Be the Best Quick Cook You Can … What You Need in Your Pantry for Quick Week Night Main Meals
Here are some inside secrets that I have learned along the way. I have spent over 30 years in Professional kitchens and believe me I had to be The Best Quick Cook I Could! The most important tool for success in the kitchen is organization. Yes it is true that as a Chef I can make meals very quickly – I have learned the tricks of the trade and want to share them with you. I want you to feel confident and relaxed when preparing meals.
Who doesn’t love to have a quick and delicious meal? There are a few ways to accomplish this. Number 1 – have a freezer full of ready to cook or defrost and serve meals. I call these “frozen assets”. I sell them at EPCulinary.com The second strategy is to have pantry items that you call pull together in a short amount of time. I use both methods depending on my mood and the amount of time I have. Shop for frozen assets when you see items on sale. I stock up on meat and butter and freeze it. Just keep in mind that nothing does better in the freezer and don’t leave food in there forever.
I also can when fruit and vegetables are in season. I highly suggest that you do this- you will be glad to have these items in your pantry.
Having the basics for meals in your freezer is a real time saver. I like to have stock, bolognese sauce, sliced chicken breasts, pork schnitzel,shrimp at the ready. I always have frozen vegetables- corn,peas,kale,spinach and artichokes, edamame and green beans. I can throw them into soups. I can tomatoes so I have a supply of them on hand all winter long. I like to keep pre made cabbage, carrot and broccoli slaw in the fridge for a fast salad or pickled slaw.
What do you cook when you are in a hurry? – It helps to be prepared. A full pantry is a cook’s best friend. It takes the stress out of mealtime. Well at least the cooking part.
Having a repertoire of fast meals depends on having the ingredients on hand.
A pantry full of international flavors allows to you take a grain, pasta or a protein anywhere on the globe. Choose pantry items that pack a hit of flavour very quickly into your fast meal; such as Truffle oil and Sesame oil. Having a way to get deep flavour into your quick cook meals makes all the difference.
We all have preference so make sure your favorite flavor profile items are in your pantry. Use your pantry items like paint –
- Think about what you are going to cook while on the way home from work- make a plan.
- Be organized and yes it helps if your kitchen is de-cluttered and organized.
- Make sure your Pantry is well stocked. Pick up items on sale
- Strategize and do a big -batch cook when you can
- Buy foods that you have never tried-experiment
- Have your utensils and seasonings right by the stove.
- Learn to use short cuts – placing two things in the oven at the same time.
- Put a pot of water on the boil right away.
- Start to cook the food that takes the longest time to cook
- Use the right equipment- start with a sharp knife and a scrap bowl to collect your discarded food.
- Use your Broiler- Restaurants do – they call them Salamanders.
- Chop or slice into small pieces- they will cook more quickly.
- Use the same pot to cook pasta and add vegetables as the pasta cooks.
- Use proteins that are quick cooking
- Use pre-portioned proteins – like a salmon filet or cooked chicken pieces- no butchering is required.
- Make all in one dishes-Add vegetables to the pan as you are cooking a protein- more flavour, less time and less clean up time.
- Make a quick pan sauce after sautéeing a protein. De-glaze the pan with stock and or wine. Thicken if you want with cornstarch or reduce for deeper flavor. Add a dollop of butter to enrich the sauce.
- Master a few recipes and use your Prepared Pantry to change up the recipe.
- Embrace Seafood and Eggs- they are your best friends when you are in a hurry.
- Serve Main Meal Salads- add beans, egg, tofu, shrimp, chicken, fish or beef to your Green, Greek or Caesar Salad.
Of course if you have all the time in the world, my suggested pantry list would be much longer. These suggestions are for food that is quick to make. I am not focusing on dessert here – that is another article. I find it best to have something in the freezer for dessert. Keep frozen ice cream or yoghurt and serve with berries or maple syrup.
It helps if you have the equipment to speed the process up.
- Rice cooker. Set it and Forget it –
- One of those new stove tops and ovens from GE that heat up in seconds would be a real time saver.
- Immersion blender- you can make a soup in minutes.
- Food Processor for fast slicing or chopping
- Mandolin- Use Safety Gloves
- Zester- helps to grate things very quickly with less clean up. Adds a bright citrus flavour.
- Vegetable Steamer
- Pressure Cooker- if you dare!
- Kettle filled with hot water
- Microwave Oven
- Toaster Oven – it does small jobs more quickly
- The ingredients must cook quickly- so slice and pound your meat so it cooks quickly.
- Proteins like shrimp and scallops cook quickly and you can add any flavoring blend that you like.
- Use grains and pasta that cook quickly – e.g. angel hair pasta egg noodles and rice noodles
- Have international flavors to add exciting element to your dishes.
- Always have one vegetable element for health and brightness of flavours.
I always have ready rolled pie dough so that I can put together a quiche in minutes. Pasta is another staple that I use as vehicle for all sorts of odds and ends that are in my vegetable drawer. Baguettes have a permanent place in my freezer for last minute meals like Croque Monsieur.Cheese is another essential and I always have a few different kinds such as old cheddar, Parmesan and Gruyere. I make quiche all the time when I am in a hurry and having assorted cheeses makes it easy.
In a pinch I can make quiche, pastas, soups, chili, salads served with a chicken breast or some shrimp – my quickie, go-to meals in the evening.
CUPBOARD: DRIED AND CANNED GOODS
Bay Leaves, Oregano, Smoked Paprika, Thyme, Sesame Seeds, Curry Powder, Cajun Seasoning, Old Bay, Zatar, Sumac, Black Pepper, Sea Salt
- Basmati Rice
- Jasmine Rice
- Brown Rice
Pasta: Angel Hair, Orzo, Couscous, Rice Noodle, Egg Noodles,Gnocchi
Grains: Cooked Polenta, Quinoa, Bulgur
- Tinned Beans-Chickpea, Cannelli, Kidney, Black
- Tinned Tomatoes, Tomato Paste, Tomato Purée
- Tinned Potatoes
- Artichoke Hearts, Hearts Of Palm, Asparagus
- Roasted Red Peppers, Sun Dried Tomatoes
- Chipotles In Adobo
- Dried Mushrooms
- Canned Fish: Tinned Salmon, Tuna, Anchovies
- Miso Paste, Tahini
- Peanut Butter
- Coconut Milk
- Lemon Or Lime Juice
- Assorted Dried Peppers
- Sun dried tomatoes and dried cranberries
Stocks: Vegetable, Beef or Chicken Broth or Stock In Cubes Or Liquid.
- AP Flour
- Cornstarch- It Thickens Sauces Quickly
- Panko Or Breadcrumbs
Oils: Olive Oil, Sesame Oil, Peanut Or Canola Oil, Truffle Oil
Vinegars: Balsamic, Red Or White Wine, Apple Cider, Sherry
- Harrissa , Siracha Or Tabasco
- Salsa, Salsa Verde
- Soya Sauce, Chutney Teriyaki, Sauce
- Worcestershire Sauce, BBQ Sauce
- Pickles, Indian Lime Pickles, Curry Paste
- Peanut Or Almond Butter
- Pickled Jalapenos
- Olives, Capers
- Horseradish, Mayonnaise,Chili Sauce
- Evaporated Milk- Use When You Have No Cream
- Pure Vanilla, Fresh Nutmeg, Maple Syrup, Honey
- Dairy Butter, Eggs, Yoghurt, Heavy Cream, Sour Cream
- Cheeses: Parmesan Mozzarella Cheese, Gruyere, Old Cheddar
- Condiments: Dijon Mustard, Whole Grain Mustard, Garlic And Ginger In A Jar
- Meats: Bacon, Sliced Chicken Or Ham, Prosciutto, Pancetta, Rotisserie Chicken
- Seafood: Mussels, Clams, Scallops, Shrimp
- Pasta: Fresh Pasta; Stuffed Tortellini, Pasta Sheets, Linguine
- Pizza Dough perfect for a quick meal
- Onions, Garlic
- Celery, Carrots, Potatoes
- Hot Peppers Or Chilies
- Lemons, Limes
- Ginger Root, Scallions, Garlic, Onions, Leeks- shallots are too much work
- Carrots, Celery, Potatoes
- Fresh Herbs -Have A Pot In Your Kitchen Window – Parsley Cilantro, Thyme,Dill, Basil
- Lettuces, Tomatoes- Cherry, Vine Ripened
- Bag of Pre- Made Coleslaw
- Bag of Shredded Carrots
- I always have mushrooms in my fridge
- Artichoke Hearts, Spinach, Pesto, Corn, Peas, Edamame, Lemon Grass, Ginger
- Frozen Chicken Filets Or Paillards, Shrimps Or Scallops, Sausages
- Fish Filets such Salmon Filets
- Breads, Tortilla, Naan, Pita, Baguette
- Frozen Pasta Sauce, Chili Or Stews, Soups, Stocks
- Pizza Dough, Frozen Pie Dough, Puff Pastry, Phyllo Dough
- Applesauce And Frozen Fruits -Berries, Peaches
- Nuts- Almonds, Pecans, Pine Nuts
- Ice Cream or Frozen Yoghurt, Ice Cream bars
Storing your food properly will allow you to have food in your fridge or freezer that is ready to cook. It is worth the effort.
- Remember To Label And Date – All Food Starts To Look The Same After A While In The Freezer
- Vacuum Sealer Is Very Helpful
- Assorted Matching And Stacking Plastic Containers
- Tin Foil
- Plastic Elasticized Tops To Put Over Food For The Short Term
- Parchment Paper
- Wax Paper
- Ziplock Freezer Bags – Gallon And Quart-Size
- Ziplock Sandwich Bags