Hunkering Down – Smarter Food Shopping

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This morning over a “diner style” breakfast of eggs, bacon, and hashbrowns, my boyfriend asked me, “How are you able to have so much fresh stuff on hand to cook with? Aren’t you scared it’s going to go bad?” I told him I’m not.

Friends – it’s strategy. While in an ideal, healthy world it’s great to hit up the grocery store several days a week and get the freshest ingredients possible for you and your family, these are unusual times. All the warnings we have gotten the last couple of days is it will get worse before it gets better – this pandemic and the crisis in our area has not peaked, we could be weeks, probably longer, from leveling that curve. In Bergen County, New Jersey, where I live, we have the highest number of coronavirus cases in New Jersey, and we are only a few miles from New York City, which is currently the unfortunate epicenter of the pandemic. Our county parks have closed, and all the warnings heed staying home as much as possible, only go out if you absolutely have to.

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“Diner-Style” Breakfast – all long shelf life ingredients – eggs, cheddar cheese, bacon, and frozen hash browns

Part of staying healthy is following a healthy diet. You have the most control when you’re preparing your own food, and avoid processed ingredients as much as you can. This can be difficult when you’re stockpiling for days and ideally, weeks, but the good news it’s not impossible.

In addition to the hefty amount of items I currently house in my pantry, today I stockpiled fresh foods. I do not intend to go to a grocery store again for a couple of weeks minimum. The key to doing this is to choose items that have a long shelf life, or things that can freeze beautifully.

Don’t know where to start? Here are some of my go-to’s and how long they could last, if properly stored. This isn’t a comprehensive list of all the foods out there, but it can get you through several weeks and possibly even months without a grocery trip.

  • PRODUCE
    • Citrus fruits – 3-4 weeks
    • Butternut Squash – left whole, this will keep about a month
    • Onions and Garlic – about two months
    • Cabbage – several weeks up to 2 montns
    • Carrots – lasts 3-5 weeks
    • Cruciferous vegetables (Broccoli, Cauliflower, Brussels Sprouts, etc) – up to 2 weeks
    • Bananas – last about a week if “green” when purchased. Freeze well
    • Hearty Greens (Kale, Arugula, etc) – these raw veggies will usually last about a week to 10 days
    • When in doubt, buy frozen – especially berries as they are highly perishable. Plus frozen produce is almost always as nutritious as fresh
  • DAIRY
    • Organic milk – ultra pasteurized milk will last about two months
    • Hard Cheeses – parmesan, etc. can last for a couple of months
    • Yogurt – if unopened, can be eaten a couple of weeks after sell-by date
    • Sour Cream – similar to yogurt
    • Cream Cheese – months
    • Semi-hard Cheeses (cheddar, mozzarella, swiss, etc) – months. These also freeze well
    • Eggs – usually will last a few weeks after sell-by date. Try this water test to be certain of the freshness
  • MEAT
    • Vacuum-sealed meats typically have a much longer shelf life than what the butcher will cut and package for you. For example, I purchased a couple of ribeye steaks today that are vacuum-sealed has have a USE BY or FREEZE date of April 22. That’s nearly a month!
    • Poultry is typically more perishable than beef, pork, lamb, etc. If you’re not planning on using within 3-5 days, I suggest freezing until you’re ready to cook with it
    • Cured meats – bacon, ham, sausages, etc. naturally have a longer shelf life. Some will even last months and all typically freeze well
  • SEAFOOD
    • I avoid buying fresh fish and seafood if I’m not going to cook it within a day of purchase. If I find a sale, I may purchase and cut/portion out myself and wrap to freeze. I especially like to do this with salmon. I will take the fish out of the freezer when I’m ready to actually use it
    • Shrimp is something I almost always have in my freezer. In some water they take next to no time to thaw and also cook up super fast. Plus, in this country almost all the “fresh” shrimp you buy has been previously frozen, so just skip that and buy already frozen
  • BREADS/BAKED GOODS
    • I will typically bake my own stuff, but I don’t make sandwich bread. English muffins will keep for weeks in the fridge. I also really like rye bread in the fridge. Tortillas and wraps typically have a long shelf life (possibly months). Softer breads (white, whole wheat, etc), if you’re not going through them quickly, freeze well. Double check the shelf life. While organic can be better for you and have fewer preservatives, organic sandwich bread gets moldy FAST.

Bottom line – in these unprecedented times, don’t impulse shop. A little planning will keep you home safe for a very long time 🙂

 

Homemade Kale Chips

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I am not vegan. I am not gluten-free. However, being omnivorous, I enjoy all these things. Back in the years I worked for Whole Foods Market, one of my favorite indulgences (as a price point, not calorie/junk indulgence) was Brad’s Kale Chips, not known as Brad’s Crunchy Kale. The product is amazing, healthy, all-natural, and most importantly, tasty. No offense to Brad, they are pretty darn easy to replicate.

I cannot take credit for the recipe I am going to share, but I will show you step by step in this video how easy they are to make and how little equipment is really needed (no need to invest in a dehydrator!)

Recipe can be found at Kitchn 

PS- the “ranch” version I made is not vegan. Please double check ingredients if you’re using a ranch dip/dressing packet. Buttermilk is one of the key ingredients in ranch dressing, and packets usually have some form of dehydrated milk solids.

Cleaning, Reorganizing, and Taking Inventory of My Pantry

I’m not much of a video person, and this is about 7 minutes of my stream of consciousness of what I’m about to tackle. And it was all done by me on my iPhone and I don’t have editing or framing skills. Either way, being home has helped me tackle the project of cleaning and re-organizing my pantry. I found items that expired in 2017 and 2018.

After I clean my shelves, I’ll take stock of everything I have. I pledge not to replace anything major until I have exhausted what I have on hand. For example, I won’t go out and buy beans before I use all the beans I have. For snacks, I won’t buy anything new until I have exhausted a category (nuts, chips, cookies, etc).

I plan to get creative and think outside of the box with some substitutions. Reach out if you’re stuck or feeling uninspired.

Kiss Me, I’m NOT Irish – Leftover Mashed Potato Cakes

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Reworks are a lot of fun. Taking something you’re bored of and transforming it to something new, with just a few ingredients.

I love vegetable fritters, my favorite is kolokithokefthedes (Greek zucchini fritters). Regardless of the culture or flavors, they all seem to have the same thing in common – you need the base, seasoning, and something to bind it to keep it all together. The binders are usually pantry and fridge staples –  eggs and flour. Different lifestyles (vegan, gluten-free) may have different binders, but the theory is all the same – you don’t want these falling apart in your skillet or oven.

In honor of Saint Patrick’s Day, I thought some sort of “Irish” breakfast would be fun. I use Irish loosely, as these cakes have potatoes, bacon, and cheese and typically anything served with eggs can be interpreted as breakfast.

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Mashed Potato Cakes served with Scrambled Eggs and Sour Cream

My current series of posts will be all about taking advantage of what you already have on hand – this will save money, allow you to be less wasteful, and explore your creative side in times when it’s encouraged not to leave the house.

Over the weekend I made some mashed potatoes. I probably had 2 cups worth leftover but wasn’t in the mood to eat them in their current state. In my fridge I had all the fixings for “loaded” potatoes, so these came together quite simply.

LEFTOVER MASHED POTATO CAKES – makes 8 cakes/fritters

  • 1 cup mashed potatoes
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped scallions
  • 3 slices bacon, cooked and chopped
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/4 cup flour

In a medium mixing bowl, combine mashed potatoes, cheese, scallions, and bacon. Add egg until fully incorporated. Whisk in flour until a thick batter forms.

Heat a skillet with 2-3 tablespoons oil. Using a large spoon, drop a large spoonful into cooking oil, forming an approximately 3-inch disk. Fry on both sides until golden brown, drain excess oil on paper towels. Serve with sour cream.

Substitutions – remember this recipe is about technique, it’s not an exact science

  • Play around with the flavors and seasonings. Use what you have at home. Onions, garlic, cream cheese, ham, chopped peppers/hot peppers etc. all work
  • These do not need to be fried! Form the cakes with a touch more flour, brush with oil, and bake at 375 F until golden brown
  • Play around with binders – a bit more flour and some milk instead of egg for those averse to eggs. Up the cheese and eggs, or use gluten-free all-purpose flour for gluten-free. Eliminate dairy and eggs for a vegan version

Ask Anna – I’m Here to Help

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I cannot believe my last post on this blog was back in 2016. And yet, I can believe it. 2016 was the year I was licensed in real estate and also the year I decided to leave retail management for good. As I was building my real estate business, the time for blogging about food subsided. I traded lengthy articles with recipes for quick instagram posts, focusing mainly on the visual, occasionally sharing how things were done.

One of my New Years resolutions in 2019 was to get back in the habit of blogging.  I showed some new friends my old stuff and they were anxious for more. On a happy note for my career, 2019 was my best year in real estate to date, and I just wasn’t home cooking as much, let alone writing about it. I literally traded writing contracts and client emails for recipes.

Life is short, and it’s important to attribute time to your hobbies and passions. With all the fear and uncertainty in the world, especially here in the United States and we are navigating this COVID-19 Pandemic and all the self-quarantine going on around us, I realized I am in a position to help people. This isn’t any sort of grand nobel-peace prize actions. I just have a quirky and unique skill set when it comes to food.

Yesterday at least 3 friends reached out looking for cooking help or advice. As supermarket supplies dwindle and more restaurants shut their doors, cooking well and at home for your family with what you have on hand can be challenging or difficult. I lived through the great recession and I also suddenly lost a very lucrative position in 2015 – both incidents that taught me to be very thrifty and frugal with my food budget, but also creative. You may look at a jar of tahini and think, I don’t even have chickpeas, I only use this stuff for hummus. I will look at that same jar and make sesame noodles, tahini chocolate chip cookies, salad dressing, and more.

Reach out if you’re stuck, I’ll help you find inspiration on a shoestring budget.

Next Experiment – Chicago Deep Dish Pizza

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I think the inspiration came from some Buzzfeed quiz, where there were a bunch of pictures of pizza and you were supposed to pick one you relate to. Not that I can relate to Chicago Deep Dish, but at that moment it looked the most appealing of all the slices. I have made homemade pizza, but I have never attempted that style.

One of my best friends is a Native Chicagoan and upon asking him if he has made it, he said he did once, but messed up the crust. This was disconcerting, as the crust is the aspect I am most concerned about executing right. Another friend who loves to cook said he loved eating it when he lived in Chicago, but never made it. Gee, that helps!

So I do not have enough Chicagoans in my life, nor has anyone in the NYC area that I am close with made it. Probably because we already have awesome pizza around here and do not need to. Oh what a culinary conundrum I am now faced with.

In scouring the web (ok, Pinterest), I think I found a recipe I liked from a blog called Sally’s Baking Addiction. Instead of doing two 9-inch pies, I’m going to do a 14-inch pie. I liked the crust recipe, especially the incorporation of butter. As for the sauce and filling, it’s pretty basic, but I do appreciate the tip about shredding a block of mozzarella yourself as opposed to pre-shredded. We will see what happens….