Perfect Pantry: Part 1

As promised, this post will be about setting up your pantry. This is one of those things that makes your life easier if you plan ahead. If you have certain things on hand you don't have to stop on the way home from work and wait on the line with everyone else who did the same exact thing. Since we don't have our own place yet, our pantry isn't set up like this but when we move into our house these are things that I will make sure we have on hand. 

I'll start with the most basic things that I use for almost everything I make. Salt, pepper, oil and vinegar. Now since I'm a chef, I have a little bit more variety of these than most people but here are the essentials: 

Salt-recipes always call for kosher salt-even if it doesn't say that in the recipe. This type of salt has the lowest sodium content which means you will need more of it. The salt found in most grinders is similar in flavor and texture to sea salt but has been processed to have less moisture. (It needs to have less moisture so that it does not break down the grinder mechanism.) It has a higher sodium content than kosher salt so if you're using this, be careful not to oversalt.   
Pepper-most recipes will call for fresh ground pepper. Affordable pepper mills are easy to find-Bed Bath and Beyond, Williams-Sonoma, and even Target and they come pre-loaded with pepper. You can also get an inexpensive disposable pepper mill at grocery stores or Costco. 

Oils-There are a variety of oils out there but how much cooking you do, what types of cooking you do, and how much space in the pantry you have will determine which ones you need. The two you should always have are: Extra Virgin Olive Oil, and Canola/Vegetable Oil. Olive oil is good for drizzling or dipping bread in, salads, and sauteeing. Canola or vegetable oil is good to have for anything that requires a more neutral flavor such as Mexican or Asian cooking, baking, or pan or deep frying.

Balsamic Vinegar-This vinegar is not just for salad dressings although it does make a great one. In my previous post, I talked about a marinade made with balsamic dressing. Balsamic is also very good with chicken-you can make a pan sauce with it for chicken breasts or as a glaze on roasted chicken. You can also buy a cheap balsamic vinegar and cook it down so it becomes a fancy glaze like what you get in a restaurant. (I'm willing to bet that they made it the same way. ) It's a very versatile vinegar that adds a lot of flavor to a lot of dishes.

Now let's talk about the staples. These are the things that your parents always had in the house so you knew you'd never starve. They're also usually pretty cheap so you can build a dish around them. A lot of these things you probably have in your pantry too:

Pasta-I like to keep a variety of shapes and sizes on hand. I also like to have elbow macaroni (for mac 'n cheese) and egg noodles (a quick and easy side dish with some butter, dried herbs and breadcrumbs). 

Rice-White rice is cheap and relatively easy to cook (unless you are me). It's good in soups and casseroles and also a great base for a stir fry. If you add a few ingredients-onions, chicken broth, and some spices-you have a pilaf that's a great side dish. (You can keep some boil-in-bag rice in there too-I won't tell). 

Couscous-Couscous is the absolute easiest thing in the world to make. You boil some chicken stock or water. You pour in the couscous, stir, take pan off the heat, cover, and walk away. Come back in a few minutes and you have a side dish that you can make in 5 minutes. (1 1/2 cups liquid to 1 cup of couscous). You can add flavors that you like but usually I add onions, paprika, and some herbs. I've also done carrots, raisin, and dried apricots. It doesn't cost a lot either. 

Breadcrumbs-They make the best topping for a casserole or as a breading for a chicken cutlet. I go through them very quickly so I like to have a back-up. Nothing is worse than having "club hand"-the expression I first thought of working on the breading station at my very first restaurant job. You end up having more breading on your hand than on the ingredient you are breading. The last thing you want to do is to have to wash that off and run to the store. I prefer the plain variety so I can add my own flavors because the seasoning differs from brand to brand and I tend to buy whatever's on sale so I don't necessarily know what they taste like. 

That's it for now. Check back later in the week for the second part of this post and a printable list of all the ingredients I've talked about. (Thanks Sara.) 

Marinades 101

I asked for some suggestions from friends about what they'd like to learn more about so the upcoming posts will include topics on those suggestions. This one is actually based on Marisa's facebook status last week about marinades. What can I say I was inspired.

First, let's go over the basics-including the things that are not so obvious. Marinades are usually used for one of two reasons: (1) to tenderize meat and (2) to add flavor to meat. You can also marinate vegetables- a great idea if you are grilling or roasting them. A marinade usually consists of three components:an acid-lemon juice/vinegar/wine, a fat-usually oil, and seasoning-herbs/spices. Fresh herbs are really nice because they give such a great and different flavor from dried herbs. Usually I will chop fresh herbs but sometimes I will also add a sprig of that same herb into the bag or dish I'm using to marinate something.

Let's move on to setting up the marinade. I personally like to use large ziplock bags and always place a sheetpan or casserole dish underneath in case of leakage. I like to whisk up the marinade-starting with the acid and other flavorings and adding the oil in last. (This is the same way I would make a vinaigrette as well.) Then I pour the marinade into the bag and add the protein. Generally 6-8 hours is a good amount of time for beef, lamb or pork. For chicken, 4-6 hours is a good guideline. For fish 1-2 hours and shrimp 30 minutes-1 hour.

Now for the recipes:
These come from Williams-Sonoma and are really basic. They use food processors or blenders but I would use a whisk.
You can use this one for chicken, pork or steak. It's a little bit on the sweet side.

Balsamic Rosemary Marinade

For seafood and chicken, you can't go wrong with a citrus and garlic marinade.

Citrus Marinade


Busy Busy Busy

It's been awhile but here are some updates. My husband finished up the Biggest Loser competition at his school. His team came in third place so they didn't win any money but he lost the most weight on his team. He ended up losing 28 pounds-12% of his body weight. I am so proud of him! The past few weeks we haven't really been dieting because we wanted a break. I ended up losing about 7 pounds. I have only gained back 3 pounds (and that's including eating ice cream haha) so I'm very happy. I think the biggest thing was portion sizes and that's why I haven't gained it all back. My allergies have been much better so next week I think we will start eating healthier again. 

We started seriously house hunting a few weeks ago so we've been very busy. I'm really excited to be buying a home. We hope to be in a house by the end of 2009. For the tax credit but also because we'll be married for a year in August (:-O) and our goal was to be in a house or at least seriously looking by our anniversary. Looks like we're right on track. We live with our in-laws rent free in the basement so we are able to save a ton of money but it will be really nice to have our own place. 

We've been crunching some numbers in order to figure out how we'll afford said house and as we thought it's going to be very tight budget-wise. So lately I've been trying to cook up (pun intended) some budget-friendly recipes. One of our friends got us a budget cookbook which has some great ideas in it. Also when your pantry is set up it's easy to come up with something cheap and easy. (Next post I will be posting about setting up a pantry and some things I consider essentials so stay tuned.) Right now we cook for ourselves but our pantry is not as extensive as I would like. I'm excited to have that in our own house. Today I'm making a recipe from Cooks Illustrated's Best Make Ahead Recipe. It's one of my favorite cookbooks. I bought it when I was entertaining the idea of being a personal chef. It's really cool because it explains how to add flavor to something that is frozen. It also has desserts in it. Yum. I will post pictures later.  


About Me

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Culinary school grad figuring out how to cook for two people semi-healthy. After learning how to cook in huge batches with tons of butter and salt, this proves to be a challenge. Learning how to be a wife and homeowner.