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« Home from St. Louis | Main | Umami Crisps »

What to Cook? Pantry to the Rescue!

By Dave Hu

All this week, Special Fork bloggers are revealing what’s in their pantry, with tips for using pantry staples. To celebrate Pantry Week, Special Fork has teamed up with Zojirushi, the Japanese maker of top-quality kitchen appliances, to offer a fabulous sweepstakes prize: the 5.5-cup capacity Zojirushi Micom Rice Cooker & Warmer ($192 MSRP), which not only cooks rice flawlessly, but also steams foods and bakes cakes. Menu settings include: white/sushi, mixed, porridge, sweet, brown, cake, steam and quick cooking. Enter to win!

Sometimes I come home from work and there’s nothing in the fridge to make for dinner. This is when a well-thought-out pantry can be a lifesaver. Unlike Sandy, whose beautiful kitchen we use to shoot our videos, I have a very small kitchen and space is at a premium. Therefore my pantry is designed for maximum versatility with the fewest number of ingredients.

Here are a few of the foods I stock in my pantry:

Grains create flexibility. I always keep a variety of grains on hand: rice, couscous, pasta; a box of pilaf mix. This gives me the most flexibility to put together a meal with what I have lying around.

Freeze lemon and lime juice. This is a little trick I learned from Sandy. By freezing lemon and lime juices, you’ll always have some on hand when you need it. It’s also a great way to keep leftover citrus from spoiling in the fridge. You can use the juice for such dishes as Chicken Piccata.

Frozen vegetables are awesome. Frozen vegetable ensure I always have a veggie on the table. If you worry about nutrient loss through freezing, don’t. Vegetables that are picked for freezing are harvested at their peak and frozen quickly to preserve nutrients.

Eggs – try breakfast for dinner. As long as you have eggs lying around you can make anything from an omelet to a breaded cutlet. And don’t discount making a frittata for dinner.

Potatoes are versatile. Potatoes are great for side dishes like mashed potatoes or baked potatoes but are also good in stews, soups or curries. Store potatoes in a dark, well-ventilated place in a perforated plastic or paper bag.

Onions add flavor. Onions are an easy way to add flavor to a dish. Use them raw for some bite, sauté them for sweetness. This is a perfect pantry item because it’s versatile, easy to store and keeps well. To store onions, keep them in a cool, dry, dark place with plenty of air movement. Do not store onions in plastic.

Stock up on proteins. I buy a lot of my proteins from Costco and freeze them. Here are some things to keep in mind when storing meats and poultry. Refrigerate or freeze as soon as possible. If freezing, it’s best to store in zip-top freezer bags. To defrost, you can leave them in the refrigerator overnight. To thaw more quickly, proteins can be defrosted by submerging in cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes and cook immediately upon thawing.

So with a little insight into how I build my pantry, here are some of my favorite pantry meals. And just because we’re working from the pantry doesn’t mean that the meal has to be boring.

  • Breakfast burrito: Four ingredients and 2 minutes is all that’s needed for a filling breakfast. A great way to start your morning. And bonus: it can be eaten with one hand on your way out the door.
  • Pizzettas with California Dried Plums & Caramelized Onions: Using flatbreads like naan is a great way to spice up a pizza. If you’ve got some dried plums on hand for snacking and some goat cheese for salads, use them on this delicious pizzetta.
  • Pasta Carbonara: One of my go-to meals. As long as you have some bacon in the fridge (and really who doesn’t) you’ll be able to pull this together in no time.
  • Linguine with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Anchovies: Let me say right up front that I’m actually not a huge fan of anchovies. In this super simple pantry dish, the sun-dried tomatoes are the star; the anchovies just add some depth.
  • Chicken Piccata: This is where you’ll thank me for the tip about frozen lemon juice. Only six ingredients and 15 minutes until dinner is ready.
  • Tonkatsu: Pork, egg, flour and panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) – does it get any simpler than that? Next time you’re at the supermarket, just pick up panko from the ethnic section and you’ll be able to whip up a Japanese dish from your pantry.
  • Fried rice: In my house fried rice is how we get rid of leftovers. Veggies about to go bad? Make fried rice. Leftover chicken breast? Make fried rice. But fried rice does double duty as a pantry meal as well. Defrost some chicken or shrimp and throw in some frozen vegetables. Dinner is served.

Today’s video recipe is another pantry staple for me: Stir Fry Curry Ground Beef – just 6 ingredients and less than 10 minutes of cook time.

To get the recipe and shopping list on your smartphone (iPhone, BlackBerry, Android device) or PC, click here.

Stir Fry Curry Ground Beef
Serves 4

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1-1/2 cup diced onion (about 1 medium onion)
1 pound ground beef
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
Hot rice

  1. In large skillet heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and sauté until soft; about 3 minutes. Remove onion from pan and set aside
  2. Add ground beef to skillet, stirring to break up chunks and cook until done; about 3 to 4 minutes
  3. Return onion to skillet and add curry powder, sugar and soy sauce. Mix until well combined. Serve hot over rice.

Add fresh or thawed frozen peas when you return onion to skillet, before adding seasonings. Top each serving with a sunny-side up egg.

Related posts:
  1. What’s in your Pantry?
  2. Sandwich Dinners to the Rescue
  3. Resolution: Clean Pantry
  4. Pantry Clean-Up: What to do with Garam Masala
  5. If it’s Friday, it’s Video Blog Day on Special Fork

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