Thursday, May 1, 2008

May 1: The Basic Pantry, Easy Beef Stroganoff

Kimberly and Michael asked me, while I was in Kentucky recently, about a pantry primer. I love this kind of post: a list of what should be in everyone's pantry, whether you can barely boil water or whether you entertain regularly and cook like a domestic goddess (I loathe that term, by the by, much as I loathe the term by the by.)

These are the kind of things that make a wide variety of basic recipes. If your talents or interests are limited, if you're on a tight budget, if you're just learning the ropes, or if you live in a tiny little condo at the top of two flights of stairs and you hate carrying up groceries like I do, these are the things you can't live without.

This list may seem absolutely outrageous to you; it's not short. But imagine if you were starting from scratch, with an empty kitchen. This is what you'd need to get by.

So let us start here, with the basics, and a basic recipe made from the basics. It is not traditional beef stroganoff, which is made with expensive beef tenderloin and sour cream--this is a little lighter, still filling, and a quick weeknight dinner, made from things that are probably already in your kitchen.

If they're not, they should be. Go on, make a grocery list. Do it now.

The Pantry
  • Granulated sugar
  • Light brown sugar
  • All-purpose flour
  • Instant-acting yeast
  • Kosher salt
  • Table salt
  • Cornmeal
  • Cocoa powder
  • Baking soda
  • Baking powder
  • A long strand pasta, like spaghetti, capellini, or linguine
  • A short, stubby curved pasta, like shells, rotini, or penne rigate
  • Wide or extra-wide egg noodles (sometimes labled "dumpling style" or "homestyle")
  • Long grain white rice
  • All-purpose, Russet, or Yukon Gold potatoes
  • White or yellow onions
  • Garlic
  • High-quality, fruity, fresh extra-virgin olive oil (find a brand you like and get it from a reputable source with a stock that turns over quickly; I like 365 brand from Whole Foods. Also, buy it in small quantities--it may cost a little more over time, but it won't go bad before you can use it)
  • Corn, vegetable, or canola oil, or some other non-animal-based, "healthy," neutral-tasting fat for cooking and baking
  • High-quality white sandwich bread (Pepperidge Farms Hearty White is excellent; even if you don't think you'll eat sandwiches, this makes the best fresh breadcrumbs around)
  • Apples
  • Oranges
  • Dried spices: oregano, Italian seasoning, thyme, rubbed sage, cayenne pepper, crushed red pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, whole peppercorns

The Canned Goods

  • Good quality canned diced tomatoes (I like Muir Glen Organics, but they are pricey. A good, lower-priced stand-in is Redpack.)
  • Good quality canned crushed tomatoes
  • Good quality canned tomato sauce
  • Good quality canned tomato paste
  • Chunk light tuna in water
  • Cream of mushroom soup
  • Cream of chicken soup
  • Reduced sodium chicken broth (I buy broth in aseptic cardboard cartons--it just tastes better to me--but canned is fine too.)
  • Reduced sodium beef broth

The Refrigerator

  • Unsalted butter
  • Skim or reduced-fat milk
  • Half-and-half
  • Brick medium-sharp cheddar cheese
  • Lean ground beef
  • Boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Iceberg or Romaine lettuce
  • Flour tortillas (come on, you didn't seriously think I would leave tortillas off this list, did you? Are you new here?)
  • White mushrooms (may also be called button mushrooms)
  • Eggs
  • Bacon

The Gadgets and Tools

  • Garlic press
  • High-quality, sharp 3-4-inch paring knife
  • High-quality, sharp 9-10 inch santoku or chef's knife
  • Vegetable peeler
  • Rolling pin
  • Box grater
  • Plastic or silicone spoon
  • Silicone-tipped tongs
  • Plastic or silicone pancake turner
  • Plastic or silicone spatula or "spoonula" or scraper
  • Heavy-bottomed 3-4 quart saucepan with a lid
  • Heavy-bottomed 8-10 quart stock pot with a lid
  • 12-inch nonstick skillet
  • 9x13 inch casserole or baking dish (I use my late grandmother's old Pyrex)
  • Rimmed cookie sheets (I recommend at least two)
  • Oven-safe wire rack
  • Pepper grinder

Easy Beef Stroganoff

2 tbsp vegetable oil

1/2 yellow onion, diced small

2 cloves garlic, pressed

1/2 pound white mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed and quartered

2 tbsp all-purpose flour

1 lb. lean ground beef

2/3 cup half-and-half

1 cup low sodium beef broth

Salt and pepper to taste

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 pound wide or extra-wide egg noodles, cooked according to package directions and kept hot

Over medium heat, preheat 12-inch nonstick skillet and oil until shimmering. Add onions and garlic to pan and cook, stirring, until softening and translucent but not browned. Add mushrooms to pan and stir until mushrooms are softening.

Add ground beef to pan and cook over medium, breaking up with a spoon or spatula, until browned. Add thyme and flour to pan and cook 2 minutes, stirring to combine.

Add broth and half-and-half, stir and raise heat to medium high and bring to a simmer. Lower heat to medium-low and simmer until thickened to saucy, gravy-like consistency. Taste, season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately over egg noodles.


Kimberly said...

I do not have a pepper grinder. A shame, I know, but I always remember I need one when I'm nowhere near a place that sells them.

Annie K. Nodes said...

Check, check and check! We have very similar pantries and fridges and cupboards. I also always have cans of beans in my pantry, 'cause I'm full of 'em. HA!

I need a good beef strogonoff recipe. We need to break our Hamburger Helper habit. This one sounds great. Thanks!

merseydotes said...

I would add vinegars to the list: balsamic, white wine, red wine.

Also, Parmesan cheese.

Also, various kinds of canned beans (kidney, garbanzo, navy or cannellini, lentils, black-eyed peas).

Lastly, I'd add various kinds of nuts (walnuts, slivered almonds, pecan) and dried fruits (raisins, dried cranberries, figs).

Neen said...

This is actually really helpful. We've got a good, well stocked pantry now, but we're moving in two months and will have to start over from scratch. This list actually makes it feel less daunting.