Saturday, July 12, 2014

Living the Pantry Lifestyle - The importance of knowing how to cook

You know I believe in stocking a pantry as much as you 1) can afford, and 2) are led to do.  In my case I have a much smaller pantry than I did at one time but I make certain there are basic foods I can use in a pinch.

Which is what happened at our Fourth of July party when two of the attendees had to work at the job of moving so I said I'd make two extra side dishes so they could concentrate on packing before our get together... just two hours before everyone was expected.

It took a very short time to "throw together" a couple more dishes from the pantry and frig. They were baked beans made from a couple large cans of Bush's Baked Beans with added chopped onion to bake until nice and bubbly and my new favorite cole slaw recipe.  Yes, that recipe is... here.  (You can shred your own cabbage and carrots for the recipe but I find cole slaw mix packages are very inexpensive in my area and when one deals with fatigue, one loves inexpensive but healthy shortcuts.)

Later I was thinking how one can have a very deep pantry and not use much of it if they do not know how to cook from scratch.  Not to mention the more you know how to cook, the easier it is to be creative in the kitchen.  For instance, I found the vinaigrette for the cole slaw recipe in a cookbook but the other ingredients were what I had on hand in the frig and pantry the first time I made it.

Now, part of that comes from being a Pantry Person and trying to think ahead of various possibilities.  In this case, I had purchased an extra bag of cole slaw mix (shredded carrots and cabbage) just in case I decided to add slaw to the menu and I always try to have a few cans of baked beans on the pantry shelves.

On a more overall plan, I like to think ahead of what we need seasonally and adjust the pantry list as needed.  For instance, during the summer months I purchase a bag of small red potatoes and a bag of small Yukon gold potatoes as they are more functional for my summer menus.  Come autumn, I begin to use more root veggies overall and tend to use Idaho potatoes to quarter, larger carrots to slice into chunks, etc. for roasting.

In hotter weather, I make certain there are at least a couple boxes of good quality chicken stock in the pantry.  Why the summer?  Because in the winter I make soup from whole chickens at least once a week so I often have homemade broth during those months. I use the boxed chicken stock as a flavor base for cooking grains, veggies, etc.

At one time, a young woman went into marriage knowing the basics of cooking from scratch.  Most would have grown up helping prepare food and most likely knew the secret ingredients in the pasta sauce or what made the cookies so chewy and soft.   She probably had at least one or two classes in Home Economics in school; taking with her the teacher's favorite recipes, tips, and techniques.

One cannot be creative in the kitchen without basic skills and they certainly have a more difficult time cooking frugally without them.  There is nothing like having to stretch that dollar until it squeaks to make a creative cook!

I was reading an interesting article* recently by an organic farmer called Joel Salatin.  He was asked a question about how low income urban people could eat like those on a farm and I thought his answer interesting:

"Get in your kitchen. We eat almost no processed food. Preparation, processing, packaging and preserving of whole foods occurs in the home. The junkiest potato chips are still twice as expensive per pound as the most expensive organic whole potatoes.  Abdicating our visceral participation with food is both expensive and risky."

How can those of us in urban areas, and especially those who are low-income, eat as close as possible to how you would on your farm?
1.  Get in your kitchen. We eat almost no processed food. Preparation, processing, packaging and preserving of whole foods occurs in the home. The junkiest potato chips are still twice as expensive per pound as the most expensive organic whole potatoes.  Abdicating our visceral participation with food is both expensive and risky. Use modern culinary techno-gadgetry to re-acquaint yourself with food.
2.  Grow something yourself. Whether it’s a rooftop, lawn, or patio container garden, you can re-connect with your ecological umbilical. Each household should have two chickens to eat kitchen scraps and lay eggs; these are far more valuable than a cat or dog.
3.  Purchase directly from farmers. View the supermarket as a bad addiction. You simply cannot abdicate an understanding about food as profoundly as our culture has and expect to maintain food integrity. Complete ignorance on the consumers’ part creates vulnerabilities to shyster marketing, corner cutting, and dishonorable business practices.
- See more at:
I would agree entirely... get back in the kitchen!  As a society, many have lost the connection with food by having someone else process it between growing and eating.  Basic cooking is very easy and even more complicated dishes are usually not that hard when a recipe is followed step by step.

My granddaughter, Elisabeth, is twelve and already a superb baker.  Her mom just told me she has now made "Grammie's famous chocolate chip cookies" all by herself.  But she has learned from helping her mom the past few years.  I buy her recipe books for her birthdays including all three of The Pioneer Woman's cookbooks, which are good for new cooks since there are step by step photos.

I have found I never stop learning good cooking techniques as well as great recipes.  Good cooks realize there is always something they don't know that can make their cooking even better.  Good cooks also know experience is a great teacher so if they fail, they try again.  My first loaf of bread left much to be desired!

Also, being a Pantry Person... I look for recipes using items I like to keep in the pantry.   Especially if they can save me money.  My husband now likes my basic vinaigrette for his salads better than Newman's Own Original and all I did was add a pinch of kosher salt and pepper to the vinegar and oil he used.  I mentioned recently learning to add just a teaspoon of Italian spice blend to vinegar and oil to make a great vinaigrette (much cheaper than buying one of those little packages!).

A good cook knows adding a pinch of salt may be all that is needed to enhance flavor and that some items (potatoes and pasta) absolutely require extra salt.  Watch what the professional cooks use on TV.  They use kosher salt or sea salt (I use both) and never table salt (the kind in the deep blue box we grew up with).  They grind their pepper with a pepper grinder and never shake it from a can.  Little things make a cook great.

The area we lived in Detroit was a suburb that had a lot of Greek restaurants.  I learned there that adding the juice of half a lemon to chicken soup just before serving takes it over the top (and my lemon orzo soup gets an entire squeezed lemon).  This Midwestern cook had never heard of such a thing!

All this to say... store in your pantry what you eat... learn to be a good cook... if you are already a good cook, try something new once in awhile, especially good pantry items.  Currently I'm working with dried garbanzo beans (chickpeas) since I was given a box of them. 

Of course, this is also the time of year here in the USA to do some canning!  The original pantry item.  :)

*Article:  Following Christ as a Lunatic Grass Farmer.
Joel Salatin


Rebecca said...

Catching up with you...
Your porch (and menu) for the 4th look/sounded great!
The book's chapters titles are great reminders in themselves, and
THIS post is right on - about knowing how to cook. I'm not the world's greatest, but am not afraid to experiment. More often than not, I work "free-style", suing ingredients I have on hand. The special dishes/desserts, etc. I take to public functions are more recipe-true though...

Thickethouse.wordpress said...

What a great article. I smiled when I read about Elizabeth's baking her "Grammies famous chocolate chip cookies". My granddaughters are still a bit too young to do this, but both of their parents enjoy cooking so I know it will come....

I also smiled about the Home Ec comments. I had four years of Home Ec and the sewing classes taught me so much more than the cooking classes. I think we hardly advanced much beyond cinnamon toast in those! They could and should have been so much better! However, I was lucky enough to grow up in a culture where it was taken for granted that most people would cook their own food from scratch. I think more and more people are doing this today, and you-tube is such a wonderful learning resource! So, there is always hope!

Vee said...

Hmmm...gotta love a good can or two of Bush baked beans with a little doctoring. My doctoring includes not only onions, but a pat of butter. I also use a similar cole slaw dressing except that I cook it on the stove top to thicken it, allow it to cool, then pour it over the slaw. Good to know that with your method there's no delay!

Deanna Rabe - Creekside Cottage Blog said...

I do cook from scratch, but I love to learn new things. I am going to use your lemon trick in my chicken soup this fall. (I never make soup in the summer) Also I love trying new recipes and new seasonings, etc. It is learning to season foods that make even a simple meal wonderful!


Deb J. in Utah said...

I agree. We need to be willing to spend the time in our kitchens to help our families eat healthier. Thanks for this inspiration. This is something I need to do much better at.

Anonymous said...

Totally agree with your post. I was listening to a talk radio program the other day about what you do with leftover food in your fridge. I was appalled at what people said they threw out and why. After a while I realized that it's probably because no one knows how to cook from scratch anymore. Cooking is far from being my favourite thing to do, but I'm happy when I use up things in creative and tasty ways. Everyone should know how to make and "Everlasting Meal"!

suzanne said...

great post. You are so right about getting IN the kitchen....physically and mentally i think. And I smiled at the mention of Bush baked beans. They are a staple in my pantry, as my husband thinks every entree should be accompanied by baked beans as a side dish. I also doctor them,,usually with brown sugar, a dash or two of dry mustard or regular mustard, and top 'em with bacon. Learning to be a decent cook is a lifelong endeavor. thanks for reminding us!

kathluvscats said...

1521Even if you aren't a fan of cooking from scratch or canning (canning or blanching in the summer is HOT), you can still doctor foods using in-season produce and spices. If you don't want to bake looking for specials and stocking up can help. Some fruits can be frozen very easily (grapes, berries). My SO views gardening as a hobby and aside from a few basics does not want to go full-on into gardening. We could we do things more cheaply, but unless and until we have to this a workable compromise for us. Just like Brenda is always saying, just do what is comfortable and you can live with. This is wordy because sometimes blogs (not you Brenda) infer that if you do not can, cook everything from scratch, sew, garden, shear your own sheep, make your own soap etc. you are doing it all wrong.

Anonymous said...

Your granddaughter is a lucky girl. By the time she is grown up she will have a fabulous cookbook library.

I like the Pioneer Woman cookbooks too. Her recipes are realistic-who has time for fancy cooking.

You're right. Home cooking is better, cheaper and healthier.

Manuela@A Cultivated Nest said...

Joel Salatin is an interesting guy! I've watched several YouTube videos about Polyface Farms.

When I got married I didn't know how to cook, so I had to teach myself. I love all cooking show competitions like Masterchef etc - I always learn something new and I'm amazed at what they can make in an hour!