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A Self-Sheltering Pantry

As we approach week 10 of self-sheltering, I started to contemplate the future in terms of preparedness. I’m hardly a conspiracy theorist, nor am I a doom and gloom kind of person. I am however a planner. My father used to instruct, “Fail to plan, plan to fail.” After being caught off-guard during the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, I wanted to create a pantry that would sustain us if the predictions of a ‘second wave’ come to fruition this fall and upcoming winter. The idea is to have provisions for a 4 month stay-at-home if necessary.

At the beginning of my recent cookbook Twisted Basics: Laugh, Cook, Eat! I have a section called A Well-Stocked Pantry. It was an attempt to combine a balance between fresh and convenience. When approaching non-growing seasons (late fall and winter) and the desire to leave the confines of our homes as little as possible, it’s important to take a closer look at what to have on hand for our families.

Before I get into this, the other point I want to make is the same one I make in my cookbook: cooking together creates intimacy and better relationships. After all, if we need to self-shelter, why not focus on the upside which is obviously more time. During our current episode, I’ve taken up bread baking. I have been intimidated by the mere thought of it for decades. To my surprise, I couldn’t be more pleased with the results! Whether you live together as a couple, or have children, cooking together has enormous potential to add richness to your life. Sitting down together to a meal prepared with your own hands, rather than opening a box gives you the satisfaction of making mealtime more meaningful. Cooking done with care is an act of love.

The following suggestions for a Self-Sheltering Pantry are by no means exclusive; feel free to adjust them to your family’s needs and/or preferences. Quantities should be adjusted for the number of your family members. A note about the cost of products; if income is limited, focus on non-perishable items first. For example, rice, dried beans, pasta and frozen and/or canned vegetables will give you the biggest bang for your buck! I would also consider discovering water-bath canning to take advantage of the fresh produce available during the summer months. I put up roasted tomato sauce, whole paste tomatoes, Asian pear sauce and chutney, pickled beets, tomato juice and cherry tomato soup. The quality of home-canned products is wonderful, and you get the added satisfaction of doing it for your family.

When we think about refrigerator basics it’s important to keep in mind that the goal is to leave our homes as little as possible. This means that milk, and buttermilk for example should be powdered rather than fresh. I use half and half in my coffee, so I would switch to evaporated milk. These are the kind of choices that will allow you to stay safe in your home as much as possible. Certain aged cheeses have a long shelf-life so consider Parmesan, Pecornio, cheddar and/or Jarlsberg.

  1. Plain yogurt, both regular and Greek (these products are good long after their fresh dates)

  2. Unsalted butter (you can freeze butter without issue to extend its shelf life)

  3. Aged cheeses (should not be frozen, but shredded cheese can be frozen)

  4. Eggs

  5. Jarred pesto

  6. Carrots

  7. Celery (consider chopping and freezing this vegetable to extend its shelf-life)

  8. Citrus (lemons, limes and oranges) the zest is as beneficial as the juice

Let’s think about freezer basics. We want to remember that vegetables in frozen bags are preferable to boxes, as you remove the quantity you need and re-freeze. I prefer frozen vegetables to canned, but there are times that stores run quantity prices on canned, so be a smart shopper. Also, if you make your own stock, this too can be frozen, so do not throw away those roasted chicken carcasses! Consider what animal protein your family prefers and stock up on them during the summer. A note about meat: due to the current issues with commercial processing plants, you might consider purchasing from your local farmer that offers beef, pork, lamb and/or poultry

  1. Frozen vegetables (corn, broccoli, spinach, hash browns, peas)

  2. Frozen berries

  3. Bacon

  4. Animal protein of your choice

  5. Sausage in bulk (such as Italian or breakfast)

  6. Smoked sausage

  7. Pizza crusts (homemade pizza is sooo much better than pre-made)

On to canned and jarred items. Even though I water-bath can a ton of tomatoes, I also have commercial canned tomatoes and beans on hand. We cook so much with these items I need the quantity. Although I do have canned beans on hand, I am an advocate for dried beans. They have a very long shelf-life, and once you learn how to cook them you will be amazed at the difference in quality. Many broths and stocks now come in cartons rather than cans. I purchase stock rather than broth due to the sodium content. Keep in mind how easy it is to make your own stock for pennies.

  1. Canned tomatoes (whole, diced fire-roasted and crushed)

  2. Tomato paste

  3. Stock

  4. Beans (cannellini, chickpeas, black beans, kidney)

  5. Roasted red peppers

  6. Olives (Kalamata and green)

  7. Full fat coconut milk (for curries and soups)

When we think about grains and/or legumes we can think in a much more expansive way, as their shelf-life in almost indefinite. I’m a cookbook collector, but the internet is loaded with recipes using any of these suggestions. Don’t be afraid to try new recipes and ideas. Food even during a pandemic can be an adventure.

  1. Quick cooking polenta

  2. Stone-ground cornmeal

  3. Oats

  4. Jasmine and brown rice

  5. Arborio rice for risottos

  6. Pearl barley

  7. Lentils (green, brown and red)

  8. Beans! (black, chickpea, kidney, pinto)

  9. Wild rice

  10. Dried pastas (spaghetti, penne, rigatoni, fettuccine, lasagna & orzo)

  11. Plain dried bread crumbs

  12. Quinoa

  13. Grits

I had to laugh the other day when I realized when I did my Well Stocked Pantry in my new cookbook, that I neglected baking supplies! I’ve always considered myself a cook, not a baker. However, since my foray into bread baking started, these ingredients are indeed paramount!

  1. All-purpose flour

  2. Bread flour

  3. Yeast

  4. Baking soda

  5. Non-aluminum baking powder

  6. Cane sugar

  7. Brown sugar

  8. Honey

  9. Pure maple syrup

  10. Salt

  11. Ghee (clarified butter)

  12. Powdered milk

  13. Powdered buttermilk

  14. Canned condensed milk

  15. Cocoa

Now we are onto oils, vinegar’s, condiments and flavorings. These are unique to the way each of us eats. None the less, they are important items to have on hand for flavor enhancement for many dishes. You decide which are important to you.

  1. Olive oil

  2. Vegetable or avocado oil

  3. Dijon mustard (both fine and coarse)

  4. Mayonnaise

  5. Anchovies

  6. Ketchup

  7. Worcestershire sauce

  8. Barbeque sauce

  9. Dried herbs (dill, thyme, sage, oregano, Italian seasoning blend, bay leaves)

  10. Spices (such as chili powder, cumin, cinnamon sticks, ground cinnamon, curry powder, ground mustard, ground ginger, nutmeg, paprika, crushed red pepper flakes, cayenne pepper, black pepper)

  11. Toasted sesame oil

  12. Capers (I personally cannot live without them)

  13. Vinegar (balsamic, red-wine, white-wine, apple cider, rice and sherry)

  14. Asian condiments: soy sauce, fish sauce, mirin, oyster sauce, gochujang sauce

Let’s consider what nuts, seeds and dried fruit to keep on hand. Consider using them in baked goods, salads and stews. They add interest, flavor and contrast.

  1. Pecans

  2. Walnuts

  3. Almonds

  4. Raisins (regular and/or golden)

  5. Dried apricots

  6. Sun-dried tomatoes

  7. Sesame seeds

  8. Tahini

  9. Nut butters

  10. Prunes, cherries and cranberries

  11. Dates

Pantry vegetables are a little tricky as their shelf-life can vary depending on their quality and your ability to keep them in a cool, dry, and well-ventilated place. I suggest you keep only hardy vegetables on hand. Potatoes and garlic should not be refrigerated; keep them in baskets or bins. Do not store them in plastic, which will encourage mold. Keep onions, shallot and garlic separate; it’s especially important to keep potatoes and onions apart since they can cause each other to spoil.

  1. Onions

  2. Shallots

  3. Potatoes

  4. Sweet potatoes

  5. Fresh garlic

Last but not least is the miscellaneous section. We all have items that are not negotiable during stressful times.

  1. Coffee

  2. Tea

  3. Booze

  4. Cocktail ingredients

  5. Chocolate

Remember when contemplating what to have on hand for your family, you know them best. This list is by no means meant to be a complete rendering of everything you might need, but it certainly will help.

“If ever there was a time for Twisted Basics it’s now.”

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