Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Tip Four: What's in your pantry?

If you cleaned out the pantry, you now have room to restock. (Though I sometimes find I have enough once I have truly uncovered what's there.) While there are a number of good lists for stocking an organic pantry, I find Alice Waters' to be one of the best, from The Art of Simple Food, you can peruse it at Google Books but it is one of the best for your shelf.  The Cleveland Clinic, too, has a stocking list for a heart-healthy pantry.

At the risk of repeating these, I'll tell you what I consider relevant in my pantry. I keep mostly items that aid in cooking in the pantry, not wholesale dinners themselves, as I prefer to cook from fresh ingredients. That said, it does come in handy to have a box of noodles and jar of good tomato sauce in there, especially if the tomato sauce is from your own garden. I also keep some items like canned organic pumpkin around, for a fast easy dessert.

If you live near any sort of good store, you probably don't have to keep as much as I do; though we do have a few specialty food shops locally, our nearest town is a half-hour commitment in the car. And so it goes that I tend to over stock when there's a sale or I see something, like coconut milk, that I know I can't get at a store anywhere in a 15-mile radius and can't remember if I have one at home or not.

So here, in no particular order, is my go-to pantry:

Oils and vinegars: I have a good quality olive oil for drizzling fresh and also a lesser one for bulk cooking. If it says "cold-pressed" or "extra virgin" it's less refined and has a lower smoke point, which indicates at what temperature the oil will break down. These oils, and other unrefined oils such as flaxseed oil, are best used fresh. Avocado oil has one of the highest smoke points, Ghee, or clarified butter, is another good one for cooking. I have walnut oil and basil oil for salad dressings, but it is easy to flavor your own.
    I also love vinegars for cooking, I have rice vinegar, balsamic vinegar, a good white wine vinegar and apple cider vinegar (I like Bragg's). In addition, I admit an addiction to fig balsamic, which is so thick it can stand alone as a salad dressing. Lulu's makes one so luscious we use it over plain arugula with just a little shaved Parmesan.

Salt and peppercorn: I love Celtic sea salt for finishing dishes or cooking in butter. I also have refined salt for baking and cooking en masse. In addition to black pepper, white pepper is handy if you don't want to have specks of pepper hanging out in your food, and is not as spicy as black pepper.

Herbs and Spices: I have a whole drawer of spices, and rarely purge them, which I understand is unestimably bad form. The good news is, they just lose strength, and likely won't kill you. Spices keep longer than you'd think, but herbs really do lose their punch after a year or two. Some I can't live without: cinnamon, nutmeg, cumin, curry. Herbs I generally dry and keep overhead for crumbling into dishes.

herbs overhead
Pasta and rice: As mentioned, having a good pasta onhand is worth it -- I like to have a gluten-free alternative, such as soba, buckwheat noodles, available too. In the rice category, a good basmati or jasmine rice is a good go to filler; I am partial to purple rice so tend to have that around too. Quinoa is a good bet, or couscous if you can eat wheat.

Flours and cereals: I have a plethora of flour for use in gluten-free baking that are not essential. A grainy polenta is a great backup, and I always have oatmeal as well. Cornstarch I keep onhand to thicken sauces in place of flour. Baking powder and baking soda are also handy for baking.

Sweetners: I have raw sugar, brown sugar, honey, agave and maple syrup around at all times. For no calorie sweetening, I prefer Z sweet, which is made from erythritol, a natural sugar found in plants.

Condiments: The door of my fridge is packed with groovy condiments but these are the essentials: Organic ketchup, whole grain mustard, horseradish, capers, Tamari (gluten-free soy sauce), mayo (try making your own!), apple butter, peanut butter.

Tea and coffee: Again, I have way more of these than I actually need, but we could get by on a good black tea and decaf coffee. I drink Teavana's rooibus blend every morning, and have a selection of delights from Harney's as well.

Stocks and boullion: I generally lay in chicken, beef and vegetable bases for quickly stirring up a sauce.

Nuts, dried fruit and seeds: I always have cashews, which I eat by the handful, as well as pecans and almonds and walnuts for sprinkling in salads or cereal. I use dried cranberries for salads and raisins in cereals, and keep sesame seeds on hand for sprinkling as well.

Miscellaneous: In the interest of a quick meal, or something to pull out of the cupboard when the neighbors pop in: canned tuna, salmon, and anchovies (wonderful in salads, too); tomato sauce, rice crackers (I always have a pesto in the freezer for a quick topping, but also have been known to stock tapenade, or  tahini).  I also keep some coconut water and almond milk for cooking or smoothies on the hoof. And a big can of San Marzano tomatoes is something I also stock, more because I sometimes can't find them, but they are also awesome to dude up for a quick sauce for chicken or pasta. A good soup is also a good call -- we love the Pacifica brand Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato.

Now it's your turn. What's in your pantry? Leave me a comment!

Hope yours is bigger!

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