This time of year the mind turns to new year’s resolutions. I somehow want to do things that I have been wanting to do for a while. I start thinking about how I can make my classes more engaging. I make some new teaching materials. I read more about every aspect of baking and pastry. But I do a lot of things around the kitchen to make it easier to prepare food.
Do you want to see in my pantry?
I am privileged to be an owner of a very special peninsula in my kitchen. Most peninsulas have doors on one side and you fill them from that side. But when we were taking delivery on our condo back 19 years ago now, they asked us on which side we wanted the doors. Margie and I looked at each other and without missing a beat said: both! Over the years we have just filled it up with no real order to where things go. Oh sure, things just sort of find their way to one side or another. But last night I decided to have a go at organizing it again. In the process, I realized that I have 4 quadrants to play with. I also found a lot of good food that I have not used in a while. Don’t worry, it’s mostly cans and bottles of prepared food. It’s not like I put produce down there. But it was a real mess. Things were falling out as I opened the doors.
We used to watch a show called “Clean Sweep” and one of the premises of the show was to properly clean a space, you must first take everything out of it. I have always employed that idea in organizing my kitchen. Once I took everything out of the peninsula, I found that I have several well defined categories of food stored there.
- Vinegars and Oils
- Pasta and Noodles
- Spices and Herbs
- Beans and Soups
You may have your peninsula/island/pantry laid out differently than I do but we all have our go-to foods. Since I have four quadrants, I separated all the foods into these categories. Some foods I knew were in there. There were the boxes of Barilla pasta. I used to keep 20 and now there were 7. I have cut way back on starchy foods. I found a couple of packages of glass noodles that I never used in a Thai dish from long ago. There were several different kinds of beans: black, great northern, refried, garbanzo, prepared mesquite baked beans. I found soup that I don’t eat. I asked my wife where it had come from and she had no idea either. Some got saved and the rest got donated. Mixed in with all this is canned fish, canned tomatoes and sundry other prepared items like marinated artichokes. And of course there’s the vegetarian chili. I’m sure you’re asking why a chef who’s not a vegetarian buy vegetarian chili. Well, I’ll let you in on a secret. I like to add my own protein to the prepared chili. I can make it any flavor I like. Plus I add so many adjustments when I have chili, it’s not the same product anymore.
Finding Vinegar is Sweet!
Moving to the other side I found all kinds of vinegar. I find that vinegar is one of those things I can add to almost any food to make it more interesting to me. It may not be for everyone but I love it. I have rice, cider, malt and balsamic (3 different types). There was even one hight end vinegar; a gift of long ago. It was in a long narrow bottle with a cork top. It’s so old that it has become somewhat syrupy. I have often bought balsamic syrups for my caprese salads. I can’t wait to use it on some tomatoes and basil. There’s oils as well. I use olive oil almost exclusively to cook with but I enjoy adding some sesame oil or hazelnut oil to add some flavor. I even found some walnut oil. Nut oils can add some very subtle flavor to dishes. Be careful not to buy too much. They go rancid within a few months.
Lastly, there were the spices and spice blends. I know I should make my own, but sometimes the prepared ones are just too good to pass up. I love my bacon molasses spice blend. You have to use it sparingly or it’s a little overpowering. My brother and sister-in-law gave me spice blends from Penzey’s in Pennsylvania. They’re mainly for grilling but I think I might be able to use them for dry rubs. As I went through all the parts of the peninsula, I threw out a lot of things that I hadn’t used in a very long time or if ever. I hated to waste items but when you haven’t touched a certain hot sauce in 3 years, you’re probably not going to ever. It was fun going through the cabinets discovering foods I had forgotten about. The next few weeks should be interesting. My poor wife.