|Chocolate cherry cake waiting for frosting|
I thought for a bit and stared at the recipe (which, unfortunately, did not make chocolate chips appear in front of me) and then decided to go ahead and make the cake but try it with my chocolate buttercream frosting instead. Oh, yum... it was delicious. A different taste and texture but quite good.
Having lived out of the pantry and now on a very tight budget, I know the value of being creative in the kitchen. I'm sure part of it has to do with being a "pinch of this and dash of that" kind of cook (except baking must be more precise). But it certainly helps to have an out of the box way of thinking when you are stretching the budget.
Here are a few lessons I've learned over the years of pantry life:
Knowledge is as important as stocking up - Knowing how to cook from scratch is essential to using the pantry wisely, not to mention cooking on a budget. The more we do anything, the better we get. So... one must often throw caution to the wind and try something new in the kitchen, especially when we have basic skills down pat. Summer is a perfect time for this with all the fresh veggies and fruits available.
There is an alchemy to the kitchen... a chemistry of food... in which it is important to have a basic knowledge. But that comes a little at a time and hopefully in the kitchen of a parent, grandparent, beloved neighbor, etc. (If one is not fortunate enough to begin learning kitchen basics early, then it is really never too late to learn.) The more we become use to putting food together, the easier it becomes to tweak the ingredients when necessary.
I like to have a good home library of cookbooks available so I can find instruction and inspiration. I look for good cookbooks at library sales and such as well as using Amazon credit once in awhile for books about cooking or gardening (sometimes both together). My taste in cookbooks has changed through the years and my shelves now reflect a combination of books about fresh foods and local cooking as well as my favorite Midwestern, Southern, Mennonite, Amish, etc. cookbooks. Long gone are the gourmet books...
I truly have found that just one or two great recipes from a cookbook pays for the cost in the long run (and most have far more than one or two useful recipes). I usually will look for a cookbook which has been recommended by a friend or blogger whom I respect and I know likes the same kind of recipes I do. Except for library sales, online book sellers do seem to have the best prices.
Of course, now there are so many wonderful food and cooking blogs to learn from that were not available when I was learning to cook (I still am learning, though!). My library also has shelves and shelves of cookbooks available to borrow for two weeks. I have spiral notebooks that I write out recipes in while I have the books at home. If I really like a library cookbook, it goes on my Wish List.
I took various cooking classes as a young wife and they have paid back over and over what ever money was spent on them back then. Knowledge learned cannot be taken away (barring brain injury, of course) and all we know about cooking will come together to help us stretch our budget in the long run.
My local gourmet shop offers classes in all kinds of ethnic cooking, knife skills, tea time cooking, cake design, etc. While I didn't take any of them, I thought they were very reasonably priced. One could learn to make Indian food for the price of a couple restaurant meals.
The more you know about cooking and baking and decorating cakes and gardening and interior design and landscaping and cleaning and sewing and knitting and painting and making stuff with kids and taking care of pets and all those aspects of the job of homemaker... the easier it is to create on a budget.
Good equipment is important to good cooking - I do know our grandmothers were able to get by with a couple good iron skillets (and I do have two sizes of wonderful iron skillets) but I must say when I make a sauce in my All-Clad saucepan... it is heavenly.
My local gourmet kitchen store puts one piece of All-Clad half price each month and I used some of my income from a seasonal job for it a few years ago (when I could still work part-time). I expect it will be in perfect condition for Elisabeth to inherit! I bought a couple nice Cuisinart pans with that same paycheck.
I have really good cookware, knives, etc. mostly because I budgeted for them or asked for certain items at Christmas and for birthdays through the years. Thankfully, for the past few years I've found some great items while thrifting or at garage sales since such expenditures are no longer in the budget.
Cooking with cheap equipment makes as much sense as building a house with tools from the dime store Bad cookware makes bad cooks. Not to mention... a homemaker needs reference books just as an architect or other creative professional. This becomes even more evident as we must make a home in the midst of shortages and rising costs. It can all be done... the building of an excellent cookbook and home making library... a little at a time. :)
Develop new skills - Decide to learn something new, at least once new skill a year! I'm determined to finally use my pressure canner. Re-learning old skills will be like gold in the bank... I'm convinced of it.
Concentrate on the basics and know what is on the shelves - Which means we have to be... ugh... organized. Really, really organized when it comes to our pantry. We need to know what we have and how much and use the oldest dates first. There needs to be a master list (mine is in the Scrapbook Journal) of what we would like to have in our pantry as well as what is essential.
I do not have the ability to keep a deep pantry, anymore. Funds are getting more scarce all the time. So that means knowing the essentials and having them on hand is even more important... such things as flour, sugars, butter (in the freezer), other baking supplies, canned tomatoes, pasta, ingredients for specific casseroles, etc. The essentials will be different for each family, of course.
I was able to think of the chocolate buttercream frosting because I knew I had those ingredients on hand. Having basics on the pantry shelves certainly encourages creativity and sometimes I like to include a few unusual items. That's how I started making middle eastern food... adding tahini and new spices to the pantry.
Deepen the pantry as much as possible - That is, to what extent your family decides to deepen their pantry and what is affordable. But if you get used to a pantry lifestyle, then you begin to notice the cycle of sales and bargains... stocking up on sale! You will save money if nothing else.
However, if there is any emergency... if there is a problem with the the supply line of food... if there is bad weather and shortages... if there is a significant and long term job loss... a deep pantry is insurance you can eat.
Follow the delights of your heart - People come and go from this blog all the time. Numbers go up and down (thankfully up a lot more than down!). I know that the people who read Coffee Tea Books and Me regularly have the same passions that I do about life, Faith, family, friends, books, tea time, etc. but the one subject I hear about the most that people love to read about is... the pantry posts.
I believe that is because God is placing within the hearts of those who will listen (and most often the women in a family) the desire to stock up and learn new skills. There is a reason for that. I'm not sure exactly what it is... it could be the economy or the food shortages due to bad weather or any number of things in the world today... but God is definitely at work in the hearts of like minded people.
If nothing else, I hope you get encouraged to learn all you can and stock up on what is possible and know you are not alone.
Note: This post is being written really, really fast as there is much to do in the real world of cooking and gardening and laundry and making certain Miss Victoria does not get out to chase the squirrels. Please disregard any typos and grammar errors. ;)