You’ve heard it all before: Spring is a time for change. It’s a time when we kick off our puffy down coats and swing our windows wide open. It’s also a time when our diets change for the better. But before getting carried away with all the green-as-can-be produce you can get your hands on, use this first stage of the season for some serious spring cleaning, with a special emphasis on that pantry of yours.
This week, Food Network’s combining forgotten pantry items with the freshness of spring produce. Together, these two elements create bright and budget-friendly side dishes.
Those cardboard boxes of pasta sure stock up in the shadowy depths of your pantry. Get that stuff boiled by making one of these spring-forward pasta dishes. Serve Food Network Magazine’s Spaghetti With Snap Peas and Prosciutto alongside a nice chicken breast. Or try Pasta Salad With Asparagus, Corn and Sun-Dried Tomatoes by Food Network Magazine as a cold side for a spring picnic.
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It happens at least once a year — your favorite jarred tomato sauce goes on sale and you stock up — enough to feed an army sometimes. While nothing beats homemade sauce, sometimes the jarred varieties are a reliable substitute for quick weeknight dinners.
It’s certainly a must-have in the pantry, along with pasta and one of Melissa d’Arabian’s favorites — dried beans. But sometimes you can fall into a rut, using it the same ol’ way. Not anymore. Food Network Magazine has taken a household staple and provided 50 different ways to incorporate it into recipes like Spanish rice, minestrone soup and Italian meatloaf.
Looking for a way to liven up baked potatoes? Try Pizza Potatoes (No. 21). Make a deep slit in baked potatoes, then stuff with some pasta sauce, chopped pepperoni and shredded mozzarella, and bake at 400 degrees F until the cheese melts.
Browse the photo gallery for more ideas
Is it possible to make something delicious from a can of food? Last week FN Dish editors challenged you to a pantry cook-off to find out what dish you would make out of ordinary canned foods. It was a challenge inspired by Episode 4 of The Next Iron Chef, where the chefs had to transform a chosen canned food into something worth plating for the judges. In the end, most of the chefs were successful in the challenge, even those who chose cans labeled with question marks. But what can the average person at home create with canned foods? You voted for the ingredient you would choose to cook with and then told us the dish you would make.
Find out which ingredient was your top choice and who won the challenge
How many times have you been caught without a plan for dinner? It can happen, right? You end up scrounging around in the pantry or the cupboards looking for something you could turn into a meal. Oftentimes you may even find yourself cooking with canned foods. Take, for example, a can of tuna — it can become a pretty good pasta puttanesca with the right recipe. Food Network is challenging you to a pantry cook-off challenge to find out what you can make.
On the latest episode of The Next Iron Chef, the Chairman’s challenge had the chefs cooking with canned foods with the goal of transforming the ingredient into something worth plating for the judges. Some of the cans available were properly labeled and others had question marks — just to throw the chefs a curveball. Though the chefs didn’t seem very keen on the challenge, they took it in stride. Now it’s your turn: Which canned food would you choose and what would you make out of it?
Choose the ingredient and tell us what you would make.
Last year The New York Times and other news outlets reported a scary statistic: Americans throw out approximately 40 percent of all the food we purchase. Let’s say you spend $100 a week on groceries — that’s like taking $40 and just tossing it in the trash. If you’re one of the many of us who are resolving to spend money more wisely in the new year, then taking a look at your grocery shopping and food storage habits and making some improvements will help stretch your food dollar even further. Over the next two weeks, we’ll be sharing helpful tips to make the most of the food you buy and help you avoid having to throw anything away.
1. Don’t let oil or nuts go rancid. Whenever I cook in a friend’s home, rancid olive and vegetable oil is the number one food sin that I see committed. Many people don’t realize that oil goes bad, so it’s very important to keep it (especially pricey olive oil) in a cool, dark place. Take the sniff test to determine if yours has gone bad: if it smells musty and off, it’s time to say goodbye. (And here’s an important food disposal tip: if you must throw it away, don’t pour oil down the drain; it’s terrible for waste-water treatment plants.) If you don’t use a lot of oil, avoid buying giant bottles so it won’t go bad before you use it up.
The worst offense you could commit »
For East Coasters that are bracing for what looks to be monster Hurricane Sandy, we thought this would be a swell time to remind you of what your pals on the left coast already know: Create a well-stocked emergency pantry for yourself.
What does that mean exactly? We looked to the American Red Cross for their best tips on how to make sure your family has enough to eat should a catastrophic event hit close to home. Their mantra: “Get a Kit. Make a Plan. Be Informed.” keeps it simple. The Red Cross’ advice for kitchen preparedness comes in two categories: a three-day supply for evacuation needs, and a two-week supply for your home.
“While stocking your emergency kit and pantry, it’s important to think about what you need from shelf-to-mouth to consume each item. Make sure you have the appropriate utensils and kitchen equipment to open cans, and think about whether or not items can be consumed raw or will need to be heated,” says Red Cross spokesperson Attie Poirier.
Find out how to keep a well-stocked emergency pantry »
In my house, the first rule of mealtime is there are no rules. Provided the options are healthful and balanced, what matters most importantly is that my husband and daughters leave the table feeling satisfied and excited for the next meal. Keeping an open mind when thinking about dinnertime also takes a lot of stress out of cooking from scratch, and gives the feeling that my options are limitless.
Another safety net to help with dinnertime is my pantry. Stocked with a mix of home-canned and store-bought ingredients, I can create a dinner menu based on how much time I have available: canned beans for quick and easy meals, cooked-from-scratch beans when time is more generous. Here are five of my favorite pantry essentials:
Dry Pasta: Get the kids involved when loading up the pantry with this ingredient. I’m amazed at how my oldest daughter turns her nose up to spaghetti, but goes crazy for bow ties. Even though the taste is the same, I’ve learned shape really matters to kids.
Try this recipe: Ravioli With Creamy Tomato Sauce
More must-have pantry items »
The FN Dish just caught a culinary demo and book signing for none other than Iron Chef, Cat Cora in Midtown Manhattan. When not doing battle on Iron Chef America, Cat is plenty busy. Aside from nine lives, she appears to have nine jobs as well.
Her recent book, Cooking from the Hip, is a great overview on whipping up creative, tasty offerings from fresh ingredients and staples every stocked pantry should have.
However, Cat caught us up on an even NEWER venture that’s coming this December. She’s opening a new restaurant called CCQ (think BBQ but add a dash of Cat Cora instead). Keywords for Cat here are affordable, flavorful, fast and casual. Time and money are more valuable than ever but why sacrifice taste? She is taking international BBQ inspiration from Asia, South America and the Caribbean to make the CCQ experience unforgettable.
The OC crowd will get first tastes. CCQ will open within the Macy’s at the South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, CA. If SoCal isn’t in the cards, FN has the recipe to the CCQ Signature BBQ sauce here that should tide you over.
If that all weren’t enough, Cat is also President and Co-founder of Chefs for Humanity which supplies relief and aid to fight worldwide hunger — created in response to the 2004 Asian Tsunami tragedy. You can learn more here or even donate and get a signed photo of Cat for your kitchen here.