Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Southwestern Fried Rice and the Joys of a Well-Stocked Pantry

My recent dinner experience really demonstrated the importance of having a well-stocked pantry at home.  Nearly every single cookbook you buy will have a pantry guide with the author's suggestions on what to have in your pantry at all times.  I think those suggestions are great, and if you buy a cookbook that you plan to cook out of frequently or that really showcases your favored cuisine, then take the author's suggestions to heart. 

But if you're like me, and you never really know what you are going to be cooking on a given day, take the time to build your favorite recipes and cooking styles before you determine your pantry staples.  After a few years of picking recipes out of cookbooks, cooking meals on the fly, and eating the crazy combinations of food that I do, I have a few items that I need at all times in my kitchen.  I thought I'd share them with you all, in case you were looking for some tips on what to put on the ol' grocery list. 

Ruminations on a Stocked Pantry

I'll first start with my dried foods.  I always have the following on hand: long-grain rice, a package of long-noodle pasta, a package of short-noodle pasta, quinoa, and lentils (black and green varieties).  When I'm tired or lazy, I know I can whip together something using one of these dried ingredients as my base.  These items are healthy and versatile -- perfect for your pantry.  I also keep at least one container of quick-cooking oats, old fashioned oats, and steel cut oats for baking and for breakfast.  You never know when a quick breakfast fix can turn into a craving for oatmeal cookies!  Speaking of which, I also make sure I have a package of raisins and a few bags of semi-sweet chocolate chips.  You know...just in case!

Next, my canned goods.  I keep a few varieties of canned tomatoes (diced, puree, whole, sauce, and paste) at all times.  I also try to keep two cans of garbanzo beans, white beans, and black beans.  I'm out of black beans right now and it's killing me!  During the colder months, I usually have a can of sweet potato puree and a can of pumpkin puree that I'll use for hearty soups and pasta dishes.  There's a ton of other random stuff in this picture, but I assure you, none of it is all that important!

And no pantry is complete without oils and vinegars.  Find a brand of extra virgin olive oil that you love and always keep a huge bottle of it close at hand.  Also keep a bottle of vegetable oil, canola oil, or grapeseed oil handy because it doesn't have a ton of flavor but it has a higher burning point than olive oils.  These are perfect for high-temperature frying.  My new obsession is sesame oil, so I'll be keeping that around the kitchen too! 

When it comes to vinegar, I keep one bottle of balsamic vinegar, one bottle of apple cider vinegar, and one bottle of white wine vinegar.  I rely on these varieties frequently, but I've accumulated many others over the course of my cooking.  I always come back to those three for cooking and for salads. 

And finally, some random items that I must always have in my kitchen include at least one pound of butter (preferably three), soy sauce, eggs, two quarts of vegetable stock, all purpose flour, granulated and powdered sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and GARLIC.  So...much...garlic. 

see all the garlic in that red bowl in the background?  yum.
 This probably seems like a crazy list, but the beauty of many of these ingredients is that they will last you for a while and you'll turn to them often enough that it's worth having them around at all times.  But again, work around the kitchen for a while and see what you keep coming back to and replacing time and time again.  Those are your pantry staples.  Mine are just a jumping off point to get you thinking about what should always be on your grocery list! 

To celebrate pantry staples, this is the dinner I made the other night, 99% of which came right out of my cupboards.  And it was so tasty, I ate it three more times in a row, and I anticipate a fourth!

Southwestern Fried Rice
serves 2-3

2 tablespoons butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups of cooked rice (preferably cooked in veggie stock in advance and cooled in the fridge)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 can of diced tomatoes with chilies, lightly drained
1 can of black beans, drained
2 tsp cumin
1 large handful cilantro, chopped
salt & pepper to taste

In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat.  Once melted, add the garlic and saute for about one minute.  Add the cold rice and saute briefly, then spread the rice into an even layer and allow to fry until lightly golden.  Then saute again, and let brown once more. 

Push the rice off to the sides of the pan to create a space in the middle.  Add the eggs and scramble.  Incorporate the rice and eggs together once the eggs are cooked.  Add the tomatoes, beans, and cumin.  Heat for about 5 minutes.  Take of the heat and garnish with the cilantro.  Taste and adjust seasonings. 

You could serve the rice rolled up in a warm tortilla, sprinkled with crumbled tortilla chips, or just plain.  It would be a great meal for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  The joys of a well-stocked pantry never cease to amaze me.

**Am I missing anything in my pantry??  Let me know in the comments!**

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