Thursday, February 28, 2008

Where's Your Pantry?

Unless you're going grocery shopping every day, or only eating in restaurants, you need a place to store your food. Food storage is a big deal for Mormons. We've been asked by our leaders to store a years worth of food for each person in the family, along with a lot of water. While long term food storage is important, Today I just want to talk about the short term kind.

There are three main places to put food that don't involve being incredibly strange. I know of one married couple that put all of their long term wheat storage under their bed. I'm not sure that would be my first choice but, they lived in a small apartment so I guess it worked for them. Barring putting food under your mattress, the three normal places are the refrigerator, your kitchen cupboards, and the pantry.

I'm a big believer in the pantry. Ours is downstairs in one corner of our basement. We use it for both long term, and some short term, food storage. Having it downstairs does present some problems. Mostly, it's not very convenient. If I want to cook something that isn't already in the kitchen, I've got to trudge downstairs to find it. Either that or enlist my children. “Honey? Can you go get me an onion, please?” Then I get to wait for several minutes, wondering what happened to them. Usually I find them downstairs playing with toys or reading or something and I have to get the onions myself, anyway. The pantry's got to be downstairs for us, though. My house doesn't have a nice closet or someplace close to the kitchen that isn't already filled with coats or towels.

Putting our pantry downstairs does have some advantages, though. It's pretty cool down there. No, I don't mean that I like hanging out in the pantry because the ambiance is amazing.

Well ... actually I do like hanging out in my pantry but, that's not the point.

No, when I say 'cool' I mean the more traditional cool – I'm talking temperature, here. It's best to store food in a cool, dry, and dark place. That's my basement, alright.

The same holds true for your kitchen cupboards. If you're going to store food in your kitchen, certainly you want to put the food in cupboards that are convenient, but you also want to keep it away from heat sources. You know. Like your stove. Keeping them away from south facing walls (if you live in the northern hemisphere, anyway), can also be a good idea.

Let's face it. Heat, even low temperatures, degrades most food, even dried food. It makes it spoil faster. Even if it hasn't gotten to that point, it can affect the flavor. Yuck.

When you're stocking your pantry, don't get crazy. Don't stock up on things you won't eat just because someone told you to have it. If you don't eat it, why buy it? It's not worth spending money on food you're just going to throw out.

As you start watching what you're eating (even if you're not on a diet), you'll start discovering that there are certain ingredients that you use over and over. They're the basic staples of your family's diet. Those things you can stock up on. Even if you don't know what you're going to cook for dinner next week, having those staple ingredients in your house makes it easer for you to make the food your family likes at a moment's notice. Believe it or not, broccoli is a staple ingredient for my family. So is cold cereal.

Good shelves are must. Build or buy the best shelving material you can afford. They're going to be holding a lot of stuff and you want them to last. Covering them with a good wipe-off surface can be a plus. Self adhesive shelf covering isn't too expensive.

As you organize your shelves, do it logically. You don't want to hunt all over the pantry to find that one box of macaroni that you remember buying. Put "like things" together. Put canned vegetables next to the canned soup for example.

As you get new things, don't put them in front of the older ones. You want to use up the older ones before the expiration date. Check these dates regularly and get rid of those that have expired. Check the labels for refrigeration requirements, too. Some foods store well on the shelf, but have to be refrigerated after they're opened.

I never put opened boxed back in the pantry. I keep them in my kitchen. The only exception to that is flour, rice, and oatmeal. I buy those in bulk to save money and add to my long term food storage. When I open a bag of flour or rice, I transfer it to an air tight container, and then take a smaller amount upstairs to the kitchen to use.

Taking a few small steps to create a well stocked and organized pantry can really get your "creative cooking juices" flowing, too. Seeing all of those interesting ingredients, I can't help but start thinking about all the delicious dishes I can make with them.

Maybe that's why I like spending time in my pantry. It's cool.

Photo by Sofi Gamache

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Taking the Kids Grocery Shopping

Going to the grocery store is always an interesting event in our family. My wife hates doing it. I don't mind so much but, once I'm back home, I don't want to go out again. I don't care what we might have forgotten. I can only take so much of crowds and insane people.

If I can, I'll try and take one of my kids with me. Part of it's just to have some company; part of it's an excuse to spend time with them. I've got this terrible little secret, you see. I like my kids. I like being around them and doing things with them. I like talking with them and listening to them talk about their lives. The trouble is they don't do that very often at home. Too many distractions, I guess. If I can get them out to the grocery store with me, though, I can grill them about their day.

Okay, it just occurred to me that the term grilling might be misunderstood in a food blog. I don't mean that I cook them over hot coals (although the idea is appealing when they're misbehaving). I just interrogate them. Gently.

“How was your day? Really? What made it a good day? How's school? Are you getting along with your teachers?”

Stuff like that. No barbecue sauce is required.

This is important to me. First off, it lets me in on bits of their lives I don't normally get to see because I'm not with them every moment of the day. Somebody's gotta bring home the bacon.

Erm ... you know what I mean.

It's also important for me as a Mormon. Part of what the LDS church teaches is taking an active role in our children's lives. If we, as parents, don't do our best to prepare them to live a life in line with gospel teachings, we'll be the ones to get into trouble.

Doctrine and Covenants 68:25 And again, inasmuch as parents have children in Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized, that teach them not to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands, when eight years old, the sin be upon the heads of the parents.

We also believe that, through certain ordinances and covenants, we can be sealed together as families for time and all eternity. Let's get real, here. If I'm going to have a family relationship with my kids into eternity we all better learn to get along with each other or eternity's going to seem like forever.

(I keep doing that!) Never mind.

So, I take them with me to the grocery store. I chat with them, make them do the math when it comes to checking the prices for deals, and so on. Not only do I want them to be spiritually prepared, I want them to be able to take care of themselves after they grow up.

Sometimes they don't want to go, though. As Darth Vader might say, “The power of Nintendo is strong with this one.” Pulling them away from their electronic games can be difficult.

So I bribe them.

Not with actual money, mind you. It's just become a pretty well known fact that going somewhere with Dad means getting a treat. Usually it's just a soda or something. Sometimes it's soft-serve ice cream or frozen yogurt. The deli bar at our local grocery store stocks more than meat and cheese, you see. This weekend it was raspberry and vanilla frozen yogurt twists in a sugar cone. Yum.

It's tough to take my youngest, though. Once the ice cream is gone and the sugar rush kicks in, she's done sitting in the little seat at the back of the grocery cart. Oh, no. None of that for her. She wants to get down. She wants to explore! Which means I either have to fight with her (a.k.a. beg, plead, and distract her) to stay in the cart or I'll have to chase her around the store for the next twenty minutes trying to figure out where she's gone.

It's not like my kids and I go just to talk, get ice cream and play hide and seek in aisles, though. We do actually buy groceries and take them home. Usually this involves making a grocery list, which gets promptly ignored after we get to the store, and then hauling bags of groceries to and from the car.

With the exception of the few things we keep in the kitchen, most of our food storage is downstairs. Once we get home, we divide the groceries into things that stay upstairs, and things that go downstairs, either to the pantry or the larger freezer.

My kids are just like me, though. They're lazy. Most of the time, after asking them to take the groceries to the pantry, I'll go down to find bags of groceries on the floor instead of on the shelves. Sometimes they'll remember to take out the frozen things and put them in the freezer but, it's not a sure deal. Now I've learned to say, “Okay! These things need to to the pantry. These need to go into the freezer. Please make sure you actually put things where they go on the shelves. Please close the freezer door (I actually have to tell them that.) Thank you, dear.”

In spite of the trials (especially with my youngest), I continue to take them with me. It's great one-on-one quality time. The real reason I keep doing it is simple. It's fun.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Balsamic Vinegarette Salad Dressing

If you've been following my Valentine's Day Menu, you'll realize that there's one more main dish we haven't covered – the green salad. You could buy a ready made salad from the produce section of your store, if you wanted to, but I prefer making my own.

A green salad can be composed of just about any leafy vegetable you like. I like to combine chopped romaine and green lettuce, or iceburg lettuce. Adding a but of thinly cut green or red cabbage can add a little sparkle, too. Fresh spinach is great, too.

Next, you want to add a few other fruits, vegetables, cheeses, and nuts, just to spice things up. Shredded carrot, thinly sliced cucumber or celery, sliced tomatoes, almond slices, hulled sunflower seeds, raisins, dried cranberries ... whatever you like. Thin slices of oranges can be a great addition, as well.

A fresh Italian vinegarette dressing, tossed with the salad, is a wonderful compliment the the spaghetti marinara. Here's a nice balsamic vinegrarette that one I came up with one day. I think it's sweet enough without the added sugar, but some may disagree.


1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
2 teaspoons sugar (optional)
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard powder
1/4 teaspoon celery seed
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper


Combined all the ingredients in a jar with a screw top lid. Cover and shake well. Can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Shake before serving or tossing with the green salad.

I hope you've enjoyed this Valentine's day menu.

Happy Valentines Day, to one and all.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Mormon Marinara

I've talked for a while about the spaghetti dinner I made when I was courting my wife. Now that Valentine's Day is around the corner, I've finally decide to share the marinara sauce recipe that I used.

If you've been following my Valentine's menu, you'll have seen the dessert, first. After you safely tuck away the chocolate pot de crème in refrigerator, it's time to get out your crock pot and start in on the spaghetti sauce.


1 tablespoon light olive oil
1/2 cup yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 cup red cooking wine
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
1/2 cup green pepper, finely chopped
1 14 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 6 oz. can tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Parsley and grated Parmesan or Romano cheese, to garnish.


Heat your slow cooker (crock pot) to medium high.

In the meantime, heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Saute the onion and garlic, adding half the salt, until the onion is soft and caramelized. De-glaze the pan with the wine and transfer the whole thing to the slow cooker.

Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer in the crock pot. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook, covered, overnight in the crock pot. Keep it cooking until your Valentine's dinner the next day. (If you want, you can take it out of the crock pot at night, and put it in the refrigerator, returning it to the crock pot the next morning.) Pour over cooked spaghetti to serve. Garnish with parsley, and grated cheese.

Enjoy this with someone you love.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Sexy Chocolate Pots de Crème

Chocolate pots de crème (pronounced poh-duh-KREM), is an incredibly rich dessert. As such it's a great choice for a Valentine's Day menu to treat your special someone. If you looked at it and though “pot of cream,” you're not far off. Don't serve a ton of this, though. It's so rich in flavor, it's best served in small portions.

It's not a complicated recipe but it does take some time and attention. Like any good romance, that extra time and attention will be worth it. Trust me.

If your planning on serving it as part of a meal for your sweetheart, you'll want to make it first. It has to sit in the refrigerator for several hours to fully set. The day before your special dinner, get started.

No matter how tempted you may be, don't “cheap out” when you buy the ingredients. Get the good stuff. Especially the chocolate. Make your own whipped cream, too. Whatever you do, don't buy the fake “non-dairy” garbage. It will ruin this dessert.


1 cup light cream
4 oz. really good German sweet chocolate
2 teaspoons sugar
3 egg yolks, beaten
1 /2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
whipped cream and strawberries to garnish.


Coarsely chop the chocolate and combine with the light cream and sugar in a small, heavy saucepan. Turn the burner to medium to bring the mixture up to temperature, slowly. Stir continuously with a small whisk until the mixture comes to a full boil and starts thicken. This should take about 10 to 12minutes or so.

Remove from the heat and pour about half of the mixture into the bowl with the beaten egg yolks. You Beat the mixture rapidly with the whisk until well blended and smooth. You really want to get in there quickly so the egg yolks don't cook too fast. Otherwise you'll end up with scrambled eggs and chocolate. (Yuck.)

Pour the egg yolk mixture back into the saucepan with the remaining cream an chocolate. Reduce the heat to low and return the saucepan to the heat. Cook and stir for 2 more minutes. Don't stop stirring!

Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Pour into 4 or 6 ramekins or other small dessert cups. Let the mixture cool, slightly, then cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator over night.

You can garnish this dish anyway you want, but I prefer whipped cream and strawberries, for that real "Valentines Day" fee. The next day, the day of your special Valentine's Day dinner, make the whipped cream by combining 1 cup of whipping cream, 2 tablespoons of sugar, and 1 /2 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract in a medium bowl. Beat with a hand mixer on medium speed until stiff peaks form.

Remove the chilled pots de crème from the refrigerator. Top with a generous tablespoon of whipped cream, and sliced strawberries.

If you want to get fancy, you can “fan” the strawberries. Leave the green stem in place and cut the strawberries lengthwise, but not all the way through. Leave a bit still stuck together on the stem side. Press down slightly on the stem side, and the strawberries will fan out, making a pretty, and tasty, garnish.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Valentine's Day with the Mormons

With Valentine's Day on the way, a foodie's heart is turned to amoré, or at least to romantic food. It seems like there are two major foods associated with Valentine's Day: wine, and chocolate. Being a Mormon foodie, the wine's out of the question for me. Chocolate, however ... yum.

Don't kid yourself thinking Mormon's don't think about such things. Even the most straight-laced Utah Mormon still thinks about romance. Or at least sex. Sex is okay for Mormons; it's just a matter of timing. You've got to keep it within the marital bounds. No premarital, no extramarital, just postmarital. As long as if by postmarital you mean doing it with you current spouse. If you mean “after the divorce,” well, that's still not cool.

In other words, even Mormons think sex is okay as long as you're married to your partner.

I'll admit it. Romance and sex are two different things. It's just that most guys rather enjoy the idea of the one following shortly after the other. Even if it doesn't, or can't (the whole marriage thing, again), romance can be fun all by itself.

Food can help with the romance, too. I used food to get dates and get married. I've been married for 17 years, now, so I know what I'm talking about.

Okay, guys. Huddle in close. We can all blame Hallmark Cards for Valentine's Day. However, trying to get out of doing something romantic for your sweetheart, by explaining how Valentine's Day is an attempt at corporate brainwashing in order to sell more cards, is rather like trying to walk on water. Jesus Christ might be able to do it but, he's the Son of God. Chances you and I are going to drown.

All is not lost, though. Nothing says “I love you” like expensive jewelry.

Barring that, you could try to cook her a great meal.

The following menu plan is very simple, guys. It's going to be hard for even you to screw up. There aren't a lot of courses, and so it won't fill you up so you can't enjoy other things later. (Hey. I'm talking about a movie, or something. What were you thinking?)

This is the same basic plan that I used when I was courting my wife. Don't knock it. guys. It worked for me.

Valentine's Dinner Menu

Start by serving apple cranberry spritzers along side a green salad tossed with a classic balsamic vinegarette dressing.

Next, serve spaghetti with home made marina sauce (that's a basic tomato based sauce, in case you didn't know) and some french bread.

Some sliced apples and cheese are a traditional Italian meal closer. If you're looking for something really decadent for dessert, though, try Chocolate Pots de crème, topped with whipped cream and sliced strawberries.

I'm not going to bother to teach you to make your own French bread this time around. I've got a couple of great recipes but, we want to make this romantic affair as simple as possible for you guys. Just go to a decent bakery and buy some.

For the rest, stay tuned.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Vegetable Smoothie

One of the problems people who have trouble with their mouths face is getting enough fresh vegetables. Most veggies are kind of hard to chew when you have a sore mouth, or few teeth. Overcooked vegetables are awful. What's to be done? Why not a vegetable smoothie?

Inspired by Heidi and Justin over at the Raw Food Right Now! blog, I came up with a wonderful vegetable smoothie. It's kind of like thick V8, only better, and a lot better for you.

This vegetable smoothie recipe isn't quite fresh, or completely raw. Almost, but not quite. I used canned tomato juice, and the tomatoes get cooked during the canning process. Fresh juice would be better, I think. I just didn't have any whole tomatoes on hand.

In any case, it's delicious. The flavors are bright, naturally sweet, and wonderful. I'm definitely making this again, even after I get done with all the dental work.


1 26 oz. can of tomato juice (that's 1 pint + 10 oz.)
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 large romaine lettuce leaves, chopped
1/2 cup red cabbage, chopped
1 small green pepper (or 1 /2 large green pepper), chopped
1/2 cucumber, chopped
3 tablespoons diced dried onion
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
3 tablespoons lemon juice


Pour the tomato juice into a large blender or food processor. Add the other ingredients, one at a time, blending the mixture at high speed until smooth before adding the next ingredient. You can add additional liquid if you want to, but I thought it was great the way it was. Pour into glasses, garnish with a fresh parsley sprig, and serve immediately.

Next time, I think I'll try a whole cucumber and a chopped green onion instead of the dried onion.

For more information and recipes about raw foods and vegetarian foods, make sure you go visit Heidi and Justin at Raw Foods, Right Now! and the incredible Fran over at Fran's House of Ayurveda. Both of these blogs, and their bloggers, are inspiring!