Pantry and Fridge Essentials

How did you just whip that up?”

It’s the one comment I get over and over again. People always seem surprised that on any given day I’m able to pull together a from scratch dessert or a quick dinner. My response, it’s SO simple to do when you have a well stocked pantry and fridge. Seriously. That is literally all there is to it. If you keep a healthy stock of the basics on hand you will be shocked by just how many dishes you’re able to pull together without having to make a list and run off to the supermarket.

So let’s jump into it. Below is a list of items that I find to be essential in my pantry/freezer/fridge. This list isn’t written in stone so depending on your likes and needs, adjust it so that it works for you. I know the list sounds like a lot but I’m sure many of you already have *most* of these things on hand, just fill in the gaps with the essentials that you’re missing. Once you stock up, you’ll be good to go for quite some time. Most of these items I’m not buying often, only a few do I have to buy more regularly.

Once you get in the habit of stocking up and having the essentials on hand, you will find that is so much easier to get dinner on the table or whip up a quick dessert. Keeping my house well stocked has really changed the way I cook, with these essentials there are countless things that I can make or bake with NO advanced planning or running to the supermarket. It doesn’t get any better than that!

In the Pantry

For Baking

  • Flours (All-Purpose, Wheat, Bread, and Cake)
  • Sugars (Granulated, Light or Dark Brown, Turbinado, Confectioner’s)
  • Semisweet Chocolate Chips
  • Bittersweet Chocolate Baking Bars
  • Baking Soda
  • Baking Powder
  • Cocoa Powder
  • Vanilla Beans
  • Pure Extracts (Vanilla, Almond, Coconut, and Hazelnut)
  • Cream of Tartar
  • Cinnamon
  • Pumpkin Pie Spice
  • Nutmeg
  • Honey
  • Yeast (Rapid Rise and Regular)
  • Sprinkles
  • Cupcake liners
  • Shredded Coconut
  • Molasses
  • Raisins
  • Jams and Jellies
  • Sweetened Condensed Milk
  • Evaporated Milk
  • Peanut Butter
  • Chocolate Syrup
  • Marshmallow Fluff
  • Popcorn Kernels

For Cooking

  • Crushed tomatoes
  • Stocks (Beef and Chicken)
  • Long Grain Rice (Brown and White)
  • Beans (Small Red Kidney and Baked)
  • Pasta in various shapes
  • Breadcrumbs (Seasoned and Panko)
  • Onion Soup Mix
  • Black Olives
  • Bread
  • Oil (Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Vegetable, and Canola as well as flavored oils)
  • Vinegar (A really good Balsamic, White, and Apple Cider)
  • Extra condiments so I don’t run out (Ketchup, Mustard, Mayo etc)
  • Syrup (Pure Maple and Aunt Jemima)
  • Kosher Salt
  • Ground Black Pepper
  • Various Seasonings and Spices (Paprika, Basil, Oregano, Poultry, Red Pepper, etc)
  • Potatoes
  • Onions
  • Fresh Garlic
  • Shallots
  • Coffee Beans
  • Various Teas

Fridge

  • Ketchup
  • Mayonnaise
  • Mustard (Dijon and Deli)
  • Worcestershire Sauce
  • Hot Sauce
  • Pickles
  • Green Olives
  • A-1 Steak Sauce
  • Low Sodium Soy Sauce
  • Wondra
  • Large Eggs (at least 2-3 dozen)
  • Butter (Whipped, Salted Sticks, Unsalted Sticks)
  • Half and Half
  • Heavy Cream
  • Milk
  • Yogurt
  • Ricotta Cheese
  • Sour Cream
  • Cream Cheese
  • Various Cheeses ( Mozzarella, Cheddar, Shaved Parmesan, Locatelli, etc)
  • Bacon
  • Pie Crusts
  • Celery
  • Lettuce
  • Cucumbers
  • Baby Carrots
  • Peppers
  • Apples and Oranges
  • Lemons and Limes

Freezer

  • Various Meats (Chicken Breasts, Ground Beef, Stew Meat, London Broil, etc. – I buy in bulk at BJ’s, portion it out and vacuum seal it so it lasts a long time and stays fresh)
  • Bacon
  • Homemade Waffles and Pancakes
  • Homemade Cookie Dough
  • Butter Sticks
  • Mozzarella (I stock up when they go on sale and freeze)
  • Veggies – Steam Bag variety
  • Various Frozen Fruits
  • Herbs (Basil, Parsley, Thyme, etc)
  • Italian Bread

 

Kitchen Disasters – We’ve ALL Been There

Most of the time recipes go as planned, your food looks great, and everything tastes delicious. But every now and again something goes wrong. Terribly, terribly wrong and all you can do, besides toss the mess into the trash, is laugh at yourself, learn from it, and move on. I have had my fair share of moments where a recipe went completely awry and I was left with a meal or a dessert that nobody wanted to eat. Or alternatively, that tasted fine but looked less than appetizing. It happens, even to the best of cooks! But hey, we wouldn’t grow as cooks (or people!!) if we didn’t fail and have to get back up again. So here are a few of my less than shining moments in the kitchen.

Metal Tomatoes

After college my husband and I moved to Florida and into our first apartment. Through his work we had made a few friends and one year when we couldn’t make it home to NY for Easter we decided to invite some of these friends over to our place for Easter dinner. I am Italian and Easter in my family is always lasagna, meatballs, sausage, and a baked spiral ham. So naturally I wanted to keep with tradition and serve the same meal to our new friends. Now, I knew how to make sauce and pull together lasagna and meatballs however, what I did NOT know at that time was the importance of using the right tools in the kitchen. Aluminum pots = NOT the right tools to make tomato sauce.

Before we moved my mom had given me a set of her old Farberware aluminum pots and pans. They were great for many things, not so much though when cooking tomatoes. Aluminum is a reactive metal and as such, will interact with the tomatoes and impart a distinct metallic taste into the sauce. Needless to say, I had an apartment full of people coming over who I had never cooked for before this gathering and I had a HUGE pot of sauce on the stove that tasted like metal. In a panic, I started adding sugar and extra spices to the sauce to try and counteract the metallic taste. It helped somewhat but I still noticed the “off” flavor in the sauce. At that point, I had to just cross my fingers and hope that once the pasta and cheese were in the mix the metallic flavor would be masked. In the end, everything turned out fine despite the sauce and thankfully everyone seemed to enjoy the meal. I learned a very valuable lesson that day about using the right tools for the job. Both cast iron and aluminum are NOT the right tools when making tomato sauce. Safe to say, I never made that mistake again.

Chicken Flip

A while back I decided to roast a whole chicken for the first time. I bought a nice little Purdue that had the pop up timer built in and I thought, easy peasy, there will be no messing this up. Ummmmmm. Yea. I messed it up! Let’s just say that the cooking time came and went as I was repeatedly sticking my head in the oven trying to find this stupid little pop up timer to let me know the chicken was done cooking. I could’t find it anywhere and was convinced that somehow they forgot to put the pop up timer in the bird. Since the chicken had been roasting for what seemed like forever I decided to finally just pull it out and take my chances. I put the chicken on the counter to rest while thinking to myself, “this chicken looks kind of odd“. The breast looked pretty flat, sort of bony, and wholly unappetizing. I figured I just got a weird looking bird (with no pop up timer!!) so I just brushed it off and didn’t give it another thought.

But then it came time to carve up the meat and to my surprise, there wasn’t really any breast meat. It felt hard, looked pretty gross, and seemingly had nothing I could get my knife through. My husband walks over, asks what the deal is with the funny looking bird and together we realize, OMG!!!!!…………………..I cooked the damn chicken UPSIDE DOWN!!!!! I wasn’t looking at the breast after all, I was trying to carve up his back! All I could do at this point was to flip over the poor chicken and laugh at my sheer stupidity. Once we flipped it over low and behold!!!………………there was the pop up timer that I was convinced didn’t exist along with all of the breast meat that I thought was missing! Having cooked upside down the whole time, the breast now looked a little less than appetizing but thankfully, in the end it was fine to eat and it was cooked pretty well too!! After that little debacle I learned which side is which and I’m proud to say that I’ve never cooked a chicken (or a turkey!!) upside down ever again!

Salt Lick Cookies

I have a great recipe for Fudgy Brownie Cookies that I’ve made countless times and every single time they’ve turned out perfect! I even made batches and batches of them one year to give out in cookie tins as Christmas gifts and everyone loved them. So one day I had my parents over for dinner and decided to throw these cookies together for dessert later that night. It’s a quick and easy recipe that I was very familiar with so I thought I could pop into the kitchen and bang them out pretty fast. My thinking was on point, my reality though, that was a different story! I was being interrupted about 1,458 times a minute by my then toddler son, Grayden. Trying to follow a recipe while at the same time attending to him is pretty much a recipe for disaster!

The recipe called for 1/4 tsp of baking soda to be added. Because I was reading the recipe while at the same time dealing with Grayden, I wasn’t paying close enough attention to the measurements that were called for. Instead of adding a 1/4 tsp of baking soda, I added 1/4 CUP of it. Baking soda, in case you weren’t aware, is VERY salty. Drop a 1/4 cup of it in your cookie dough and I promise you’ll gag, which is EXACTLY what I did when I tasted my dough a few minutes after mixing. There was simply NO way to salvage the cookie dough so in the trash it went and I had to start all over again. Lesson learned for sure, pay CLOSE attention to your recipes and measurements or you’ll end up with one big kitchen disaster on your hands and there is nothing worse than having to toss food! Oh!………….and avoid cooking with a toddler in the kitchen if you can help it!!

Zombie Pasta

Fairly recently I made a dish called “Drunken Spaghetti” which sounded pretty yummy when I read the recipe and it looked decent in the picture too. It was basically pasta that was cooked in both water AND red wine, the idea being that the pasta would absorb the wine as it cooked and impart a nice flavor to the finished dish. Once the pasta was ready you tossed it with chopped nuts, herbs, olive oil and cheese. All good things however, pasta that’s boiled in wine doesn’t look very nice or as richly colored as you might hope. Instead, it was kind gray. Gray pasta. Mmmmmm…………..sounds delish, right??

Overall, the flavor was actually somewhat interesting and the meal itself wasn’t terrible but it really didn’t look “pretty” or even appetizing for that matter. (I didn’t even attempt to get a picture of it!) My parents were over for dinner that night and my husband was working late so we ate before him and everyone kinda sorta liked the meal even though we were all put off by the overall appearance. So when my husband came home and I served him he looked at me like, “WTF is this???”.  I insisted it tasted good and to just try it. He kinda sorta liked the meal too but REALLY struggled with the color of the pasta and the overall look of the dish as we all did. He ate most of it but then gave up towards the end and said he couldn’t really take another bite. He subsequently named the dish “Zombie Pasta” since it was kind of gray, kind of reddish, and overall kind of unappetizing looking. He also told me to never, EVER make it again. So the lesson here is pasta doesn’t really look pretty after boiling in wine AND the photo editing programs they use in cookbooks is simply amazing because they somehow made “Zombie Pasta” look good and inspired me to actually try it!

As you can see, kitchen fails happen to even the best of us! So the next time you burn a cookie, forget an ingredient, or plate something that is zombie colored just know you’re in good company. We’ve ALL been there and done that! The best thing to do is to just chalk up your fail as a learning experience and then get back in the kitchen and do better the next time.

If at first you don’t succeed, just try, try again!

Waxing Nostalgic

The fondest memories are made when gathered around the table

– Unknown

Every one of us has special food memories that we hold dear.  Maybe it’s the smell of your Grandma’s biscuits baking on a Sunday morning.  Or maybe it’s the way your mom’s homemade sauce makes you feel all warm and cozy inside.  Or maybe it’s just seeing a particular food label or product that takes you right back to being a kid. Whatever your memory, food has an uncanny way of stirring up in us so many feelings, emotions, and memories.  When I think back, some of my best food memories center around my grandparents house in Farmingdale. They’ve long since sold it and sadly, my Grandpa is no longer with us, but I’ve always looked back fondly on the years that I spent there as a child.

One of my most favorite memories are of sleepovers at my grandparents house which always meant waking up to the delicious smells of warm bakery goodies for breakfast. My Grandpa was always an early bird so he’d be out and at the local bakery first thing in the morning to pick us up the most incredible raisin biscuits, sugary jelly doughnuts, and my favorite “booby rolls” (as I called them when I was little) which were just soft rolls with the little peaked swirl on top.  There was no better breakfast than these delectable treats that my Grandpa bought home.  We’d gather around the table, Grandpa with his hot cup of coffee in hand and Grandma with curlers in her hair, and we’d just eat and talk and laugh and make memories.

When the weather turned from frosty winter air to warm summer breezes it meant lots of time at Grandma and Grandpa’s house and lots of BBQ’s.  We always had your standard fare at our BBQ’s, burgers and hot dogs, but we also had some traditional staples that were made by the family.  My Aunt Lorraine would always make her delicious homemade macaroni salad and someone in my family would always make sure to make homemade Italian potato salad which is a delicious mix of potatoes, hard boiled eggs, oregano, salt, pepper, and olive oil.  Simple but so good.  Even now, decades later, that Italian potato salad is a staple at all of our family BBQ’s.  We’d spend hours relaxing in the yard, swimming in the pool, eating around the picnic table, and making memories.

Then there were the holidays which were always a very special time at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, especially Christmas.  All of my family would come together a few weeks before the holiday and every aunt, uncle, and cousin would work together to make the struffoli, cake balls, and Italian pizzelle cookies. We would spend hours listening to Mitch Miller and Bing Crosby singing the holiday classics while we all rolled dough, mixed ingredients, and made memories.

Because that’s what food is all about, right?  It’s not so much about the food itself.  Food is about the people you’re sharing it with, the love that went into making it, and the way it brings people together.  So many things have changed in my family over the years and even though we might not all get together to bake like we use to, BBQ’s are fewer and more far between, and sleepovers with Grandma and Grandpa have long since ended I still have all of my very special memories.  EVERY time I bite into a pizzelle, make a batch of Italian potato salad, or have a soft buttery “booby roll” it takes me right back to those times on 11 Hallock Street and I smile.  Because, well, memories.  REALLY good memories.

So now that I am a mom it’s really important to me to continue the kitchen traditions of my family so that my children grow up with their special food memories too.  They’ve made homemade pizzas with their Grandpa, we bake traditional Italian Easter Bread every year and eat it on Easter morning for breakfast like I did as a kid, thanks to my mom’s cooking they’ve been able to try my Great Grandma’s delicious Pizza Rustica recipe, and every Christmas we make Italian Pizzelle cookies on the same cast iron griddles that my Grandma used.  Memories.  Tradition.  It’s what coming together in the kitchen and gathering around the table is all about.

So even if though life gets busy, try and make the time to gather around the table, even if it’s just for a bowl of cereal.  Talk.  Connect. Make those memories.  When you’re tired and not in the mood to cook alongside your kids do it anyway because the time that you spend with them showing them how to mix, measure, or chop will be the little things they remember as they grow up.  If my kids so much as hear me open a drawer in the kitchen they run in and beg to cook and bake with me.  I admit, some days I want to (and have) said no, but if I am not in a rush I try to remind myself that these moments are important.  This moments matter.  So I grab the extra bowls and towels, throw some aprons on my little sous chefs, and we get cooking.  The smiles on the their little faces as we work together in the kitchen make it all worth it!  The experiences and times we’ve shared together in the kitchen are my most priceless food memories of all.

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Welcome to The Simply Delicious Kitchen

ktichenHello and welcome! So this is my very first blog post! If you’re reading this, thank you for taking the time to stop by my site. I hope that as my blog develops and grows you find it to be a useful and informative resource in your kitchen.

I am an avid home cook and I really enjoy being in the kitchen as much as possible.  I get such satisfaction out of watching a meal come together and I also find cooking to be such relaxing therapy for me.  I really love the meal planning, the gathering of ingredients, and even the simple act of stirring a spoon.  When I am in my kitchen, I am in my happy place!

Back in the day I loved sinking my teeth into complicated and time consuming recipes however, being a mom to my 8 year old daughter, Emerson, and my VERY active 4 year old son, Grayden, takes up so much of my time that those complicated recipes have been pushed aside for meals that are easier to pull together.  I realize that whether you’re home all day with your kids or you’re out in the working world there are just never enough hours in the day and when dinnertime rolls around, simplicity and time efficiency are key.

Therefore, my goal with this blog is to share with you uncomplicated, home cooking that with a little effort and planning anyone is capable of doing.  I have two picky eaters at home as well so I really like to cook meals and desserts that are less fussy and more along the lines of comfort food, the meals you remember as a kid in your Grandma’s kitchen.  Let’s save the complicated, gourmet meals for the holidays and special occasions! Hopefully along the way I’ll also be able to share with you useful tips and ideas, interesting articles, and some of my own family stories and adventures in the kitchen.  If you have any suggestions or comments please feel free to let me know!

Thanks again for stopping by and I will leave you with this:

“You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients.” ― Julia Child