Originally posted to Facebook August 12, 2010 @7:12PM:
Backstory: I was whining to my mom about how difficult it is to cook healthy, quick meals for one person. I can only eat so much broccoli in a week before it goes bad. If you’ve been to my mom’s kitchen, you know that she has a unique ability to whip up something amazing in a jiffy. I asked her to document her motherly wisdom.
What I Stock in My Kitchen
By Your Mother
Basics: Eggs, large sweet onion, garlic cloves, butter, milk, half and half, whipped cream cheese, sour cream, chicken stock base and all my bread (except what I freeze)
Condiments: Mayo, ketchup, yellow mustard, Dijon mustard, sweet relish, bottled lemon juice, capers, horseradish, sweet pickle relish, Major Gray’s chutney, and Worchester sauce
Deli Drawer: Bacon, hot dogs, American cheese, Swiss cheese, crumbled blue cheese or Saga blue wedge, cheddar cheese, fresh grated parmesan or parmesan reggiano wedge or assaggio wedge, sometimes feta cheese, and a ham steak slice
Vegetables: Baby carrots, small head iceberg lettuce, celery and one bag of specialty lettuce (spinach, arugula, field greens, baby lettuces, romaine, etc.) Two white potatoes and two sweet potatoes
Breads: Hot dog and hamburger rolls, raisin bread, small Lender Bagels (onion and plain), a loaf of Arnold’s hearty multigrain bread, Phyllo dough and English muffins
Meat/Fish: Individually wrapped boneless chicken breasts, pork chops hamburger patties, Canadian bacon, sausage, cooked and peeled shrimp and tilapia filets
Vegetables: (The kind in a bag, not “block”) Baby peas, chopped spinach, french green beans and strips of red and green peppers
Other: Homemade soups, stews, chili, taco spiced ground beef and spaghetti sauce. The only pre-made dinner products that I buy (and they’re excellent) are Stouffer’s Escalloped Chicken and Noodles and Stuffed Green Peppers with Tomato Sauce.
Canned Goods: Small cans of mushrooms, albacore tuna, white crab meat, minced clams, water chestnuts, corn, black beans and pimento. Diced tomatoes, spaghetti sauce, kidney beans and white cannellini beans. Soups: bisque of tomato, cream of mushroom, cream of chicken, cream of celery and cream of asparagus. Fruits: mandarin oranges, grapefruit, and pear halves (not the kind packed in heavy syrup)
Dried Goods: Pasta, lentils, peas, panko crumbs, corn bread mix, Italian style breadcrumbs white rice, Top Ramen noodles, crackers (at a minimum saltines and Ritz or a flavored cracker) and peanut butter. Nuts: pecans, walnuts, cashews and peanuts. Fruit: cherries, cranberries and raisins. Cereal and cookies
Other: Soy sauce, sesame oil, peanut oil, extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, apple cider vinegar, rice vinegar, rice wine, dry sherry, cornstarch, baking soda, baking powder, flour, sugar, artificial sweetener and salt. Essential spices: basil, dill, tarragon, parsley, oregano, peppercorns (for a pepper mill) and freeze-dried chives.
Some Tips for Inexpensive, Quick Wonderful Food
1. Buy lots of small freezer bags and Glad plastic containers. Mark and date what you freeze for easy identification. Because you’re cooking for one, you’ll want to freeze the rest of that jar of spaghetti sauce or the extra diced tomatoes. My rule is 6 months for frozen, 5 days for refrigerated leftovers.
2. If you’re cooking, make enough for a second or third meal. It doesn’t take any longer, other than to package and stick it in the freezer. Things like stews and chili are actually better the second time.
3. Pack meat and fish individually in freezer bags. For fish and seafood, be sure to ask if it was previously frozen. Don’t refreeze if it was frozen and thawed at the fish counter.
4. All the things I keep in the “deli drawer” will keep a long time. Bacon and the ham slice have been cured. Cheeses will keep too as long as you have them in a well-sealed baggies.
5. Obviously, you can’t buy everything on this list at once, but keep in mind that you are stocking your kitchen each time you go to the store. So pick up a couple of things on the list each time. You can start with one vinegar or oil, then add others later.
6. I haven’t included fresh fruits and vegetables. Buy what’s in season. They’re cheaper and better.
7. Use your toaster oven instead of the big oven when you’re eating alone.
8. That Sunday afternoon when you’re doing laundry and lounging around, make soup. It’s fun and wonderful eating. (Or you can come here and raid the freezer.)
9. Buy a rotisserie chicken. Eat it sliced the first time. Then make chicken salad, chicken a la king, chicken sandwiches, or toss it with some pasta, those leftover mushrooms and Parmesan cheese.
10. Make salad dressings, don’t buy them. Mix oil to vinegar about 2 to 1. Taste it, add salt and pepper, maybe Dijon mustard. Remember that great dressing from Bodega? Use sherry instead of vinegar with your extra virgin olive oil. Maybe add some blue cheese crumbles. Or, if you like the creamy kind, start with a little mayonnaise, add a little sour cream and blue cheese. Too thick? Add a little milk. Or make a dressing starting with mayonnaise, add ketchup and lemon juice. This is the dressing you like on that shrimp salad (iceberg lettuce, shredded cheddar, chopped tomatoes, a little sweet onion). Add a little horseradish for an extra kick. If you want Thousand Island dressing, add sweet pickle relish to this.
11. When you don’t feel like cooking, eggs and/or cheese is your answer. Make a nice omelet. You have ham in your deli bin, there are lots of cheeses to choose from and onions or chives (in the spice rack) or maybe you want to use some of those leftover mushrooms.. Or, maybe you have a fresh ripe tomato that would go great with Swiss, Brie, or mozzarella. Take out some of that 12-grain bread from the freezer. Get one or two of those green or red pepper strips while you’re there for the omelet. Maybe whip up a little spinach salad with some pecans, dried cherries, a bit of apple and some blue cheese with the Bodega dressing. Add a glass of wine. Wow, what a great meal!
12. What else can you do with eggs? Egg salad or a BLT with egg sandwich, If you really want to get fancy, how about a cheese soufflé?
13. What else can you do with cheese? Well, of course, there’s American cheese for a grilled cheese sandwich (wonderful with your bisque of tomato soup and a few pickles). But you might try a mixture of cheeses for your grilled cheese. Or, take that plump ripe tomato (in season), put it on some toasted 12-grain bread from your freezer and top it with some Swiss cheese and put it in the toaster oven to melt the cheese, adding some Mayo before you close it. Wonderful. Or, get one of those bagels, toast it, cover with cream cheese and add a big tomato slice with salt and pepper. (Kristin taught me this.) Too good to describe. Or maybe just get some good crackers, some fresh pears, grapes or an apple, and a hunk of cheese and go at it. A nice glass of wine too. Who needs a hot meal?
14. Knowing how to make “white sauce” is essential. This is a basic of French cooking and there are three kinds of white sauce: thin, medium and thick. There are 3 ingredients: butter, flour and milk. The basic recipe uses 1C of milk. For thin 1 T flour and butter. For medium: 2T flour and butter. For thick: 3 T flour and butter. Now, you want to add salt and pepper to taste. (You may remember the dinner you, Jackie, Kara and Kristin Dennis made for all the parents. You made a basic medium white sauce and added champagne. This was the sauce you poured over your chicken.) Or, you can add a little sherry, if you like that flavor (I do.) Quite honestly, I have never made a thin or thick white sauce. The medium is always right for my purposes. So now that you’ve made it, what do you do with it? Well, you could chop up some of that leftover rotisserie chicken and put it in that with a little pimento or leftover mushrooms, maybe some onion that you’ve sautéed. You could even add some of those baby peas from the freezer or a couple of chopped strips of red or green pepper (also in the freezer) and/or pimento….good too. Now you have chicken a la king, which you can serve over an English muffin (also in your freezer) or toast points. One of your dad’s favorite quick dishes is tuna fish (from the can) with just white sauce and salt and pepper on toast or English muffin. You can add chipped beef (get it from a deli) to the white sauce too, serving it over toast. When I make baked chicken potpie, I use white sauce with some tarragon (to taste…..add a little, then more until you like it).
15. So what else can you make when you don’t really feel like cooking? Well, you can stir up a “stir fry”. Take those veggies that have been languishing in the fridge, maybe you bought some broccoli or fresh green beans or snow peas. Put a little pan of water on to boil and start a skillet (you don’t need a wok) with peanut oil. Chop up some carrots and onions. Sauté some shrimp from the freezer, leftover chicken or even hot dogs. Add the veggies to the stirfry (there are no rules here, just leftovers). Put the Top Ramen noodles in the boiling water until they are soft……maybe a minute?……drain, then throw them in the pan with the veggies and add a little soy sauce and sesame oil. Dinner, in 10 minutes, Chinese style.
Well, I could go on and on about the wonderful dishes you can make with these ingredients, but you will have fun discovering them, as you become an excellent cook. (One of the benefits of regularly eating “in” rather than “out”).
You may notice that I didn’t list much for desserts. Of course, my dad was a diabetic so we never had much in the way of desserts, but I always have fresh fruit and cookies on hand. Cookies are great because you can eat a couple and that seems to scratch that “sweet” itch. And of course, fresh fruits, in season, are like manna from the gods.