stock in your refrigerator and freezer are the core of most meals.
This week I'm offering you part two of my tips on keeping your kitchen well stocked in order to create quick family meals.
Keeping the pantry stocked is simple, as most items have a long shelf life. Stocking your refrigerator and freezer takes a bit more attention and planning.
I tend to keep a well-stocked freezer, which I supplement with more perishable items like fresh produce and dairy products. When chicken breast halves (bone-in or boneless) go on sale, I stock up and divide them into freezer bags for future meals. The same goes for pork tenderloin.
My freezer list is divided by category, and like my list last week, it was mostly culled from the ingredients from The Quick Cooking with Karin Calloway Cookbook.
While I usually keep a bevy of frozen vegetables on hand, there are times when I prefer fresh. Frozen chopped onions and bell peppers are fine in a stew or long-simmered dish, but are on the soggy side in stir fries. There are other vegetables that I prefer fresh, like carrots and summer squash, which only take a few minutes to wash and slice or chop.
YOUR WELL-STOCKED FREEZER
Chicken: Boneless chicken breast halves (either quick-frozen breast halves you find in the freezer section, or sale chicken breast halves that are repackaged in freezer bags in family-sized servings). Chicken tenderloin fillets also are nice to have on hand.
Ground beef: Both raw, formed into patties for burgers and pre-browned
Frozen meatballs: These have an occasional presence in my freezer, but can be a lifesaver on a hectic evening.
Ground bulk pork sausage: preferably pre-browned
Peeled and deveined frozen uncooked shrimp
Bacon (Since this is an item we only serve occasionally, I like to keep it in the freezer)
Reduced-fat kielbasa or Polish sausage (Turns chicken and rice into Jambalaya, or can be the centerpiece of your meal when grilled or sauteed)
Diced ham or ham steaks
Seasoning blend: This combination of chopped onion, celery, bell pepper and parsley is a great time saver.
Chopped green bell pepper (This can be a money saver when bell peppers are expensive in the winter).
Creamed spinach (More than a side dish, I used creamed spinach as a pizza and pasta sauce, and as an addition to a simple but elegant chicken Florentine)
BREADS, PASTA AND OTHER ITEMS
Bread and roll dough
Biscuits (The freezer variety is better than the refrigerated biscuits in a tube)
Cheese ravioli and tortellini
Pecans (They last longer in the freezer, and I always have some on hand for baking)
Orange juice concentrate
Pink lemonade (a nice, quick beverage to offer guests)
Stocking your refrigerator takes a bit more planning since items are perishable. In general, plan your menus for the week and purchase only the refrigerator items you will consume that week. Some items, like prepared salad dressings and marinades, will last for several months. But fresh vegetables and dairy products are best used right away.
OUR WELL-STOCKED REFRIGERATOR
(Keep starred items on hand, other items should be bought when you plan to use them)
IN THE VEGETABLE BIN
Lemons and/or limes *
Lettuce: a head of leafy green lettuce, or bagged salad greens
Red bell peppers
Fresh herbs (these have a very short storage period and are best bought and used the same day)
IN THE MEAT DRAWER:
Several varieties of cheese, both hunk and shredded: Parmesan, Cheddar, mozzarella, feta and Mexican blend *
Regular or reduced-fat cream cheese
Flour tortillas (These also can be kept in the freezer) *
Sliced deli meats (Sandwiches for lunch, or sometimes for dinner)
ITEMS YOU STORE IN THE DOOR:
Chopped garlic (I prefer freshly pressed or minced in most dishes, but this comes in handy in a pinch)
Reduced-fat mayonnaise *
Dijon and yellow mustard *
Prepared horseradish (combine with ketchup for cocktail sauce) *
Mango chutney (This item can be stored in the pantry until opened. It's great over cream cheese and served with crackers as a spur-of-the-moment hors d'oeuvre.)
Dale's marinade (This also can be stored in the pantry until opened.) *
Sesame oil (This oil is extremely perishable and lasts much longer when stored in the refrigerator. Just a small amount adds wonderful flavor to stir fries and other Oriental dishes.) *
Ranch dressing (My daughter's favorite dressing is also great as a dip with fresh vegetables. It also can be tossed with diced raw potatoes and popped into a 350-degree oven for 45 minutes to an hour for a tasty side dish.) *
Other prepared dressings (We like to toss our salads with a simple dressing of garlic salt, red wine vinegar and olive oil, but keep your favorite dressings on hand for quick marinades and great salads.)
Vanilla (I used to store this in the pantry until Betty Powell, an Augusta cook, told me it maintains its flavor better when stored in the fridge.) *
Other dairy products: Half and Half, ricotta or cottage cheese
Tubes of crescent roll dough or pizza crust
Fresh fish (I shop for fish on the day I plan to use it, and rarely purchase fish on Sunday. Most stores receive their weekend delivery of fresh fish on Friday, so you'll get fresher fish if you wait until the new delivery arrives on Monday. Get to know your seafood department manager, who offers a wealth of information on preparing your "catch" and also can tell you what is the freshest.)
Items that I keep on hand, but that don't fit into the pantry, refrigerator or freezer lists:
Tomatoes (The flavor of fresh tomatoes is best when they are stored at room temperature) *
Bar items: Dry sherry, bourbon, and red and white wine show up in a few of my recipes. Since wine goes sour quickly after it's opened, you can eliminate waste by purchasing single-serving bottles in four-packs.
Sandwich bread, hamburger buns and good crusty French bread