Pantry Basics: In the Refrigerator

Now that you’ve stocked up the cabinets and shelves with Pantry Basics, it’s time to turn to the cold stuff. These are all pantry items that will need replenishment whether you use them or not. None of these items will keep without spoiling for more than a couple of weeks up to a few months, depending on what it is. The object of having a well-stocked pantry is that you can make almost anything at a moment’s notice.

Eggs. We’ve talked about eggs before. Don’t shy away from this food just because you’ve heard it’s high in fat and cholesterol. While that is true, if you don’t eat them everyday, the nutritional value outweighs the bad. Get farm fresh eggs at a farmers market if you can. Yes, you will pay more, but it is well worth it. There has been some study that says there’s no taste difference, but I disagree. Learn to compute the cost difference between the different size eggs. If the difference is the same, then it doesn’t matter which size you pick. If there is a difference, take the smaller size of the biggest difference. In other words, if there’s 10 cents between medium and large but 14 cents between large and extra large, the large eggs are the best value. Eggs should be allowed to come to room temperature before use if possible. If you’re in a hurry, you can put the eggs you’re going to use in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes.

Milk. Unless you’re getting raw milk from a farmer, what type or brand of milk you buy matters very little. Organic milk might be available in your area which might have a better taste but undoubtedly will cost more. All milk and dairy products in your supermarket are processed. This is due to federal laws and regulations that all dairies have to follow. So buy the cheapest you can get. Milk is picked up and transported in large tanker trucks like what’s used to deliver gasoline. It is then dumped into large holding tanks and pasteurized. There are two kinds of pasteurization. One heats the milk more slowly and to a lower temperature, thus preserving at least a little of the milk’s natural flavor. The other method, used most often today, is called ultra pasteurization. The milk is brought to a very high temperature for just a few seconds before being rapidly chilled to just below 40F. Either way, the milk is then separated, the cream and fat removed, and what’s left is skim milk. Some of that cream and fat will go to make butter, other portions will be put back into the milk in a controlled way to create whole, 1% and 2% varieties. Some milk will be redirected to make yogurt, sour cream, cream cheese, cottage cheese and other dairy products. Most of it will go to packaging. The fat difference between whole milk, which is 3% milkfat, and 2% is pretty small. However, between whole milk and skim, the difference is significant. All milk these days is homogenized,which means it is stirred until the cream (fat) dissolves into the rest of the milk.

Butter. Don’t be afraid to use real butter. There is nothing else to match that wonderful flavor. I don’t care what they say, there is no margarine or spread that can even come close to the taste of real butter. Yes, I know butter has a lot of saturated fat and cholesterol, but if you use it judiciously and with a little thought, you can make it no worse than margarine or other products. I avoid using butter in cooking if I can. Usually extra virgin or regular olive oil can substitute well. If it’s going to stand on it’s own, like on bread with no additions, go ahead and use the real thing. You’ll want to buy a butter dish for it. Keeping butter covered allows it to last unrefrigerated for up to a week. It’s the air that makes it go bad or rancid, not the temperature. If your home is warm, like in the summer months, put the butter in the fridge when not using it. Take it out a couple of hours before you need it so it can soften up. Whipped butter is not a value since it’s still not as spreadable as whipped margarine, which is very bad for you due to presence of trans fats. Besides, butter is all natural, so it can’t be as bad for you as a tub of chemicals.

Parmesan Cheese. A hard, sharp, dry Italian cheese made from skim cow’s milk. It is straw-colored and has rich flavor. It should be aged 12 to 16 months. It is made all over, but the best comes from Italy’s Parmigiano-Reggiano, which is often aged 2 years. Get the real thing, a wedge, if you can. It costs a bit, but it should last for a while. You’ll need a grater, too. Don’t get the little block inside a plastic grater bottle, it breaks. Also, stay away from the powder-like stuff, too, if you can. You can get it already grated or shredded, I find that works best for me. This can spice up lots of dishes, not just Italian food.

Condiments.  If you have them, put them in the ‘fridge.

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