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Chef Tim Says....



In Your Pantry: Refrigerator Items

What should I have in my kitchen?

This is the last column in a series I have been writing about healthy choices for you to make at the grocery store. So far I have discussed different ideas for proteins like meat, poultry and fish and a couple of weeks ago discussed items for your pantry.

The idea is that if you slowly purchase the basic items you will always have healthy ingredients to make a meal -- one that’s quick and easy or even much more complex. This week is a very simple list of the items that you should begin stocking in your refrigerator. This is far from what might be a complete list but a starting place for those foods that will let you always have something healthy in the house to start (or complete) a meal or have a healthy snack.

Fruit
Pick what you love. Apples, oranges, peaches, pineapple, grapes, plums... Every time you go to the store buy some fresh fruit. Some will keep better but by having a variety on hand there’s always something sweet in the house that’s really satisfying. (See the Health and Nutrition Bite "Chocolate joy, chocolate guilt")

Veggies
Like the fruit each time you go to the store your first stop should be in the produce department. You don’t have to get a lot but you should have things like red and green peppers, celery, onions, shallots, and garlic as basic building blocks on hand always. More importantly, get some to eat -- broccoli, spinach, cauliflower, squash -- it doesn’t matter but veggies are key to eating great healthy meals.

Some basics that don’t need a lot of explanation:

2% milk
Non-Fat Buttermilk (I look for the smallest carton on the shelf)
Reduced fat and fat-free mayonnaise
Reduced fat and fat-free sour cream (choose small packages)
Non-fat yogurt
Capers
Tomato paste (purchase the kind in a tube, it keeps well)
Low-sodium catsup
Low-sodium soy sauce
Worcestershire sauce
Active dry yeast
Low-fat chicken stock
Tabasco
Wasabi paste
Beer (it doesn’t matter if it goes flat -- a little really enhances Mexican food)

Cheeses
This one’s really important. I like to have at least a good quality Parmigiano-Reggiano and a Romano on hand. Keeping some fresh mozzarella means you’re always ready to make pizza (because you have the yeast and whole wheat flour on hand). And low-fat Monterey jack cheese is easier to find but there was a time when it wasn’t so I always keep a brick on hand.

Stores these days will cut you little bits of cheese if you like and keep in mind that a little goes a long way. I try to have a good quality blue cheese as well as a little feta in the fridge as well.

Sauces
I have a few favorites and you should too. For example, I love the Thai Peanut Sauce made by Whole Foods. It’s lower in sodium and almost as good as what I can make. A little of such flavorful sauces goes a long way. I keep a couple of different barbecue sauces in the fridge and you can find very low calorie, low fat, low salt sauces that are fantastic.

Lemons and limes - I always try to keep at least one fresh lemon and lime on hand. The stuff in the bottle is not “real” even though they call it RealLemon -- it tastes like plastic.

Roasted garlic - I try to keep roasted garlic on hand. It’s easy to cook, inexpensive and a great start for almost any recipe. Roasting the garlic mellows and sweetens the flavor, and with almost no calories, a little goes a long way to enhance any dish.

Maple syrup and honey - adds a lot of flavor with just a touch of sweetness when used sparingly. A teaspoon is all it takes to enrich a dressing or lightly sweeten greens.

Mustards - I generally keep at least two or more on hand. Start with a Dijon mustard like Gray Poupon and a coarse grind mustard. I admit that I don’t have American style yellow mustard in my fridge.

Eat well, eat healthy, enjoy life!

Dr. Gourmet
July 2, 2007