Stealing a peak in someone’s fridge gives me more satisfaction than I care to admit. If I know you well, it’s one of the first things I do when I come to your place. If we’re just acquaintances, working on a budding relationship, I’ll make an excuse to help you in the kitchen while you’re cooking with the hope that you’ll ask me to grab some soy sauce out of the fridge. Don’t judge me! Some people snoop in stranger’s medicine cabinets, I want to spy on your fridge contents.
You can tell a lot about a person based on the contents of their fridge and pantry. You may think pomegranate molasses instead of pizza boxes guarantees a true foodie over a take-out queen, but I’ve seen my fair share of empty shelves and white boxes in the fridges of some of the best cooks I know. We all approach feeding ourselves differently. Some of us make a menu at the start of the week, grocery shop just once, and steadfastly stick to our culinary plans. Others wait for a hot and juicy taste of inspiration before they make a daily trip to the market for that night’s grub. I do a little of both. While I try my best to plan our meals ahead of time and create a tasty menu each week, I’m embarrassed to say I usually make three different trips to three different grocery stores in a seven-day span. What?! Sometimes the Moroccan-spiced chicken you planned on making just doesn’t tickle your taste buds like the prospect of a big juicy steak.
In this week’s installment of Thursday Tips and Tricks, I’d like to open my fridge (and pantry) to you. Be gentle; it’s a vulnerable thing to show you the unopened jar of rose water I swear I planned to use in all of my desserts and cocktails last summer. I’m opening up, literally and figuratively, because I hope that by sharing some of the things I always keep on hand to whip up quick and easy weeknight meals or an inspired, elegant Sunday meal, you too can get a handle on making nutritious and delicious meals for your family and friends.
So here goes. Definitely, definitely always have mustards on hand. I like Dijon and a grainier German-style mustard. I use them for vinaigrettes, sauces, marinades, and to add a little extra flavor kick to soups, stews, and dressings. It just takes a teaspoon or two to make a huge impact on your dish.
Next, I make sure to have a jar of capers and a container of Worcestershire sauce lying around. Seems random, I know, but bear with me. I use the capers in my favorite vegan Caesar dressing; they add a deeply rich and salty flavor to my chicken salad (recipe coming soon); and I just love the briny gems in one of my Brussels sprouts recipes. And about that Worcestershire (rest assured, I’ve had to spell check this word EVERY time I use it), I put it in everything really. Soups, stews, salad dressings, and veggies. It’s got anchovies in it, and it adds just the right amount of salty-vinegary goodness to so many savory dishes. Keep it around, people, you won’t regret it!
Herbs are a great and easy way to punch up all of your dishes. They add a hint of freshness to cooked dishes, liven up a salad, and let’s be real, they make your food look a lot more appetizing. I buy a bunch of dill, chives, rosemary, thyme and sage each week. I can usually find the rosemary/thyme/sage combo in a pack together which prevents me from buying a whole pack of each one and wasting the leftovers. I like dill and chives on scrambled eggs and in my daily salad. The rosemary/thyme/sage trio is amazing on roasted meats and in stews.
So often I feel like people are dissatisfied with their made-at-home meals because they lack the big flavors they find in restaurant cuisine. You can fix that! People who watch me in the kitchen are always surprised by the amount of seasonings and spices I use. The way I see it, life’s too short to eat bland food. I don’t have a super sensitive, refined palate, and you know what? I think my food’s tastier for it. There, I said it. I’ve felt the need to get that off my chest for years.
I always have kosher salt, freshly cracked pepper, granulated onion and garlic, smoked paprika, and cumin in my spice cabinet. I also keep a backup of each in my pantry cause ain’t nobody got time for running out. You’ve probably noticed that most of my recipes, no matter how diverse, start with some or all of these spices. You have to decide which you like best, but once you do, use them generously on all of your creations.
Other staples that make whipping up meals a cinch? I love soy sauce for its salty, rich, umami flavor. Sometime I’ll substitute the salt in a dish for some soy sauce, even if it’s not Asian-inspired. I always keep a giant jug of real maple syrup in the fridge. Nothing beats its smoky, complex sweetness. I use it in cocktails, drizzle in just a bit to balance savory sauces and stews, and replace white sugar with it (or with honey) in most of my baking recipes. A couple cans of beans are handy to have around to make a simple salad a meal or to blend up for some quick hummus-snacking action. Last but not least, I always have a jar of pre-made spaghetti sauce on hand. Sauté a little garlic and onion, toss in some mushrooms or ground sausage and you’ve got a bangin’ sauce that tastes likes you’ve slaved over the stove all day.
That’s it. Those are my fridge and pantry secrets. I’ll keep you updated should I run across other interesting, tasty ingredients that I add into my repertoire. In the meantime, stock up on these basic ingredients and get in the kitchen. You’ll be surprised by how many amazing dishes you can whip up with the help of just a few staples. And let me know if I’ve missed any of your kitchen staples. What do you keep around to making cooking a breeze?
P.S.: I’ll be back next Thursday with another edition of Tips and Tricks that will show you how to use these ingredients to prep your meals for a week. I know, I know, food prep isn’t sexy, but you know what is? Having a delicious meal, already prepped, cooked, and portioned for you every time your tummy growls.