Staples for Kitchen Shortcuts

Everyday Food, March 2011

Save time cooking and shopping: With these ingredients on hand, you can whip up a tasty meal in minutes, and avoid an extra trip to the supermarket.

Corn Muffin Mix

This mix has applications that go beyond corn muffins. The addition of flour, sugar, and salt means it has more flavor than plain cornmeal.

  • Add dried herbs and use in place of breadcrumbs for a crunchy chicken-cutlet coating.
  • To make a tasty topping for a fruit crisp in minutes, crumble with cold butter and brown sugar.
  • Use to replace half the flour in a homemade pancake batter for textured cornmeal hotcakes.

Pesto

Look for a container of this herb sauce in the refrigerated or deli section of your market, or choose a high-quality jarred one; basil and olive oil should be the first ingredients.

  • For a pasta salad, toss with pasta, tomatoes, and shredded chicken.
  • Spread on a sandwich.
  • Add a squeeze of lemon juice or red-wine vinegar and use as a flavorful salad dressing.

Coleslaw

This crunchy blend of shredded cabbage and carrots is a great refrigerator staple because it stays fresh longer than other bagged greens.

  • Saute with olive oil and a dash of cider vinegar, then serve with pork tenderloin.
  • Mix with sour cream and lime juice and use to top fish tacos.
  • Toss with bacon pieces, sunflower seeds, and a vinaigrette.

Creole Seasoning

Using a spice blend means you get complex flavor from a single jar. We love this spicy, aromatic mixture because it adds the right amount of zing to all sorts of dishes.

  • Dust onto chicken or fish before baking, or toss with shrimp before grilling.
  • Fold into softened butter and spread on corn on the cob or cornbread.
  • Mix into ground beef to make Cajun-spiced burgers or taco filling.

Soba Noodles

These long, thin Japanese noodles take just 5 minutes to cook and are great served hot or cold. Made with nutritious buckwheat flour, they have a slightly nutty flavor.

  • Cook, then add them to a stir-fry during the last minute of cooking.
  • Toss chilled noodles with snap peas, radishes, and a simple vinaigrette for a cool soba salad.
  • Add cooked noodles to hot chicken broth with scallions and a poached egg.

Frozen Shrimp

Fresh shrimp are highly perishable, so they're often flash frozen, which means frozen shrimp may actually be fresher than the thawed ones at your seafood counter. Defrost just before using for a quick-cooking protein source.

  • Skewer, season, and grill.
  • Steam shrimp, toss with olive oil and lemon, then roughly chop and use to top a salad.
  • Throw into a soup and cook until pink.

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