In 2019, I did a blog about things that I’ve discovered that are easy to make and taste better than premade or in-a-box versions. Let me tell you, I was just a baby home-cook then. I’ve expanded that a lot this last year. I wanted to take a moment to talk about some ingredients I no longer even look at when shopping, and some that, while I do buy, it has become far less often. Let me be clear. I have a lot of time, and I love cooking. I am not a snob. I won’t judge you if you are a parent, have a job, or just don’t have time, and so you grab that prepared meal from the freezer section or buy the package pre-made things. I just wanted to share my discoveries.
Let’s start in the spice aisle. First, I have fallen in love with spices. My spice shop ambassadors are loved and currently very missed while we are in quarantine. I don’t buy anything off the shelf at a general grocery store except Kosher salt, and that is only because they don’t carry the quantity I buy, and I’m a Morton Salt girl for life. But I’ve also discovered that, while my spice shop’s spices are fresher and more aromatic than anything in the local grocery, some spices are even better if you buy them whole and grind them or crack them or what have you as you need them. I probably won’t list them all, but what comes to mind are nutmeg, cumin, all peppers, fennel seeds, coriander seeds, mustard seeds, and cloves. Spices have oils, and they release them when ground. So you lose some of their amazing aroma and flavor if they are ground and just sit in a jar for too long. And while we’re talking spices, I don’t buy most seasoning blends. This is because of the loss of aroma and flavor from pre-ground ingredients. I make my own taco seasoning, chili seasoning, chorizo seasoning, and Cajun seasoning to name a few. I do buy a few. Za’atar is pretty expensive to make, and I use it fast enough and trust my spice shop that it’s fresh.
I don’t buy shredded cheese. If you are a foodie, you know that they use some type of powder so it won’t stick to itself, and I don’t like that. I also feel that cheese, like spices, loses some flavor if it’s shredded and stored too long. Also, I am fortunate that my sous chef, a.k.a. my husband, is wonderful and will always jump in and shred it for me. I gotta admit that was a big factor in fully committing on this one. He’s an angel.
I make my own broths. I secretly usually have a box or two of broth in my pantry for that broth emergency, but I rarely use them. I cook a variety of meats for my husband and I on nights we don’t have any of the vegans and vegetarians, and I save all the bones for making broth. I also save all the tops of onions, celery ends, carrot tops, any vegetable waste that goes well in a broth. I’ll also just boil a whole chicken or chicken leg quarters to make a broth, then use the boiled chicken meat to make a pot pie or other chicken dish. I make vegetable broth, chicken broth, pork broth, beef broth and a recent favorite, mushroom broth. My freezer is always well stocked on broth, and I use it to replace water in rice dishes, soups and a hundred other things.
I don’t buy canned beans. Okay, I don’t buy much that is canned. My one exception is tomatoes. I buy diced, pureed, etc. tomatoes. But canned beans and canned vegetables usually have way to much sodium. My husband and I both suffer from high blood pressure, and this is one area where it is easy to do something healthier for us. My instant pot definitely gets much of the credit for this. I can have beans ready for whatever recipe in half an hour without even having to plan ahead and soak them. I can flavor them exactly how I like, and I can control the sodium.
I don’t buy pasta sauces. First, my alfredo, or the alfredo of anyone who has patience, is way better than anything out of a jar. But I also make my own marinara. I’ve made it using canned crushed tomatoes, whole canned tomatoes, and fresh tomatoes, depending on what I have on hand. And you can make all sorts of varieties of pasta sauce. My go-to is generally a simple marinara with basil and garlic. But I’ve also made a yummy burgundy sauce. And occasionally you want a chunky sauce with some garden vegetables. And after a lot of practice, I make an excellent vodka sauce. My favorite, or at least my family’s favorite, is probably pesto. I make an awesome pesto sauce.
I stopped buying canned biscuits. Don’t get me wrong, Grands does a great thing, and if you have a busy schedule, they are good. But it literally takes me 5 minutes to whip up a drop biscuit dough, and maybe 10 if I want rolled biscuits. And they take the same amount of cooking time. I have several versions, from your flaky layered style, to drop, to buttermilk. I can make a tray full of them, and we have them to just heat and eat all week.
Finally, I don’t buy sausage. Specifically, I don’t buy chorizo, breakfast sausage or Italian sausage. We still buy cured sausages, as I don’t have a place to really be doing that kind of thing. But I discovered that ground pork is pretty inexpensive at my local grocer. And homemade sausage is much easier on my little IBS-ridden stomach. You can find my Italian sausage and breakfast sausage recipes on my recipe page.
I have a lot of other things I often make from scratch like dirty rice, and most recently jambalaya, but these are a few of the things I think are more permanent changes in my culinary pantry.