Cooks Exchange: Pantry staples help meals come together

Fresh meats and vegetables team up with pantry items to make quick meals.

At the end of a workday, stopping by the grocery and coming home to cook are daunting, to say the least.

Every home cook needs a little relief. Recipes that use ordinary pantry foods also make cooking easier. No one want to stop in the middle of cooking and go to the store for a specialty item.

Yes, I enjoy cooking with international ingredients, but sometimes I just want it easy, like most folks. Combining fresh foods with pantry items is the way to go, but make sure the pantry is stocked with staples, such as canned tomatoes, tomato sauce, pasta, canned soups and rice. Fresh lemons brighten most sauces. Stock the fridge with fresh vegetables, such a broccoli, asparagus, kale, onions, lettuce and tomatoes. Keep chicken breasts and lean meats in the freezer, along with fish and shrimp.

White wine also is good to keep on hand, especially for seafood dishes. Remember, the heat removes the alcohol content.

I will share three quick fixes that won’t add stress to a stressful day. Let’s make it easy, especially when life is so busy.

Preservatives in cereal

When I am out and about, readers often stop me and ask for recipes or make comments about the amount of preservatives in food.

Recently, Angie Jones of Gulfport and I were talking about breakfast cereal and the possible carcinogens contained in popular cereals. Her 5-year-old granddaughter likes a cereal that she did not realize contained BHT or butylated hydroxytoluene, a synthetic antioxidant added to foods to preserve fats as well as color, odor and flavor.

“Oh, my goodness, I will call her mother,” said Jones, who likes to cook fresh and healthy. “How did you find out?”

I was questioning the amount of sugar in cereals and doing research when I discovered my granddaughter’s and Jones’ granddaughter’s favorite cereal contains BHT. Preservatives in foods are hot buttons with me.

Reading labels is a must these days. There is no avoiding it.

Author Andrea Donsky found out about BHT when she was doing research for her first book, “Unjunk Your Junk Foods: Healthy Alternatives to Conventional Snacks.”

“BHT preserves fats by slowing the oxidation process, so that foods don’t go rancid,” Donsky said. “It’s added to dehydrated potatoes, cereal, frozen dinners, baked goods, chewing gum, beer and some fruit drinks.”

BHT is often used with another preservative, BHA, which the U.S Department of Health and Human Services National Toxicology Program lists as a possible carcinogen, said Donsky, who along with Lisa Tsakos wrote the e-book “Label Lessons: Unjunk Your Kid’s Lunch Box.” The e-book is free at www.naturalsavvy.com/ .

More on old recipes

Cherry Hall, a member of the Gulf Coast Symphony Guild, said copies of the Guild’s second cookbook, “Encore! Encore!” are available at the Symphony office by calling (228) 896-4276.

In the Aug. 23 column, I used recipes from the Guild’s first cookbook, “Cooking on the Sound.”

“We are always delighted for you to share recipes from our cookbooks with your readers, especially since so many are looking for ‘old’ recipes. As you noted, ‘Sound’ was first published in 1978 and reprinted in 1999,” Hall said. “We released our second cookbook, ‘Encore! Encore!’ in 1999 and that created a demand for the first one, therefore, the reprint.

“‘Encore! Encore!’ has been reprinted three times and will probably not be printed again because of the rise in printing costs,” Hall said.

To purchase a book, call the Symphony office at (228) 896-4276. “Encore! Encore!” costs $24.95 plus $1.75 tax and $5 for mailing. All proceeds benefit the Gulf Coast Symphony Orchestra.

More on Alamo Chicken

The restaurateur requesting information on Alamo Fried Chicken was searching for whey today to start trying to replicate the flour/whey mix used in breading the chicken.

Has anyone else tried to make this unforgettable chicken? If so, let me know. Florida readers might remember two Alamo locations in Panama City and another in Pensacola in the 1950s.

From “Too Busy To Cook”

3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter

1/4 cup finely chopped onions

3 to 4 garlic cloves, crushed

4 parsley sprigs, chopped

1 pound uncooked medium shrimp, deveined

1/4 cup dry white wine

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (a fridge staple)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Melt butter in medium skillet over low heat. Add onions, garlic and parsley and sauté until golden, about 10 minutes. Add shrimp and stir just until pink. Remove shrimp and place in ovenproof dish. Cover lightly and keep warm. Add wine and lemon juice to skillet and simmer about 2 to 3 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper and pour over shrimp. Makes 4 servings.

From “Too Busy To Cook”

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 pound shelled medium shrimp, deveined

1/4 cup chili sauce or ketchup (pantry staples)

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

Dash of hot pepper sauce

1 cup sour cream

Grated Parmesan cheese (fridge staple)

Toast triangles

Lemon wedges (garnish)

Melt butter with 1 tablespoon lemon juice in large skillet over medium heat. Add shrimp and stir fry until barely cooked, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove shrimp with slotted spoon and keep warm. Stir next 3 ingredients and remaining lemon juice into skillet. Remove from heat. Return shrimp to pan and add sour cream. Transfer to individual shells or heatproof dishes. Sprinkle generously with Parmesan and run under broiler until lightly browned. Serve with toast triangles and garnish of lemon wedges.

CURRIED CHICKEN AND BROCCOLI

From “Too Busy To Cook”

4 chicken breast halves (freezer staple)

1 (10 3/4-ounce) can cream of chicken soup (pantry staple)

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon curry powder or to taste

1/4 cup soft breadcrumbs

1 tablespoon butter

10 ounces broccoli spears, cooked and drained (can use frozen)

1/2 cup shredded Cheddar cheese

Freshly cooked rice

Place chicken in medium skillet and add water just to cover. Simmer until tender, about 20 to 30 minutes. Drain well. Let cool slightly. Remove meat from bones.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine next 4 ingredients in small bowl and blend well. Mix breadcrumbs and butter in another small bowl. Arrange broccoli in single layer in bottom of 1-1/2-quart baking dish. Cover with chicken. Pour soup mixture over. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and cheese. Bake until heated through, about 25 minutes. Serve over rice.

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