I have a friend who can’t sleep at night if she has less money in the bank than she’ll need to cover 6 months of expenses. I, on the other hand, can’t sleep at night when we run out of penne pasta.
Not when we run out of pasta, mind you. That is a circumstance I can not even fathom. I literally can’t imagine what would be going on in the world that would result in my allowing myself to run out of pasta. Robot invaders, maybe?
And the thing is we don’t even eat that much pasta. I just happen to be a woman who likes a well-stocked pantry. “Likes” may not be a strong enough word here, but you get the idea.
I have no idea where this weird quirk of mine came from. My Mama thinks I must have been poor and gone hungry in a previous life. Maybe so, but you can be damned sure I’ve never gone hungry in this one.
Here are a couple of things you should know before you judge me:
1. Most of the time I would rather eat my own cooking than go out. Someone should be benefitting from all that money my ex-husband spent on Culinary School, right? (Thanks, Steve!)
2. Erin and Paige receive room and board as part of there compensation.
3. Although we are just three women living here, farm chores make you hungry. And believe me when I say that those two tiny girls can eat!
In addition to copious amounts of flour (unbleached and whole wheat), sugar, brown sugar and Kosher salt, here’s my list of essentials.
Every once in a while I’ll wish I had lived in Sense and Sensibility era but then I remember that they didn’t have canned tomatoes or ziplock bags. Canned tomatoes might be the most important invention of all time. I am being deadly serious. I buy Diced, Whole, Sauce and Paste at Costco in 8 or 12 packs of cans.
It is a cruel fact of life that, in spite of my Southern pedigree, I can’t make biscuits. Lord knows I have tried! There is not one fool-proof recipe that I haven’t screwed up. Which is why I have such an enduring fondness for Southern Biscuit Original Restaurant Style Biscuit Mix Formula L. [I don't know why the Formula L.] I have reason to believe that it’s only sold in the South but it’s 100% worth the drive if you care at all about biscuits like I do.
Dried beans really are a world better than canned but they are also a PITA when you’re trying to make dinner on a weeknight. But I’m going to let you in on a little secret that will blow your mind: You can soak beans, drain off the excess liquid and freeze them for future use. This is my new favorite trick and the beans suffer not one iota in the process.
Polenta-in-a-tube doesn’t hold a candle to real polenta but it’s good enough for everyday dinners when you’re sick of pasta and rice. We keep it mostly for breakfasts- saute polenta slices until crispy and top with a fried egg and pesto or tomato sauce.
Pasta of many shapes and sizes. As you can see I don’t have a preference as to brand; I stock up with whatever is on sale.
Ounces for ounce, Dried Mushrooms pack more flavor in a small space than almost anything else. Great for whomping up a weak sauce.
The Three Horsemen of the Baking Apocalypse. Keep these on hand and you’ll never want for cookies.
Speaking of baking, why oh why would anybody ever buy just one pound of butter? I mean, it freezes beautifully and you know you’re going to need butter again, right? I stock up when it’s on sale. Always unsalted. I do the same with cream cheese and whipping cream.
Speaking of the freezer, as you might have guessed, we have a large one. Not huge or anything- I think it’s 12 cubic feet?- but it plays a key part in my being able to leave the farm as little as possible.
But I’m getting ahead of myself with all this freezer talk. Back in the pantry I always have a 20 pound bag of Royal Basmati Rice from Costco. It’s wicked cheap and the best, most consistent rice I’ve ever used. I also keep couscous, wild rice and boil-in-bag brown rice on hand. Right now we also have quinoa but I don’t use it often. I can’t keep more than a couple of pounds of potatoes and sweet potatoes because they seem to get soft and eye-y so quickly, but I’ve heard that keeping them in a wooden box buried under some sand extends their life, so someday I might try that. Of course we always have 10 or so pounds of onions, loads of fresh garlic and shallots. (I never knew how crucial shallots are to fine cooking until I went to Culinary School.)
We eat a good bit of oatmeal using the rice cooker method I wrote about last winter- I always buy whole oats, never Quick or Instant.
I like to have a large container of cooking Olive Oil and another smaller bottles of Extra Virgin Olive Oil for dressing salads- NOT FOR COOKING. It drives me nuts when tv chefs recommend Extra Virgin for cooking with because all of the subtle nuances that make it Extra Virgin are destroyed with heating and it’s more expensive. I also keep canola oil on hand but use it very little, and a couple of specialty oils like Walnut and Grape, although we don’t really use them enough to justify the expense. Oil goes rancid so quickly so you should never buy more than you think you’ll use fairly quickly. Vinegar wise I have cheap, grocery store Balsamic (which isn’t really Balsamic at all, but whatever), really good, aged Balsamic, a good white wine or Champagne vinegar and one or two other specialty vinegars for mixing salad dressings. Right now I think I have sherry vinegar and raspberry. Of course we also have plain ole white and apple cider as well. Oh, and shortening for making cookies.
EDITED TO ADD: Totally forgot another great trick I learned in Culinary School. Keep a bottle of Sherry- NOT COOKING SHERRY- and a bottle of Maderia in your pantry at all times. You can use them as a substitute for white and red wines (respectively) in recipes for more intensity of flavor. And because they are fortified wines, they’re shelf stable and last forever. Much more convenient than opening a bottle of wine when you only need half a cup for your stew or whatever.
We also have an ample supply of peanut butter- which can save a hungry person- and Nutella, pancake mix for Sundays, a couple of boxes olives, “emergency” cake mix and some “thin and crispy” premade pizza crusts for last minute dinners.
And of course, there’s a whole shelf devoted entirely to ingredients for my granola: coconut, various kinds of nuts, dried cranberries and blueberries, etc. (I am working on a recipe to convert the granola into granola bars. I’ll let you know when it’s ready.)
Now, back to the freezer. I keep it stocked with all the usual stuff: whole chickens- because Roast Chicken is my go-to comfort food, a couple of roasts and loins and loads and loads of homemade chicken stock.
In fact, I could probably live without the extra freezer if it wasn’t for the chicken stock. I use Nigella Lawson’s method of stock-making, basically saving all the chicken bones whenever we have chicken in a ziplock bag in the freezer until I have a lot and then making several gallons of stock at a time. I do the same with vegetable scraps, throwing onion skins and end pieces as well as celery and carrots scraps, mushrooms stems, etc in a ziplock till it’s full. When I have five or six full bags I make vegetable stock.
There are a couple of super cool thing we’ve started doing with our big freezer. One is buying four or five baguettes from the bakery at a time and freezing them so that we always have good bread for dinner. I just grab one out of the freezer and put it in a hot over for 5 or 6 minutes just before we eat.
Also, whenever I make cookie dough now I scoop out the dough on a cookie sheet and put the whole thing in the freezer overnight. In the morning I toss all the dough scoops into a ziplock and label it with the baking instructions on the bag. That way Erin and Paige can make one or two cookies whenever they want one without us having a ton of fattening desserty stuff sitting around tempting me.
The freezer also comes in handy when things like bacon go on sale, cause let me tell you, these girls can eat some bacon!
As for the regular fridge, my staples are celery and carrots for making mirepoix (which nearly everything starts with), lots of kind of of cheese for grilled cheese sandwiches, quesadillas, mac and cheese and snacks, tortillas, 2% milk that no one drinks and I keep vowing to stop buying, lemons and limes, really good prepared pesto and salad greens.
And that, in a nut shell, is everything. I hope I haven’t bored you to tears with this exhaustive look inside my pantry. If you have any questions just leave them in the comments and I’ll try to answer them in this post.