19 May, 2010

Fresh Produce Staples - Top Five

Much like your pantry, your refrigerator can hold on to a few items that you will use constantly. Even if you think you don't like them. You'd be amazed how many things have just a little of this, or a bit of that, and it makes all the difference to the flavor.

For example, a friend of mine's husband HATES celery. Just hates it. But if I leave it out of my shephard's pie, he notices the flavor difference, and doesn't like it! Why? Because it's like salt- it doesn't exactly taste like anything once it's cooked in, it just makes everything taste better.

So here are a few varieties of produce you want to keep on hand. I'll still be putting them on the grocery list, but if you've got them in the fridge (or pantry) all the time, your grocery trips will be easier and faster.

  • Potatoes: You always want to have some russets on hand. First of all, because you can throw together a quick dinner with some potatoes any time, but secondly because you can use them to FIX a failed meal. What? Fix a failed meal? Oh yeah! The most common food blunder I've seen my friends make is to add too much salt. Trust me, it happens. You just meant to shake a little in, and WHOOPS! And usually, that's towards the end of the cooking process- so what do you do? Add a skinned potato. Amazingly, your skinned potato can absorb a great deal of salt and other flavor OUT of the rest of the food. So I always keep a bag of potatoes in my pantry. In order to keep your potatoes fresh longer, you want to keep them OUT of a plastic bag- that's very important- and in a cool, shadowy place. If you have the space, get a bin of sand to store them in. The sand will stay cool, and they'll have an even longer shelf life. But if a recipe calls for "new potatoes," you don't want to use your pantry potatoes. New potatoes will have a different flavor and texture.
  • Pantry Onions: Onions are in everything. Now, there are a great many varieties of onions. To be frank, most of the time it really doesn't matter what type you're using. You can substitute red, white, or yellow onion in most recipes without ever noticing. Like potatoes, you can use them to throw together an amazing amount of quick meals. However, you should still choose your pantry onions with a little care. An onion that has a very thin skin- not a thick, papery skin- will keep badly in the pantry. You want to get onions that have the papery, flaky skin that ends up EVERYWHERE. Sad, but true. To keep onions in the pantry, store them basically in the same conditions as your potatoes. Never store them in a plastic bag.
  • Celery: I know, lots of people do not like celery. But you'll use it everywhere, as mentioned above, and you'll hardly ever notice it. Plus, throw a little into a salad and you can really stretch your greens. It lasts quite a while in the fridge, but not forever. You probably have three weeks for the average bunch of celery.
  • Apples: Apples are great. They're a good snack, they're a great addition to a salad, you can bake them for a healthy dessert, and there are dozens of varieties available just about everywhere. Find one that works for you- my husband is a Fuji fan, while I prefer a Granny Smith. If possible, avoid Red Delicious apples. They don't keep as well, bake as well, or generally taste as good. There are, however, recipes that call for them specifically. This is mostly because their incredibly vibrant color is a feature of the dish. So for your usual, daily use apples, go for something else.
  • On-the-vine Tomatoes: Again, they go in everything. They also keep better when you get them on the vine. Why? That vine is sort of like a nutrition supplement. So if they're vine on, their shelf life nearly doubles. You'll cook with them, but them in salads, put them in sandwiches, and if you're like me just eat them as snacks. You will want to buy other varieties of tomatoes for other things, but always having a tomato or two on hand is never a bad idea.

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