Cooking · Dining · Food · Meal Building Blocks

Pantry Staples That Make Meal Planning Easier

Keeping these items in my pantry make meals easy to put together and less stress on my budget.

Pantry Staples

Pasta

I try to keep a variety of dried pasta shapes on hand, but in a pinch every pasta shape will work no matter what you put with it. While some of the more expensive pastas will have a better flavor, even the cheap boxes are worth trying out. I also keep some cheese stuffed tortellini in the freezer (talk about an easy mac & cheese) but there are other types there in addition to the ready to cook, rather than dried, versions.

Think mac & cheese, baked casseroles, soups, pasta and sauce, salads.

Bread, Tortillas or Buns

As a rule, I don’t tend to keep a lot of bread on hand because I can bake it myself when I take the urge. That being said, I do keep bagels for breakfast and I do enjoy tortillas every once in a while.

A grilled cheese or quesadilla takes less than 10 minutes to make, and are both quite versatile for whatever ingredients you already have.

Tortillas can also be turned into wraps, burritos, enchiladas, or even breakfast tacos.

Buns can be used to for sandwiches, hamburgers or even garlic bread in a pinch.

Rice

Rice is just as versatile as pasta, and can be used to make stir fry, burrito bowls, casseroles, soups, or as an easy side dish.

I love to have it with chicken as a simple meal.

Pasta Sauce

I used to buy pretty much anything organic and at a reasonable price. However, I recently tried Raos and now it is the only brand I buy. To be clear, I’ve never eaten pasta sauce from a jar before I tried the Raos. Now, I have to remind myself that the sauce it to go on the meal first. LOL!

You can use pasta sauce not only to make spaghetti or lasagna, but also as a pizza sauce or a dipping sauce for breaded mozzarella cheese.

Freezer Staples

Ground beef – good for a variety of meals from hamburgers to soups, to casseroles.

Chicken – Plain chicken pieces can be cooked for a variety of meals.

Breaded Chicken – These make a great quick meal along with a salad or rice. Find a brand you like and keep it in stock.

Tater Tots – I use these in a variety of ways. As a replacement for prepared hash browns they are a quick and easy substitute. You can either bake them as is or put them in a large skillet with a little bit of oil and break them down as you cook them. Tots are great accompaniments to burgers, too.

Pasta – Stuffed ravioli, tortellini or shells make a great meal that is easy to prepare, you simply boil the pasta, drain and add sauce. Viola!

Frozen Fruits and Vegetables – Packed at the peak of their freshness, frozen veg is a quick, easy and cost efficient alternative to canned. Easy to use, easy to store, these items can be part of a great meal.

Fridge Staples

Eggs

Eggs are flexible and easy on the budget. They can be used in a variety of meals, as part of salads, alongside breakfast meats or in baking.

Cheese

I always have cheese on hand. I buy a variety so I can use them in different ways and, when necessary, a variety of cheeses makes an amazing Clean Out The Fridge Mac & Cheese.

Don’t forget to pick up some soft cheese to spread on crackers.

Mix and Match

You can mix and match pretty much all of these items to make some great meals without having to have a lot of items on hand.

That being said, adding fresh fruits and potatoes or onions to your pantry, trying different things like couscous or grains will stretch your meal options even further.

Cooking · Dining · Food · Meal Building Blocks

When You Need Inspiration in the Kitchen

Or, what to do when you just aren’t in the mood to think about menu planning.

I’ve said before that traditional (?) menu planning and I aren’t friends. I just don’t live in a way that requires, let alone supports, planning ahead for every meal.

However, flying by the seat of my pants can sometimes be an issue, too. I tend to keep things in my pantry that allows for last-minute ideas for meals. But what happens when you just don’t have any ideas?

That’s where I was this week as I planned for my shopping. I’d put aside a couple of ideas from Mandy In The Making, but when it came time to actually shop for the things needed for those recipes… <sigh>

This week, when I just wasn’t interested in choosing a particular meal or two, being able to rely on my pantry for quick and easy meals has been such a treat! I like to be able to have things ready to go so I don’t have to do a lot of prep work. It also helps me keep a balanced diet. I love vegetables but don’t want to spend the time prepping them. (I never said I wasn’t a lazy cook!)

I had an interesting chat with my Schwan’s delivery guy this week. He brought my order and let me know what the specials were and we got to chatting about some of the things I’d tried recently – and loved – and because we both enjoy cooking and good food, we got to talking about putting things together to create some great meals.

Schwan’s has a new Italian Chicken that is wonderful. Beautifully flavored, it fits the profile for many different breaded chicken meals, but the thing that stood out for me was to take that chicken, add it to pasta and a jar of Rao’s marinara sauce and you have the best and easiest Chicken Parmesan ever! In the time it takes to bake the chicken you can have the pasta ready and the sauce heating through. Easy.

That chicken is also great for a fried chicken salad. Yum!

Ground beef also has space in my freezer. I like to use it in pasta dishes, make my own burgers or meatloaf. I’ve got an idea to use it with canned biscuits. I’ll let you know how they turn out. 🙂

By the way, if you are interested in checking out Schwan’s click on the link to get 40% off your first order. They have a wide variety of foods for a variety of tastes. I’ve been a customer for several years and have never had a complaint. Their site is easy to use, has lots of recipe ideas and you can read reviews from other customers before you buy. Some areas have delivery to your door while others provide shipping to your door. Check out their service HERE.

Cooking · Food · Meal Building Blocks

Rethinking Leftovers

Cook once, eat twice, thrice or more!

Want to save yourself time and money in the kitchen? Start by buying and cooking larger quantities to use in later meals.

I know some folks just don’t love leftovers. I get it, I really do. But when you take a moment to change ‘left overs’ to ‘meal prep’ or ‘meal planning’ things change a bit.

Consider: You pick up a family pack of chicken, cook all and portion for the freezer. By tossing that chicken into a slow cooker or your oven you’ve prepped enough chicken for enchiladas, a casserole or two, maybe a chicken soup. All from one pack of chicken and session in the cooker.

What if you pick up a larger roast than you might need for Sunday dinner? You can save what you haven’t eaten, portion it up and freeze it for later use in pulled sandwiches, use with au jus over noodles, or top nachos.

Same with ground beef. You might be considering tacos for dinner but buy purchasing more than what you need for that meal and cooking before adding the seasoning for the tacos, you have the makings for a pasta sauce, pizza topping, sloppy joes, to name but a few ideas.

You can do the same with veggies, too! Picking up a large quantity of onions could lead to tucking some away in the freezer for later cooking projects (soup, anyone?). Peppers and celery can also be prepped and tucked into the freezer without need of cooking.

We hear a lot about meal prep these days, but what I’ve suggested is a tried and true method that actually is part of meal prep. In this time of shortages and higher prices, it is important that shoppers look for ways to economize where they can – and not just in the wallet but in the time spent in the kitchen.

This works no matter how many people are in your home, too!

If this has given you, pardon the pun, food for thought, please let me know by clicking the ‘like’ button!

Cooking · Food · Meal Building Blocks

Kitchen Building Blocks: Precooked Chicken

Do you love to make meals using precooked chicken? Casseroles, salads, additions to noodles or rice on the side? Do you look for options that don’t require getting a rotisserie chicken and taking the meat off the bones?

I admit it. I’m a lazy cook. I like to get the best flavor, easiest preparation with the least amount of effort. I also like to take advantage of what is on offer at my local market. How do I do this? Easy.

Pick up family packs or flat packs of chicken pieces and cook them the easy way. These larger sized packages are easier on the budget, provide a lot of product for multiple uses, and can be cooked for later use.

Option One: Slow Cooker

One of my favorite things to do is to line my slow cooker with a liner, put all the chicken in it, set it on Low for 8 to 10 hours and walk away. You can set up your slow cooker to work overnight. The only problem is you will wake up to a house filled with wonderful smells. 🙂

Why do I leave it in for eight to ten hours? You can cook it until the 165 degree temperature but chances are the meat will be a bit tough and dry. By leaving it in a bit longer, the meat will soften and be a bit juicier.

You can season or not as you like. I prefer not to season. I also don’t add any liquid to the pot. The meat will have its own juices which, if you use boneless skinless pieces will render a mostly fat free but lusciously flavored broth that can be used for making rice or soups.

Option Two: Oven Roasting

Don’t have a slow cooker or in a bit of a hurry? You can put the flat of meat into a roasting pan and into the oven at 350 degrees for about an hour or until fully cooked. You might want to add a little bit of water to the pan to prevent the meat from sticking or burning.

What Next?

Okay, you’ve cooked your chicken. Frankly, it is quite a bit of chicken. What to do with it?

You can chop up the chicken into fork sized pieces, separate it in one cup measures into freezer bags and then freeze it. Don’t forget to mark the bags with the contents and the date you froze it.

When you want to put together a recipe that requires cooked chicken, take out the appropriate amount to defrost and then make your recipe.

When you consider the average boneless chicken breast equals one cup, and the family sized package usually contains ten breasts, you will have ten cups of chicken for, say, ten different meals.

You can do the same with boneless chicken thighs. Thigh meat tends to be juicier but its smaller size won’t equal the same amount as the breasts.

Why use boneless rather than bone in? Frankly it is easier to cook and you won’t have to remove the meat from the bone. However, bones do provide flavor, so if you don’t object to the extra step after cooking, go for it!

Want an easy dinner for the holidays? If you can get a breast of turkey, put it in the slow cooker and cook it the same as for the chicken. By using the long slow cooking method the meat will be tender, juicy, and flavorful. Not to mention stress free. 🙂

If this is helpful, please let me know by clicking the Like button below.