Dining Reviews

Pantry Pro Tips for Stepping Into a Tasty New Year

Stock these essential pantry items for quick dinners

Keeping pantry staples on hand can help transform takeout leftovers into new dishes.

Never has a New Year been so eagerly awaited as this one!

Fingers crossed and hope we all stay disciplined enough to get through the winter intact. Between Zoom meets and fuming about all the things I can’t do during shutdowns, I consider the well-stocked kitchen. What are my go-to items for quick dinners, for transforming carryout leftovers into some new dish, or for just getting fed? Here are the essentials.

Condiments: Sriracha, Tapatio, Cholula, hot mango chutney, chipotle salsa, mayo, relish, catsup, mustard, tamari. These can turn any sow’s ear into a righteous silk purse.

Foundations: Chicken stock, almond milk, canned tomatoes, peanut butter, dried pasta, jars of pasta sauce. Red wine and plenty of it!

Key ingredients: Beans, canned and dried (cannellini, black, and pinto). Tuna, lots and lots of tuna. Rice: We like Lundberg Organic short-grain brown rice. Tea: black—especially Assam, English breakfast, and Lady Grey. And herbal—must include nettle leaf, Tulsi green, and ginger chamomile. Second tier would include sardines and salmon. Polenta. Even if the power goes out you can splash some hot sauce on tuna and cannellini beans and call it dinner. Pit-bull proteins such as tuna and beans can sustain life.

The little extras make you feel human. Flat pretzels, multigrain crackers, sea salt flakes, bar mix, instant oatmeal, Chocolove almonds and sea salt chocolate bars. Tubs of biscotti to consume with tea.

Refrigerator: Eggs for breakfast and dinner omelets, and hard-boiled for quickie lunches. Yogurt, hummus, dolmas, milk, butter, and a variety of cheeses. Cheeses in our house usually include a Blue Agur, Taleggio, young Mahon, a Basque sheep cheese such as Ossau-Iraty, smoked cheddar, and a ripe Brie or Camembert.

In the door we stock Gruner Veltliner, Gerolsteiner water, and emergency splits of Veuve Clicquot. We keep whatever fruit is in season out on the counter: pears, and currently Satsuma mandarins. Always Honeycrisp apples in the refrigerator.

Freezer: Venus Gin No.1 is a permanent resident, as well as a tin with the dwindling remains of Christmas cookies, mine and Lisa’s. Niman Ranch organic Italian sausages—another item that turns quickly into a nice dinner along with pasta or creamy polenta. Plastic containers of my bean and ham hock stew, and homemade chile verde. Wagyu beef patties. Green beans from the farmers market, pastured pork chops, chicken thighs, English muffins, sliced sourdough from Companion, and gluten-free cinnamon raisin bread from Canyon Bakehouse.

With the above, a comforting dinner is always within reach. But since we’re fortunate to be able to afford takeout meals, we like to make sure our favorite local restaurants know we love what they do. We get a carryout meal once a week or so. Comforting dinners involving kale salads and roast meats, or pizza and fresh salads. Seafood specialties or a pasta dish with some complex meat sauce. All of these carryout meals can turn into a second day dinner with a few tweaks. We rarely order a one-night stand as far as restaurant takeout.

So far, so good (fingers crossed). Keep afloat and stay upbeat. Pamper yourselves as much as you can with the foods you love, with takeaway dishes from the restaurants you love. If ice cream is your guilty pleasure, have at it! Give thanks for how lucky you are to be able to eat well and that you live in a community that has a Shoppers Corner. Write another check to Second Harvest Food Bank!

Spring is coming, at least that’s what my daffodils say. Welcome 2021!

Christina Waters was born in Santa Cruz and raised all over the world (thanks to an Air Force dad), with real-world training in painting, music, winetasting, trail running, organic gardening, and teaching. She has a PhD in Philosophy, teaches in the Arts at UCSC and sings with the UCSC Concert Choir. Look for her recent memoir “Inside the Flame” at bookstores everywhere.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Orly

    January 7, 2021 at 7:08 am

    taleggio cheese is useless – nearly tasteless
    emergency splits of VC? that is beyond ridiculous

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