A cooking challenge organized by Meg of Grow and Resist and Briggs of Oh Briggsy in which we explore a featured cookbook each month. The selection for December is The Homemade Pantry, 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying & Start Making by Alana Chernila.
A bell goes off around here when anyone mentions the word “pantry.” Not only is it the name of my blog but also the epitome of our household foodways. Stocking the pantry and then cooking from it is our way of life. As much as I like buying whatever is fresh and local, I also like saving the seasons by preserving food for use throughout the year. It does take discipline to use it all up, but then again, I give a lot away. At holiday time, gifts are most typically jams and jellies and pickles and relishes, from the simplest strawberry jam and tarragon vinegar to sophisticated chutney and preserved lemons. Apricots and cherries in brandy, homemade bacon and gravlax, granola and graham crackers, pasta and pesto: you name it, I’ve probably taken it on at one point or another.
The Homemade Pantry is therefore right up my alley. While its subtitle is “101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making,” I had to smile as I leafed through the volume, since I mostly don’t buy much of those foods anyway. However, I know plenty of people who do, so I bought the book to give as a gift. To me, there’s nothing better than inspiring someone else to make healthier food choices and making your own is a step in the right direction.
Personally, I would characterize the subtitle as “DIY 101” since the book contains so many basic recipes and leads the reader through them simply. Since much of the contents are familiar to me (though I confess I never considered making beef jerky, much less a cream-filled snack cake), I mentally compared notes, recipe by recipe, with my standards. There’s always something new to learn and certainly room for improvement (mozzarella), for experimenting (veggie burgers), for absorbing new ideas (adding lavender to caramels), and for once again making something I often buy (hamburger buns and crackers). I enjoyed Alana Chernila’s narrative and know that the recipient of my gift will be inspired to make her own pantry staples. I know it inspired me to pledge to go back to basics in the coming months, including making mozzarella and cream cheese, and homemade crackers (though I make that resolution every New Year’s.) Even though I dutifully parted with the book, I jotted down a few things that I’d like to try. Besides, I can always check it out of the library.
Oh, I did already make a few things from the book. I made Potato Chips (page 67) since I doubted the oven timing and I didn’t want my giftee to be discouraged that they’d burn (they would have so I annotated the book). Also Mixed Roasted Nuts (page 69) – nice. And I’m in the middle of the gluten-free version of Wheat Crackers (page 228). And Chai (page 239) since I was giving the same person a jarful of Chai spices. I also made Vanilla Extract (page 165) but with fresh (not spent) beans and bourbon instead of vodka, though I’ve made it both ways. Sorry about the lack of photos. My camera’s on the fritz but when it’s fixed, I may update the post.
Happy New Year, and thanks to Meg and Briggs for the great fun we had “cooking the books” all year long.