A Snob’s Guide to Transcontinental Pantry
July 7, 2010 § 11 Comments
Do you sometimes wonder what’s in my pantry? Yes? No? Perhaps just a little? Well, I’d like to share the contents of my pantry with you. Do keep in mind that this is not meant to be a populist’s guide to pantry – otherwise it would have been labeled accordingly. I am a hard-core food snob, and I just happened to live in the very county that has the most organic farms per county in the entire of United States. Or, at least, so I’m told. Moreover, my particular little town, Viroqua, Wisconsin, boasts an incredible food cooperative, as well as a locally-owned supermarket and a Walmart super-center (where I have no scruples to shop, especially for ammo), so, really, I have choices. I also live on a certified-organic farm where we raise different kinds of fruit, beef, eggs, and meat chickens, and, this particular summer, also ducks and geese (and countless garden vegetables, including all of our own tomatoes, potatoes, onions, and garlic). I take no credit for the garden, though – it’s tended almost exclusively by Jacob and his sister Julia, who is, in her own right, and even despite being seven-and-a-half months pregnant, a gardener extraordinaire. As if that wasn’t enough, we also have a farmer’s market in Viroqua every Saturday, but I don’t go there very often for obvious reasons. We also get fresh trout when my husband goes fishing in beautiful local streams that run in stolen picturesque valleys, and both my husband and I successfully (in the case of my husband) hunt whitetail deer every year. I also put up a relatively large amount of tomatoes and jams and frozen fruit and vegetables for the winter. And I love to brag. Did you notice? So yes, by no means is my food supply representative of the Middle-America standard. But if you are the Whole-Foods type and love to frequent farmer’s markets, this might resonate with you.
With this basic background out of the way, here’s what I always have on hand:
- half a grassfed beef for our own consumption (beyond the beef that we sell), which includes all kinds of possible cuts
Note that I make the most use of the following cuts – lots of hamburger – it’s so versatile; arm and chuck roasts for stews and pot roast; shanks, steaks, and soup bones because whenever I need more than a couple of cups of stock, I like to make my own.
- wild venison, butchered down to muscles rather than individual cuts to give me more freedom when it comes to preparation
How I butcher my deer: I cut backstraps in several sections to later cut into steaks or grill whole. I leave inner loins whole (don’t forget those – they are on the inside of the carcass). I separate hind legs into muscles, largest of which I freeze whole, individually, to later make into pasties, meat pockets, jerky, stroganoff, pastrami, and the like. Pretty much everything from the front quarters (leg+ thigh) and the remaining scraps from the hind quarters I grind. We are close to the CWD (chronic wasting disease) zones here, so we de-bone our venison completely, avoiding sawing through any bones. We don’t eat the fat from the carcass, saving it for bird suet instead. Venison fat is just too gamy for my liking.
- whole free-range, organic chickens (we start with 30 every season) that we raise and butcher
- free-range organic eggs
- bacon, for my family’s breakfast only, as I don’t eat pork and won’t cook with it
- summer sausage
- butter – I like to buy at least 10 lb of butter at a time, and I want to have at least 5 lb in my freezer at all times. I use exclusively Organic Valley butter, both salted and unsalted
- cheddar – I like to buy 2-lb trim-cheese packages, and I like to buy 6 lb at a time if I can. Organic Valley only.
- blue cheese – I grab a wedge every time I stop at the co-op – I buy blue cheese labeled “Danish,” which is milder, and I always go for whole chunks. Come on! I have fingers. I can crumble my own cheese. The difference between dried-out boughten chunks and freshly crumbled cheese is paramount, and such things make a big difference to me. With a few exceptions, I don’t usually settle for shortcuts, as I am ultra-sensitive to the resulting taste differences, and I also enjoy a certain level of finesse. Blue cheese is a staple at my house – I use it in many meat dishes and in all of my green salads. I also now use blue cheese everywhere I would have used feta in the past, and I am about to start adding it to chocolate desserts. I just have to figure out the right way to do it.
- non-homogenized milk – I go through 3.5 gallons per week, in part because I turn at least one gallon into yogurt weekly, and also make all of my own cream cheese, which is a superior product. Otherwise we use about 2 gallons per week for drinking and cooking. Organic only.
- heavy cream, Organic Valley only
- Parmesan, whole chunk (never grated), BelGioioso
- cream cheese, homemade, or, when it comes to cheesecakes, Organic Valley
- yogurt, homemade
- buttermilk, for chocolate cakes – boughten whole-milk or the by-product of homemade butter
- sour cream – conventional OK
- unbleached all-purpose flour – I buy 25 lb at a time, since I bake 100% of all the bread that we eat, and numerous desserts. Baking your own bread saves a lot of money, by the way, since a remotely good loaf of bread tops five bucks at the co-op, and the too-sweet, over-processed, squishy supermarket stuff is not allowed anywhere near my palate. That makes for 5 to 6 six-cup homemade loaves weekly.
- sugar, white and brown. I prefer conventional white sugar to the organic kinds, because, for one, it’s cheaper, sweeter, and doesn’t have the off-putting color of muddy water. I am not opposed to organic brown sugar, because I use much less of it, and the organic kind does seem to have more flavor (and this is also when the color of muddy water is a welcome quality, the muddier, the better).
- salt – plain white Morton salt, the kind that some would argue is bad for you. I like Redmond sea salt, but it’s just too darn expensive; I also always have some coarse kosher Morton salt on hand. I never buy sea salt because I find it too sharp and bitter and it throws off the proportions – let’s just say that my palate is not evolved enough for sea salt.
- baking cocoa – I prefer this over baking chocolate in nearly all instances, and I use exclusively Equal Exchange brand. I make a few mean chocolate numbers, and this particular variety makes all the difference. It’s treated with alkali, making it similar to Dutch-process. I think. If anyone ever gets an erroneous idea of my being any kind of domestic goddess, this is the reason why.
- baking powder and baking soda
- polenta-style coarsely-ground cornmeal
- canned beans
- loose leaf tea
- corn starch
- Pomona’s pectin
- sunflower oil – I use it for everything, but if I didn’t have it, I’d be using olive and canola/peanut
- active dry yeast
- soy sauce
- Worcestershire sauce
- vinegar – cider, red wine, balsamic, and white
- coffee – premium fair-trade brands only. Life’s too short for bad coffee.
- canned tomatoes – my own, or, in rare instances, Muir Glen
- tomato paste
- canned sliced olives
- sweetened condensed milk – conventional Shur Fine or Eagle Brand. Organic kinds I tried just don’t deliver by a wide margin.
- evaporated milk – Don’t confuse the two! Some people do and it drives me nuts – impossible for the transfer of recipes.
- dulce de leche – sweetened condensed milk boiled in water in a can
- Wilderness cherry pie filling
- powder (or powdered?) sugar
- unsweetened baking chocolate – Ghirardelli or Dagoba brands. Nestle and Hershey’s just taste cheap to me.
- vanilla and almond extracts
- granola, for very occasional breakfasts – otherwise breakfast here is always hot and made from scratch, usually eggs and bacon and toast and jam; or cheese and bread, in my case
- semolina flour, for making hot cereal for my kids
- popcorn kernels, for popping
- red and white wine, cheapest kinds, mainly for cooking – red wine especially is a staple in all of my tomato-and-meat dishes
- a bottle of tequila and margarita mixes, for a very, very occasional indulgence
- cream de cocoa (for chocolate desserts and very occasional Brandy Alexanders)
- dark rum or brandy, for cooking mainly
- light corn syrup, the evil kind (conventional, is what I mean – it tastes the best and is cheap)
- maple syrup – organic and wood-fired
- organic beef base, for when I need just a little to finish a sauce
- bottled lemon juice – if you like to squeeze your own lemons all the time, be my guest – I’ll be here, eating chocolate ice-cream.
- beer – the cheap kind
- vegetable shortening, for an occasional pie crust (not Crisco – some non-hydrogenated brand from the co-op)
- dried pasta, spaghetti mainly
- natural hardwood charcoal, for grilling and smoking on my Weber grill
Note that I try to have most things I need for baking on hand at all times, so that if I find a new recipe, I don’t have to run out to the store.
Spices (here’s where the transcontinental aspect comes into play)
- ground black pepper
- Montreal Steak Seasoning, my meat-dish staple
- dried oregano
- dried basil
- ground cumin
- ground coriander
- whole peppercorns (black or medley)
- dried tarragon
- garlic salt
- seasoned salt
- nigella seed (to top bread and add to cream cheese)
- dried dill
- dried thyme
- pink salt (sodium nitrate), for curing
- bay leaf
- whole cloves
- cayenne pepper
- red pepper flakes
- dried rubbed sage
- ground cardamom
- dried mint
- whole mustard seed
- celery salt
- ketchup, conventional only – it’s not tasty without the high-fructose corn-syrup
- mayo – usually conventional, cause it’s cheaper and tastes just as fine – not Miracle Whip though (visualize me crossing myself at this time)
- mustard – yellow and stone-ground
- potatoes, Yukon Golds, mainly
- onions, yellow mainly
- fresh parsley
- bananas (usually)
- cucumbers, for making cucumber-yogurt soup in the summer
- organic vanilla ice-cream, Alden’s brand
- frozen corn, beans, asparagus, sauerkraut, strawberries, raspberries, black raspberries, all my own
- chicken stock, homemade
- jams and jellies, homemade, always
- .30-30 medium game, for whitetail deer
- .22, for squirrel (not my favorite food)
- 20 gauge – field and target/bird shot, for pheasant, which I am yet to shoot
Wait! Ammo is not really food, is it? I can’t tell anymore. But, ultimately, it is used for putting food in the freezer, that’s what I was thinking.
Note also that there are no boxed things in this list, let alone any kind of canned soups or frozen meals – I stay away almost completely from any kind of processed snacks, chips, boxed cereal, or anything that delivers convenience over flavor. Also note that we almost never, ever drink any pop, unless we are eating out or making root beer floats or someone gets ginger ale for their sick tummy.
If you don’t find my culinary chauvinism too off-putting, I’ll be thrilled to hear how your pantry differs!