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What's cooking?

Michelle Goggins is 1 of 9 Taste of Home Cooking School Culinary Specialists. She works hard to balance work responsibilities, a hectic travel schedule, and personal time spent with family and friends. In a recent interview she shared how she keeps her sanity by staying one step ahead in the kitchen. Heres some of her advice for people on the go.

What are some of the cant-live-without items in your kitchen?
I must have a good quality large skillet with a tight-fitting lid, a sharp chefs knife, a supply of lightweight flexible cutting mats, and a selection of heat-resistant rubber spatulas.

What are your must-haves for the pantry?
Granulated sugar, brown sugar, and all-purpose flour are staples I always have on hand. For quick meals I also keep a supply of olive oil, dry pasta, jarred pasta sauces, and canned diced tomatoes.

Do you have any tips to plan ahead for weekday meals?
I buy ground beef in bulk and use some of it to prepare hamburger patties that I freeze for later use. The rest I crumble and cook in a large pot. I then divide and freeze the meat in plastic freezer bags. This saves me a lot of time as I can quickly thaw the cooked beef in the microwave, then add it to casseroles, soups and other entrees.

On Sunday afternoons I often assemble and freeze a few different casseroles. Then I simply thaw the casserole in the refrigerator the night before I plan to bake it. When I have time, Ill even bake extra cake layers, wrap them securely in foil and freeze. If I need a dessert, all I have to do is assemble and frost the iceand I find its much easier to frost a cake when the cake layers are frozen.

What do you serve when unexpected guests drop by?
I always try to keep a variety of good quality crackers and cheeses on hand, as they are satisfying and easy to serve. Salsa and tortilla chips are also convenient; if you add a few other ingredients a you can offer a zesty nacho platter in a matter of minutes. I also keep refrigerated or frozen cookie dough available. Just drop the dough on a baking skeet and you can have fresh-baked cookies in 15 minutes! And the aroma is heavenly!

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