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11 Grocery Shortcuts This Cookbook Author Swears By

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To say that I spend a lot of time shopping is an understatement. As a cookbook author and recipe writer, I’m so often in my neighborhood supermarkets that salespeople know me by name. If a product is delicious and a time-saving and worthwhile shortcut, you can bet I know all about it.

Some I found while working in restaurant kitchens – where time is money and shortcuts are precious – and some ingredients I found on my own and use as a time saver who help me prepare dinner without much effort. After a long day editing recipes, sometimes the last thing I want to do is spend hours in the kitchen. Here’s a look at my pantry and the shortcut products I swear by.

Patak’s offers 10 different Indian-style spice pastes. Unlike simmering sauces, where you use one pot to make a single meal, these are super concentrated pastes, so just a few tablespoons can be used as a marinade or a springboard for a curry. Simply sauté a protein of your choice with an onion and a few tablespoons of curry paste and choose your own adventure – add water, tomatoes, broth or coconut milk and vegetables. (There are recipes on the back of the jars, if you don’t want to get blown away.) I always have vindaloo paste and mild curry paste on hand for on-the-go curries.

2. Beef Broth Concentrate

This liquid broth base comes in handy little pouches that make one cup of broth when diluted with water, and it really tastes like homemade broth. It’s great for making instant stock for soups and sauces, but I also add it undiluted to vegetable stir fries, bolognese sauce, mashed potatoes and gravy to amp up the flavor. There is also a reduced sodium version!

I am married to a vegetarian and often struggle to offer her plant-based meals when cooking meat for myself or at work. These cured, shelf-stable curls are made only from non-GMO soybeans, but they have a texture like pulled chicken and a neutral flavor that lends itself to almost any dish. After a quick soak in lukewarm water, I can add them to casseroles, fajitas, and grain bowls. Even I, the carnivorous lady, love a bunch of BBQ sauce soy curls on a bun. Look for them in health food stores (sometimes available in bulk) and online.

4. Frozen Puff Pastry

Having a block of this buttery puff pastry in the freezer is like dinner insurance. Need a quick appetizer? Thaw it; unroll it; and garnish with cherry tomatoes, parmesan and fresh basil. There ! A refined savory tart. Need an impressive dessert but don’t have the time? Spread it out, bake it between baking sheets, cut it into rectangles and top it with whipped cream and berries for a quick Napoleon batter. Or twist strips of dough with pesto or olive paste and you have herb breadsticks. The herbal version is also excellent.

5. Fried shallots (sometimes labeled “fried onions”)

I first discovered these crispy little flavor bombs while taking cooking classes in Thailand. As soon as I was in the US I went to my favorite Asian grocery store and bought a big jar. Not to be confused with the American fried onions that adorn the green bean casserole, these shallots are thinner, extra-crispy, and have a shallot-like sweetness. They’re the secret ingredient to my salad rolls, I sprinkle them over noodle bowls and macaroni and cheese with abandon, and I’ve recently started adding them to salads in place of croutons.

I’m generally not a fan of pre-made combination condiments – my fridge’s condiment shelves are already filled with too many jars. But this tangy and tangy horseradish mayonnaise from Stonewall Kitchen is an exception. It’s a game-changer on roast beef or fish stick sandwiches and makes a great dip for boiled shrimp. I love it slathered on the cob of corn, elote style, and it elevates canned tuna like no one is watching. We pass a jar a month.

7. Frozen shelled edamame

About the only food I don’t like is peas, especially if they’ve seen a freezer. Where recipes call for peas, I substitute frozen shelled edamame. Buttery and with a nice pop when you chew them, they lack even a whiff of the green pea flavor I avoid and they cook from frozen in minutes. I use them in shepherd’s pie, soups, fried rice, poke bowls and salads to add protein and color.

8. Shelf-stable gnocchi

The shelf stable gnocchi are pre-cooked, so all you have to do is reheat them and they’re ready to eat. Although the usual cooking method is to boil the small potato dumplings in a pot of water, they can also be reheated in marinara sauce or on a griddle. I store them in the freezer for last minute additions to a lot of a meal.

I always have this cornbread mix on hand whenever I need a quick hot cornbread…i.e. chili night. I often make it with cheese, pickled jalapeños, taco seasonings, and/or frozen corn for a little extra. When I brush it with honey butter, no one in my house complains that this cornbread isn’t homemade. It’s not just for cornbread, though – it’s a baking mix with all sorts of applications, like cranberry upside-down cake and pumpkin spoon bread. This stuff is “America’s favorite” for a reason.

This enchilada sauce comes in a convenient pouch with a thick texture that sticks to tortillas. It has a rich, fire-roasted flavor, a slight spiciness, and it’s not overly sweet. It’s great for quick enchiladas, but I also use it in the slow cooker with chicken thighs for meal prep and also as a tortilla soup starter. My only complaint – I wish it had come in bigger sleeves!