I know very little about cooking in comparison to vast knowledge available to the average person in regards to the culinary arts. I can fry an egg. That is the pretty humbling extent of my cooking awareness.
But in my own self-proclaimed authority on the kitchen, cooking and spontaneous meal preparation, I have noticed that there are things you always need. And there is a proper way to store those things so they last indefinitely or are used before they have an unforeseen rendezvous with the trashcan (stomach>hefty bag).
The one question I always find myself asking a cook is “what do you keep on hand in your fridge?”. My grandmother would say, “whole milk. Margaret, never run out of whole milk”. I read an article recently where Martha Stewart claimed stocking various kinds of bottled water in her behemoth of a fridge was essential to entertaining well, “It’s what the guests want”. Intuitive, Martha, very intuitive.
What you keep in your fridge is personal, like your medicine cabinet. People and families are different. Large, small, north, south, midwestern, organic, nonorganic, gluten-free, vegetarian. The combinations for a list of staple provisions is endless, so my fridge is not a rule maker. It’s simply a guide that other single, 20-something southern women with an strong appreciation for dijonaise might find resourceful.
So here’s what I’m keeping in my very non-industrial tiny kenmore of a fridge and a few tips for keeping it fresh:
1. The top shelf.
- Brita (the environmentally conscious way to enjoy your recommended 8 glasses of water a day).
- Tomatoes (see the section on the crisper drawer for the reasoning behind their permanent home on the top shelf). One should always have tomatoes on hand, they are a perfect for a quick bruschetta, a pico that will set homemade tacos apart from all others, and the BLT. God Bless the BLT, Amen.
- Half and Half. This is my preference to whole milk because I like in coffee and mashed potatoes. The avid baker should add whole milk, heavy cream and whipping cream to this list.
- Greek Yogurt. No, not those ridiculous pre-made cups where you can’t control the add ins, but the giant tub. Greek Yogurt is my go to ingredient right now. French Lemon Cake, Chicken Salad, Taziki for those nights your feeling Mediterranean, greek yogurt is so versatile and deliciously tangy.
2. Middle shelf.
- Fruit for snacking
- Leftovers, always left overs. Everyone can’t create a work of culinary genius every night of the week.
- Bread. I like to keep my bread in the fridge to increase its shelf life, particularly in the summer, because what one person can eat an entire loaf in a week or less??! A good french loaf (ham and swiss), cheese loaf (with poached eggs) or a stand-by whole grain (peanut butter jelly, duh).
3. The bottom shelf
- Broth (vegetable, beef, or chicken, but usually vegetable). I use broth to boil pasta, in soups, for risotto (exclusively) because its an added flavor layer that water just can’t provide. Using broth will set you apart from all those other people trying to show you up at potlucks.
- Ultra Pasteurized Milk, Organic, 1%. 1% milk is delicious, not thick like whole milk, but a little sweeter than skim. Perfect for oatmeals, Chai tea and baking. Long shelf life because again, who can consume a whole gallon in one week? Money’s in the milk, so don’t be throwing it out.
- San Pelligrino. The best of the bottled carbonated waters. Add it to lemonade in the summer.
- Free range eggs. The egg is the most affordable protein you can purchase and possibly the most versatile base ingredient in the kitchen. Keep your eggs fresh. If you are in the last week before they expire they should only be used for baking. It you crack open a goopy egg, toss it and quickly replenish your egg stash. One last word to leave you with on eggs: hollandaise. Oh, my soul.
- Unsalted butter. Unsalted, because most recipes containing butter (especially in baking) call for unsalted.
- DIJON MUSTARD. Oh the spicy richness of this severely underrated condiment. Use on a sandwich, to make a quick dressing, as a marinade.
4. The Crisper Drawer. Next to nothing. The crisper drawer is where tenderly raised organic vegetables that tore through half of your grocery budget go to die a slow, rotting, pitiful death. I only put in the crisper items I have intentional plans for, i.e. they will be cooked at a dinner party in 4 hours. Simply put, out of sight, out of mind. Make it a habit to store your vegetables on the shelf where you can see them. Your wallet and your waist line will be forever grateful.
5. The door. Salad dressing and mayonnaise and not an item more. See #4.
What’s in your fridge always should be seasonal, fresh, and worthy of fridge space. Fridges are small, and so is your stomach by the way. Don’t pack it out with things you will never eat or that will go there to die and then be buried in the trash.
And remember that everything you put in your fridge is perishable, so check the dates every once and awhile, okay?