A Self-Sheltering Pantry

As we approach week 10 of self-sheltering, I started to contemplate the future in terms of preparedness. I’m hardly a conspiracy theorist, nor am I a doom and gloom kind of person. I am however a planner. My father used to instruct, “Fail to plan, plan to fail.” After being caught off-guard during the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, I wanted to create a pantry that would sustain us if the predictions of a ‘second wave’ come to fruition this fall and upcoming winter. The idea is to have provisions for a 4 month stay-at-home if necessary.

At the beginning of my recent cookbook Twisted Basics: Laugh, Cook, Eat! I have a section called A Well-Stocked Pantry. It was an attempt to combine a balance between fresh and convenience. When approaching non-growing seasons (late fall and winter) and the desire to leave the confines of our homes as little as possible, it’s important to take a closer look at what to have on hand for our families.

Before I get into this, the other point I want to make is the same one I make in my cookbook: cooking together creates intimacy and better relationships. After all, if we need to self-shelter, why not focus on the upside which is obviously more time. During our current episode, I’ve taken up bread baking. I have been intimidated by the mere thought of it for decades. To my surprise, I couldn’t be more pleased with the results! Whether you live together as a couple, or have children, cooking together has enormous potential to add richness to your life. Sitting down together to a meal prepared with your own hands, rather than opening a box gives you the satisfaction of making mealtime more meaningful. Cooking done with care is an act of love.

The following suggestions for a Self-Sheltering Pantry are by no means exclusive; feel free to adjust them to your family’s needs and/or preferences. Quantities should be adjusted for the number of your family members. A note about the cost of products; if income is limited, focus on non-perishable items first. For example, rice, dried beans, pasta and frozen and/or canned vegetables will give you the biggest bang for your buck! I would also consider discovering water-bath canning to take advantage of the fresh produce available during the summer months. I put up roasted tomato sauce, whole paste tomatoes, Asian pear sauce and chutney, pickled beets, tomato juice and cherry tomato soup. The quality of home-canned products is wonderful, and you get the added satisfaction of doing it for your family. 

When we think about refrigerator basics it’s important to keep in mind that the goal is to leave our homes as little as possible. This means that milk, and buttermilk for example should be powdered rather than fresh. I use half and half in my coffee, so I would switch to evaporated milk. These are the kind of choices that will allow you to stay safe in your home as much as possible. Certain aged cheeses have a long shelf-life so consider Parmesan, Pecornio, cheddar and/or Jarlsberg.

  • Plain yogurt, both regular and Greek (these products are good long after their fresh dates)
  • Unsalted butter (you can freeze butter without issue to extend its shelf life)
  • Aged cheeses (should not be frozen, but shredded cheese can be frozen)
  • Eggs
  • Jarred pesto
  • Carrots
  • Celery (consider chopping and freezing this vegetable to extend its shelf-life)
  • Citrus (lemons, limes and oranges) the zest is as beneficial as the juice

Let’s think about freezer basics. We want to remember that vegetables in frozen bags are preferable to boxes, as you remove the quantity you need and re-freeze. I prefer frozen vegetables to canned, but there are times that stores run quantity prices on canned, so be a smart shopper. Also, if you make your own stock, this too can be frozen, so do not throw away those roasted chicken carcasses! Consider what animal protein your family prefers and stock up on them during the summer. A note about meat: due to the current issues with commercial processing plants, you might consider purchasing from your local farmer that offers beef, pork, lamb and/or poultry

  • Frozen vegetables (corn, broccoli, spinach, hash browns, peas)
  • Frozen berries
  • Bacon
  • Animal protein of your choice
  • Sausage in bulk (such as Italian or breakfast)
  • Smoked sausage
  • Pizza crusts (homemade pizza is sooo much better than pre-made)

On to canned and jarred items. Even though I water-bath can a ton of tomatoes, I also have commercial canned tomatoes and beans on hand. We cook so much with these items I need the quantity. Although I do have canned beans on hand, I am an advocate for dried beans. They have a very long shelf-life, and once you learn how to cook them you will be amazed at the difference in quality. Many broths and stocks now come in cartons rather than cans. I purchase stock rather than broth due to the sodium content. Keep in mind how easy it is to make your own stock for pennies.

  • Canned tomatoes (whole, diced fire-roasted and crushed)
  • Tomato paste
  • Stock
  • Beans (cannellini, chickpeas, black beans, kidney)
  • Roasted red peppers
  • Olives (Kalamata and green)
  • Full fat coconut milk (for curries and soups)

When we think about grains and/or legumes we can think in a much more expansive way, as their shelf-life in almost indefinite. I’m a cookbook collector, but the internet is loaded with recipes using any of these suggestions. Don’t be afraid to try new recipes and ideas. Food even during a pandemic can be an adventure.

  • Quick cooking polenta
  • Stone-ground cornmeal
  • Oats
  • Jasmine and brown rice
  • Arborio rice for risottos
  • Pearl barley
  • Lentils (green, brown and red)
  • Beans! (black, chickpea, kidney, pinto)
  • Wild rice
  • Dried pastas (spaghetti, penne, rigatoni, fettuccine, lasagna & orzo)
  • Plain dried bread crumbs
  • Quinoa
  • Grits

I had to laugh the other day when I realized when I did my Well Stocked Pantry in my new cookbook, that I neglected baking supplies! I’ve always considered myself a cook, not a baker. However, since my foray into bread baking started, these ingredients are indeed paramount!

  • All-purpose flour
  • Bread flour
  • Yeast
  • Baking soda
  • Non-aluminum baking powder
  • Cane sugar
  • Brown sugar
  • Honey
  • Pure maple syrup
  • Salt
  • Ghee (clarified butter)
  • Powdered milk
  • Powdered buttermilk
  • Canned condensed milk
  • Cocoa

Now we are onto oils, vinegar’s, condiments and flavorings. These are unique to the way each of us eats. None the less, they are important items to have on hand for flavor enhancement for many dishes. You decide which are important to you.

  • Olive oil
  • Vegetable or avocado oil
  • Dijon mustard (both fine and coarse)
  • Mayonnaise
  • Anchovies
  • Ketchup
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Barbeque sauce
  • Dried herbs (dill, thyme, sage, oregano, Italian seasoning blend, bay leaves)
  • Spices (such as chili powder, cumin, cinnamon sticks, ground cinnamon, curry powder, ground mustard, ground ginger, nutmeg, paprika, crushed red pepper flakes, cayenne pepper, black pepper)
  • Toasted sesame oil
  • Capers (I personally cannot live without them)
  • Vinegar (balsamic, red-wine, white-wine, apple cider, rice and sherry)
  • Asian condiments: soy sauce, fish sauce, mirin, oyster sauce, gochujang sauce

Let’s consider what nuts, seeds and dried fruit to keep on hand. Consider using them in baked goods, salads and stews. They add interest, flavor and contrast.

  • Pecans
  • Walnuts
  • Almonds
  • Raisins (regular and/or golden)
  • Dried apricots
  • Sun-dried tomatoes
  • Sesame seeds
  • Tahini
  • Nut butters
  • Prunes, cherries and cranberries
  • Dates

Pantry vegetables are a little tricky as their shelf-life can vary depending on their quality and your ability to keep them in a cool, dry, and well-ventilated place. I suggest you keep only hardy vegetables on hand. Potatoes and garlic should not be refrigerated; keep them in baskets or bins. Do not store them in plastic, which will encourage mold. Keep onions, shallot and garlic separate; it’s especially important to keep potatoes and onions apart since they can cause each other to spoil.

  • Onions
  • Shallots
  • Potatoes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Fresh garlic

Last but not least is the miscellaneous section. We all have items that are not negotiable during stressful times.

  • Coffee
  • Tea
  • Booze
  • Cocktail ingredients
  • Chocolate

Remember when contemplating what to have on hand for your family, you know them best. This list is by no means meant to be a complete rendering of everything you might need, but it certainly will help.

“If ever there was a time for Twisted Basics it’s now.”

A Few Of My Favorite Things

As we enter week 9 of self-sheltering, it’s interesting to learn what ingredients in your pantry you find absolutely necessary. Of course we all need an assortment of canned and frozen vegetables when fresh are not available, along with flour, yeast, pasta, rice, beans and an assortment of dried herbs and spices. I can’t live without, garlic, onions, olive oil and olives; but the one thing that surprised me to be near the top of my list was ‘capers’. I use them in so many ways, from chicken salad, pasta dishes, pizza, potato salad, to top fish, deviled eggs, and fresh relishes.

I buy them in 32 ounce jars from our local Mediterranean grocery store. They simply pack a punch, adding texture and tanginess when added to a variety of recipes. Capers have long been a favorite in the Mediterranean region. They are well-known for being a star ingredient in Italian, French and Spanish recipes.

One of the easiest and tastiest dishes you can make with capers is Chicken Piccata. The sauce is a combination of creamy, tart and lemony and is wonderful served with rice or pasta and comes together quickly. The chicken breasts are lightly breaded and pan-fried which assures that you control the cooking time so they stay moist. Two halved and butterflied breasts will easily feed four.

SILKY CHICKEN PICCATA

INGREDIENTS:

  • 12 ounces of linguine
  • 2 large chicken breasts, butterflied and halved
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon garlic (3-4 garlic cloves), grated on a micro planer
  • 1 1/4 cups + 1 tablespoon chicken stock (homemade if you have it)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, plus 1 tablespoon zest
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons capers, rinsed

img_6367

img_6380

INSTRUCTIONS:

  1. Boil salted water and cook 12 ounces of linguine according to package directions. Drain and lightly toss with a little olive oil.
  2. After butterflying your chicken breasts, let them rest at room temperature for 10 minutes. Mix together flour, salt and pepper to taste in a zip lock bag. Add chicken breast pieces and shake to distribute flour.
  3. Heat olive oil in a 12-inch non-stick skillet on medium high. Add chicken pieces to skillet. Sear chicken, undisturbed until brown on the bottom, about 4-5 minutes. Turn chicken over and cook opposite side until golden brown. You may need to adjust heat a little lower, for an additional 4-5 minutes (internal temperature should be 165 degrees). Remove from heat and tent with foil to keep warm.
  4. Add garlic to pan (add a little olive oil if necessary). Saute until slightly golden. Add 1 1/4 cups chicken stock. Bring to a boil, while scraping the bottom of the pan to release any browned bits. Allow stock to simmer till reduced by half, about 5 minutes.
  5. Whisk together remaining 1 tablespoon of stock with cornstarch, add to skillet along with lemon juice and zest. Allow to simmer until thickened slightly then remove from heat.
  6. Stir in butter and cream. Season with salt and pepper. Add chicken pieces back into sauce to reheat for 3 minutes.
  7. To serve, place a portion of pasta in a shallow bowl. Top with chicken, then sauce. Sprinkle capers and parsley on top.

Serves 4

“We can do no great things…only small things with great love.” —Mother Teresa

img_6369-1

 

This Little Piggy Stayed Home

As our weather starts warming up, my thoughts are full of ways to utilize our gas grill. I love virtually anything grilled, from veggies, to pizza, to skewers, to ribs. I recognize that this is my second post in a row using my Ras el Hanout spice blend, but it’s so extremely versatile. Here I use it in both the marinade and the basting sauce. I can’t stand over-cooked pork, and this treatment is fool-proof using the combination of boneless country-style ribs that are marinated and basted with a blend of marinade and honey. They are served over roasted sweet peppers and red onions.

The relish, really compliments the grilled skewers, with bold flavors of grilled onions, olives, capers, balsamic vinegar and parsley. I could easily see this relish on grilled flank steak as well. I was recently gifted with a bottle of 18 year balsamic vinegar, which put it over the top!

MARINATED PORK SKEWERS WITH ONION, CAPER RELISH

INGREDIENTS:

  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 5 garlic cloves, grated on micro planer
  • Zest of one lemon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Ras El Hanout
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless country-style pork ribs, trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons local honey
  • 2 onions, sliced into 1/2 inch thick rounds
  • 1/2 cup kalamata olives, sliced in half
  • 1/4 cup capers, rinsed
  • 3 tablespoons good balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 sweet peppers, seeded and cut into 6ths
  • 1 large red onion, cut into 6 wedges
  • 1 cup red grape tomatoes

img_6341

img_6343

img_6346

INSTRUCTIONS:

  1. Whisk 1/4 cup olive oil, garlic, lemon zest, Ras el hanout, salt and pepper together in a medium bowl. Transfer 2 tablespoons of marinade to small bowl and set aside. Combine remaining marinade and cubed pork in 1-gallon zip lock bag and toss to coat. Press out as much air as possible and seal bag. Refrigerate for 2 hours.
  2. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place peppers, red onions and grape cherry tomatoes on rimmed baking sheet and toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste. Roast for 30-40 minutes or until soft and slightly charred. These will be served a room temperature.
  3. Preheat gas grill on high for 15 minutes. Skewer onion slices on metal skewer and baste with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Clean grates, turn down to medium and grill onions until soft and slightly charred. Bring in and set aside.
  4. Whisk reserved marinade with honey and microwave until fragrant, about 15-30 seconds. Remove pork from bag and thread tightly on 2-3 metal skewers.
  5. Place pork skewers on grill (it’s already heated at medium), cover and grill, turning every 2 minutes and basting pork with honey mixture; until pork in browned and registers 140 degrees. Remove and let rest while you finish the relish.
  6. Chop grilled onions, and combine with remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, olives, capers, balsamic vinegar and parsley.
  7. Place roasted peppers, onions and tomatoes on platter, top with pork skewers. Pass relish.

Serves 4-6

img_6342

img_6349

“Looks can be deceiving, it’s eating that’s believing!” –James Thurber

Talking Heads

We absolutely love vegetables. I guess that is one of the reasons that we are vegetable farmers. I have seen multiple recipes for roasting whole heads of cauliflower. In fact I think it’s a ‘thing’. Two years ago I created a Ras el Hanout spice mix that I have used on endless things, from Lamb Ragu, to Moroccan Almonds, to this roasted cauliflower. The mix is savory more than just hot. I feel that you have a party in your mouth when you taste it. You can find this mix in my new cookbook Twisted Basics: Laugh, Cook, Eat! It is also available on this blog by searching for Moroccan Almonds. This would accompany anything on the grill, particularly lamb chops. We ate it with leftovers and were swooning!

WHOLE ROASTED CAULIFLOWER

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 medium to large cauliflower
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Ras el Hanout
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • Several grinds of fresh black pepper

img_6356

img_6357

img_6358

INSTRUCTIONS:

  1. In a pot large enough to hold the head of cauliflower, fill with cold water and 1 teaspoon of salt. Clean cauliflower by removing outside leaves and cutting core horizontally so it sits level.
  2. Bring water to a boil and place cauliflower head in the pot with the core on top.  The whole head does not have to be submerged. Cover with lid and cook for 6 minutes. Lift with slotted spoon and place in wire mesh strainer for 15 minutes.
  3. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Place head of cauliflower in a casserole dish that gives it several inches around it.
  4. Melt butter, oil, salt, pepper and Ras el Hanout over low heat. Baste with butter and spice mixture. Bake for 20 minutes. Baste again. Bake for an additional 25 minutes. Your cauliflower will take from 45 to 90 minutes depending on its size. Baste every 25 minutes until a metal skewer inserted in center indicates that the cauliflower is soft. Let rest for 10 minutes.
  5. Slices into wedges.

Serves 4-6

img_6360

Laughter is the brightest, in the place where the food is.”  –Irish Proverb

The Best of Both Worlds

Now that our shelter in place order has been extended to May 15th, we are all seeking comfort through various ways. For me, cooking and food are my go to sources for calming myself. It is gradually getting warmer, we are planting in our greenhouse, the garlic is growing, and my daffodils are blooming.

These days, when I ponder what to make, it comes from a place of what is available? It becomes a combination of home-canning, frozen, fresh and pantry staples. I must say that when you put a little thought into it, you will be surprised at what you can come up with to warm the belly. This time it was a fusion of both Greek and Italian cuisines that worked quite well together. I love to make spanakopita, but was out of phyllo dough, I had my quarts of roasted tomato sauce and uncooked lasagna sheets. Then it hit me, why not combine the spanakopita in a lasagna? Bingo, the best of both worlds. It gave us a couple days of comfort food.

SPANAKOPITA LASAGNA

INGREDIENTS:

  • 12 sheets of oven-ready lasagna noodles
  • 16 ounce bag of chopped frozen spinach, thawed and drained in a wire strainer
  • Zest from one lemon
  • 1/4 cup fresh dill, chopped
  • 3 green onions, using both white and green parts, thinly sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, grated
  • 4 beaten eggs
  • 10 ounces crumbled feta
  • 16 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella
  • 1 quart of roasted tomato sauce (or equivalent of jarred pasta sauce
  • 2 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

img_6326

img_6327

INSTRUCTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 13 x 9 ceramic pan with cooking spray.
  2. Place the drained spinach in a clean kitchen towel and gently squeeze out the remaining water. Place spinach in a large bowl.
  3. Add lemon zest, dill, green onions, garlic, eggs, feta and goat cheese. Mix gently but thoroughly until combined.
  4. In a bowl, combine your pasta sauce with the two tablespoons of balsamic vinegar. Place a ladle full of pasta sauce in bottom of baking dish, and evenly spread it. Place three oven-ready lasagna noodles on top of sauce. Spoon 1/2 cup of filling on each sheet and distribute evenly. Top with three more lasagna sheets, repeat with filling. Repeat one more time. You should have 3 layers of spinach mixture.
  5. On the top of the final lasagna sheets, pour an equal amount of pasta sauce over the 3 groups of layered sheets. Top with mozzarella. Cover with foil and place in pre-heated oven. Bake covered for 25 minutes; uncover and bake for an additional 20 minutes, or until cheese is completely melted and sauce is bubbling.
  6. Let rest for 10-15 minutes.

Serves 6

img_6328

“A good cook works by the fire of imagination not merely by the fire in the stove.”

Robert Coffin

We Eat With Our Eyes

It is often said that we eat with our eyes.  I believe this is true.  When a dish looks appetizing and beautiful we want to savor it; we might eat a little slower so we can stretch out the experience.  I have made many quiches; some with, some without a crust, but this technique makes the final product a feast for the eyes.  We are fortunate to raise chickens that lay eggs with extremely dark yolks.  This made the color of this quiche a bright yellow, which only added to its appeal.  It is made in a spring-form pan instead of a pie plate.  This allows for a nice deep well for the filling, which I appreciate; but the real joy comes from using hash browns as the crust.  It literally comes out looking like a work of art.

Feel free to change up the ingredients in the filling to suit what you have or your taste preferences.  You can use arugula instead of spinach or a combination of the two.  You can also use Swiss chard.  Vegetarians can leave out the bacon, and you can use Comte instead of Gruyere.  You decide. It will all taste delicious.

SPINACH & GRUYERE QUICHE WITH A HASH BROWN CRUST

img_6282

img_6283

img_6284

INGREDIENTS:

FOR HASH BROWN CRUST:

  • 1 package frozen hash browns, thawed and squeezed dry
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 farm-fresh egg, light beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt

FOR THE QUICHE:

  • 1/2 cup red (or any color you have) seeded and diced
  • 1/4 cup onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 6 farm-fresh egg whites, and 3 additional farm-fresh eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups Gruyere or Comte cheese, shredded
  • 4 cups lightly packed spinach and/or arugula mixed
  • 1/2 cup half and half
  • 4 slices bacon, cooked, drained and crumbled

INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE CRUST:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Brush the bottom of a 9-inch spring form pan with olive oil, then line both bottom and sides with parchment paper; brush with oil again.
  2. Combine the hash browns, melted butter, garlic salt and egg.  Mix thoroughly and press into spring form pan, pushing them up the sides.
  3. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until hash browns start to crisp up.

INSTRUCTIONS FOR QUICHE:

  1. Fry bacon in skillet, drain and crumble.
  2. In a small skillet over medium-low heat, add 1 tablespoon olive oil and saute onions, red pepper and garlic for 8-10 minutes or until soft and translucent.  Add spinach and saute for another 1-2 minutes or until spinach has wilted.  Set aside to cool.
  3. In a bowl, combine the egg whites, whole eggs, 1/2 and 1/2, shredded cheese and crumbled bacon.  Add the cooled onions and red pepper and stir to combine.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Pour into hash brown crust in spring form pan.
  4. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees F and bake for 40-45 minutes or until eggs are set.

Serves 6

img_6287

img_6291

Note:  This recipe is from my new cookbook Twisted Basics: Laugh, Cook, Eat.  You can purchase it at our website

“The kitchen is seasoned with love.”

Shelter From The Storm

As we wind up week six of social distancing, I am recognizing my emotions looming large.  One minute grief, then anger, jumping to anxiety, then surprising me completely by hope. I can be washing the dishes or folding clothes and I find tears running down my face.  I listen to the news and feel angry at people who aren’t taking this virus seriously.  I’m furious at the misinformation and lies.  I wake up during the night and process thoughts for 2-4 hours.  There are times I think, “What’s wrong with me? Am I losing my mind?” The truth is, I am completely normal. There is absolutely nothing wrong with me. I am simply leaning fearlessly into my emotions. I want to know what is below the surface of my packaging. The average person didn’t see the corona-virus coming; and then the world came to a collective pause. Everything changed. Nothing is as is was.

We are in shock. I keep hearing people wanting to get back to normal. Yet what does that look like? Why long to return to an existence that was not working for most of us? I for one, have no desire to return to the times of collective exhaustion, greed and disconnection.  In this collective pause why not dream of a better way? Why not take these precious  moments and rein-vision something that sustains and nourishes us? We already know how to distance. We’ve been running away from healthy solutions for humans and the planet for generations, chasing our desire for bigger and better until the world couldn’t take it anymore.

For now, cooking and my kitchen help to steady my emotional tides. Preparing food for me is like meditation or prayer for some. One thing I do know: we need to practice a lot more kindness and compassion for each other. Our world is not a virtual reality; it is the reality. Right here, right now. We all yearn for shelter from the storm.

 

 

 

1 2 14