You get home from work, open the fridge, close it and proceed to order a pizza. Maybe you’ve convinced yourself you don’t know how to cook. The real problem? You don’t know how to shop.
Even a master chef can’t make anything of his time in the kitchen if it’s not properly equipped. Below, food experts tell you what groceries to buy — and give you a few easy recipes — so that no matter what time you get home or how tired you are, you’ll always be able to whip up a quick, healthy and delicious dinner.
For Your Cupboard
The following items should always be tucked away in your pantry:
- High-quality olive oil
- A few vinegars (maybe an aged balsamic and a red wine vinegar)
- Kosher salt
- Fresh cracked pepper
- An assortment of dried pastas
Matt Moore, chef and author of Have Her Over for Dinner: A Gentleman’s Guide to Classic, Simple Meals, suggests trying microwaveable whole-grain rice bags, which are ready in 90 seconds, as opposed to the 50 minutes of boiling that some types of rice need. “You pay a bit more than if you buy in bulk, but the convenience factor is undeniable.”
For Your Freezer
- Your favorite veggies: They can keep for eight months to a year and make a vitamin-packed side dish in an instant. And they’re no less healthy than fresh ones. “Frozen veggies are sometimes even more nutritious,” says Ilyse Schapiro, dietitian, nutritionist and owner of Ilyse Schapiro Nutrition in Scarsdale, N.Y. “They’re picked and frozen right at the peak of ripeness, when they contain the most nutrients.” By contrast, fresh veggies are often picked before they’re completely ripe, and then they have to survive harsh travel conditions.
- Frozen shrimp: Keeps up to four months. According to Moore, there’s no need to defrost shrimp for up to 48 hours in the fridge as you should with frozen chicken breast, pork chops or steak. Simply run them under water for six to eight minutes, and if they’re pre-peeled, toss them straight into a hot pan with some garlic. Saute quickly and add to pasta or rice. With a veggie as a side, you’ve got a complete balanced meal in fewer than 15 minutes.
For Your Fridge
- Salad basics: For a simple, no-utensils-needed salad, Shapiro recommends buying bags of prewashed lettuce, precut veggies and cherry tomatoes. Mix them with balsamic vinegar, oil and salt from your cupboard, and throw in an easy, inexpensive protein like sliced turkey or a hard-boiled egg.
- Flavorful toppings: Antioxidant-packed minced garlic (in a little glass jar so you don’t have to do the work), a lemon and refrigerated pesto. The fridge is where you can store flavorful ingredients that’ll give bang to your cooking. Also, instead of spending $6.99 on a jar of dried herbs that you’ll probably never finish, purchase fresh root-based herbs like thyme and rosemary, which last for more than a month. “They’re versatile,” says Moore. “You can use rosemary with lamb, beef, chicken or potatoes, and thyme with its lemony essence blends great with fish, chicken or shrimp.”
When your kitchen is well-stocked, says Moore, you can cook from what he calls a “European standpoint” (i.e., focus on “simple and clean flavors” and shop daily). It sounds daunting, but it’s actually quite simple. “I know I have the essentials stocked at home,” says Moore, “so instead of meal-planning, I just run into the store to pick up a fresh protein or vegetable based on what looks good or what I’m in the mood for.”
Moore’s Easy One-skillet Chicken Recipe
Moore’s go-to quick meal is prepared entirely in one skillet. Saute chicken tenderloins — which are small and cook quickly — in salt, pepper and olive oil until they’re brown. Dump in a small can of San Marzano tomatoes and some green beans. Top it off with cheese. “You have lean protein, bite from the tomato, color from the veggies, and some kind of indulgence from the cheese,” says Moore. “It’s great for guys working out who are looking for hearty low-carb meals.”
Finally, say our experts, you shouldn’t look at food shopping as a chore; rather, think of it as a reward for yourself after a long, hard day. Whereas processed foods often leave you hungry, a home-cooked meal provides long-lasting fuel — and a level of satisfaction you just can’t get from picking up the phone and dialing Domino’s.
Caroline Kinneberg is a Paris-based journalist who has written for The New York Times, The Boston Globe and Travel + Leisure.M