Thursday, July 8, 2010

A Smarter Larder

larder [ˈlɑːdə]n a room or cupboard, used as a store for food

I love to cook for my family and cannot survive without a well-stocked pantry....well, OK- so I won't shrivel up and die if I run out of tomato paste, but you know what I mean. Lets just say if, for example, one day our refrigerator broke down and everything in it spoiled. What would I do after the initial shock subsided? I could just order a pizza or get Chinese food to go (a great excuse to pig out) but what if takeout was not an option? Since I'm in charge of the kitchen I try to prepare healthy meals whenever possible, using fresh ingredients and avoiding processed foods with preservatives, blah, blah, blah... Sometimes, however I find myself in a real bind or in a hurry to put something on the table. I have found that, with some careful planning, you can squirrel away and stock convenience products that are actually good for you and have a decent shelf life. A few of my favorite places to shop include a couple of nearby natural foods stores and our local farmer's market. We are a busy family with perpetually hungry little monkeys so we do most of our hunting and gathering at a local chain grocer, but hubby and I do our best to choose wisely. Read those labels!

Aside from all the obvious basics like flour, sugar and spices, here is a list of staples I just can't would rather not live without:

Baking mixes (like cornbread or brownie mix)
Beans(the magical fruit)
Bread crumbs, plain
Bottled sauces and vinegars
Fruit, canned (low sugar)
Canned fish
Chicken/Beef/Vegetable Broth
Cream soups
Dried fruit and nuts
Fruit juice
Granola or cereal bars
Instant oatmeal
Instant Potatoes (definitely not like "the real thing", but pretty good)
Nut butters (peanut, almond, cashew, etc.)
Oils (olive, canola, peanut)
Other condiments (ketchup, mustard, etc.)
Powdered milk
Condensed Milk
Preserves (naturally sweetened fruit spread)
Pickles, olives, roasted peppers, artichoke hearts and other "goodies"
Pasta sauce (tomato-based or Alfredo)
Soups and stews (in cans or dried)
Soy sauce (a must-have)
Taco shells
Tomatoes, canned (diced, pureed, sauce, and paste)
Tortilla chips
Vegetable shortening
Whole grain, instant rice and rice pilaf mixes
Whole grain pastas
Whole grain crackers

Oh, and CHOCOLATE, of course:
Powdered cocoa
Unsweetened baking chocolate
"Melting" chocolate (preferably 70% cacao)
Semi-sweet chocolate chips
Chocolate syrup

I think that pretty much covers the chocolate department.

As always, I try to avoid buying or storing damaged cans/packaging and check the expiration dates. With the above ingredients I can whip up a great casserole, pasta dish, appetizer, desserts, you name it. One of my favorite treats is a mixture of dried cranberries, dried blueberries, raisins and nuts mixed with melted chocolate and dropped by teaspoon...or tablespoon onto wax paper. I chill them until set. Mmmmm...a delicious treat to impress a guest or to hide for yourself. More Recipes For Busy Moms coming soon!

Lastly: Customize you own list of foods you'd like to store depending on you and your family's preferences, take advantage of sale prices and buy in bulk when it makes sense to. Squirrel away! You'll be glad you did.

Dug: 'Hey, I know a joke! A squirrel walks up to a tree and says, "I forgot to store acorns for the winter and now I am dead." Ha! It is funny because the squirrel gets dead.'
-From Disney-Pixar's "UP" 

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