Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Making Use of a Good Pantry

I think the hardest thing to pack is my kitchen. I've spent three years building my pantry, but it isn't really practical to store most of it as we won't be cooking for 5 months.

A good pantry simplifies life significantly. With ingredients on hand to cook for unnexpected company or to cover for a missed trip to the grocery store, food is rarely on the "urgent" list. Most recipes can be accomplished without buying a lot of extra ingredients, which means we can incorporate a greater variety of foods into a week without straining the grocery budget at all. Best of all, it is no longer essential to plan every meal for the week -- sometimes I just come home and say "I feel like eating 'x' food tonight -- let's see what I can come up with." (Last night: Pesto Bowtie Pasta with Shrimp, Sundried Tomatoes and Carmelized Onions)

It took a long time to build a really diverse pantry full of flavor and family favorites. The spices and grains and canned foods I've collected are like a metaphor for community relationship. The longer we've been here, the more we've spread out our shopping to several small stores that carry things we like. A search for affordable saffron was what got us started at the Moscow Food Co-Op, while a desire to recreate Vietnamese spring rolls was what led us to the International Store in downtown Pullman. Even the big Winco discount grocer in Moscow has a unique place in our food lives -- there is one checker that is so kind and helpful with the kids that I wait any amount of time just to be in her line. In the food world I've always encountered helpful people that have shared all kinds of advice, from how to freeze herbs to how to clean a crab. I think food people are just about the nicest folks you can find -- they always want to share. (Except maybe that chef guy on "Hell's Kitchen" - he doesn't seem so friendly. But don't you think they made him up?)

I'm doing my best to use everything in the pantry that I possibly can, which is why I have been on Recipezaar lately. I made a list of the random odds and ends remaining in the fridge, freezer and pantry. I've been typing various ingredient combinations into the Recipezaar narrowing recipe search. Who knew that the leftover orange jam sitting in the fridge for the past six months would rise again as "Stovetop Orange Marmalade Porkchops".

There are several recipe websites I use, like Epicurious and Allrecipies, but I like that Recipezaar allows you to search for a variety of ingredients and then makes suggestions of typical additional ingredients used in recipes with your leader ingredients. It makes it easy to find meals you will like using ingredients you already have. (Just for the record, Recipezaar has nothing that combines ground beef and frozen cherries: suggestions anyone?) At the end of the month or season, it is fun to spin those remaining ingredients into new dishes.

Our "stocked" pantry looks something like this:

-Spices that reflect our favorite types of cusine
-Pastas, grains, and dried beans (or frozen cooked beans)
-pre-cut/shredded veggies that are frozen in the state typically used. (e.g. shredded carrots kaffir lime leaves and sliced ginger for stir-fry, small dice onion, celery and carrot for soups, sliced peppers amd herbs. When fresh veggies are starting to look sad, turn them into frozen cut or pureed veggies!)
-frozen fruits for breakfast and dessert
-the ingredients for favorite scratch breakfasts and desserts (for us that's brownies, chocolate chip cookies, pancakes and biscuits)
-Salsa, Ketchup, Dijon Mustard and Barbeque Sauce
-Vinegars, Wines, and Broths according to preference


jimandstacey said...

I found an article by the American Cancer Society (http://www.cancer.org/docroot/NWS/content/NWS_1_1x_Cherry_Hamburgers_on_the_Grill.asp) about using cherries in ground beef patties in school lunches because it might help cut down the risks of cancer that come from higher-fat meat...that could be interesting.

Melanie said...

I knew it wasn't crazy!! I'm trying it next week!!

jimandstacey said...

It sounds really good to me. For a little kick, you could always add some ground cloves/mustard/onions/Worcestershire sauce or just some black pepper. I think we have some frozen cherries in the back of our freezer too. I'll have to try adding them to our recipe next time we make turkey burgers.

Tracy said...

Ha ha...I love Chef Ramsey! Have you seen his other show Kitchen Nightmares? That is the one I am hooked on!