Tuesday, August 11, 2015

My Permanent Grocery List

I can not emphasize enough how much I love summer, but at the risk of betraying my entire image, I must tell you that I almost, ALMOST, don't hate the idea of fall coming, because everyone ELSE gets excited and I enjoy that atmosphere. Also, food. Now that New Year's resolutions are completely obliterated and all the grilling and salads and light eating of summer is going to begin winding down, there will be a shift toward richer, warmer foods. Helloooo, butter! 

I'm not a die-hard seasonal eater, but I have noticed that there are certain items that I'm always reaching for based on the recipes I'm drawn to in warm weather or cooler weather. I don't know exactly what to call my style of cooking, but it is fun and interesting to notice patterns in the things that sound good (and to read about other people's!). There's this blog called Camille Styles that does a feature from time to time called "What's on Hand", where a food-personality is interviewed about some of the items that they always have in their pantry. The one I identified most with was Courtney McBroom's

Unfortunately, I don't have a cute watercolor of my kitchen and the items in it to go with this list, but I'm not a Pinterest wizard for nothing. (1, 2, 3)

During the summer, I love pasta salads, Mediterranean food, and Asian fusion. Here are the items that will find their way into multiple meals: 
  • Plain yogurt - I use this for cucumber salad to pair with meat or falafel and pita or as a side. It also goes in smoothies, and other savory sauces. It even makes an appearance in dessert from time to time. 
  • Fresh Herbs -  Basil, mint, parsley, cilantro, dill. These get chopped up and thrown into sauces, salads, cocktails, pickles, and sandwiches. I try and grow them in our yard during the summer because it's crazy to try and anticipate how much of each I'm going to need, and how often, for various recipes. 
  • Limes and lemons - Limes garnish most Thai and Mexican dishes and I love lemons in desserts. 
  • Orzo - I'm a pasta girl year round, but I like orzo in the summer because small pasta works well in salads and summer soups. 
  • Green onions - Again, super easy to grow, and a topping for everything. They're used heavily in most Asian cuisines as well. I use a lot of red onion in the summer too because it's the most mild when eaten raw. 
  • Vanilla ice cream - Now that I'm not pregnant, I crave ice cream less than I did last summer, but still, there are so many ways to jazz up vanilla ice cream instead of buying a bunch of more expensive specialty flavors. When I have a big tub of it in the freezer, I even use ice cream in my coffee or pancakes (though it makes them extremely dense!) if I run out of milk or cream. 

During the colder months (ahem, 50s and 60s in California), I imagine myself as a hibernating bear. I SHOULD be sleeping through all the gloom until next summer, but since I'm a human, I make due with being cozy, aka eat all the comfort foods. Here's what I cook with constantly: 

  • Parmesan - Sometimes as a topping, but often just with butter on noodles for a quick meal. Again, it goes in many soups and pastas, but I find the flavor interesting enough to spice up something that may be bland, without it being too funky. 
  • Heavy cream - Trying to explain all the things I use heavy cream for is overwhelming. It makes everything hearty and rich. I don't drink milk, and when I buy it I make sure it's whole milk so that it's the most flavor-boosting in recipes, but cream does that even better! Soups and pastas and coffee probably see the most of each carton. 
  • Bacon - I rarely cook bacon to be eaten on its own (if I do, I want it floppy, with lots of fat), but I use it chopped up all the time and added to other meat, pasta, soup, roasted vegetables, and side dishes. Honestly, I'm not one to add bacon just for the hell of it, but it often ends up being in the recipes that look good to me, even if you can't see any in the photo, so I keep some in the freezer. I buy thick cuts or end pieces at Grocery Outlet, which are best for cutting up anyway. 
  • Fettuccine - My go-to winter pasta, it's just so good swimming in cream and butter sauces. Somehow more satisfying than spaghetti, to me. 
  • Onions - In the winter, I use brown, white, and yellow onions more. More often than not, caramelized (or at least sauteed) onions are the base of a hearty recipe. 
  • Dark chocolate for cooking - Trader Joe's has 1lb bricks of it that I whittle down little by little for ganaches, dipping candied fruit, truffles, and many other holiday desserts. Even some cozy savory foods like a long-simmered mole call for some chocolate. 
  • Chicken broth - Soups are ridiculously easy to make, so versatile, and what I constantly want to eat in the winter. I will slap you if you make soup with plain water. I also cook pasta in broth for extra flavor sometimes. 
The longer I think about this, the more items I realize I'm forgetting. Coconut cream, eggnog, frozen peas, fresh tomatoes, a baguette, chicken breasts.... 

The point is to always have your basic ingredients on hand so that you can improvise around them, or have a lot of options without buying too many more ingredients. I like to explain it in terms of Italian food - if you have garlic, basil, sausage, wine, pasta, you're half way there to most of the recipes in the Italian arsenal. The same goes for most other cuisines, or for your own blend of favorites. 

So now, the real question: what do YOU always have on hand? (And can I come over and eat it?) 

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