In which the author tells you how to run your life -- or at least how to make the most of the fun parts of it.

For instance, inside these pages you will learn how to weather a mortar attack in good spirits; how to avoid booking yourself on the Internet into a bed and breakfast full of twee quilts and dusty tchotkes; and how to plan a dinner party that will stun your guests with deliciousness and style and not destroy your will to live with the amount of work you have to do to pull it off.

These are things I know firsthand, and things people who know me often ask me about (though I usually just book them into bed and breakfasts myself -- identifying ruffled death traps is an acquired skill). I am almost always right about everything (food, style and travel-related, anyway, and often many other things) and if everyone would just do as I say, dinner would taste better, cupcakes would not be dry, your parties would be more fun (for you), and mortar attacks... well, they always suck. I can't do anything about them.

*except laundry. I can't manage my own laundry, much less yours.

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Thursday, September 15, 2011

How to Stock a Dinner Pantry

OK, we did the baking pantry, so you can make pretty much any dessert or baked good you can imagine without having to run out to the store provided you've got butter and eggs. So now we're onto a dinner pantry... the things to have on hand so when you just don't feel like going to the store you've got something delicious to eat, and when you bring home fresh ingredients you have myriad options for how to prepare them.

Most dinners of course require something fresh -- I rarely make garlic and oil pasta without a fresh lemon to zest over the top -- but you'll be able to feed yourself directly from the pantry in a pinch: black beans and rice, risotto, lentil soup, pasta with a great sauce of oil and garlic or a quick tomato sauce, chick pea stew

I will break this up into categories that make sense to me:

Pasta/Italian Dinners
olive oil (extra virgin, cold pressed)
hot pepper flakes
pastas in all shapes and sizes
jarred sun dried tomatoes in olive oil
jarred pesto, unless you make your own and freeze it in the summer.
Sundried tomato paste in tubes (or tomato paste in tubes.) (or cans)
San Marzano plum tomatoes in cans
arborio rice
stock (beef, chicken veggie, veal)
bread crumbs
fennel seed
dried coriander
coarse salt
pepper and grinder
truffle oil for finishing a risotto
bay leaves
real parmesan cheese

Asian Dinners
fish sauce (mixed with lime juice, brown sugar and fresh grated ginger, fantastic dressing for noodles)
cocnut milk
soy sauce
toasted sesame oil
sake (with brown sugar, white miso and mirin, an unbelievable marinade for sable or chilean sea bass,which you shouldnt buy but you do, oh well. me too)
bean thread noodles (fantastic in the fish sauce sauce mentioned above, with or without fresh julienned veggies, scallions and cilantro and mint)
udon or ramen noodles (easy soup with stock and a few veggies and aromatics)
black vinegar (perfect on its own as a dipping suace for dumplings)
spring roll wrappers (you never know when the desire will hit)
jasmine rice
fresh ginger (keep it in the freezer)

Mexican sort of

black beans (canned or dry)
basmati rice
white beans (canned or dry)
dried chiles -- guajillo, japon, ancho
canned chipotles
canned tomatillos
corn tortillas (fresh)
tortilla chips
salsa of some sort
chili powder
coarse salt

garbanzo beans (chick peas).. with tomatoes and onions and saffron and garlic, an excellent stew
tahini (right there you have hummus)
lentils (green de Puy)(for soup or cold or room temp salad in a vinaigrette)
walnut oil
canola for making popcorn
popcorn kernals (easy to make, and easy to make kettle corn or caramel corn when you need something sweet in a hurry)
smoked paprika
rosemary (fresh is better. grow it on your window sill)
curry powder (or your own mix of garam masala)

nuts: walnuts, pecans, pumpkin seeds
dairy: sour cream, heavy cream, greek yogurt
meats: as you wish to keep in the freezer, but I like grass-fed beef flat iron steaks -- they defrost quickly -- frozen line caught wild salmon and tuna, pastured chickens (whole for roasting, and parts. chicken breasts are easy but we eat way way too many of them), grass-fed hamburger (grassfed is better for you, for the environment, and certainly for the cow).

One of my easiest dinners is a salmon filet, covered in coconut milk with a minced jalapeno and a grated knob of ginger, and a good sprinkling of salt. You bake it till the salmon is done -- 10 or 15 minutes at 375 or so -- and serve with rice and haricots verts. The vaguely indian sauce (I learned it from the wife of the Indian press attache in DC) is great on the rice and beans too...

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