Every come home and feel like there is nothing in the house to make for dinner? Yet somehow, you pull together something totally awesome and delicious? I can’t be the only one that feels like a total kitchen rockstar when that happens to me, right?
There are plenty of nights when that doesn’t happen, but usually, I’m quite pleased with my dinner that was created without a plan, such this baked polenta topped with roasted tomatoes and cannellini beans or an arugula salad with roasted squash and beluga lentils.
And the reason that can actually happen is because I keep a well stocked pantry, from dry goods bought in bulk. Combined with some fresh ingredient from the garden, and maybe some cheese from the fridge or a jar of something I’ve preserved, I’m able to concoct a healthy and yummy meal.
Some of my dry goods come from the garden, like dried spices, dried fruit, dried tomatoes and dried beans, but everything else gets purchased in bulk from Whole Foods. Once home, I store all the bulk dry goods in half-gallon mason jars.
If you look in the front of any well written comprehensive cookbook, there is a section on whats helpful to keep in your pantry so you can make many meals. Obviously, what you need depends on what you cook. I thought I’d share what I keep on hand in the dry goods section of in my pantry.
- Dry Beans: cannellini, black, kidney, garbanzo, and whatever soup bean I grew that year
- Corn Products: popcorn, cornmeal, and polenta
- Lentils: beluga, french green, and orange
- Rice: arbrio, long grain brown and white (either jasmine or basmati, I can’t tell the difference), and calrose/shortgrain/sushi rice
- Seeds & Nuts: sunflower, pepitas, sesame, peanuts and peanut butter. Walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans and almonds are stored in the freezer to keep from going rancid.
- Grains: old fashioned rolled oats, farrow, wheat berries, barley, bulgar, and quinoa
- Dried Fruits & Veggies: tomatoes, apricots, apples, chilis, figs, & whatever else I managed to get in the dehydrator. Right now I’ve also got lemon slices from a few years ago. I buy coconut, raisins, and cranberries.
- Kelp: kombu, nori, & whatever else I foraged for
- Pasta Products: Isrealy couscous, normal couscous, and orzo. (Normal pasta noodles are bought in the box.)
- Flours & Sugar: all-purpose white flour (which we get in a 50-lb bag and store in the freezer, then have a smaller container on the counter), semolina flour, white sugar, brown sugar, and powdered sugar
In addition to the benefit of having reduced packaging, buying in bulk is also less expensive. 10-40% of a products price is just the packaging, so if you buy in bulk, that cost is missing. As a bonus, a few times a year, Whole Foods has a 20% off everything bulk sale. I keep my eye out for this, in anticipation, and use that sale to stock up. They just had this magical sale, so a few days ago I took inventory of what I was out of or low on, and headed to the store with a billion of my reusable cloth bags.
I’ve brought my own carry-out bag to the store for eons, but when I first started shopping in bulk, I would use smaller plastic bags to take my bulk goods home. This bothered me, because they were still single-use and not needed, so I made a bunch of cloth bags from old sheets and pillowcases. With french seams and a drawstring enclosure, they work great for both bulk goods and produce. I weighted each bag, then wrote the tare weight on either the bag itself or on a tag sewed into the seam. Now, I’m able to bring home all my groceries without having to use any plastic.
If you buy in bulk, consider using your own bags! Either make or buy some cloth ones, or reuse the bags you already have. To make it easier on the cashier, I write the tare on the tape next to the bin number.
Another tip when stocking up on your bulk goods- go to the store at a non-busy time, and pick a line with a cashier that looks friendly. Zero-waste style shopping may not be the norm, so its important to have a patient person. And if there is a girl behind you with only one item, let her go ahead of you. It takes a while to enter all those weights.
I never have issues with shopping with my own bags at Whole Foods. At my local market that also has lots of bulk options, sometimes I get a cashier that is confused on how to enter the bag’s tare, but they can figure it out. I doubt Safeway or other big chains even have that option, but its worth asking if thats where you buy produce. Make sure to ask for either credit or donation for all your bags, my store gives me the discount back for EACH bag, this shopping trip earning me back $.90. Not much, but its free money!
As always, I love to hear from you! Whats an ingredient you always have in your pantry? What tips do you have to be able to pull a meal together? Do you buy in bulk?