How to Stock the Pantry without Wasting Money
Ever consider the amount of money tied up in your pantry? By some accounts, it’s one of the biggest household investments. As a big believer in stocking up when things are on sale or in season, I don’t doubt that I’ve got several hundred dollars tied up in my cupboards, freezer and frig.
Given that it takes a sizeable investment to stock and maintain the pantry, it makes sense to explore how to avoid making purchases that turn out to be unhelpful or even worthless.
To begin with, avoid buying foods just because they’re on sale. I’m reminded of times when I’ve gotten all excited over finding a $50 pair of pants for $30. All too often, however, I don’t get around to wearing that pair of pants, so instead of saving $20, I actually end up wasting the $30 purchase price.
The same goes for food purchases. There’s nothing worse than having 10 cans of refried beans clogging your cupboard when you might use two cans in an entire year. Just because they are on sale doesn’t mean you should buy them. Buy only what you’ll use in a reasonable time—a year is probably a good rule of thumb.
Here is the one exception to this rule. Go ahead and buy some extras, maybe not 10 but three or four, if you would like to begin using an item more often, and if you use are willing to find three to four recipes that put it to use.
Getting back to our Fox 31 Supermarket Adventure, when Ken and I were pantry shopping we bought several frozen tilapia filets since I have lots of recipes that use this mild, quick-cooking fish. The same goes for the packages of frozen vegetables and fruits. Being completely prepared, it’s easy to find dishes where they could add color and nutritional depth. To prove the point, here are the recipes for the dishes we’re making on Good Day Colorado.
Talapia Filet Packets with Mushrooms and Peas
Makes a 1-serving packet.
Preheat oven to 400 (F). Tear off a large piece of aluminum foil, about 18” long, and lay on counter, shiny side down.
- ¼ lb. tilapia filet either fresh or frozen, thawed
- Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
- ½ – 1 tsp. Italian seasoning, to taste
- 2 medium button or cremini mushrooms, sliced 1/8” thick, then slices cut in half
- ½ cup frozen green peas, thawed
- ½ to 1 Tbsp. olive oil, to taste
Lay tilapia on foil, sprinkle with salt, pepper and Italian seasoning. Top with mushrooms and peas, then drizzle with oil. Seal packet by drawing together the longest ends and folding several times, then rolling the shorter ends toward the center of packet. Lay packet on a glass pie plate and bake 15-18 minutes, until done (see notes).
- Fresh lemon juice, to taste (optional)
Open packet carefully to prevent steam from burning. Sprinkle cooked fish with lemon juice, if desired, and serve immediately, directly in the packet.
1. Ingredient Substitution: Marinated mushrooms can be substituted for the fresh. Taste first to make sure you like the marinade. If not, rinse mushrooms and pat dry before using. If you like the marinade, spoon a small amount of marinade spices over the fish in place of the Italian seasoning.
2. Save Time: In the morning, be sure to remove fish and peas from the freezer.
3. How to Know if Fish is Done: The key to delicious fish lies in not overcooking it! That’s when it becomes tough and rubbery. Here are some guidelines to help:
Use a Timer Every minute counts when cooking fish. In the rush of meal making, it is easy to lose track of minutes. So get in the habit of using the timer on your stove.
Flakiness When it’s time to start checking your fish (i.e., at the lower end of timing range), use a fork to gently probe down into the flakes of the flesh. If they are just beginning to easily separate, you are close. Look down into the center of the fish. If it is just losing its raw look, remove it from the heat.
Err on the Side of Less Cooked Fish continues to cook once removed from the heat, so by the time it’s served, it will likely be done. It may seem odd to eat fish that is still moist-looking inside, but try it. If it is still too raw, just cook for another minute.
On the Side:
Sauteed Frozen Green Beans with Butter
Serves 4: In a large sauté pan, heat a 16-oz. pkg. frozen green beans over medium low heat until thawed. Stir in 1 Tbsp. butter and sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste, and continue cooking over medium heat until beans are tender, stirring occasionally to prevent burning.
Microwaved Corn with Roasted Red Pepper Bits
Serves 4: Microwave a 16-oz. pkg. of frozen corn kernels according to package instructions, until almost done. Stir in ¼ to ½ cup diced roasted red peppers, 1 Tbsp. olive oil and sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Microwave 1-2 more minutes, until corn is done.
Boysenberry Peach Cobbler
Preheat oven to 350 (F). Lightly butter a 6 x 9” casserole dish.
- 1 16-oz. pkg. frozen peaches, thawed
- 1-16-oz. pkg. frozen boysenberries (or cherries), thawed
Stir fruit together in casserole dish. Set aside.
- 2 Tbsp. butter
- ¼ – ½ cup honey, to taste
In a 1-qt. Pyrex measuring pitcher or microwave-safe bowl, combine butter and honey and microwave just 20-30 seconds to melt. Stir together to combine thoroughly then add the following:
- ¼ tsp. nutmeg
- ½ tsp. almond extract (optional)
- 1 ½ cups quick or regular (but not instant) oatmeal
- ¼ cup unsweetened coconut (optional)
- ¼ cup chopped pecans or almonds
Stir oatmeal mixture thoroughly but gently, making sure that all of the oatmeal is covered and moistened, then spread on top of fruit. Drizzle with:
- ½ cup apple juice, preferably unfiltered.
Bake for 30-40 minutes, until fruit is thick and bubbly and topping is lightly browned.
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