Stocking Up On Staples: The Pantry

What do you always have in the house – the “building block basics” you keep stocked in the pantry for those nights when time or inspiration (or both) is lacking?

Having moved from an apartment in Manhattan to a house in Oxfordshire, I find I have considerably more pantry space these days. I also have considerably more cooking going on in the UK than I did in the US thanks to a husband who finds cooking both relaxing and a creative outlet.

As a result the way I food shop has changed. Not just because it’s now shopping for two or shopping in a different country but because a) I have the space to stock up on things in a way I couldn’t before and b) we stock up on things that I, as someone who can cook but doesn’t necessarily embrace it, wouldn’t have considered a basic but rather as a “I am cooking this so I need that” ingredient.

  • Pasta: a basic pantry staple before and still is. We have more space here so we keep a few shapes on hand (spaghetti, shells, fusilli, lasagne, penne) instead of the two (linguine and fusilli) I had kept on hand before.
  • Beans (canned): in Manhattan it was a few cans of cannellini beans (for those nights when garlicky white bean mash was the ONLY thing I could think about). Cannellini beans feature in our pantry now as well but they sit beside quite a few others – butter beans, red kidney beans, haricot beans and chick peas.
  • Spices: As I’ve said, I can cook (in that I can read and therefore follow directions) but I am not a creative cook. I had spices on hand in my apartment because there are a few spices so core, so central that they appear in almost anything and which were great shortcuts when I was just throwing stuff together to keep myself going. Salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, cinnamon, some mustard and some oregano. Oh and a chicken rub. Our spice cabinet these days is much more robust, could send anything in almost any culinary direction and is – to me, not my other half – a bit daunting.
  • Rice: a couple of varieties – white, brown, short grain, long grain.
  • Potatoes:  for mashing, roasting, sliced, dicing, using as a side, in stews, as a fancy crouton substitute. Flexibility thy name is spud.
  • Garlic and onions: they seem to form the basis for just about everything so they are always on hand and kept topped up
  • Tomatoes: canned diced, canned crushed. Tomato paste as well. Fresh tomatoes are purchased every so often as well but when shopping to stock up the log term pantry, canned is the way we go. Fresh might get used up in larger households and make more sense as a staple in that situation. But there’s just two of us so they are an “as needed” thing here.
  • Broth and Soups (canned)
  • Tuna (canned): sure it’s an easy sandwich but it’s also not bad to turn a quick salad into a light entree or give as pasta sauce a bit of a twist.
  • Sauces (jars): cooking sauces as well as pasta sauces.

Obviously we keep sugar, flour, a few cooking oils and vinegars on hand as well as fridge staples like eggs, milk, butter on hand. Also – our house wouldn’t be our house without a really nice block of cheddar around and a few packages of mince in the freezer. But these pantry staples are the things that get quite a substantial share of shelf space at TransAtlantic Towers – in the kitchen and in the extra pantry space in the garage.

What are your ‘go to’ ingredients when you’re planning a meal and that you always keep stocked up in your pantry?

Kitchen Full Of Books

I have a lot of books. I don’t say it to brag or complain. This is just a simple statement of fact. Another statement of fact is that I keep books everywhere.

In the living room – on shelves, table tops and stools. In the bedrooms on night stands, in closets, in bins under the bed. In the hallway (for fear of leaving the house without my keys AND something to read). In the bathroom, those books of trivia and essays one can dip into and set aside without being concerned about when it’ll get finished.

And of course, in the kitchen. (For clarity’s sake I should point out that the beautifully organized kitchen and kitchen books to the right are NOT my kitchen. I dream of such a kitchen. My kitchen and my books are more humble and not quite so fabulously lit). Food writing and culinary arts in one cupboard and cookbooks in the next. What about using all that potential food storage? Please. Food only lasts so long. Books are for a lifetime. There’s also a pile just outside the kitchen that I haven’t found a permanent home for yet… my kitchen library is starting to ooze out of the kitchen. Steps may soon need to be taken.

I don’t have massive piles of cookbooks (for that we must look to my mother – and I may do that one day soon) but I have what I consider to be a goodly pile. There are some classics (Joy of Cooking, Silver Palate, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, among others), some weird ones (Eat Tweet, Unofficial Lazy Slut Cookbook), some well known recent ones (How to Eat, How to Cook Everything, Real Food) and a few I’ve gotten as gifts (including one from someone I am going to assume meant well when they gave me “Cooking for One.”)

In addition to cookbooks, I have an equally treasured pile of books about food – food history, food trivia, food politics, books on other topics by cooks, etc. Books such as Devil’s Cup: A History of the World According to Coffee and the companion In the Devil’s Garden: A Sinful History of Forbidden Food. Classics memoirs and essays from food writers like MKF Fisher (if you haven’t read How to Cook a Wolf you really should and if you can’t find that, get The Art of Eating). Books about foods long forgotten (The Land That Thyme Forgot) and food writers forgotten or never known such as Food of a Younger Land.

I won’t even think about what is going to happen next year when there is every possibility that my own library is going to be merged with that of another book lover and food geek. We’re gonna have some serious logistics to get through.

1001 Must Try Foods? Only 1001?

I am currently pondering the wisdom in compiling a book called 1001 Foods You Must Taste Before You Die. I didn’t call it that – the author did. I don’t know that I could list 1001 foods in the pure sense much less 1001 you HAD. TO. HAVE. BEFORE. YOU. DIE. (presumably of overeating).

I know there is a trend for the 1001 books now and I adore lists of almost all kinds (especially on TV – nothing pleases me more than shows with titles like ‘The Top Ten Ugliest Living Rooms’ or the ‘Top 20 Biggest Celebrity Scandals’). But 1001?  That’s an awful lot and not nearly enough all at the same time. Regardless of whether it is 1001 places, 1001 movies or 1001 foods – there’s only so much time in the day and presumably one isn’t going to give up the day job to get through the list.  And yet, at 1001 items, the list – whether places, movies or food – is also bound to be incomplete. If the topic at hand is robust and substantial enough to support a list 1001 items long without obvious padding, then the likelihood is that it could support a list 10 or 20 times that size and everyone is going to cry foul and declare things left out. Well, I suppose that makes for a good market for sequels. I can see it now: The Other 1001 To Try In What Little Time You Have Left After The First List.

For those of you who like lists, enjoy the structure they give or just list seeing what you’ve already done, seen or tried that they recommend, you may want to look at some of the other 1001 type books on offer such as 1001 Wines You Must Taste Before You Die and 1001 Foods To Die For.

Oh and you know what I said about adding thing to the lists, massive though they may be? Well, Epi-Log has done just that – wisely pointing out that “Most importantly, the book will get you thinking long enough to start composing your own list, which is what any good list is really designed to do.” Thanks to their additions – in the realm of cakes – I am now fixated on red velvet cake. Or more accurately on red velvet cupcakes. The blueberry pancakes may have to wait . . .

ppEven without having thumbed through the book myself (I shall at the first opportunity), I assume it won’t have the things I feel are “must haves” – things like:

  • my mom’s jambalaya
  • the spare ribs at Pig Heaven
  • the frites at Les Halles
  • the porchetta from that little stall on the east side of the Campo di Fiori in Rome
  • the roast chicken at Next Door just north of Chicago

I could go on and on (and probably will – like I said, I love lists). All these things are personal. I think that’s why Epi-log was right. Lists such as the ones in the book are just starting points but they aren’t as much fun as the lists you make yourself and share with friends. Personal lists may not reach the lofty length of 1001 items but they have more – dare I say it – flavor.

What’s on your list?

Stocking the Foodie Bookshelf

Epicurious caught my eye with one of the oldest headline tricks in the book today. The old “top items list” stratagem. This time it was Top 20 Essential Wine Books.

I don’t even care particularly about wine and I felt compelled to look. Sure, it might be my love of all things bibliocentric but it’s partially because I love Top Ten Lists, Top 20 Lists, “Best of” shows etc. Imagine my glee when I saw that they had put this post together as a sequel or response to one from last week (while I was still on tidbit hiatus) called The 20 Essential Cookbooks. Now, I know our own Fabulous Foodie has strong feelings on the top cookbooks, the must haves etc. So I was thrilled to see this and look forward to what Fab has to say.

  • American Cookery (1996), James Beard
  • Authentic Mexican: Regional Cooking from the Heart of Mexico (2007), Rick Bayless
  • Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook (2004)
  • Classic Indian Cooking (1980), Julie Sahni
  • Complete Techniques (2001), Jacques Pepin and Leon Pererr
  • Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking (1995), Marcella Hazan
  • How to Cook Everything: Simple Recipes for Great Food (2006), Mark Bittman
  • The Joy of Cooking (2006), Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker
  • The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion: The All-Purpose Baking Cookbook (2003)
  • Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Desserts (1999), Maida Heatter
  • Martha Stewart’s Hors d’Oeuvres Handbook (1999), Martha Stewart
  • Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume One (2001), Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck
  • The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking: Techniques and Recipes (1996) Barbara Tropp
  • The New Food Lover’s Companion (2007), Sharon Tyler Herbst
  • The Oxford Companion to Wine (2007), Jancis Robinson
  • Rick Stein’s Complete Seafood (2004), Rick Stein
  • The Silver Palate Cookbook (2007), Sheila Lukins and Julie Rosso
  • The Thrill of the Grill: Techniques, Recipes, and Down-Home Barbecue (2002), Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby
  • Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone (2007), Deborah Madison
  • The Way to Cook (1993), Julia Child

My own view: I was SHOCKED to see Nigella’s How to Eat: The Pleasures and Principles of Good Food not among the list (it’s frankly one of the best BOOKS over all in my opinion much less cookbook) but equally shocked to see the 2006 edition of Joy of Cooking. Not that the 2006 Joy is a hideous edition (that would the 1997 edition) but it’s certainly no 1975 edition, widely considered to be the best. I will say with complete prejudice however that the index for the 2006 edition is the best index of any edition produced to date. What? I said with complete prejudice. Can I help it if a project lands on my desk?

What books do you think belong on the foodie shelf? Cookbooks or otherwise.