With all this talk about cooking being easy and spicing up a bland diet, I thought I’d run down a list of items that I make sure I always have on hand. These ten items ensure that I can throw something together in a hurry if need be or I can put together something a bit more elaborate if I want. The key for all of these ingredients is versatility.
1. Meat Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. I have a 15 cubic foot stand-up freezer that I keep well-stocked. In that freezer, I have several steaks and beef roasts, a large pork roast, plenty of beef liver, a package of beef kidneys, a beef heart, some pork sausage, and plenty of ground beef, along with some tilapia, perch, and salmon. I just need to restock my poultry and I’m set. All that’s needed is a bit of planning to have any of it thawed for a meal. Ground meats are the most versatile and, for those days that I forget to plan, can be thawed quickly in a pan of water, but eating nothing but ground beef tends to get pretty boring, so I make sure to have a wide selection on hand.
2. Eggs Eggs aren’t just for breakfast anymore. They are another important ingredient that I always have on hand. I go through at least one dozen hardboiled eggs each week and about another dozen fried or scrambled. Eggs are possibly the easiest food to cook and can be combined with most any meats or vegetables to create a quick meal. For instance, I can saute an onion and some spinach, add some cumin and garlic, then throw in 6 eggs and cook until the white sets for a healthful meal in under 10 minutes. Breakfast, lunch, dinner…it doesn’t matter.
3. Canned Fish Mainly I keep several cans of wild salmon (the kind with skin and bones) and sardines around. These two fishes provide protein, omega 3 fatty acids, and calcium from the bones. I also have a small stock of tuna, but I don’t eat that very often. So what do I do with them? Earlier this week, when returning from southern California, I sauteed an onion and some kale, threw in a can of salmon, some tamari, and garlic. Another easy meal in a skillet. A can of either salmon or sardines goes nicely with a big salad. And sardines can also be served alongside some eggs or turned into “sardine salad” similar to tuna salad.
4. Olive Oil Of course, no self-respecting health nut would allow the kitchen to be without olive oil. I use plenty of other cooking fats, like palm and coconut oils, lard, and tallow, but olive oil gets the most use in my kitchen. All of my salads are adorned with olive oil and I typically add some to whatever just finished cooking to add a bit more fat. I purchase the 3 liter metal can and pour it into a 1 liter bottle as the bottle is empty and probably go through the can about once a month.
5. Onions and Garlic The allium family features prominently in my kitchen. I love both onions and garlic. Most anything that I cook in the skillet starts with a base of sauteed onions and ends with several cloves of fresh garlic. Eggs and onions, liver and onions, onions and broccoli, the list goes on. A little raw onion also adds some zest to a fresh salad, though raw garlic is pretty rough in quantity. I’d say I go through 5-6 onions and 2-3 bulbs of garlic each week.
6. Greens I’m sure I don’t need to tell you what nutritional powerhouses all of the various greens are. For salads, I make sure to keep a couple types of lettuce and spinach on hand, usually going through 4-5 heads of lettuce/bunches of spinach in a week and at least one bunch of the other leafy stuff. Then there are the cooking greens - kale, chard, collards, mustard greens - that are easy to make as a side dish. They can be steamed, boiled, or sauteed (with onions of course!) and served alongside your meat of choice.
7. Frozen Vegetables Frozen vegetables serve a small, but important role in my kitchen. Believe it or not, there are days that I just don’t feel like chopping any more vegetables for dinner. Enter the bag of frozen vegetables. There are a variety of blends available, all of which can be thrown into a steamer for 15 minutes, added to broth to make soup, or - you guessed it - tossed into a skillet with some ground beef for a quick meal.
8. El Pato El Pato is a spicy tomato sauce that works very well for most anything. It’s perfect for throwing together a quick meal. I simply fry some meat and vegetables and add a can of El Pato. It takes no more than 10-15 minutes to put the whole deal together and the flavor is excellent. If you’re not a big fan of spicy things, you can substitute any other seasoned tomato or marinara sauce, such as Pomi.
9. Wheat-free Tamari El Pato isn’t the only sauce that I use with regularity. I also keep a big bottle of low-sodium (only low in comparison to regular tamari) wheat-free tamari on hand. I mostly use it in the same way that I use El Pato, as an addition to whatever’s in the skillet, perhaps with some ginger for a bit of Chinese flair. Tamari is also a quick addition to steamed vegetables if it’s one of those days where you just need some additional flavor.
10. Raw Nuts Finally, I keep several types of raw nuts on hand, currently almonds, pecans, and Brazils. I love macadamias too, but given the price, I don’t pick them up very often. I throw a handful of nuts into my salads or grab a handful while dinner is cooking or as a quick snack. Nuts are a great source of fat and nutrients. If you can’t find raw nuts, get them lightly roasted and with as little salt as you can.
Your Top Ten will likely vary. So what are your staple items that you make sure you’re never without?
Yum. Let's see... eggs, meat in the freezer, jasmine rice, brocoli & cauliflour, fresh homemade pico de gallo, Rycrisp crackers. I could go on and on. I'm not so sure about your canned salmon - it has bones and skin? Interesting. I'll stick to my foil packed tuna and individually frozen tilapia fillets!
Lela, most canned salmon has bones and skin. The bones add valuable calcium...you don't have to worry about choking on them as you won't even know they're in there (if I hadn't just told you). Same with the skin. Try it out sometime!