My only professional work has been non-fiction, so that's what I've chosen to give away today.
One of the things that cookbook writers and people who are organized (don't we all know people like that?) talk about is having a Pantry.
Okay, yeah, we all have pantries of some sort - a refrigerator-freezer, a cupboard, maybe a closet with shelves - places where we store our food both perishable and not. But there's a difference between having a pantry and a Pantry.
To quote one friend of mine - she doesn't have *food*. She has ingredients. She can make anything she thinks about cooking just from the stuff in her house, but it has to be put together and cooked. She doesn't have anything to just nosh on.
Other people, "nosh" is all they store. If they get hungry, they can grab a bag of chips or a handful of cookies, or maybe a slice of bread and peanut butter. Maybe they don't cook - they eat in restaurants or buy all their food take-out. Maybe they do cook, but buy all their ingredients for the food they want to make that day and only make enough for one meal (or take the leftovers for lunch the next day.)
Most of us are somewhere in between - there are snacks and quick things to eat, and there are ingredients we always buy fresh and times we eat out or bring in take-out, but we also keep certain items in our cupboards and freezers. Maybe we can't make *anything* at anytime, but we can at least take care of an emergency or make dinner quickly - or have on hand the basic flavorings for specific dishes.
This is something that becomes very clear around Pesach time when I toss out my pasta and put away my soy sauce and rice - I have to stop replenishing it before Pesach, recreate it in a very basic way with much more limited ingredients for the one week I'll need it and then rebuild when Pesach is over.
What do I keep as part of my permanent rotating collection of stuff? Pasta - egg noodles, whole-wheat spirals and spaghetti, smaller pasta shapes, maybe lasagna. Rice - I like brown basmati. Cans of tomato products - paste, sauce and diced. Soy sauce and sesame oil, plus hot peppers and sesame seeds because I like stir-fries. I also keep various dried herbs and spices and mixtures like chili powder and curry powder (several of both for different tastes). I also have a selection of oils, ranging from cooking spray to extra-virgin that I only put on salads, and a selection of vinegars as well. In the freezer, I keep frozen vegetables. If I'm especially organized, I have ground meat made into burgers and chicken filets wrapped up separately.
I'm often not so organized, which is why there are four mini-meat loaves in there right now - I bought too much ground beef for a Pesach recipe, and I won't refreeze uncooked meat. So I made the leftover ground beef into meat loaves, cooked them and froze them. I can think of a number of uses for them, ranging from emergency dinners or food for road trips to using them in a spaghetti sauce. But if I were more organized, I wouldn't have had to cook them first.
And if I'm truly organized, I even have chicken stock in there. That's extremely rare, although currently true (okay, it's turkey stock, but still. It's there.)
What I don't normally keep on hand but should are things like carrots and onions, which I tend to buy as needed - the exceptions being for holidays when I don't know how many I will need and don't want to run the risk of running out. I do keep garlic on hand because, well, it's garlic.
My husband is in charge of nosh and fresh fruit, and we don't run out of nosh very much, if at all.
And even my not-so-great middle range Pantry has served me well. My favorite example happened a couple of years ago. It was Sukkot - one of those years when all the chaggim fell on Thursday and Friday, so we had a month of three day yomtovs. We were supposed to eat the first lunch by friends and we had a guest for lunch the second day, which happens to my husband's Hebrew birthday. Tuesday night, my hostess called me and said there was an emergency in her home and could I make some of the lunch? Of course I said yes, and made the stuffed peppers and sweet potato kugel she requested. But that got me so confused that I forgot to get enough food for the rest of yomtov - to be precise, I forgot to get the steaks I was going to make for the second day lunch.
Lunch wasn't a problem by itself - I made what would have been Shabbat dinner instead, but that still left me with Shabbat dinner and lunch to make and no way to buy more food.
Yes, we have plenty of friends and could easily have eaten either or both meals in their sukkot with little or no notice. But I do have a pantry of sorts and it was better filled than ususal - I had chicken filets and spinach in the freezer, noodles and matzo meal in the cupboard (and, I believe, shelled pistachios) and red onions and eggs in the refrigerator. I thawed the filets and saute'd them and cooked the noodles. As for the rest - I cooked the onions with garlic and mixed them with the spinach, a couple of beaten eggs, some nutmeg and a handful of matzo meal plus the nuts and baked it in a loaf pan, and it was the best spinach kugel ever. It's become part of my repertoire, and we had a very nice Shabbat in our sukkah.
And even now, after Pesach, I can cook a meal with what I have in my freezer and it will be good.
Well, if I remember to get onions.