Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Kitchen Lessons

Last night I made the worst dinner ever. Really. It was terrible.

I had planned on making a root vegetable tagine, which I’ve made before. Last time it turned out great. This time, it was a disaster. I think I must have either used too many coriander seeds or I over-toasted them. Or maybe too much cardamom. I’m not sure, but when I tasted the broth it was bitter. And intense. And un-savable.

So I scrapped it.

Luckily, I had some cooked shredded chicken and black beans cooked with ancho chile peppers in the freezer. I warmed them up together, made a batch of corn tortillas and a salad, and dinner #2 was served in about 20 minutes. It was pretty good.

The point of this story is two-fold:
Everybody makes mistakes in the kitchen sometimes. 

We just always hear about the successes—not the failures. Those get shoved down the garbage disposal, or tossed in the compost. But as Julia Child said: The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you've got to have a what-the-hell attitude. If it doesn’t turn out—so what? Pour another glass of wine, put out a little bread and olive oil and make something else. Which brings me to #2.

Have a well-stocked pantry, including your freezer. 

If your pantry, refrigerator and freezer are stocked with some basic staples, you can always make dinner in a pinch. Your pantry should be stocked with basic ingredients, which I’ll get to in a moment. 

But your freezer should be stocked with leftovers. Cooked beans, rice and pasta all freeze beautifully. As do soup, stews, lasagna, enchiladas, casseroles, cooked meats (especially those covered in sauce) and a host of other foods. If you keep leftovers in your freezer, you’ll always have an easy meal in minutes. 

Here are our recommendations for a basic, well-stocked pantry, refrigerator and freezer. Take this the grocery and stock up. You’ll always have breakfast, lunch or dinner at your fingertips. 

Beans Beans are a great source of fiber, protein, and nutrients like magnesium, selenium, and copper, and eating beans three or more times a week may help to prevent cancer and heart disease. Keep a variety of dried beans in your pantry, and when you make a dish with beans, cook up a big batch and store the leftovers in your freezer to add to salads, side dishes, soups and dips. If you use canned beans, just be sure to rinse them well to reduce the sodium content. 

Broth Prepared stocks have come a long way—just make sure you choose the organic, boxed varieties. Some of the canned brands still contain MSG and other preservatives. Keep chicken, beef and vegetable stock on hand for making soups, poaching vegetables & meats and making sauces.

CeleryIf you have onions, celery, carrots and boxed broth on hand, you can make dinner. That combination—with any variety of other pantry ingredients—easily turns into a satisfying soup or stew. And you can use celery to make ants-on-a-log. Just saying.

Cheese In small quantities, cheese is good for you, since cheese is a good source of calcium. Just don’t overdo it. Keep an assortment of cheeses on hand for last-minute guests or for a quick grilled cheese sandwich for dinner. 

Citrus FruitsCooking with lemons, limes, grapefruits, oranges and other citrus fruits—using both the juice and the zest—adds a lot of flavor to food and drinks with very little added calories. Citrus fruits are also high in Vitamin C and other antioxidants. Substitute citrus juice for vinegar in your salad dressings, or just squeeze some into your ice water for an early-morning pick-me-up. 

Dried Fruit Keep a variety of dried fruit in your refrigerator—currants, raisins, cherries, cranberries, prunes, dates—to add to oatmeal, cookies or granola. And think beyond the sweet side—dried fruit are delicious in savory dishes like salads, stews and vegetable or grain side dishes. 

Dried Whole Wheat Pasta With dried pasta in your pantry, dinner can be made in minutes. Toss your pasta with any leftover vegetables you have on hand, or even just simply in with olive oil and garlic. Easy. 

Eggs Eggs are the quintessential go-to fast food. Poached, boiled, fried, over-easy, over hard—they’re all good. Poached eggs over spring greens makes a perfect summer supper. Local, organic eggs are best, if it all possible. 

Flaxseed Flaxseed is really good for you, with micronutrients that may lower blood cholesterol, prevent heart attacks and reduce the risk of cancer. Choose ground flaxseed instead of whole—it’s more easily absorbed by the body. Sprinkle on fruit and yogurt, blend into smoothies, or sneak it into baked goods. Just store ground flaxseed in the freezer, since it can go bad quickly. 

Fruit Whole fruits are high in fiber and full of vitamins and phytochemicals that provide numerous health benefits. Keep a variety of fresh and frozen fruit on hand for quick snacking. Frozen fruit can be more affordable, since you’re less-likely to throw it away, and are just as nutritious. Blend frozen fruit with yogurt, milk or milk substitute into a fruit smoothie for an instant breakfast.

Greens Rich in flavor and full of nutrients, dark greens like kale, beet greens, collard greens, dandelion greens and swiss chard are versatile and delicious. And they may protect against cancer. Sauté greens with garlic, olive oil and red pepper flakes for a delicious side dish. Or bake kale into chips for a great snack! 

Greek Yogurt Greek yogurt is rich in calcium, and makes an excellent stand-in for sour cream. One of our favorite dips is to mash together avocado with Greek yogurt and stir in a little hot sauce, lime juice and cilantro. Delicious! Or use your Greek yogurt to make a smoothie or fruit parfait for breakfast or a snack. 

Honey Honey actually contains antioxidants and other micronutrients that are good for your health. Research suggests the darker honeys, like Buckwheat, are the healthiest. Honey may help the body to absorb calcium, improving bone health; and raw honey may help relieve allergies. Use honey to top your oatmeal, as a sweetener for granola or in your smoothie. 

Onions& Garlic Onions and garlic are the basis for so many dishes—soups, stews, sauces, sautés, dressings, dips… Keep them in a dark, cool place for the best shelf life. You’ll always be able to get a flavorful dinner started. 

Olive Oil Olive oil is a monounsaturated fat that has been shown to reduce LDL, or the “bad” cholesterol. Be sure to choose a great-quality, cold pressed extra virgin olive oil. 

Nuts and seeds Walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds...nuts and seeds are rich in mono- and polyunsaturated fats, which can help to reduce blood cholesterol and protect against heart disease. Eat a small handful of nuts each day to add to your heart health, or toss into your salads, pilafs or vegetables side dishes for great crunch and texture. Store them in the refrigerator, not in the pantry. They can go bad. 

Nut butters Nut butters are high in protein and energy, and contain phytochemicals that can help to reduced “bad” cholesterol, heart disease and cancer. Spread it on whole grain bread and you’ve got a complete protein and a filling snack. Mix it with some soy sauce and vinegar and other ingredients and you have an outstanding peanut dipping sauce. Just buy the natural nut butters without added sugar or fillers. 

Root vegetables Keep a variety of root vegetable on hand—potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, turnips, beets—and you can always have a quick dinner. They have a long shelf life and can be used in a variety of ways. They’re delicious roasted at a high heat with olive oil, or cooked into a soup or stew, or mashed and served as a side dish.

Tomatoes and tomato paste Tomatoes are jam-packed with nutrients, filled with Vitamins C, A and K and are a precious source of lycopene, which research suggests prevents cancer and heart disease. Since ripe, fresh tomatoes are perishable and not always available, canned tomatoes are a good substitute. Keep jarred tomato paste in the refrigerator to add to sauces and soups. 

Whole Grains Choose whole grains and your heart will thank you—they have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and obesity. And be adventurous—try Amaranth, Barley, Brown Rice, Buckwheat, Bulgur, Millet, Oatmeal and Whole Oats, Popcorn and Quinoa.

1 comment:

  1. Great post! I've made many a bad dinner...but you can't get better until you learn from your mistakes. I love the info on staples that will save the day.