January in Kansas City can feel like Siberia on some days.
By TYLER FOX
The tyrannical cold temperatures and snow coupled with a barren food supply mean long days for the huddled hungry stuck inside. With recent record lows of dangerous cold punishing the area, many people can identify with this feeling, enjoying shelter indoors but little else when dinner comes around.
A glance in the refrigerator and pantry is met with the horrors of a freezer burn riddled bag of chicken nuggets, a can or two of lima beans and perhaps a stray jar of Cheez Whiz that may or may not have been purchased during Bill Clinton’s second term.
That is unless you planned for days like this — or even just a busy weeknight — and armed yourself with the reassuring treasure chest that is a well-equipped pantry. It’s not that hard to do and it can be a true-life saver on those cold days stuck inside. Here a few ideas to keep in mind when stocking your kitchen essentials.
This can be everything from pasta to sun dried tomatoes to beans and whole grains. These are items that if you keep stocked properly, you don’t have to worry about expiration dates or a trip to the market on a cold day. Pastas, grains and legumes are always good for quick and healthy meals.
Pastas: Linguine, penne, couscous, macaroni etc. will give you choices when planning a pantry meal. For healthier options you can find many good whole grain pastas now.
Beans and legumes: Dried black beans, chick peas, navy beans, split peas and lentils are cheap options that may need the planning of pre-soak, but can make large batches and multiple meals. For quicker options, split peas and a variety of lentils are perfect choices.
Whole grains: Rices white or brown, quinoa, wheat berries, millet, spelt and polenta are healthy starches that cook quickly and satisfy while providing boosts of energy and nutrition. Others to keep on hand always are flours, all purpose and whole wheat or gluten free options. This can make for a therapeutic bit of pasta or pastry making when cramped up for the day.
Canned or jarred goods: Whole tomatoes, tomato paste, canned black beans, kidney beans or chick peas, soups, vegetables, coconut or condensed milk, pickles, canned summer vegetables, curry pastes etc. This is a broad spectrum of foods that can be a lifesaver.
If you are of the home canning and pickling persuasion, and indeed I hope you are, then this is where you can really begin to enjoy the treasures of past seasons. Pop open a can of your own homegrown or local vegetables and incorporate into a meal, and you’ll have that little ray of summer sun peaking through the gray winter outside.
Oils and vinegars: Olive oil and grapeseed or canola oils should always be on hand, rain or shine. But other oils like sesame oil, chili oil (see recipe below for homemade) and a variety of nut oils like walnut can add a special touch to finish a dish that takes it from mundane to fantastic.
Vinegars like red and white wine, rice vinegar, sherry vinegar, balsamic and others will give you an array of acids to enhance any dish.
Mustards are always essential, so keep at least a couple options like Dijon, brown mustard, yellow mustard or any of the other many options of this zesty staple.
Sauces like soy sauce, fish sauce, barbecue, ketchup, salsa and a variety of hot sauces are always good to keep on hand.
Pantry Vegetables: Onions, garlic, potatoes, sweet potatoes and others all will keep well without need of refrigeration.
A well-stocked refrigerator is just as important, and is more likely the products you buy and use daily.
Butter, not necessary, but is quite versatile in cooking and baking.
Cheeses of all varieties. Many keep for a long time and are extremely versatile in the kitchen.
Eggs should always be stocked. They are the chameleon of the kitchen, ready to shift shape and purpose to suit your needs. From baking to breakfast, eggs are a building block you should never be without.
Fruits and juices, oranges, apples, pears are all good to keep around and will last a while. Others like bananas, pineapple, strawberries and more will add healthy, fresh options to reach for, or can be made into a meal themselves via blender smoothies.
Winter vegetables like cabbages, kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts plus root vegetables like potatoes, parsnips, carrots and others will keep well and be there when you need them to give a healthy spin to your meals.
Bacon. Enough said.
Other cured meats like prosciutto, salame and more can be a great quick snack or made into delightful sandwiches.
Meats like beef, pork and chicken can be at the ready from the freezer when stored properly and kept up to date. A good idea is to freeze meats in small or usable portions that are easy and quick to thaw for a quick punch of protein to your winter dinner.
Frozen fruits are another handy item to stock. They work well for adding to a smoothie or pies and more.
Chicken or vegetable stock can be frozen in small batches and thawed to quickly give you nearly infinite options for soups, sauces, and braises. Its good to keep trimmings from meats like chicken in the freezer to pull out for making stock as well.
Homemade Red Chili Oil
This is an easy recipe using nothing more than a good neutral oil from your pantry, like grapeseed or canola, and a handful of chilies from your spice rack. It’s a simple method, and once you have it down you can play around with it by adding things like garlic, ginger, lemongrass or other items to customize a flavorful condiment to enhance many a meal. This method gives you the chili oil, but also the leftover chilies make a fantastic condiment added onto everything from rice to pizza.
1 cup grapeseed or Canola Oil
4 tablespoons crushed red chile flakes
Optional: 2 garlic cloves
Combine chilies and oil in a small saucepan. On medium low heat, bring to a simmer and then turn off. Let the chilies steep in the oil for a couple hours. You can then strain the oil into a jar, and reserve the chilies.
minutes, until the pies have a lovely golden finish. Serve as is, or with a sauce.
Tyler Fox, personal chef/event caterer who emphasizes ‘nose-to-tail’ cooking philosophy as well as vegan and local/farm to table foods.