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Ideas that Spark

Stock the Perfect Pantry

When the weather is cold and snowy, who needs to trudge to the supermarket just to make dinner? If y...

In these long winter weeks, you’re most likely avoiding your usual trip to the grocery store, gourmet shop and health food market. That’s why it’s essential to stock some staples in your pantry, freezer and fridge that’ll let you pull together a full, belly-warming meal -- without setting a booted foot into the wintry mix.

You probably keep such basics as eggs, pasta and rice in the house, along with an assortment of spices, oils, vinegars and condiments. Stocking up on the items below will turn those simple standbys into delicious, at-your-fingertips dinners.

Frozen Shrimp

· Why Shrimp possesses a rare quality for a hearty protein: It can defrost in the time it takes to cut up vegetables or boil water for pasta. (To hasten the process, put the shrimp you’re using in a bowl under warm running water.)

· How Restaurateur and season five "Top Chef" contestant Ariane Duarte suggests quickly sautéing the shellfish and some minced garlic in olive oil, then tossing with spaghetti and a squeeze of lemon. Or lightly sauté the shrimp and some scallions in vegetable oil, beat eggs in a bowl with a splash of soy sauce and some sesame oil, and add to the pan for an Asian take on scrambled eggs.

Frozen Pizza Dough

· Why Pizza dough is really just an edible plate that holds anything else you have on hand.

· How Place the dough in the refrigerator in the morning so it’s defrosted by dinnertime, then stretch or roll out with a pin. Slather with any selection of ingredients: tomato sauce and cheese; caramelised onions, mushrooms and ground pepper; thinly sliced potatoes brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with oregano and sea salt. Bake at your oven’s highest temperature until crust is brown and toppings are bubbling.

Frozen Fancy Breads and Soft Tacos

· Why Because with the right attitude, you can turn a sandwich into an international feast.

· How Match the bread to its "native" toppings -- pile ciabatta with cold cuts, cheeses and roasted jarred peppers (see below), and press on a panini grill. Make a breakfast burrito with scrambled eggs, canned jalapeno peppers and a sharp cheese; smear baguettes with brie or layer with thick-cut ham and Dijon mustard.

A Jar of Sun-dried Tomatoes or Roasted Peppers

· Why and how You can’t make a meal out of either, but both these ingredients offer up such strong, sunny flavours that you can use them to make the ordinary (eggs, pasta, sandwiches, chicken breasts) extraordinary. Refrigerated, they will keep for several weeks.

A Winter Squash

· Why A butternut or acorn squash can sit unscathed on your countertop for four to six weeks, according to the Oregon State University Extension Service website.

· How Cut into chunks, brushed with butter and roasted, squash makes a sweet side dish. For a light vegetarian dinner, make stuffed acorn squash: Cut an acorn squash in half, brush with butter, place cut-side down on a lightly greased baking pan and roast at 350 F to 400 F for about 30 minutes, or until tender. Fill with a rice, couscous or orzo pasta dish.

Frozen Marinated Flank Steak

· Why It’s thin so it defrosts relatively quickly.

· How Duarte suggests cutting into 3- to 4-inch portions. Place in a zip lock bag, pour on a teriyaki marinade of soy sauce, red pepper flakes, pepper and a little brown sugar, and tuck into the freezer. Defrost and then pop under the broiler.

Cans of Beans

· Why They’re versatile, filling and cheap.

· How There are countless ways to incorporate beans into a meal: Toss them into a salad; puree white beans with salt, pepper and roasted red peppers, and spread on a ciabatta or baguette; make a white chicken chilli with white beans, chicken breasts (if you’ve got them in the freezer and have defrosted them overnight), Monterey jack cheese and canned, diced jalapeno peppers. Throw it over rice, and you’re done.



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