For the second post in the “Building a Better Kitchen” series, we move onto ingredients. I’m going to cover some basic items, categorized by storage space, that will allow you to be ready to make a good meal with what you have at home, or at least give you the basics for a good meal. Some of these items will also be add-ons; that is, things you can add to a take-out meal that will make it feel a little more homemade (and make it taste a little better).
So, without any further ado, and grouped in the same way as the kitchen equipment post, what you should keep in your fridge (with some handy-dandy, self-referential links included for Food Junta recipe examples):
– Eggs: On the most basic level, eggs can be a perfectly good meal in their own right, as scrambles, fried, or made into an omelet. You can add them to salad, hard-boiled or fried; to a sandwich, fried; to a quesadilla, hard-boiled or fried. And, finally, and most subtly, eggs can be used to enrich or bind a number of dishes: in fried rice, in carbonara, cracked into a soup, etc.
– Cheese: I like to have three kinds of cheese at all times. First, a hard cheese, primarily for grating over pasta. Preferably, you should get good quality parmigiano reggiano or pecorino – this is an area that’s worth the splurge. Second, a crumbly cheese, for crumbling over soups, stews, salads, or into sandwiches. I’m thinking goat cheese (what I usually use) or feta. And finally a good-melting cheese, like cheddar or Swiss, for sandwiches or quesadillas, in omelets, or grated over chili.
– Butter: Mostly for melting in a frying pan before cooking something. Also for baking. And for burgers, apparently!
– Salad Greens: Buy a head of lettuce (much cheaper than a bag of mesclun) and wash the whole thing in a salad spinner. After you dry it, the lettuce will keep for about a week (maybe a little less) in the fridge, where I usually store it just in the spinner.
– Salsa: I mostly use salsa on eggs, but you can also use it on fish or chicken, with rice and beans, or in a quesadilla or sandwich. My favorite is Green Mountain Gringo, medium hot.
– Lemons and limes: For squeezing on food and in drinks.
– Condiments: Ketchup (Heinz) and mustard are the biggies here. I like whole-grain mustard – I usually use the Maille Old Style Whole Grain Dijon Mustard, which comes in a little jar.
– Milk: Good thing to have, though I find I don’t use enough to be done before it spoils. I’ve started tending toward soy milk, which has a slightly longer fridge life, and can be shelved for months until you open it.
– Whole-wheat bread: I never used to keep this in the fridge until I was the only one using it. It’s remarkable how long it lasts in there!
– Tortillas: To eat with everything, not just as quesadillas. I often will heat a tortilla or half of one up in a pan and just eat it with whatever I’m having for dinner. It just needs about 30 seconds a side, in a dry pan, over medium heat.
– Plain yogurt or sour cream: To accent lots of different kinds of foods, particularly acidic or spicy ones. You can also add seasoning to make them into a kind of sauce.
– Bacon: A little bit of bacon added to almost anything makes it better. If you’re really throwing caution to the wind, cooking in bacon fat is also guaranteed to make whatever you’re cooking taste about twice as good.
– Olives: I always have both a jar of olives (for martinis) and a pint or so of “fresh” olives (for snacking). For the snacking olives, I just get a pint or half-pint from the Italian deli next door (they also have bulk olives at Whole Foods, among other places). I ask for a mix of olives with pits in. I hate it when they’re already pitted. You may prefer it.
– Sun-dried Tomatoes: These are great for adding a little extra to a salad, eggs, soup, sandwich, whatever. I also get these from the Italian deli, though you can buy them in a supermarket.
– Caesar Salad Dressing: I just can’t imagine making this from scratch for just me. I would if it was a dinner party situation, but sometimes you just want a Caesar Salad. Right now.
– Pre-made Cookie Dough: Is explanation necessary? I have become particularly taken with the super-lazy already individually formed cookie trays. Not because I’m actually that lazy, but because they make it really easy to bake just one cookie at a time.
– Sparkling Water: It’s a nice thing to have on hand, either plain or for cocktails.
Some Other Things You Can Typically Find Lurking in My Fridge
– White Wine
– Peanut Butter
– Jam: I am a jam girl, not a jelly girl.
– Miso: for soup
– Maple Syrup: for obvious uses, but also as a handy addition to salad dressing
– Sesame Oil: for stir-fries