It is said that if you’re at home, cooking is a way to nurture yourself, learn things and stay active. Have you peeked into the house and seen Mama and I, with our purple Tu-tus doing demi-pliers? With or without a tutu, we find music, some form of dancing, wine and cooking very therapeutic, it puts your brain to work and while you are focusing on measurements, chopping or ingredients of cooking, it takes away other worries you may have. Cooking uses all your senses, it puts you in the moment of things without effort. It can be tempting to gorge on whatever junk food you managed to stock up, especially when you’re at home for long periods of time, but filling up on healthier versions of foods at mealtime can help you resist the urge to snack. Where it’s important to schedule actual mealtimes, the food you prepare is what will keep you healthy.

Worried you don’t have enough ingredients on hand to make a delicious meal or snack, you’d be surprised what you can whip up with just a handful of ingredients from your pantry. A well stocked pantry can be a lifesaver especially when a grocery run is nearly impossible. Hopefully you have covered your bases with basic ingredients. With proper storage, most will keep their flavor and nutrition allowing you to focus on other pressing needs.

If you dabble in the kitchen, you could already be armed with an arsenal of spices that can amp up the flavor of anything from the pantry. Mixing and mashing spices together, making your own blend based on any flavor profile can put you ahead of the flavor curb.

This is where your can opener can become a very good friend as well, your most secret ingredient can come from the selections of cans in your pantry. I know cooking with fresh is always better, you don’t have to tell me twice, but folks, we’re in the middle of a pandemic, it’s time to use your stock and dance a little more. Grabbing dried pasta and a few cans and scavenging your fridge, you can pack a lot of flavor with minimal attention for a simple, fresh and super fast entree.

This virus, has put all of us under the cover of our roof, and yet this may bring out the best in us. Do you know how many closets will be cleaned out? Movie binges without feeling guilty, or that stack of books that you would read one day, and those recipes you have always wanted to try….what about those craft boxes collecting dust now becoming an important part of your day, I’m thinking, how about that baby boom in 9 months?

Stephanie Chu-O’Neil

Our most common pantry items:

Rice: Stored in a cool dry place in an airtight container, rice will keep indefinitely. Brown rice will not keep as long and will give off a rancid odor when spoiled.

Dried pasta: an unopened box of pasta can keep up to several years past it’s printed date. Once opened, it should be stored in an airtight container to prolong it’s life considering there is no bugs or off odor.

Oats: This versatile grain can be eaten as cereal, made into granola, grounded into flour, baked in various forms and will keep indefinitely, with proper storage.

Lentils: Excellent source of Vitamin B for energy, is a plant based protein, high in fiber and nutrient content like iron, zinc and potassium. Again, storage is valuable.

Powdered milk: Will keep forever under proper storage, used in deserts, baked goods and soups when you’re in a pinch.

Low Acid canned goods: Beets, white beans, carrots, corn, beans, potatoes. These will keep for 2-5 years according to USDA, just discard when they show signs of rusting and bulging, this is when unsavory organisms are working hard.

Jerky: Once on the pricey side, considered a special treat in the emergency pile, unopened, commercially processed it can last for several years, but once opened should be eaten within a few days.

Dark Chocolate: When it comes to hoarding chocolate-go dark-70% or higher, it will last for years. Avoiding milk based or white which will spoil faster.

Honey: Because it has low moisture content, it makes it extremely uninhabitable for bacteria to be active in, pretty much lasting forever.

Sugar: While brown and white sugar won’t go bad, both will harden without proper storage. There is many ways to soften it, one: use airtight containers which will keep it’s integrity as well, second: bake in a low oven (200*) for 15 minutes, three: place a slice of bread in the container.

Vinegar: This high acidity product extends the life of canned and pickled foods so it makes sense that it is basically self-preserving and will last forever.

Dried beans: Same nutritional value as lentils, they make real hearty meals possible when you have no other option, though they take longer to get tender in the cooking process, they keep for several years when stored properly.

Salt: Although not edible on it’s own, it makes food taste, well, more like real food. Stock up so you don’t run out, it will last forever and ever and it is known for many other uses.

Hard Liquor: Unopened bottles of liquor like brandy, gin, tequila and vodka have indefinite expiration values. Once opened, it slowly begins to loose their flavor after time but hey, still safe and delish to drink.

So I could also tell you about using “Marinara, 50 ways”, or how you should store canned tomatoes, paste, canned meats to carry you through. Opening a can is inexpensive and versatile. Homemade soups always end up a greater option to using your cans. This used with refrigerator staples, your basics can become a satisfying meal.

Pasta Fagioli: A big fancy name for a quick put together pot simmering on the stove top. Adding small-tube shaped pasta to a hearty broth, with garlic, a can of diced tomatoes, white beans, spinach and a mire-poix mix. Using the same items, instead of the pasta, use boxed or frozen Tortellini for Spinach Tortellini soup, or go Tex-Mex with pinto beans, 1 cup of white rice instead, a can of corn and a healthy dose of cumin and oregano and you have a T-M tortilla soup.

Senate Bean and Potato Soup: With a lot of politicians in the spotlight, I read that there was a Senate Cafeteria at the “big house” in DC. This sparked my curiosity. Today, this soup is featured on the menu and served daily.

Ingredients:

1-2 # ham, preferably a bone-in. Great use of that Easter ham, (Yes, Mr. Massey)

1 # dried navy beans

3 large Russet potatoes, peeled and quartered

2-3 cups of Mire-poix, (consisting of 2 cloves of garlic, 1 large onion chopped, 3 celery stalks, chopped, 2-3 carrots, peeled and diced)

S&P, ½ cup milk, 2 tbs butter, chopped parsley

1. Put beans in a large bowl and cover with 3X the volume of water and soak overnight. Drain and transfer beans to large dutch oven, add the ham bone, 10 cups of water, bring to boil, then simmer for 1-1 ½ hours or cook to tender.

2. Remove ham, set aside, meanwhile cook potatoes in a med. pan, seasoned with salt, until tender. Chop and dice ham. When potatoes are cooked, drain, reserving liquid, add milk, ½ the butter and coarsely mash, then add to beans, with the ham.

3. In a skillet, cook in remaining butter, mire-poix until translucent, about 10-12 minutes. Season with S&P, add to bean pot, heat to low boil and simmer for 30 minutes. If too thick add 1 or 2 cups of potato reserve water. Season to taste.

Using leftover chicken, these little pot pies are a great second day meal to make start to finish in a little more than half an hour, and you’ll be pleased with the end results.

Mini Pot Pie Makes 3 (1 pie per serving)

Refrigerated pie dough

1/8 tsp. Salt 2 tbsp flour 1 tsp. Sage

¼ tsp. Salt ¼ tsp. Black pepper 8 oz. chopped chicken

1 ¼ cup water 1 ½ cup mixed vegetable

1 ½ c diced potatoes 1 cup mire-poix

2 cans creamed chicken soup ½ milk (finish)

Directions:

1. Cut dough in circles of baking ramekin/bakeware. Place dough circles on a well greased cookie sheet, pierce top with a fork, spray crust and sprinkle with salt. Bake at 425* for 8-10 minutes.

2. Combine flour, sage, ¼ salt and pepper, add chicken, toss to cover.

3. Microwave potato chunks until tender, in a large skillet, cook the mire-poix until tender, add the chicken and lightly brown, add potatoes and water, stir well and bring to boil to blend your flavors. Add soup, stirring, simmer for 15 minutes. Spoon mixture into grease ramekins, top each with crust circle. Keep warm.

Be creative folks. Happy fooding! Happy pantry-ing!

As always, your love, comments and suggestions are most welcomed!

[email protected] and the last words…~A recipe has no soul. You, as the cook, must bring soul to the recipe.~Thomas Keller.

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