With busy lives — and who isn’t crazy busy in the months of November and December, what with all the family, friend and co-worker get-togethers — it’s often hard to think or plan ahead. Statistics show that most people don’t think about what to have for dinner until after 4pm that day. And when day is done, what we want is to find comfort in our personal time, not the frustration of what to cook or the disappointment of a mediocre meal.
There are many ingredients, when always kept on hand, that can help make any meal more delicious and special. The following list of pantry (and freezer) items will ease your mind and rejuvenate your evenings yet to come. These are not your pantry staples like flour and spaghetti, but a few versatile extras that can add flavor and panache.
Chicken or vegetable bouillon. I prefer the powdered version over the cubes, because then you can use it instead of salt on things like popcorn (very tasty). Also, instead of boiling vegetables or cooking rice in plain water, add bouillon to enhance flavor. It also eliminates the need to season with salt or add butter.
Salad dressing mixes. A few of these in the pantry means you’re never out of dressing and also lets you switch gears and serve a new salad taste. These dressings also make great marinade spices, can help season sauces and casseroles or mix with mayonnaise or sour cream to make dips.
Frozen peas. Frozen peas are a great addition to almost any side dish. Mix some into pasta, rice or couscous to bring it to life. Just don’t keep them in the freezer too long or they’ll get all shriveled and hard.
Frozen shrimp. Again, add some shrimp to rice or pasta along with your peas and you have an entire meal in less than half an hour. Get the smaller variety — they’re more versatile.
Chickpeas. Also known as garbanzo beans, chana and chole, they can be added to salads and soups. Also, when pureed, they are a great addition to bean dips.
Canned tomatoes. Great for quickly throwing together a pasta sauce. Dice and add to soups, vegetables, chicken breasts and more.
Marinated sun-dried tomatoes. These taste great chopped and added to a salad or pasta dish, minced and served with goat cheese and crackers, or diced and served on pizza.
Dried Mushrooms. Add them to roasts, soups and casseroles. Great for a quick gravy or stir-fry.
Frozen pie crust & frozen fruit. Whip up a delicious pie for dessert or company in no time at all. Frozen fruit also makes great ice cubes for juice, adding color and flavor without diluting the beverage.
Bisquick Biscuit Mix. From chicken potpie, fried chicken and pizza to luscious desserts — not to mention breakfast — this versatile product has so many uses it even has its own cookbook. I usually keep the fat-free version in my pantry and haven’t really noticed a difference in flavor.