Learning to feed yourself can be one of the most terrifying things. Am I about to give myself food poisoning? If I eat this too often will I end up with scurvy? How can I get the most nutritional bang for my buck? Why does this still taste like ass?
With Ode to My Pantry, learn to navigate a grocery store without having a meltdown in aisle three. Give a man a fish and feed him for a day, teach a queer to cook and stave off malnutrition for another semester.
My one friend’s favourite style of cooking is Mustgovian. Screw low-cal, vegan, high fibre or Eastern Inspired Fusion with a Westcoast flair! Her food outlook is simply this: this ingredient’ll either feed me today or the earthworms tomorrow. Just put it in the fucking pan and get cooking. If your daikon’s still sitting in your crisper drawer instead of your belly after three weeks, there’ a good chance you just wasted a few bucks. But if you just blindly throw ingredients into the mix and pray for a settled stomach, sometimes it works. (Desperation and a dwindling bank account are almost as important as salt sometimes.)
But when it comes to your pantry, you’re meeting a different kind of monster. You probably have inherited bottle of something when your roommate moved out or received an edible souvenir from a faraway land or stumbled upon the discount section of your grocer and were too blown away by offers of 78% Off! Today Only! to flag down a stockperson for some guidance. Given that most dry goods have a seemingly infinite shelf life, you’re bound to push a few jars and boxes to the back of the pantry until you feel “inspired.” Add a few samples of low-glycemic index flours and some grains that you thought would cook like rice to that shelf and you’ve met ProcrastiCooking’s evil half-removed step cousin. Soon you’ll be packing your pantry into boxes for the umpteenth time and realize you’ve been carting around the Milk Crate of Mystery for half a decade.
If you’re reaching the back of your pantry and all you can find is a stale pack of ramen, half a jar of peanut butter and an unidentifiable spice that tastes like purple, salt and regret you might be able to come up with a plan, but a lot of times you can’t. You probably can think of one way to eat an ingredient (ie. off of a spoon), but can you turn all of the ingredients into a serviceable meal? Like something you would eat in front of people?
My normal course of kitchen action starts with a brief chant of “fuck fuck fuck” before I crack open my texts and recipe books. Niki Segnit’s Flavour Thesaurus is a wealth of information, sorting your flavour arsenal into 16 categories. From there she cross-references representative examples, showing how they pair chemically, botanically or historically. Although I’ve learned I can hide Kalamata chunks in my next bar of white chocolate, what do you do if your weird ingredients don’t show on her pages? The same dilemma shows up with the Epicurious App, How to Cook Everything, Recipe Key and the Food Network homepage. All of them are great at helping you find a known recipe or letting you rely on a professional wisdoms, but what if they’ve made the problem worse?
What if you don’t have the other suggested ingredients for that dish? Or what if they aren’t able to tell what that purplish herb is? What if you already mastered miso, but want to figure out its potential beyond soup? Or what if you get frustrated because although the recipes are all well and good, they still aren’t suggesting a solution to your problem? Fuckit. It it so hard for the foodie world to revolve around you for a nano-second? (Ahem. The cause of many of my PMS-induced kitchen meltdowns.)
Enter NPR’s Morning Edition as your personal pantry partner that holds your hand and pats your head as you dive into your cupboards shadows. Cook Your Cupboard invites listeners, eaters, readers and overall confused people to shuffle to their pantry and attempt to identify what lies within. Working off of themed rounds, stumped chefs take pictures of their conundrum du jour and wait for other readers’ insight. Ingredients you still haven’t touched? Seasonings that have yet to be sniffed? A seasoned rice mix? A tube of harissa? Four blocks of Glico Curry? Navy beans? A slowly clotting jar of black bean paste? Someone knows the answer.
And as a special bonus, sometimes Nigella Lawson has something to say! Morning Edition pairs with their cooking comrades to get some seasoned advice on their readers’ riddles. Lawson served as an expert for round one, and after looking at Marcy Misner’s “eclectic” cupboard crafted six generalized recipes to make use of her red beans, almond milk and apple cider vinegar.
But this project is so much more than off the cuff recipes by Food Network personalities with mind-blowing
figures lips eyes talent. It’s also a way to connect with the everyday chef that’s too disorganized to run their own food blog! Epicurious tends to only find Gourmet published recipes, but this project lets your family-taught skills hold as much weight as the Food Network. Plus it’ll give a way to teach others non-traditional uses for otherwise foreign ingredients. Do you use dark soy sauce to imitate browning in all of your beef dishes (even the non-Chinese ones)? Do you want to let someone know that Vegemite is a great bouillion stand in? Or that you can brew a tea out of fenugreek? Or that the secret to your mother’s ribs is a dash of whiskey and a bit of sugar? Join the conversation and we’ll all work together to tackle our pantry demons. You can’t hold off on your miso butter secret forever!
Do you have a spring cleaning plan for your pantry shelves? Or a favourite way of attacking your pantry unknown? Lemme know and if you have any fucking clue what do to with the rye flakes I picked up instead of rolled oats, I’m all ears.