Whew. And now back to the originally scheduled programming? The New Year didn’t just come knocking over here at SCF, but it kicked down the door on its way inside!
Sometimes we all need a break from the internet — in fact, since the new year, I’ve already read seven books, working on three more (one is an audiobook, one is digital, and one is a physical book). It feels good to log out for a while and focus on the present.
That said, this time of year is also one for setting goals and/or challenges for oneself. Something I’m working on between now and the start of the farmer’s market in April has two parts:
(1) Closely budgeting my food spending so I can see how far my dollar goes for good food (and also reduce food waste), and
(2) Figuring out what my “pantry staples” are.
As I carefully meal plan and limit myself to one grocery run each week, I’m specifically looking for items that will work for multiple meals. By doing so, I use fresh produce more efficiently and quickly, in ways and with flavors that keep things interesting.
One example: avocado. In smoothies, tacos, in breakfast scrambles or even just with a bit of salt, pepper and hot sauce tossed on a nice half, I’ve used them at all points of the day in quick throw-together meals. If you buy some at peak ripeness and some before they fully ripen, you can have a great source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
The downside? Avocado can get pricey, so I wait for sales or weeks when I don’t have to purchase as much. So while that’s not an option for every week, I can splurge once in a while.
- Eggs. I mean, really. Yes, breakfast, but also shakshuka, for baking, for healthy omelets, for so many ways to add some protein. I’ve recently baked them in the oven in halves of avocado for a super filling snack.
- Flour. Another “duh” moment that I’ve overlooked in the past. There’s so much to do with flour — and it doesn’t even have to be white flour. I’m learning more about storing baked goods in the freezer, too, so if I know I can’t finish a loaf of bread I make in a few days, I slice it all, leave some out for the current week, and toss the rest in the freezer for the next. Also… homemade pasta, anyone? 😁
- Chicken stock. Simply my favorite in terms of flavor profile, you could always replace it with the stock or broth of your choice. If I’m not using it for soups, stews, risottos and the like, I heat some up to carry in an insulated bottle for sipping on during colder days, offering both hydration and some additional nutrition. When market comes around again, I’ll likely make bone broth that I’ll freeze in ice cube trays and store long-term.
- Pasta and/or grains. Whether quinoa, farro, or good ol’ Italian style squiggles, having some on hand can be a great base for dishes, in salads, or just as a filling side.
- (Goat’s) Milk. Again, your mileage may vary on the type. That said, as I’m playing with cheesemaking, yogurt and the like, having some milk on hand really helps. It’s also a common ingredient for baking and lots of other recipes, so I normally aim for small sizes unless there’s fresh mozzarella in my near future.
- Unsalted nuts. They keep a good long while, you can use them for crusts, and you can snack on them in a pinch. Why the heck not? I typically go for walnuts, and sometimes pine nuts, though the latter tend to be twice as expensive. If I’m feeling really fancy, macadamia are awesome.
- Frozen fruit/veggies. Storing fresh produce can be a crapshoot at the best of times. If you have a hectic schedule and forget to make that salad or do that thing with them, suddenly you have ruined stuff sitting in your fridge and a lot of guilt. So I carefully pick frozen items that I tend to use often like broccoli, spinach, mushrooms, raspberries, pomegranate seeds, and suchlike for long term storage. In market season, I tend to just freeze what I’m not immediately going to use fresh.
Before I shop each week, I take stock of my basics and immediately text myself a list of what’s running low or empty. Once that’s done, I figure out what other ingredients I want to use, and in what combinations for the rest of the budget.
Currently, I’m cooking more frequently than I used to, which comes with its own challenges. Eventually, I want to get back to cooking meals once or twice a week in larger batches so I can spend more time on other things, like researching recipes or finding new kitchen skills to develop.
I really needed the last month to get myself prepped and organized for the coming year, so expect a more frequent and consistent posting schedule for 2022!
What are the basics for your kitchen? Did I miss anything potentially life-altering? Let me know in the comments, and thanks for reading!
I’ve got some fun projects planned for the next couple of months, like cheese- and pasta-making from scratch! We’ll also see a return to more wine reviews. Stay tuned.