Sunday, February 19, 2012

Got Balsamic?

As any experienced cook would say, it is important to have a well-stocked pantry and fridge with plenty of versatile ingredients that make it easy to throw together a quick meal and/or help save you money at the grocery store when preparing for the week's menu.

You should avoid buying a bunch of perishable items unless you have specific plans on when to use them.  Onions and peppers typically will last in a refrigerator for about a week before the peppers start to shrivel in appearance and the onion begins to get soft spots.  Herbs, especially cilantro and parsley, usually last about 3-4 days before they start to brown and get soggy.  This is all speaking from my own experience.  I did no research to discover this!

As far as purchasing items that have extremely long shelf lives, the following list is my definition of "the best" on-hand ingredients.  I use all or most of these in many of my recipes and I have found that keeping my fridge and pantry stocked with these items makes it so easy to create, substitute, and even change up other recipes.  
Green onions are my ultimate "stand-in" for any recipe that calls for scallions or leeks, which surprisingly, is quite a few!  I've never been able to find "scallions" at the grocery store, but I do know they are small onions.  These skinny dudes are super cheap, add great flavor to pasta sauces and are also used in soup, salad, and last-week's BLT smashed potatoes (as a substitute for leeks, of course).  They take 2 seconds to chop and they typically last a week in the fridge.  I find that I can almost always use every bit of the bunch when I buy them.  

Minced garlic--not fresh--is something I literally cannot cook without.  Despite the fact that many people often complain about different foods tasting "too garlicy", for me, I can't ever seem to get enough garlic.  If a recipe calls for 2-3 cloves of garlic, (which isn't very much) I usually put at least 2-3 heaping spoonfuls of jarred garlic in.  Yes, I do use fresh garlic from time to time but to me it is not worth the constant upkeep.  Fresh garlic sprouts so quickly, not to mention it is a HUGE pain to chop, press, or even peel.  Even my garlic press does not help with this task.  So I am definitely a huge fan of the jarred minced garlic.  It lasts longer and, to me, makes food taste just as good as fresh garlic.  
Balsamic Vinegar--which actually is made from a reduction of cooked white grape juice, rather than vinegar (yes, I DID do research to discover this one), is one of my favorite flavors.  Too much or too little can keep a dish from tasting as it should, but when measured just right, it has the ability to completely transform a simple chicken dish or even when reduced with a little bit of honey and melted butter, it makes an amazing sauce to pour over salmon.  It also goes well with tomatoes and mushrooms and can be mixed with olive oil to make a salad dressing.  It's pretty inexpensive, unless you buy the extremely top-of-the-line brand, and it also lasts for months.  I always keep a bottle in my pantry.

On-Hand Cans:
Allen's Italian Green Beans--GREATNESS;  This is my fall-back for any time I make something that needs a green side.  All you need is a little crushed red pepper, black pepper, and a tiny bit of salt and they taste perfect.  Best canned green beans around! (and I'm not posting anymore pictures because I am sick of having to put pictures all in a vertical line--gotta figure out how to use this blogger!!)

Old El Paso brand Spicy Refried Beans--favorite kind of bean and I always make them with chile rellenos, enchiladas, or tacos.

Rotel--you can make queso, add it to mashed potatoes, rice, or chicken.  You can also put it in meatloaf to add a kick!

This week I am trying out a few new recipes.  One of them is a new twist on spaghetti bake from Paula Deen's son, Bobby Deen.  Unlike Paula, he actually makes dishes that are lower in calories!  This spaghetti bake features green pepper, Italian chicken sausage (which I couldn't find so I got Italian ground turkey), and other fresh ingredients.  I am anxious to try it!  Other dinners this week are repeats, but from long ago.  Stir-fry shrimp with capers and zucchini; Dinner club enchiladas, Balsamic and mushroom chicken (see, told you!), and for a lazy night....a DiGiorno pizza.  ;)

Eat well, friends!!!  

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