tip for moving #5

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If you’re a closet food hoarder like I am, you should probably start paying attention to what’s in your pantry right about now. If you’re moving in less that three weeks, you should probably start cleaning out your pantry. Starting yesterday.

I grew up in the country, several miles outside of the town in which I went to school and at least half an hour any direction from the nearest large grocery store. We had to drive 30 minutes one way to get to Walmart, 40 minutes another way to reach Hart’s or Price Cutter or Harter Haus, and if we needed bulk or specialty items — well, that was an hour and a half, at least.

Understandably, I learned to hoard pantry items. When it’s a Saturday afternoon and you need homemade chocolate chip cookies but have no butter or chocolate chips, there is no change-out-of-sweatpants-and-drive-to-the-store spontaneity because that would take at least an hour, and then where are those cookies? So, we stockpiled. (Interestingly enough, this is also how I learned to experiment and substitute so freely in the kitchen. My creative mother was judicious in her cooking experiments — I learned from the best.)

Fast-forward ten years and I’m within walking distance of the farmers market and just a short drive from the commissary or my favorite grocery store. I don’t have to stockpile because I can easily pick up some canned tomatoes or a rasher of bacon any afternoon I might need it, no long-term planning required. And yet.

I hoard canned tomatoes in my pantry and rashers of bacon in my freezer. I have little tins of hatch peppers and bulk jars of jasmine rice and gluten-free oats and a couple bags of seaweed and canned tuna and olives and coconut milk and all sorts of things stored away, like a little chipmunk saving up for winter hibernation. Which is all well and good was I living with said stocked pantry for another couple of months, which I am not. Take it from me, friends — it is better to start cleaning out early and buy what you need later in the proper amount than to be saddled with too many jars and cans.

To begin, make a list of all of the dry goods and frozen items you have. Take stock of the perishables in the refrigerator and, with list in hand, start brainstorming meal-planning ideas. You’ll save money, get creative in the kitchen, and prevent wastefulness.

Got a half a bag of frozen peas just hanging out? Throw those bad boys into a pot of soup. What do two boxes of crushed tomatoes, a can of pumpkin puree and a jar of broth have in common? They are an excellent base for chili. Coconut milk added to ground meat and veggies and a dash of curry powder makes for an easy ethnic meal. Green tomato relish add pizzaz to daily scrambled eggs, and don’t forget those olives! You should probably just eat those as a snack, plucked from the jar with your fingers.

My pantry/freezer inventory includes:

bulk gluten-free oats, steel-cut oats, buckwheat groats

jasmine rice

sugar

tapioca starch

dried shiitake mushrooms

onion jam

balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar

green tomato salsa

dried seaweed

carob powder, cacao powder

flaxseeds

frozen Ezekiel bread, coconut granola

tahini, Siracha, homemade mayo and all the condiments ever

aged parmesan

frozen vegetables + fruit

canned crushed tomatoes

coconut milk

2 tins hatch peppers

Castelvetrano olives

salmon filets, ground lamb, ground turkey

1 rasher of bacon

frozen homemade waffles

And I know this sounds like an absolute mess of items — one of these things is not like the other — but it is actually quite easy to meal-plan from my kitchen. Some ideas include:

turkey chili with canned tomatoes, hatch peppers, frozen green peppers

lamb coconut curry with frozen bell peppers, peas, broccoli

seared salmon with garlicky aioli (homemade mayo)

fruit smoothies with frozen mango, blueberries, coconut milk

chicken thighs with shiitake mushrooms + fish sauce

brinner: eggs, bacon, waffles

Thankfully, we have neighbors on either side who will gladly profit from any incomplete meal-planning. Those random jars of oatmeal and the half-open jars of hot sauce and the uneaten chocolate ice cream and the orphan frozen pizza will all get new homes. They won’t be wasted, and at least I can say I tried.

SONY DSCBraised “Everything-In-The-Pantry” Turkey Chili

1.5 lbs. ground turkey

two 4 oz. tins of Hatch peppers

5 cloves of garlic, crushed

1 c. broth

28 oz. can of fire roasted crushed tomatoes

1 tsp. chili powder

1/2 tsp. ancho chili powder

2 tsp. sea salt

fresh black pepper

dash of cayenne

1 Tbsp. cumin

1 tsp. fish sauce

1 c. chopped green bell pepper

2 pints Sungold tomatoes

In a large, oven-proof, heavy bottomed pot with a lid, brown the turkey. While the meat is cooking, smash and peel garlic and set aside. Season the turkey with salt, pepper and spice, and continue to brown until cooked through. Stir in the canned peppers, fish sauce and tomatoes, and bring to a vigorous simmer. Mince the garlic and add to the chili, along with the broth, bell peppers and whole Sungold tomatoes. Bring to a boil.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 300 degrees. After the chili has reached a boil, turn off the heat, cover the pot and transfer the chili to the oven to braise for an hour and a half. Stir occasionally. After the time has elapsed, increase the heat to 350 degrees and allow the chili to reduce uncovered in the oven for 30 minutes.

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making real sourdough bread

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“It is pleasant: one of those almost hypnotic businesses, like a dance from some ancient ceremony. It leaves you filled with peace, and the house filled with one of the world’s sweetest smells. But it takes a lot of time. If you can find that, the rest is easy. And if you cannot rightly find it, make it, for probably there is no chiropractic treatment, no Yoga exercise, no hour of meditation in a music-throbbing chapel, that will leave you emptier of bad thoughts than this homely ceremony of making bread.

“You should have four bread pans, which can be bought usually at a junk-man’s if one of your female relatives does not have them stuck away in some cupboard under the back stairs. You might even buy the glass ones, which are very good, although less romantic. You will need a big bowl, too.

“Given these props, then, and an oven that will hold the four pans, you can safely embark on what may, for the first time at least, be a harrowingly entertaining experience, but will probably lead to many calmer, peace-bringing times.”

– “How to Rise Up Like New Bread,” How to Cook a Wolf by MFK Fisher

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I love Fisher’s words on the subject of baking bread — as a ritual, an exercise in bringing a little bit of the past and a little bit of peace into our modern kitchens. No matter where you stand on the nutritional value or detriment of bread, I think there are few of us around who would say we didn’t like it, or that it was a meaningless foodstuff. When I think of bread, I think of reading Little House on the Prairie. I think of my grandmother’s fresh yeasted rolls at every breakfast, at every holiday supper. I think of Biblical characters shaping and molding leaven to bake on a hearthstone next to the fire. The ancients, the people and traditions in the root of all of us.

In my mostly grain-free lifestyle, I love the idea of bread more than the bread itself, but I happened to be married to a man who dreams of it. Not just any old sliced bread, not the so-called “healthy” stuff packed with seeds and fibers, but the hollow crusty boudin loaves with a real sour taste and gasping air pockets inside. I have a feeling that, if we ever get to France, our tour will include an equal number of pain au chocolate and baguettes burnished gold by ancient wood-fired ovens as it will museums and boulevards.

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So I bake this for him. It is, as Fisher writes, a task that requires a great deal of time, but if I can find it the baking process proves to be a worthwhile endeavor. I knead and fold and rest, both my arms and the bread, and finally bake it in a preheated dutch oven at a very hot temperature, twenty minutes covered to trap the steam and seal the crust, twenty minutes uncovered to let the bread poof and crackle.

It is a labor of love in the truest sense of the phrase. When two loaves (sometimes a pretty as a picture, sometimes a little more dense than usual) are finally resting upon the breadboard, my husband tears into them with abandon and plenty of butter. Few crusts remain for toast the next day, but I think through these tokens of affection he feels the most loved. Hot bread, a full belly, a sweetly steamed kitchen and a flour-flecked wife do indeed a happy man make.

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Notes on baking sourdough: I first started this experiment with a recipe from Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. The sourdough starter recipe I posted is what I have used through this entire process, even though I switched halfway through my experiment to the Tartine Bread methods of baking.

Whereas the NT method calls for freshly ground flour and overnight soaking, plus little more than a few turns of the dough, the Tartine method is much more involved. You must make a starter, and from that make a leaven, both of which take several days combined of feeding and rest. After the leaven has activated, more flour and water are added, there is a rest, then salt is kneaded in, and then another rest. The bulk fermentation happens at this point, but there are several more steps that follow. Each of the final steps involved turning and folding the dough, plus a few more rests. However, as time-consuming and labor-intensive as this recipe is in comparison to the NT method, it produces a reliably delicious loaf every time. Plus, the Tartine method can be “customized” to fit your schedule; i.e., if you run out of time for baking or if you’ll be leaving the house for a few hours, you can slow the fermentation process by refrigerating the dough. Chad Robertson, the author of the Tartine book, is thoughtful that way.

Because the Tartine method is so perfect and involved, I will not attempt to recreate the recipe here — bread making is, after all, a marriage of art and science, with as much to do with feel as it is ratios. If you’re interested in making bread like the kind I’ve written about and photographed, check out Robertson’s book. Regardless of it you get around to actually baking a loaf yourself, the tome is gorgeous, more novel and travel log than cookbook. It will be as at home on a coffee table as in a kitchen cupboard.

gift guide :: for the gourmet

for the gourmet

recipe box,  sea salt, tea towel, chocolate, apron, cookbook, wooden spoons, recipe cards

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I am happiest and most creative when I am in my kitchen, alone, without any music save the bubbling of pots on the stove. I stir and taste and season and sprinkle to my heart’s content, playing with flavors and ratios until I’ve come up with something scrumptious. I don’t know if this makes me a gourmet or not, but I certainly fall into the category of someone who would enjoy receiving everything on this list! And, in fact, I’ve already been gifted those lovely recipe cards, which I have used to in turn pass on a gift of delicious inspiration to others. For someone with a love of food and all the sundry gadgets that go along with cooking, this roundup will provide just the inspiration — and these make lovely hostess gifts, as well.