Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Storing Kitchen Staples, Part One

A Reminder From 1917

All of us who like to cook have cabinets and drawers and other spots chock full of spices, oils, vinegars and the like.  These pantry items - or kitchen staples - are so important to our culinary creations, so we should try to keep them as fresh as we possibly can.  The great thing about these staples is that they are there when you need them; the challenging thing about them is that you rarely buy one of them and then use it all up for one meal.

Heat and light are great things.  They are also great destroyers of kitchen staples.

In the next few posts, I will share what sorts of storage - as well as how to test for freshness - works best for a number of categories of kitchen staples.  

Let's start with oils, vinegars, soy sauces, and vanilla.

You know how on the cooking shows, the cooks have all of their oils and vinegars displayed beautifully on a lovely - usually stainless steel shelf above their six burner, turbo stove top?  Yeah - don't do that!  You'll be killing off those items faster than you can say, "Bam!".  

Here are some basic rules of thumb about these particular staples and the best ways to preserve them.

1.  Olive Oil - Once it is opened the common rule is to consider it at top form for about three months.  Always keep olive in a dark pantry closet or cabinet.  Unopened and stored correctly olive oil will maintain it's goodeness for up to a year.  To test olive oil for freshness, heat a teaspoon or so in a skillet.  If you detect a rancid odor, toss it, it's done.  Lastly, resist the large, usually well decorated cans of olive oil unless you really use a lot of olive oil.  The short shelf life makes the lower price not worth it in the end.

2.  Vinegar - this is one staple that has a very long shelf life.  The high percentage of acetic acid in most vinegars will prevent any harmful bacteria from taking up residence. It is a good idea to also store vinegar in a cabinet, away from direct heat.  If you have sediment beginning to build up in vinegar, just strain it out. It will be fine with or without the sediment. 

3.  Other Oils - Canola, Corn, Grapeseed, Peanut, and Vegetable oils can be stored in your pantry.  Sesame and Walnut oils must be stored in your refrigerator.

4.  Soy Sauce - if it is pasturized soy sauce, you can store it in your pantry closet.  If it is unpasturized, keep it in the refrigerator. 

5.  Vanilla - this flavoring has a very long shelf life.  If you make it yourself, and I highly recommend that you do, just remember to remove the vanilla bean when it has "cured" and has full vanilla flavor.  The beans, if left in the liquid, sometimes break down a bit.  Whether home or commercially made, vanilla should always be tightly capped and stored away from light and heat.

Next Time:  Flours and Dry Herbs

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Fall: A Time of Preparation and a Garden's Bounty Recipe

"I'm so glad that I live in a world where there are Octobers"  L. M. Montgomery

Are you?

I fight the end of summer.  I rail against the shorter days and the loss of light.  I shiver just thinking about dog walks on ice covered sidewalks.  Another year of shoveling snow?  How much I wonder.  As I do that, more and more as the days move on, I find myself putting the big fans we use all over the house away.  I realize that I'm cleaning our little fireplace and ordering more fireplace gel.  Earlier this week, I pulled out a few sweatshirts and put sox on for the first time in months.

And, then there's the garden. If you are grower, you know how hectic and sometimes worrisome this time of year can be.  I start obsessively checking the overnight temperatures - I still have tropicals and succulents outside.  I force myself to start pulling out the plants that are done - the peppers, most of the tomatoes, the eggplants and some of the herbs.  I start realizing that waiting until the end of the work day to start fiddling in the garden won't work any more - it gets too dark!  

And there's lots of chopping and cleaning and putting away into the shed.  Our bird feeders going back up.  The outdoor kitchen is putting on its winter covers. And the furniture will eventually - not yet!! - get stacked and covered.

Meanwhile the colors all around us are gradually going to reds and golds and browns.  I guess I agree.  I don't think I would be happy in a never changing 80 degrees and sunny.  Without Fall and Winter, I would seriously undervalue the miracle of Spring.  I shall enjoy the passing of the seasons.

Recipe:  Garden's Bounty Savory Bread Pudding

At this time of year, many of us have already done our canning and freezing and yet we are still harvesting from our garden beds.  This recipe makes great use of those stubborn vegetables and herbs that hang in there and keep growing well into the Fall.  I didn't have any zucchini but you can use practically any combination of fresh veggies in this dish.  It can definitely be classified as comfort food, too.


About 8 ounces of hearty bread, ideally a day or so old, chopped into cubes
A mix of fresh vegetables:  cherry tomatoes, cut in half; a couple small tomatoes chopped; a small eggplant with the skin on chopped; a sweet pepper, chopped; one or two garlic cloves, minced; a small onion - I used a red onion - chopped; and, if you want a bit of heat, a small jalapeño, diced.
1/4 cup olive oil
One cup of Basil, packed
Seven eggs
One cup of whole milk
One and one half cups of grated parmesan cheese
One Tablespoon of butter
Salt and pepper


Preheat the oven to  375 degrees
Use the butter to grease a large, shallow baking dish
Pour the bread cubes into the baking dish and spread them out
In a skillet, heat the olive oil and saute the onions and garlic for about 1 - 2 minutes, until they soften
To the skillet add the chopped eggplant and cook for about 2 minutes 
Then add the chopped red pepper and the jalapeño and stir and cook for about 2 minutes
Lastly, add all of the tomatoes, again stir well, and cook for about a minute

While the above ingredients are cooking, whisk the eggs and the milk together with the salt and pepper 
Sprinkle the grated parmesan over the bread cubes
Pour the contents of the skillet over the bread cubes and cheese
Stir well to combine everything

Pour the egg and milk mixture over the dish, stir gently to moisten everything and evenly distribute the egg mixture.

Put the baking dish into the oven and bake, uncovered, for about 40 - 45 minutes.

Remove and check that the custard is set - put a toothpick into the center - it should come out clean

Let the dish set for about 10 minutes prior to cutting into squares for service.


      Savory Bread Pudding