Is your pantry stocked?
Let's take a look at your fridge and freezer.
These are items you should keep in your fridge and freezer at all times.
You may notice that I don't have many fruits or veggies on these lists. This is because if you're on a budget, you should go with what's in season.
If you're not sure what's in season, it's often the produce that's on sale.
Butter - Extremely versatile, it can be used for everything from sauces, to soups, to sautés, to custards both sweet and savory, to baked goods, to greasing a pan, or you can just spread it on toast and call it a day. While this is typically a fridge ingredient, you can also keep it in the freezer if you don't plan to use it right away and/or if you're planning to make pie crust, which usually calls for the fat you're using to be as cold as possible. If you can't have butter for health or religious reasons, then use Margarine, as it generally has less cholesterol, furthermore, some brands, like Fleischmann's are designed for people who can't mix meat and milk.
Eggs - Good on its own, it is also an extremely handy ingredient. You can make just about anything, from omelets and fritatas, to custards, with an egg or six. While eggs come in many sizes, you'll get the most mileage out of large ones.
Milk - Regular or Lactose Free - you can use any fat level, but I like 2% as I find it the most versatile.
Plain Cream Cheese
Dump this in a pot of fresh pasta with a little of the cooking water and some pesto if you wish, and you instantly have pasta with a cream sauce. See?
Add a little sugar, butter, and flavoring to cream cheese and you have the filling for a cheese cake.
Many prefer Greek, as it's a bit thicker. If you have tummy troubles, go with a Probiotic variety. Good on its own, this stuff can be used in smoothies, as a base for dips and sauces, or as a low fat butter substitute for finishing sauces.
The inexpensive medium sized ones that come in a net bag or basket are fine. Make sure they're firm and not squishy or slimy when you buy them.
Garlic - Buy the cheap ones, just make sure the pieces aka cloves fill out the skin and the bulb or head actually smells. If they're shrunken and have a weak odor, the garlic's no good.
Lemons or Limes
The juice can be used in anything sweet or savory, as can the outer skin, also known as the zest. Don't buy any fruit that looks shrunken or feels rock hard when you squeeze it.
But not necessary
This stuff isn't limited to whipped topping on desserts. I find it also useful for making cream sauces, mousses, and other desserts. Lactose intolerant? No problem! A few companies now offer lactose free varieties. Buy the liquid stuff in cartons, not in cans or tubs! The latter is full of artificial garbage! To whip the cream, add some sugar, and beat the crap out it with a whisk by moving it back and forth or in a circle in the cream as fast as you can until it thickens and starts looking like whipped cream. If the solids separate from the liquid, you've whipped it too much. Pour out some more and try again.
Mayonnaise or Jarred Salad Dressing
This is an ingredient you can easily make yourself, but if you're like me and simply don't have the time, use a jarred variety. Plain mayonnaise works best for most recipes, such as salad dressings, and in tuna or chicken salad.
Jarred capers are small, savoury berries packed in brine. You'll often find them with the pickles. They impart great flavor to fish recipes, veal, meat and fish tartares, deviled eggs, and sauces.
You'll get the most mileage out of a grated Parmesan or Romano cheese, which are pricey, but go a long way. NEVER BUY THE STUFF THAT IS NOT IN THE FRIDGE/ COLD SECTION OF THE GROCERY STORE! They are loaded with unhealthy garbage. If it's in a shaker on the regular shelves, it's probably crap. Don't buy it.
These are great on a budget, as they last a long time.
Frozen, Chopped Spinach
Just thaw in the Fridge, stove top, or microwave, and you're ready to go! Even if you don't like spinach, this stuff is chopped enough that you can sneak it into other things like pasta sauces and smoothies without tasting it, and still get the health benefits. It's a good trick to play on kids who won't eat their veggies. Some brands of frozen spinach even come in bags of frozen cubes so you can defrost small portions as needed.
Individually Wrapped Skinless, Boneless Chicken Breasts or Skinless, Boneless Chicken Thighs
If you live alone, this is a life saver. Buy your desired cut of chicken, trim the fat off if you wish, and then individually wrap them in saran wrap or press and seal wrap, put them in a freezer bag that's been dated with indelible marker, and pop em' in the freezer. These can be thawed in the fridge as needed, though if you are making stir fry it's better to slice the meat while it's frozen, as it's easier to get thin slices. The cut of the meat is entirely up to you - breasts have white meat, thighs have dark, however, a butcher did inform me that thighs are better for stir fries as the meat is juicier (insert dirty joke here). Once frozen, the chicken will keep for up to 9 months.
Individually Wrapped Portions of Ground Beef
Ground beef is another item that's great on a budget. My theory is that people ground up meat because it makes tough cuts of meat, such as chuck, easier to cook in less time. Ground beef comes in many fat levels i.e. extra lean, lean, and medium. Lean is ideal, but you don't want extra lean for fat free also means flavor free, and dry ashy meat. If you buy a large amount, simply divide into portions and wrap it as you would the chicken. Once frozen, if wrapped tightly enough, it will keep for about 4 months.
Individually Wrapped Frozen Bacon
Bacon is pretty cheap, and a little goes a very long way in sweet and savory dishes. Follow the same procedure for individual strips as you would use for the chicken, though this is easier using press and seal wrap, and no plastic bag. Once you've cooked it, pour off the fat into a jar and save it for a while. The fat can impart great flavor to veggies and potatoes once you fry said ingredient in it, just remember that it's loaded with cholesterol. Once frozen, the bacon will keep for about 1 month.
Frozen Pie Crusts
These usually come in packs of two. Most varieties contain lard or pig fat, so if you're trying to avoid pork products, read the label carefully before you buy.
Frozen Fruit or Berries - A quick fix for dessert or breakfast when thawed and served with yogurt or ice cream, or in a smoothie. Since frozen fruit is expensive, if you can't afford it already frozen, buy what's in season and freeze it yourself. Simply buy the fruit, wash it, peel and cut it up if necessary ('necessary' meaning it has a tough inedible skin, like cantaloupe or pineapple), and then put it on a baking sheet and pop in the freezer. This will keep the fruit from sticking together. Once it's frozen, put it in a baggie or baggies, and keep for future use.
But not necessary
This stuff is incredibly versatile and making it yourself is a BIG pain in the ass. It can be used as the base for fancy things like Beef, Chicken, or Salmon Wellington (which I will provide a recipe for later on), an extra flakey quiche, or even sweet things like cookies and tarts.
Once you have the aforementioned items, the possibilities are limitless.
Until next time!
- Samantha R. Gold
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