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Week 39 – An Inconvenient Pantry (Part 2: Condiment Whore)

I never realized how “over-the-top” our pantry was with condiments, seasonings, chutneys, salts, vinegars, and sauces until a friend pointed it out a few years ago by taking a picture of our refrigerator door and posting it on Facebook. “You two are condiment whores,” she exclaimed! It took this posting for my blog to realize how right she really was.

Now some of you might be thinking if I’m cooking everything from scratch, why the heck aren’t I making my own condiments too? I had to ask some of the same questions of myself when I started this project, like is a condiment a “food” or is it a “seasoning?” Am I going to make my own mayonnaise and barbeque sauce and ketchup? Can you even make your own mustard? What about vinegars? Do I have to grow my own herbs? Wait a minute – this isn’t Amish in the City – and I’m not going to take this to an extreme (any more extreme than it already is).

So I decided condiments are okay to use and I won’t consider them convenience foods. That doesn’t mean I won’t try to make barbeque sauce or mustard, but I won’t limit myself from using them. Out of curiosity I did Google “how to make your own vinegar” and while the Vinegar Man scares me a little (go ahead and look), I must admit it doesn’t seem worth the time and what I’m guessing is a not too pleasant odor.

Anyways, it’s time to tour my condiment pantry, the savory, the spicy and the unconventional. This is just a mere sampling, my friends.

Item Why I Keep It Stocked
Tamari (or soy sauce) Not just for Asian inspired dishes. I use this to season fajitas, greens, soups, and in marinades for meats
White Balsamic Vinegar A lighter alternative to regular balsamic, which can sometimes overpower a dish. Use in salad dressing or to brighten up a sauce.
Bavarian Beer Vinegar Honestly, I haven’t tried this one yet but wow is it interesting. I think it would go well in umm, German inspired dishes like sauerbraten.
Chipotle Tabasco Sauce This is the hero in my pantry. Adds a little spice as well as smokiness. Love to use in chili as a seasoning, as well as tacos, fajitas, BBQ sauce, and my version of Spanish rice.
Miso Paste Not only an ingredient in miso soup, I use as a base for a sauce (like beef stroganoff) or I add to stock for gravy, in place of bouillon cubes.
Anchovy Paste The secret ingredient in my balsamic dressing, but I also like to add just a bit to greens – sautéed with shallots and a splash of white wine.
Smoked Spanish Paprika I never knew there was another paprika besides sweet or hot. The flavor is amazing and it’s one of the main ingredients in my pork carnita seasoning.
Ancho Chili Powder Another great discovery I made this year  to kick up my homemade chili and pork carnitas. Also good in tacos or just adding just a touch to guacamole and homemade salsa.
Cardamom Pods and Powder India’s answer to one of the best seasonings for savory or sweet goods. I use the powder along with cinnamon in my granola. The pods can be toasted with other Indian spices, then ground to make your own curry or masala.

 

I found this recipe online for making mustard. I have more than 10 different kinds of mustard in my refrigerator right now, and got three tubes of my favorite German mustard for Christmas. So I don’t really have any need to make mustard. However this sounds both easy and delicious so I’m going to try it this week.

Homemade Mustard

3 tablespoons yellow mustard seeds

2 ½ tablespoons brown mustard seeds

1/3 cup GOOD white wine (the kind you would drink, not just cook with)

1/3 cup white wine vinegar

1 shallot, minced (you need about 2 tablespoons)

¾ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon white pepper

A pinch of allspice

Using a glass or ceramic bowl (not stainless) combine all the ingredients and refrigerate overnight, covered. The next day, transfer your mixture to a blender and blend until you reach the thickness you like in mustard. Store your mustard in a glass container, the recipe I read said it should last about 2 weeks.

 

Back to my New Year’s commitment to try something new each week, this week I made croutons with some of my stale bread. I really have been missing croutons since I eat salads pretty often and used to love adding them when I purchased from the salad bar at my store. The recipe I found was a little over the top oily, so I scaled it down a bit and added a few of my own spices. Problem with homemade croutons is you really need to eat them right away or they will turn soft when stored in a container. At least that was my problem with them. If you know of a solution, let me know. I had to “crisp” them up in the toaster oven each time I wanted to use them, a rather inconvenient step I might add.

Croutons

4 cups bread, cubed

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon oregano

½ teaspoon dried thyme

Melt the butter and olive oil together in a large pan. Add your bread cubes and stir to coat well. Keep stirring the cubes of bread until they are nice and golden brown. Take one out of the pan and let cool a bit. Is it crunchy? If it is, time to add all of your seasonings and mix well. Set croutons on paper towels to cool if they seem a little greasy.

 

Week 38 – An Inconvenient Pantry (Part 1)

Being the kind of person who likes to drive around the neighborhood at night because I’m curious to see the inside of other people’s houses, I stumbled upon a website a little while ago that takes a peek into other people’s pantries. The Perfect Pantry author Lydia Walshin has been food blogging since 2006, and her website is a great place to dig in to find a great recipe or to peek into someone else’s pantry. Some of them are awesome while others are honestly quite horrifying.


Lydia let her readers peek into my pantry this week which inspired me to write about how my “well-stocked for inconvenience” pantry has been helping me through this one-year challenge. Before we peek further, I also want to give a shout out to Outpost’s Pantry Raid girls, Diana and Carrie, who not only are darling and funny but were also an inspiration to me to take on this challenge. Don’t miss their blog on Outpost’s website – it’s not only fun but the recipes are truly delicious and inspired.

Now on to my pantry. Part One of my inconvenient pantry focuses on the dry good essentials – items I just can’t do without, and in a pinch, will help me pull together a either a baked good meal. These ingredients are the backbones of the things I used to buy ready-made, such as bread, crackers, chips, breadcrumbs, tortillas, pita bread, polenta, rice pilaf, granola, pizza crust, granola bars, and all beans that are canned.

I like to store them in vintage jars, my favorites being vintage herring jars, which are appealing for their size as well as the lid graphics. Of course I like to collect vintage anything and finally found something with a purpose. I’m actually about three steps shy of hoarder, so watch for me soon on your favorite Discovery channel.

Here is a chart of the pantry essentials and why you want to keep them in stock:

Item Why I keep it stocked
Rolled Oats Granola, granola bars, and the occasional cookie
Quick Cooking Oats Instant oatmeal in the microwave, ingredient in multi-grain bread, ingredient in meatloaf if I don’t have breadcrumbs made. Convenience food? Don’t judge.
Corn Grits Polenta, ingredient in multi-grain bread, bottom coating for a variety of breads and pizza crust
Masa Harina Corn tortillas, corn chips, also thickening agent in some Mexican stews
White and Whole Wheat Flour Wow, need I explain? Breads, pizza crust, popovers, muffins, thickening agent (roux), cakes, cookies, crackers (it’s no wonder I’ve gained 5 pounds)
Instant Yeast I get a good rise out of this!
Semolina Flour Pasta!
Flax Seeds and Flax Meal Breads, crackers, granola bars, banana bread
Sesame Seeds Bread topping, crackers, Asian cooking
Quinoa, Couscous, Rice Salads and side dishes galore!
Beans & Lentils I admit I hate cooking beans and don’t do it all that often. Red lentils have come in handy for making dal since it’s quick to cook.
Nuts & Seeds Are you old enough to remember Euell Gibbons? Ever eat a pine tree? Okay – Granola, granola bars, breads it is.
And Finally, Chocolate Chips Seriously! Granola bars, pancakes, banana bread, and a nice little snack every now and then.

My New Year’s resolution (or acclaim as I’d put it) was to make the best of my final fourteen weeks and try to make something new each week. This past week I tried to make mozzarella cheese and tortilla chips. The operative word here really is “tried.”

The cheese came out “okay” mostly because I didn’t do enough research ahead of time, like watch cheese-making videos on the web. Little did I realize the curds have to be as hot as the sun before you handle them and then stretch them into what should resemble cheese. So I overworked them a bit at first and lost a bit of the milk fat. We did enjoy them on what I was hoping would be the perfect pizza on New Year’s eve – homemade crust, sauce made from scratch from the tomatoes I canned, and homemade cheese. It just wasn’t meant to be perfect I guess, as I overworked the crust as well as the cheese, but I was pretty proud of taking inconvenient to the extreme.

The tortilla chips, well I’m going to save that story for another post when I get them right.

Watch for Part Two of my pantry posts next week, which will be appropriately titled “condiment whore.”