The FPAA is suggesting that the recent U.S.-Mexico tomato uproar could cause prices to soar, so stock up on tomatoes before costs rise, and check out the 10 additional pantry essentials that can keep you cooking at home and not needing a take-out solution.
Have you ever gotten home from work, looked in your pantry, said, "Uh oh," and then went to look up your family's favorite pizza place? Save yourself time, money and another boxed meal by keeping these 11 pantry staples in stock.
Olive oil: You almost always need an oil for cooking, and extra virgin olive oil is a great choice for a wide range of those needs. You can use it for everything from searing a chicken breast to brushing the tops of rolls or making a tasty salad dressing. Not only does it add a subtle bit of flavor to many dishes, it is heart healthy, bringing much-desired antioxidants to the table. There are many olive oils at many price-points, but most of us are fine with a less expensive brand.
Garlic: If I had to name the most-used seasoning in my kitchen, garlic would have to be it. I keep it fresh, minced and as a powder. It has also been linked to lowering cholesterol, preventing heart disease and destroying free-radicals, so how can you beat it? Use it in all kinds of dishes. One of my favorites since college: Pasta with a drizzling of olive oil, Parmesan, pepper and a good shake of garlic powder. It's quick, filling, delicious and cheap; toss in some sliced grilled chicken and add a salad and some garlic rolls--how can you beat that?
Broth/Stock: Go for low-sodium, and keep a variety--chicken, beef and vegetable. Stocks are great for cooking vegetables--try either chicken or veggie stock for cooking green beans instead of adding meat for seasoning--and are fantastic starters for homemade soup. And rice? Use stock instead of water when cooking rice, and it will give it a flavor that will stand alone--throw in some of that garlic, too, and it won't hurt a thing. Oh, and stay away from those "cubes;" they are typically little more than salt.
Salsa: It is hard to beat salsa. Get a low-sodium variety, and go for it. It is great just scooped on chips, of course, but it also makes a tasty topping for baked potatoes. And, don't be shy: Try different varieties of salsa out there. Fruit salsas can be particularly refreshing when used as a topping on boneless chicken breasts--just season your chicken breasts with some garlic and pepper, place in a baking pan, and pour your favorite salsa over them. Bake at 350 until done, about 30-45 minutes (I always line my baking pan with foil when I do this, by the way; makes clean-up a lot easier).
Beans: Dried beans are great--when you have time to soak and clean them. For end-of-the-day emergencies, keep canned beans on hand. Wash them thoroughly when you take them out of the can to remove as much salt as possible, and cook them in some of that stock, with garlic and pepper. Or, add them to a salad. Even create a yummy side dish--I love black beans mixed with my favorite salsa when we have Southwestern. Get creative--beans can take it.
Spaghetti Sauce: One of the most kept-on-hand, must-have pantry items has to be jarred spaghetti sauce. Look for a lower-sodium variety, and check the label to avoid high fructose corn syrup. Spaghetti sauce is good for lots of things, not just spaghetti. Make lasagna, meatballs, pizza, even use it in stuffed green peppers. And, while you are stocking up, check out all of the different styles of sauce available--keeping a jar of pesto and a low-fat Alfredo sauce isn't a bad idea, either.
Pasta: If you're going to have spaghetti sauce, you're going to have to have something to put it on when you need a quick, filling dinner. But, keep lots of varieties on hand, not just spaghetti. Keep shells, penne, linguini, even keep something larger, in case you feel like doing a stuffed shell dish one night. Experiment until you find the ones you like, then make sure you always have them, and use them not just in Italian feasts, but in salads, soups, even in a side dish, such as macaroni and cheese.
Gravies: Making homemade gravy is great, but low-sodium jarred varieties can be really helpful in a pinch. Get several types--chicken, beef, turkey--and use them when you need to round out a meal, or as a sauce for cooking. Gravies are great, of course, poured over a chicken breast or mashed potatoes, but they can also be used for slow cooker meals. Try putting some of those chicken breasts, carrots, onions and potatoes in the slow cooker, sprinkling in some garlic powder, then pouring a jar of gravy over it all, and leaving to cook on "low" all day.
Rice: There are numerous ways rice can be used, including being cooked with broth and topped with some of that gravy to make a wonderful side dish. Try adding a few frozen veggies into your rice while cooking, whatever you like--broccoli, cauliflower, peas, carrots, onions. Don't forget some garlic and pepper. Whatever you like. When you use a low-sodium broth instead of water, there is not even a need to add salt. And, rice of course is a great base to be topped with whatever you like--try some of that slow cooker chicken and gravy over some rice or pasta.
Frozen Veggies: Okay, technically not a "pantry" item, but a fantastic addition with the pantry items you keep on-hand. Frozen veggies are great--easy to use and typically just as yummy and nutrient-rich as fresh, because they are frozen so quickly after harvesting. Get your favorites, and try cooking them in stock, adding them to pasta dishes, or just as a steamed side dish with a bit of olive oil drizzled over them.
Canned Tomatoes: You will never regret having canned tomatoes on-hand. Not only can you whip up a quick sauce with them, but they give you a burst of antioxidants. And, have you ever tried using some olive oil, minced garlic, dried oregano and fire-roasted diced tomatoes (drained) on your pizza instead of a traditional sauce? Keep a variety--diced, sauce, paste, whole, crushed--and go for the low-sodium varieties. A simple side dish we had growing up: Whole tomatoes, drained, in a small pan. Add garlic, pepper, and a few shakes of your favorite hot sauce. Top with slices of bread (any bread will do, but French bread slices are great) and Parmesan. Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes, or until heated through. And, toss in some frozen okra before you put it in the oven, and you've got "Tomato Gumbo!" Simple, yes, but tasty.
If critics of the recent deal made between the U.S. and Mexico regarding the tomato trade are correct, it might be a good idea to stock your pantry with those canned tomatoes now. Many critics have been harsh, indicating that the deal will ultimately see a rise in prices of fresh tomatoes for American buyers.
"For months, we have been urging the U.S. Commerce Department to continue the U.S.-Mexico tomatoes suspension agreement, which has brought peace and stability to the U.S. market for fresh vegetable for 16 years," said Lance Jungmeyer, President of FPAA. "But this agreement goes well beyond what is needed, raises prices unacceptably and is not what distributors had in mind."
Read more about the deal on the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas website.
What staples can you simply not function without, Huliq readers?
Updated on March 21, 2013.
Image: Wikimedia Commons
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