Thursday, July 17, 2014

Restock Your Pantry

OK, so maybe you don't actually HAVE a pantry. But you must have cupboards and other places where you keep staples, herbs, and spices. Maybe you don't cook all that much and like to rely on packaged products.

Well, it's time to make a brutal and honest assessment. Throw out anything that is old or isn't nutritious and totally delicious. Get rid of fat-laden and stale false friends, and bring in fresh, low-calorie friends. Away with all those fake substitutes, and welcome real, delicious, nutritious food. Buy the best you can afford. This is no time to indulge in cheap substitutes.

While you're at it, haul out those cooking utensils and gadgets. Get ready to do you some cooking and experiment with recipes. Before we finish, you'll be eating the most nutritious, delicious food imaginable -- just not too much of it.

Get out those garbage bags, and let's get started. Out with the old; in with the new.

  • Herbs, spices, and flavorings. If your herbs and spices are more than a year old (and, let's face it, most are), they have lost their flavor. Dump 'em! You want your food to be totally delicious. This means you want fresh herbs and spices, where available. If you can't get fresh, unless "ground" is indicated, choose leaves, seeds or pods.
    • At a minimum, have these dried herbs and spices on hand: basil leaves, bay leaves, cardamom pods, cayenne pepper (or red pepper flakes), a good chili powder, ground cinnamon, whole cloves, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, a good curry powder, dill, ground ginger, majoram, mint leaves, powdered mustard, whole nutmeg, oregano, a good Hungarian paprika, parsley, rosemary needles, tarragon, thyme leaves, ground turmeric. There are others, too numerous to mention, but stay away from all the fancy combinations; with these on hand, you can make your own combinations as you go.
    • For flavorings, you'll need: vanilla extract, Bragg Liquid Aminos, rice and balsamic vinegars (get a good, flavorful one), Worcestershire sauce, capers, roasted red peppers, tobasco or sirarcha hot sauce, kalamata olives, dijon mustard, catsup
    • There are lots of places to buy dried herbs, spices, and flavorings but I particularly like
  • Flours, sugars and mixes. Dump 'em! Get rid of all white flour or non-whole-grain products. Lose those breakfast bars, pancake or cake mixes, ice cream and frozen desserts (even the weight watchers bars), candy, cookies, sweeteners and sugar substitutes, and all but a small amount of any kind of sugar. Even get rid of that dark chocolate candy you so love; there are less sugar-laden ways to get the benefits of dark chocolate. If any boxes are not past their expiration date, you can donate them to a local food pantry.
  • Soups. Get rid of salty canned and boxed. Check the fat and salt content -- per portion size -- and decide for yourself. You'll be replacing these with delicious soups you can make for your self in no time at all.
  • Frozen food. Dump anything you KNOW isn't good food, such as frozen french fries or hash browns, meatballs, already prepared vegetable and grain mixtures, pies, cakes. Nothing is too precious to escape your broad sweep. You'll be replacing some of these items with wholesome food as you learn to EAT LESS and save something for later. Add to your freezer some frozen berries and whole-grain bread, such as the excellent sprouted grain Ezekiel bread and other products made by Food for Life Baking Company (in frozen health food section of supermarket or health food store).
  • Cooking oils, butters, condiments and dressings. Get rid of store-bought mayonnaise, creamy salad dressings and butter. Also get rid of "fat-free" salad dressings (to be fat free, they need to add a lot of sugar and other thickening ingredients). You will be replacing these with dressings you can easily make. Keep a good, fresh olive oil, a light safflower or canola oil, and maybe a little coconut oil. For butter, an excellent substitute is Earth Balance, which you can find in the health food store and some supermarkets.
  • Cheeses. Dump 'em! Yes, they may contain some protein and calcium, but they are so fat-laden as to be hardly worth the effort. Check out the nutritional content for a portion size, if you don't believe me. Two exceptions, though, will give such good flavor and don't pack a calorie wallop: fat-free feta and a really good quality aged armesan, pecorino-romano, or parmigiano-reggiano. Buy the best you can afford; a little goes a long way.
  • Cereals and grains. Get rid of all those sweetened or fruit-added boxes of cereal. This includes instant oatmeal packets. Ugh. For one thing, they're probably stale by now. For another, it only takes 5 minutes to make the real thing (except something like steel-cut oats). Dump all those boxes of seasoned rice or grain, mashed potato mixes, and other instant-gratification products. You are going to be making the most delicious, and real, substitutes for these in no time as you explore healthy recipes that take hardly more time than putting together these unhealthy -- not to mention small -- meals. 
  • Snacks. You know what talking about here -- and what I'm going to say. Dump 'em! This goes especially for crackers, cookies, chips, Luna or other so-called "health" bars, candies (even the hard kind). You will be replacing these with delicious low-fat crackers (such as those made by Dr.Kracker), fruit concoctions, vegetable dips you can easily make, and an occasional piece of candied ginger (hey, we all have our weaknesses).

Pantry Must-Haves

Since I know you must be feeling deprived by now, here are a few things that you should always, always have on hand. They will allow you to whip up something quickly and keep you from resorting to just grabbing something unhealthy. We'll explore more of these later, in the recipe posts.

For baking: baking powder and baking soda
Rolled oats (the real kind; not instant)
Ground flaxseed (keep in the refrigerator)
Almond butter (you can get it freshly ground at Mother Earth's Storehouse)
Non-sweetened applesauce
Toasted sesame oil
Thai red curry mixture
Seltzer or carbonated mineral water (such as Pelligrino or Gerolsteiner)
Onions (sweet and cooking)
Good salt and peppercorns for freshly grinding
Whole wheat flour
Whole-grain pasta
Brown rice
Low-sodium chicken and vegetable broth
Low-sodium canned crushed and chopped tomatoes
Low-sodium canned beans (white, black,garbanzo, kidney, black-eyed peas)
Tomato paste
Low-fat canned evaporated milk
Light coconut milk
Water-packed tuna and sardines
Sliced unsalted almonds
Unsalted pumpkin seeds

Refrigerator Must-Haves 

1% fat cottage cheese
Lowfat or non-fat yogurt
Lowfat or non-fat Greek yogurt
Lowfat buttermilk
Fresh eggs (circle the expiration date, so you know when they are "old")
Lowfat (1%) milk
An assortment of easily eaten fruits, like apples and pears
An assortment of greens and salad vegetables
Lemons and limes (good in mineral water drinks and cooking)
Fresh herbs (such as parsley, basil, cilantro, rosemary, mint)

There are so many many more things, and surely some that I have forgotten. But this is good for a start.

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