Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Top 5 Tuesday

Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Yet again, in my heightened state of un-productivity, I have come up with a most mundane top 5 list, that only a frugal, practical mind OR home cook might appreciate. Yes, it's my top 5 pantry items that I can't live without. My creativity this week obviously knows no bounds. All I had to do, once I determined that my mind was a desolate spot this week, a veritable desert of ideas, was peek into my cabinet (which, incidentally, USED to be my dresser-a post on that later) and quickly identify the five items that I always must have on hand, for those evenings that we simply can't order pizza for the fifth time or are too mentally exhausted to be willing to face the evening crowds at the grocery store. I must say, it's fairly rare that I allow such situations to happen. I have to give myself credit-I have consistently worked on building up my repertoire of emergency, no-groceries on hand recipes, and they entirely depend on this list. I'm going to include a few of those recipes, by the way, so really, you can't fault me too much for my lack of originality and interesting content this week. My list might actually HELP you, in the future!

*I should note that my definition of a pantry item is something non-perishable, that I might stock up on and not have to refresh for the next six weeks/months AND/OR something that can be frozen indefinitely. Yes, I admit. It's a loose definition.

5. Tuna.
Before I decided to be a kind, loving wife, overcoming my intense aversion to mayonnaise enough to keep it in my fridge so that I might regularly mix it with freshly chopped celery, red onion, and tuna, thus making my SH's lunches somewhat more interesting, I always kept canned tuna on hand for a version of tuna and tomato pasta. I know, it may sound weird, but it's actually remarkably tasty! My lovely, immensely talented, and incredible chef of a sister-in-law introduced me to a similar recipe a few years ago, and I've simply adapted it, a la Rachael Ray, to fit what I usually have available. You can add lots of things to make it tasty, like chopped capers or a can of olives.

4. Frozen Spinach/Broccoli.
There's a huge host of recipes that can be tweaked, improved upon, or even invented with a handy bag of frozen greens. I always make sure to keep frozen spinach, in particular, on hand, for the days when I don't have a decently healthy side dish or have nothing left to work with for dinner but a half pound of pasta, clove of garlic, and a chopped tomato. The broccoli is a necessity for accompanying salsa shrimp and brown rice, which you can find here.

3. Diced/Crushed Tomatoes, variety of combinations. Not only is a decent can of tomatoes a grand addition to a pound of hot pasta, and finely chopped, sauteed garlic, it can also be used to make such dishes as the tuna and tomato pasta above. Diced tomatoes mixed with green chiles is an even better, and more essential, fixture in my pantry. With just a few other items, I can use it to make Taco Soup, a delicious, cost-efficient, practical meal that lasts several days. I stretch it even more by making rice on the second day and topping it with just a few spoonfuls of soup.

Taco Soup
(adapted from my Aunt Janet's recipe)

1 pound ground beef (I always buy ground sirloin. I WAS raised on a ranch!)
2 cans Rotel (diced tomatoes and green chile-Rotel is the best)
1 package (or can) frozen corn
1 can pinto beans with jalepenos (I can't find this particular combination here in California, so I purchased pinto beans and a 4 oz can of jalepenos, and used only 1/3 of the can)
grated cheese (I prefer Colby Jack)
tortilla chips

1. Brown the ground beef in a decently-sized pot and season with salt and pepper.
2. Add the tomatoes, green chiles, corn, and beans. Fill the empty tomato can with water TWICE and add to the pot.
3. Keep the heat setting to low, and simmer for an hour.
4. Crush tortilla chips and place in the bottom of a soup bowl. Spoon the soup into the bowl, and top with grated cheese.

*The amounts in this recipe can be easily modified. Also, there is really no need to simmer for a full hour, if you're pressed for time. It just allows the flavors to meld together better.

2. Diced Green Chile. Yes, green chile deserves its own spot in my line-up. Not only do I readily use the petite cans for soup and salsa, I can also toss them into scrambled eggs, beans, basic ground beef, hamburgers...the list goes on and on. A MUST in my house.

1. An assortment of canned beans (black beans, kidney, pinto, cannellini).
I know that the best beans are the ones rinsed, soaked, and cooked for hours, just like my dad makes, with a bit of bacon and maybe a few chiles. In the interest of time and money, however, I rely upon canned beans most often, though I do plan to branch out and try some of the fancy varieties, like Rancho Gordo, at some point. My sweet husband introduced me to the most comforting and simple of dinners, his version of "beans and rice." It's one of our standby meals, and despite its simplicity, quite delicious.

Katie's Beans and Rice

1 can beans (preferably black or pinto)
1 can chopped/diced green chiles
Cooked white rice
Sour cream

1. Heat the beans and green chiles in a medium-sized pot over medium-low heat. Season with salt and pepper.
2. Serve the beans over hot cooked rice. Top with sour cream and salsa, and mix in thoroughly.

Yes, it's not really a recipe, I know. Anybody could have quickly thrown it together!

Unfortunately, I didn't cook anything based off my top 5 pantry items tonight, so I have a whole kitchen to clean before bed...

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