Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Survival: The Essential Pantry (Urban edition)

For the past several days, the media was either discussing the impending doom of Snowpacalypse or the extraordinary lines and bare shelves at the local grocery store.  Everyone panics and worries that they just won't have enough to eat.  Living in New York City, most of us live with space constraints so we have to be more selective of what we keep in house.  Growing up my mother had a fantastic pantry.  However, she had a good amount of space for it.

So, I decided to put together a pantry list that those of us with limited space could work with.  All of these items have great versatility and a reasonably good shelf life.  And let's face it, there may not be a blizzard every day (in fact there wasn't even a blizzard yesterday) - but there are times when you haven't hit the store and yet you have to throw together a meal. This list should get you out of a bind really easily.

Freezer Pantry

Butter - Yep you can freeze butter. And given how expensive it can be when it is not on sale, this allows you to buy it and save it until you need it.  It thaws pretty quickly.

Chicken Breasts - Almost every store sells packages of individually frozen or individually wrapped chicken breasts.  These are crazy versatile. Once grilled you can slice for sandwiches, chop for salads, dice for soup, or served whole as entree protein.

Frozen Bread Dough - Typically one package will give you three loaves.  These can be converted quickly into a pan of sticky buns, sandwich rolls or a your typically pullman loaf.

Frozen Pasta - One package can quickly turn a great broth into a simple soup in a snap.

Refrigerator Pantry

Cheese - Whether grated or bloc - it can be a great addition to pasta, sprinkled on a frittata, a surprise finish to soup, or the quintessential grilled cheese sandwich.

Eggs - Beyond breakfast, they make great sauces for pasta (carbonara - or - cacio e pepe).  You can combine it with leftover potatoes or  veggies  for a quick frittata.

Milk - Ok, so milk has a limited shelf life.  However, all of us should be consuming more dairy the older we get.  Milk can be turned into a savory sauce or a sweet custard.  And if you do get a real blizzard, you have to have some milk for your hot chocolate.

Cupboard Pantry

Bread Crumbs - You will not create a stand alone dish from this ingredient. But, this makes a great coating and filler for a tuna cake.  It would elevate that plain chicken breast to a wonderfully crisp chicken milanese.  Sprinkled on top of pasta would create a great texture.

Broth Chicken or Vegetable - Quickly converts into a simple gravy .  It is an essential as a base to a variety of sauces.  And naturally it would turn out a great soup.

Canned  Beans - Whether you like black, navy, or pinto canned beans are a quick way to go. Dried are always a better option because they won't overcook as easily - but reconstituting them can be time consuming.  Beans are a great add to soup, pasta, or even a salad.  You can even make a quick white bean dip.

Canned Beets - I do prefer fresh, but they are high maintenance.  I only like to eat two canned vegetables and this is one of them.  You can eat them cold as a salad and they really shine heated through with some butter and salt.  By them whole, not sliced. If you want them sliced  you can do that on the spot.

Canned Corn - And this is the second canned vegetable I'll eat.  Don't buy mexicorn or corn with anything else. Again, it will limit your options.  Corn can be added to broth to make a great corn soup.  Added to black beans and tomatoes and it makes a great accompaniment to your chicken.  I recently had it in an omelette and loved it.

Dried Lentils - This is the best bean for a quicker cook. The red lentils cook very quickly and need to be watched. Lentils of course rock in a soup.  But, they are even great as a salad.

Dried Pasta - There is so much versatility here and most of it is obvious.  If you have room buy a long pasta and a cut.  If you are limited, stick with a cut pasta.  And out of all of these pantry items this has a great shelf life.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil  - This should always be in your cabinet.  Use it to help dress salads, saute something yummy, or as a finishing touch to final dish.

Tomatoes - Either diced or whole they are beyond versatile.  A great base for Eggs in Purgatory, soup, or a sauce for pasta.  A simple lush sauce for pasta is a tomato and butter sauce. Make sure to buy low salt, so you can control the salt. Also, don't buy them with spices.  This will limit your flexibility with the ingredient.

Tuna - Buy this packed in water.  The oil is just unnecessary.  One creative way to serve this is to make it into a cake.  The cake would be in the spirit of a crab cake.  Also, a unique take on a crab salad would be to combine it with white beans and toss in a vinegrette.

Unbleached All-Purpose Flour - This is an essential to always have around.

Vinegar  - Whether you prefer red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar - you should always have a bottle.  You can use it to pickle your beets or dress a salad.  In fact if you add some butter, sugar, salt and pepper to your beets you can have a wonderful warm pickled beet.

Spice Cabinet

The following is a basic list of spices that will get you started. Since they take such little room, this could be where you go a little crazy. But, below is a greater starter kit.

Chile Powder
Garlic Powder
Onion Powder

The above ingredients would allow you to make such comforting dishes such as Macaroni and Cheese, Tortelinni Brodo, and Chicken Parmigianna.  You don't have to use a ton of fancy expensive ingredients to make a spectacular meal.  But, in a pinch this list could really save the day. The other bonus is that most of these items go on sale frequently. I hope you find the shopping list below helpful. Happy cooking!

Shopping List

Bread Dough
Frozen Chicken Breasts (1 package)
Frozen Pasta

Milk 1/2 gallon

Bread Crumbs
Broth - Chicken or Vegetable
Canned Beans
Canned Beets
Canned Corn
Dried Lentils
Dried Pasta
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Tomatoes (Diced or Whole)
Unbleached All Purpose Flour

Spice Cabinet
Chile Powder
Garlic Powder
Onion Powder

1 comment:

  1. Heather! I am not much of a cook. A blizzard warning always finds me scrambling to stock up and I never know what to purchase besides the typical water, eggs, bread and milk. Thank you so much!!!