Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Stock up on favorite pantry items when they are on sale to save money while preparing quick cooking meals. Here is a list of favorite pantry items for cooking tasty meals.
1. Pack in the pasta. Pasta is so versatile that you could make dinner with it every night for a month and never have the same meal twice. Keep different size and shaped noodles on hand to make meals more interesting. Dried pasta can be added to soups, stews or casseroles, it can be used as a bed for your favorite stir-fry, to add some bulk to your meal or it can be the star of the show - a quick go-to meal by simply adding your favorite jarred sauce.
2. Stock up on spaghetti sauce. Of course you can use a jar of spaghetti sauce to pour over spaghetti for a quick meal any night of the week, but think outside the box a little when it comes to this pantry staple. You would be surprised how many different ways spaghetti sauce can be used. The great thing about spaghetti sauce is that all of the cooking has been done and that all-day flavor is already sealed in. There are so many varieties on the store shelves that you can get a sauce with whatever flavor combination you prefer, or you can get a simple marinara sauce and spice it up your own way by adding fresh herbs and vegetables to suit your pallette and your menu.
3. Be prepared with prepared broths. Boxes or cans of prepared beef, chicken and vegetable broth are a must have pantry staple. When it comes to quick cooking you should not pass up any opportunity to add flavor. You can do this by substituting broth in place of water to add extra flavor to any recipe. You can even cook your rice in broth instead of water. If you cook often the larger boxes of broth can be stored in the refrigerator after opening so you can use as much or as little as you need and they can sometimes be a better bargain than the cans. If you do wind up with leftover broth in an opened container and are afraid that you will not be able to use it quickly, pour it into ice cube trays and freeze it. You can pop out as many cubes as you need and melt them right into your recipe. You can even get fancy by adding some dried herbs to your broth cubes before freezing for extra flavor.
4. Avoid running out of rice. Rice is a great way to add bulk to a meal. Serving a stir fry of meat and vegetables over rice makes a delicious and satisfying meal. Rice is also a great way to add some whole grains to your diet by using brown rice or wild rice instead of white rice. Experiment with different flavors and find one that your family enjoys. Rice also makes a great side dish either by itself, with vegetables mixed in or simply topped with your favorite spaghetti sauce.
5. Keep condensed soups on hand. Condensed soups are a fabulous way to add both moisture and flavor to quick cooking meals. You will find recipe ideas right on the soup can labels and there have been entire cookbooks written around the theme of cooking with condensed soups. Cream of mushroom, cream of chicken, cream of celery and condensed cheese soup are probably the most popular. Take a close look at the soup selection the next time you are in the grocery store. Read the recipes on the labels and stock up on any that you can incorporate into your weekly menu planning. If nothing else, you can make soup for lunch or dinner on a cold rainy day. Don't forget the chicken noodle in case somebody doesn't feel well.
6. Dig into dried herbs and spices. Having a stock of herbs and spices on hand will really help "spice" up your quick meals. Kosher salt, whole black peppercorns (to grind in a pepper grinder), parsley, basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme, cumin, chili powder, mustard powder and paprika would be a great starting point. Unless you cook a lot, buy these items in the smallest quantity possible. Dried herbs and spices can lose their flavor and it is recommended that you should replace them after 6 months. You will wind up wasting money if you buy the jumbo size container of paprika, only use it once or twice and wind up throwing it away.
7. Leave room for liquid condiments. Worcestershire, soy sauce, hot pepper sauce, and an assortment of vinegars are some liquid condiments that can pack a punch when it comes to adding flavor to your quick fix meals.
8. Cash in on canned tomatoes. Having a variety of canned tomato products in your pantry is a great way to add all-day cooked flavor to your meals. You can add variety by mixing up the size of the tomatoes, from whole to finely diced. You can even purchase the cans with herbs and spices already added.
9. Bank on canned beans. Beans are a great source of fiber and an excellent way to add bulk to your meals, but cooking with dried beans can take a very long time because you typically have to soak them overnight and then cook them for hours until they soften. Canned beans give you the same benefits in a fraction of the time and if you stock up when they are bargain-priced they can be beneficial to your wallet as well.
10. Have extra Extra Virgin Olive Oil. This is an absolute cooking staple. Even though oil is a fat, extra virgin olive oil is considered a healthy fat because it contains antioxidants like Vitamin E, it can lower you bad cholesterol while raising your good cholesterol and studies have shown that extra virgin olive oil can actually help prevent heart disease and certain types of cancer. You should keep in mind, though, that even with all of these health benefits, extra virgin olive oil is still a fat and it should be consumed in moderation. Two tablespoons per day should be your limit. There are many varieties of extra virgin olive oil on the market and some can be very expensive. Do a little taste testing to find a moderately priced brand that suits your pallette and watch for it to go on sale