11 Essential Kitchen Items
We love to eat, and in order to do that and do it well, we must cook (because that's what happens when you live on a freelance writer's budget). Keeping these pantry and/or refrigerator items in our kitchen makes life a lot easier and tastier.
1) Tomato Paste
Used to thicken, flavor, color or enhance just about any savory dish, the uses for this pantry-lurker are innumerable. A few ideas: use a couple tablespoons when cooking a roast in your crockpot to create fantastic gravy, or put into chili, spaghetti sauce, soup of any kind or to create the base for a curry.
2) Chicken Stock
Whether you make your own and freeze it in small containers or buy a couple cans at the store, it's never a bad idea to keep some around. Chicken stock can be used in a pinch to thin out a sauce that's cooked down too much, among many, many other rescues. Chicken stock can also be the base for gravy, soup or the simmering liquid for rice, giving your starch a little extra flavor.
3) Soy Sauce
Soy sauce can be used in just about anything savory. Put it into ground beef when preparing burger patties or meatballs, drizzle it over sautéed vegetables or use in place of salt when you want to give a little extra flavor to any dish. It really picks up the slack when you're in a hurry and don't feel like pulling out a complicated recipe.
4) Parmesan Cheese
It seemingly never goes bad, tastes really good, accompanies any pasta with grace and "classes" up just about anything. When you've run out of ideas for a starchy side dish, making any form of potatoes, rice or pasta with a sprinkle of parmesan and a little bit of garlic and olive oil will get you out of your boring rut. Sprinkle liberally on broccoli, green beans or squash with a bit of lemon zest, and you've brightened up your entire plate.
Besides being the part of the meal that literally makes you full, using pasta or rice will help you stretch a protein further, especially when the budget is tight. The largest advantage pasta and rice have over other starches, like potatoes, is that they're already dried, so they will never go bad. Although they can be gravy or sauce holders, pasta and rice can are easily transformed into the main attraction when you mix in fresh veggies and some of the other ingredients found on this list.
6) Cocoa Powder
Craving chocolate, but don't want to leave the house in the middle of the snow storm? If you have milk (like most American households), sugar and a little imagination, you can make your own hot chocolate. The possibilities are endless for simple, easy desserts when you keep your cocoa powder well stocked. Whipping up a cake at 9 p.m. on a Tuesday night is no problem when you don't have to worry about buying a pre-made mix. Just scavenge the internet or even the side of the cocoa powder container for ideas, and you'll more than likely have all the ingredients to get going.
There's not many hot sauces that can live up to the garlic and spice intensity of Rooster sauce. Used as a condiment in many Asian restaurants, there's no reason you can't buy a bottle for your home. It can turn scrambled eggs into an exotic treat or transform above-listed pasta or rice (along with a few other things) into Asian-y goodness. Use in meatloaf, marinara or chili for more spice and flavor if you're not opposed.
Red, yellow or white, we're not racist when it comes to our lovely bulbous flavor friends. Red onions can always spice up a salad, green, pasta or otherwise. Sautée with olive oil, salt, pepper and honey to make a red onion marmalade that can be spooned over cream cheese for a decadent snack. Use yellow or white onions in just about everything else. We would list all the awesome things to do with onions, but then we'd sound like Bubba from Forrest Gump.
Do we even need to fill you in on why this is in the list? If you don't know why garlic should always be on hand in your kitchen, it's probably time for you to throw in the towel and only order take out. Sorry, but your lack of cooking skills is likely terminal.
You know that "balance" thing all the cooking show people mention? Well, honey is a good way to help with that. Add a smidge to a dish when you feel it's too acidic or sour to help equalize the flavors. Of course, you can use it to sweeten a dish too. Marinades and salad dressings also do well with a touch of honey, and making your own saves money (the dressings, not the honey).
So, we're a little embarrassed to admit this, but after we learned that you could keep fresh ginger in the freezer to keep it from spoiling (via Rachel Ray--hence the embarrassment) and grate it into dishes, we've never looked back. We've added it to everything from chocolate brownies to fried rice, and yes, it makes everything taste better.