Today is tip Tuesday and I offer five tried and true tips on stocking your kitchen with ingredients for cooking real food.
Ask yourself, “What do I cook on a regular basis?” If the answer is nothing, feel free to move along to this post. Let’s face it; we all fall back on 7 to 10 familiar recipes around which our supper meals revolve. Keep assorted shelf- or freezer-stable ingredients on hand for these familiar recipes and then the temptation to resort to quick and easy fast-food or restaurant alternatives is lessened. What We Ate Last Week reveals the food I cook for dinner each week. From reading What We Ate Last Week you can probably surmise how I rely on canned black beans, red beans, chick peas, crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, reduced-sodium chicken broth, pasta, white rice, brown rice, frozen lean ground beef, green peas, lima beans, corn, black-eyed peas, spinach, turnip greens, and chicken for many of our meals. Fresh lemons, garlic, potatoes, and onions are essential too.
After you shop, rotate the ingredients. Whether canned or frozen, dried or fresh, every ingredient has a shelf life. No matter the food with time it will go stale or deteriorate. Even dried beans don’t last a lifetime. Over time they lose moisture and turn into little, shriveled beans that are practically impossible to cook and soften. Every time you cook use older food first. When you shop move older ingredients to the front of the pantry or freezer and place the new ingredients behind the old. In food service lingo we call this principle of food rotation FIFO – first in, first out. Some cooks use a Sharpie to write the date on the top of their cans or boxes to ensure use of the oldest food first. I employee the Sharpie-method-of-food-age-identification for opened boxes of chicken stock stored in the refrigerator and meats I freeze.
Group like ingredients with like ingredients. In one area of my kitchen I store jars of spices and in another area I store baking ingredients. In yet another area I have a shelf for canned goods and boxes of cereal, crackers, and Cheeze-its. By storing like items together the possibility of food replication is reduced – meaning you won’t have six cans of cream-of-salt-bomb soup on hand when you realistically only need one or two, or none for that matter.
Take stock before you shop. After you make a plan for the meals ahead, take stock of what’s already in the house. Give your pantry and refrigerator a good look. If your pantry is full, avoid shopping the sales and bringing home extra food. Any spoiled or deteriorated food, no matter the price you paid for it, is always more expensive when wasted. On the flip side – use common sense. While it does pay to stock up, and have food on hand to avoid the seeming we- need-to-eat-out emergency, stocking up can lead to food waste so use caution.
Ask yourself, “When I open my pantry do I see food or ingredients?” The next time you grocery shop, try to focus on buying ingredients and not finished food. Oats to make oatmeal cookies and not a bag of cookies. Chicken broth to make soup and not cans of salt-bomb soup. Diced tomatoes and garlic for pasta sauce and not jars of pre-made pasta sauce. The more ingredients we buy, chances are the more we’re cooking. The more we’re cooking the more in control we are of the preservatives and additives we eat and the more whole, real food we enjoy.