Does the Practical Cook make house calls? No, but she does answer her Batphone when the call comes in. This question comes to us from Alt.Country.Mom—what are the Top 10 punt items to keep in the pantry/freezer/general vicinity? Caveat—they have to work with fresh or local stuff, so not the number to the local pizzeria or burger joint.
A.C.M, here are the Practical Cook’s Current Top 10 Punt Staples, in no particular order and subject to change:
- Frozen pizza. Sure, I’m kind of violating the caveat (Cooking Legally will have to tell us if this is a tort infraction—I’m here to cook tortes, not break ’em), but it is very necessary. Serve with fresh veggies or a salad as an appetizer, a plate of artfully arranged fruit, and you’ve got extra time and energy to fight another day.
**Disclaimer: if you punt too often with this one, the other team will catch on to your strategy. Use wisely.
Dried pasta in a variety of shapes and sizes. This works with fresh or frozen veggies, jarred or fresh sauce, olive oil or butter, cheeses of all kinds, or in a quickie soup. Go for whole wheat or the “plus” variety made of chickpea flour when you can.
- Gnocchi or cheese tortellini. The Practical Cook will name names here. Trader Joe’s sells a shelf-stable gnocchi that is amazing, and cheese tortellini in the deli quick case that are inexpensive and delish. If you don’t have access to a TJ’s, scout your area for these gems in a brand/flavor you like. Gnocchi works like pasta, but is more interesting. Great in a tomato/sausage/kale/garlic one-skillet meal or with a fast faux pesto like the one used in Spaghetti Bird’s Nest. Cheese tortellini can be plain, sauced, or in a broth as a soup.
- Frozen veggies, various. The Practical Cook loves to eat seasonally, but sometimes soaking 2 lbs of collards for an hour to get the dirt off is not an option. In the PC freezer: green peas, green beans, Brussels sprouts, corn, black-eyed peas, okra, greens, mixed peppers. Admittedly, some of this I froze myself, but everything is available commercially as well. Don’t be shy.
- Frozen edamame, shelled and whole. Yes, edamame is a frozen veggie, but it deserves a special mention. This can take any slightly Asian-themed meal up to the next level. Make fried rice with leftover veggies, rice, and an egg, add edamame, you’re there. Buy some sushi and extend the meal with edamame. In the pod, it’s an activity. Out of the pod, they are little protein bombs. My kids love them more than any other green veg that comes out of the freezer.
- Pot stickers or dumplings. Add #5 to #6 and avoid calling your local take-out joint. These gems are widely available now—find the brand and flavor you like and keep some on hand. Works with any number of veggies you can steam or stir-fry. A splash of soy sauce and you’re there.
- Eggs. If you’re diet precludes, please excuse. Otherwise, keep a carton of eggs by your side, or at least in the fridge, at all times. If you have the chickens to go with them outside, all the better! But seriously, you can always eat well if you have eggs. Make an omelet, frittata, sandwich, deviled, juevos rancheros, scrambled with toast or grits. Clearly, the egg council got to me. They do have good marketing. (Special thanks to loyal reader, Miss Clairol, for the Google assist on the gem of an egg commercial.)
- Potatoes, sweet and white. Find a coldish dark place, and keep both varieties on hand. They are almost meals by themselves, either can be served alongside any number of the items above, and with some toppings they are versatile and interesting too. The Practical Cook’s Dad sources sweet potatoes in restaurant quantities when the family yield is not sufficient, so you’ll see lots of sweet potatoes here. Look for an entire post on the subject in future days. White potatoes are perfect for picky eaters, good conduits for leftovers, and are also infinitely adaptable.
- Oatmeal. It’s not just good for your cholesterol, and it’s not just good for breakfast. Mark Bittman says so. It can be sweet or savory, and with fruit or something else on the side, you’re winning dinner.
- Plain yogurt. This has become indispensable as a food, condiment, and ingredient. Serve parfaits for a quickie dessert or snack, cool spicy food with a dollop of it, swap it in for sour cream or mayo. Make a smoothie with whatever fruit, fruit juice, or nut butter you have on hand. Remember, you can always add flavor to plain yogurt, but you can’t scrape the fruit off the bottom from the other stuff.
Tune in tomorrow for some thoughts about Fruit Aplenty. Till next time, keep the hotline ringing and the questions rolling in. Look for a special Valentine’s installment Monday. Something chocolate!