Peeping in our Pantries?

Little Sis here.  In Baby Step 3, Big Sis (against all rationality) offered you all a look into our pantries. Mercy.  Despite my many fine qualities, I have to admit to being somewhat (and I am being uncharacteristically generous with myself here) organizationally challenged.  But since my sister showed you HERS, I guess I have to show you MINE.  Yikes….  Yes, we are still talking about the pantry, not our panties, although we have been know to go that far for your entertainment. Really, this blog is getting a little personal… but all in the name of Food.  Real Food!

Now that I’ve given you a visual, let’s talk about what’s in that puppy. Big Sis was kind enough to compile her pantry list first (since she offered, it only seemed fair) so I will share hers and add the things that I keep in my pantry that she hasn’t included.  Before we get to the lists of ingredient staples that we both keep on hand in order to ensure that we can cook real food, we both have some processed bits to confess, just so’s you know that the road just keeps going before all of us and neither of us would dream of claiming to be at the finish line.

 Mr. Little Sis and I keep coffee and tea on hand as both parents in this house are nowhere near ready to drop that crutch.  We keep a few boxes of cereal (all under 5g of sugar per serving or they must be mixed with a SUPER low sugar cereal).  We also keep the occasional box of whole wheat and white cheddar macaroni and cheese for Daddy’s traveling and Mommy’s had enough emergencies.  In addition we usually have a package of storebought cookies (of the fig newton variety) to bridge the gap between baking bursts.  There are also our beloved Triscuits. 🙂   – Can’t believe I didn’t mention Triscuits!  We also keep these simple gems on hand.

You want to peep in my pantry as well, eh?  I’m going to leave out the staples like coffee and tea (decaf for me because I’m a little (Big Sis is also generous with herself ;-)) high strung shall we say?), but I’d be remiss if I did not share a few smudges on an otherwise clean enough to put the scraps on record…I do keep a steady supply of boxed cereal in my pantry.  I get brands with no additives / organic once in awhile and all on sale – but there you have it.  I do make granola and we do eat hot cereal but we all like a little bit of boxed cereal with fruit as a bedtime snack.  But that’s it… except for the not-as-bad-for-you natural tortilla and potato chips that my son takes to school.  There!  I feel cleansed and refreshed, and I hope some of you are feeling better as well… We all have skeletons in the pantry, don’t we? Here are the items that I always keep stocked so I’ll be prepared to make healthy food rather than get fast food or eat something pre-made. Grains:

Dried Beans:

  • black beans, navy beans, pinto beans, garbanzos, etc.
  • lentils
  • mung Beans for sprouting

Part of Big Sis’ pantry is not IN the pantry. Pretty jars, eh?

Canned goods:

  • canned beans
  • canned (or boxed)tomatoes and paste
  • canned pineapple
  • artichoke hearts, olives

CONDIMENTS

  • Bragg’s Liquid Aminos (I use in place of soy sauce)
  • sesame oil
  • olive oil
  • safflower oil
  • salsa
  • mustard
  • bouillion
  • ketchup – I buy organic with no added sugar
  • rice vinegar
  • balsamic vinegar
  • coconut oil and butter

VEGGIES:

  • sweet potatoes
  • Yukon gold or red potatoes
  • onions
  • winter squash when it’s cold out

NUTS & DRIED FRUIT

  • cashews
  • peanuts
  • sunflower seeds
  • almonds
  • pecans, pumpkin seeds
  • raisins
  • other dried fruit purchased on sale 😉 cherries are a favorite of ours, dates, occasionally figs

REFRIGERATOR:

  • eggs
  • whole grain bread
  • milk (both dairy and almond)
  • cheese
  • carrots and celery
  • qpples
  • whole wheat tortillas
  • flax meal for vegan eggs
  • tofu 
  • sunflower cheese

FREEZER:

  • whole grain flour
  • frozen peas, green beans, corn, spinach
  • nuts (pecans, walnuts, almonds – all raw)
  • frozen herbs
  • frozen leftover pancakes

Whew.  When you list it all it seems like a lot, but it’s really NOT so much.  And truthfully, neither of us ALWAYS has all of these things. I don’t keep this list in my pocket and freak out when one item is low.  This is simply the list of things that we have discovered make it easy for us to keep our promise to ourselves to NOT turn to takeout out of desperation.  It would be lovely to have oodles of time for every dinner, but that ain’t life, and some nights there’s a shortage of time AND patience.  Being stocked up on REAL ingredients makes these nights a lot easier to face healthfully and economically.  Stick with us and we’ll show you how.  Do it for a while, and you’ll know why.

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Instant Mac & Cheese Without The Box

What is that you ask?

That, my friends, is an escape from the hazardous box of macaroni and cheese that has served you faithfully when you had little time to prepare a meal, or needed an older child to feed him/herself or others.  Kraft macaroni and cheese sounds like such a good idea.  Pasta, milk, cheese – what could be wrong with that?   Well for starters, the macaroni is not whole grain and it is enriched.  You know, the old take-all-the-nutrients-out-and-then-stick-them-back-in in a form that is not as readily absorbed by the body?  Second of all, it’s dehydrated cheese.  It takes a few chemicals to achieve that in a form that anyone would WANT to reconstitute!  It’s certainly not the worst ingredient list in the grocery store but Kraft Macaroni & Cheese includes chemicals like: sodium tripolyphosphate, sodium phosphate, calcium phosphate, lactic acid, citric acid, enzymes and worst of all – Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 which are on the Center for Science in the Public Interests’ list of DO NOT CONSUME food additives.

My first attempt to dodge using Kraft-type mac & cheese was to buy Annie’s whole wheat shells and cheese.  Nice product.   WAY too expensive for what it is.  I only bought it on sale, and even then when you see how much it makes you can come up with lots of other ways to spend that 2$.  Next, I began baking macaroni and cheese the old fashioned way.  Everyone loves it except my son.  Really?  By the way, he also prefers what he calls  ‘factory chicken soup’ to my homemade.  Good thing he’s cute, eh?

So… being a nice Mommy at least once in a while and missing the convenience of telling him to make some mac and cheese for himself at lunchtime now and again, I decided to try and make instant mac and cheese without the box.

And what you see in the jar is a frozen portion of the sauce I made on the stove top in the same amount of time it took for the noodles to cook (including bringing the water to a boil).   The recipe was adjusted, several versions of fresh and frozen were kid tested and proclaimed to be as good as Annie’s.  Success!  I had hoped for almost as good (which is the highest praise any of my homemade soups have ever received from him), but to equal the Master – or Mistress – of Mac & Cheese?  Wow.  I think someone should fan me with a palm leaf and feed me grapes.

But first let me give you the recipe.

Instantly Healthier Mac & Cheese
adapted from Instant mac & cheese recipe on Cooks.com
Sauce:

  • 1 cup cold milk
  • 2 Tbsp. White whole wheat flour (what I used)
  • ½ – ¾ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp dry mustard
  • ¼ – ½ tsp pepper
  • 2 Tbsp. Butter
  • ¾ cup grated cheddar cheese (Little Sis’ kids preferred less cheese, and they are awfully cute as well… Just sayin’)

Set water on to boil for pasta (preferably whole grain)*.
Make the sauce:
Mix the flour and milk in a small jar with a tight-fitting lid.  Shake well to mix the flour in.  Begin the butter melting in a saucepan over medium high heat.  Add the spices and milk/flour mixture making sure to give another good shake to the jar before pouring the milk in.  Heat the mixture to boiling, stirring well.  Boil, stirring the whole time for 1 minute.  Turn heat to low and add cheese.  Mix well.  Pour over cooked pasta  You can freeze some of the sauce for another quick macaroni meal that a kid can easily prepare.

*I am a dumper not a measurer of things like pasta so I’m afraid I don’t have a set amount of pasta for this recipe – but leftover sauce can be frozen, and leftover pasta can be saved so please forgive the lapse.  Plus you can find your optimal amount of sauce per bowl of pasta when unencumbered by rigid amounts.  Good justification for not having to make this recipe right this second, don’t you think?  Even though it wouldn’t take long at all.

We’ve linked this recipe to Melt in Your Mouth Mondays on Make Ahead Meals for Busy Moms.