If you’re going to be a serious Kitchen Playdater, then you will already be thinking about which eager children you want to invite over. All serious Kitchen Playdaters, whether newbies or veterans, will know that sometimes the thought of planning a Kitchen Playdate can be more daunting than the task itself. First, you have to set the date and time, and then invite your playdate guests. Then you have to think about what it is exactly that you’re all going to cook (I’ll try to help with that), and if all the different aged children will have the ability to get involved in some capacity. Let’s be honest here, the last thing you really want to do, is to make a list and then have to drag yourself out to the grocery store, to buy ALL the things you might need for the recipe you have chosen. That’s just too much brainwork and energy spent for us busy mums. Ironically, and devoid of any inspiration you might find from my Kitchen Playdate series, sometimes the best Kitchen Playdates are the spontaneous, unplanned ones that just happen organically.
There is one insight I would like to share, and that is, I believe your pantry should really be doing half the brainwork work for you. A well-stocked pantry is like a security blanket; it never lets you down and always gives you that warm, comforting feeling by reassuring you that nothing will go wrong, and in the event that it does, there is always a plan B. Good cooks have been praising the merits of the pantry for years, probably right back to when it was called a ‘larder’, and all too often, we can over look the space where we stock-pile staple ingredients. If you pay close attention to the things in your pantry, you will know that it contains a number of key ingredients that will never fail to do wonders for you in the kitchen, items that will transform the most basic ingredients into a magical meal for all to enjoy. Here are some key things I keep in my pantry for this very reason:
1. Dried Fruit, Nuts and Seeds – This section of my pantry is the one I have to replenish the most often. All these items make such great, handy snacks for the children (and myself), so before I know it, I’m almost out and needing to head to the store…again. Given the chance though, they are also handy and delicious additions to many recipes and meals. I keep a stash of raisins, dates, dried cherries, dried apricots, sesame seeds, mustard seeds, almonds, pecans, walnuts, hemp hearts, chia seeds, flax seeds, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds, amongst other things. There is plenty here that can be thrown into a quick smoothie.
2. Spices & Herbs – This could end up being an extensive list, so I’ll keep it simple. The following are my basic go-to spices and dried herbs. Cumin, coriander, cinnamon (quills and powder), chilli flakes, nutmeg, fennel, turmeric, garam masala, cayenne pepper, cloves, aniseed, cardamom pods, caraway seeds, dried mint, dried dill, sumac, oregano, thyme, dried garlic flakes. Oh, and a handy supply of salt & cracked black pepper of course.
3. Grains – As a family we are trying not to eat too much rice, as it has the tendency to become a pantry item that we depend on a little too much at times (perhaps that’s the Asian in me), but never the less, it is still a necessary pantry item that I always make sure we have in stock. Similarly to rice, we always have a healthy stash of quinoa available, it is such a healthy, quick and easy alternative, and adds some richness and texture to any leftovers as a side dish. Fonio has become a recent new addition to this section of the pantry. I am finding it to be very versatile and full of nutritional value, it is easy to make into a couscous style meal, and is gluten free. Millet, amaranth, semolina and buckwheat are also essential grains I have on hand. I find they are great for those unprepared mornings as a boiled up breakfast porridge.
4. Flours – I usually keep a healthy portion of whole-wheat flour on standby; it comes in handy so often. Rice, chickpea, fonio, spelt and urid dhal flours are my other handy options. Baking Powder and Baking Soda come into this category as absolute essentials.
5. Canned goods – You can never have too many canned tomatoes on hand. Same goes for those little cans of tomato paste. My usual canned bean collection consists of kidney and cannelloni beans, chickpeas and sometimes the odd 3-bean mix. A few cans of our no-sugar added, family favourite fruits wouldn’t go a miss here either.
6. Dried Pulses – I often have a rotating range of dried beans and pulses, but the ones you will most often find in my pantry are red and brown split lentils, green split peas, chickpeas, moong and black beans.
7. Condiments – I always have a lot of pickles, chutneys and relishes in store; my husband will eat them with almost every meal. Along with these, I keep miso paste, tahini, sriracha, whole grain mustard and mayonnaise (I make a homemade, preservative free version which I will post soon). Soy, tamari, wasabi, fish and oyster sauces feature also – these all have a tendency to transform anything and everything they touch, which makes them very handy pantry occupants. With most of these condiments, unless I have made my own, I am careful to use them sparingly because of the prevalent use of additives and preservatives.
8. Oils and vinegars – Coconut Oil is often my go-to oil for baking, so we always have enough of this in the pantry. Other oils I tend to keep are Sesame, Rice-Bran (for cooking) and Extra Virgin Olive (for salads). Apple-Cider vinegar has been a family favourite for a few decades now, and we use it daily. I use Bragg’s brand, as this is the best-known organic range that includes the oh-so-important raw ‘mother’. I also keep a bottle each of malt vinegar and rice wine vinegar, which are often used in our Asian flavoured dishes.
A few final tips I would like to share from my pantry: Using old glass jars is a great way to store most of your pantry items to seal in freshness, this also helps to keep out unwanted creepy crawlies who love dark pantry spaces. I find labelling everything with white sticky labels helps, be sure to include a shelf-life date or the date in which the product was stored. And lastly, where you can, try to buy in bulk – you’ll save and stock up at the same time!
Your pantry might look very different to mine, and rightly so. A pantry is a very personal thing, and as long as it works for you, then it is your ‘security blanket’ and that is all that matters. I guess, the purpose of today’s Kitchen Playdate post, is to remind you that your trusty pantry friend can do most of the hard work for you, and armed with your reliable side-kick, know that you are well and truly equipped to start inviting those little play mates over, even if you thought the task too big.
We are almost there, Kitchen Playdate Recipes coming soon. Over and Out.