I touched on the need for a stocked pantry in my last article. There have been books and websites about pantry stocking and I don't want to dwell too long on the subject. If you are starting out in a new apartment fresh from college, your pantry will be basic and mostly stocked with comfort food. Southern Living's Test Kitchen has a quick list of 10 items that could be a good start for you:
Beans-great for side dishes, salads, or in pasta.
Rice-easy and versatile side dish.
Pasta-Quick main dish with simple stir-ins such as chopped cooked chicken and pasta sauce.
Baking mix-make quick breads, biscuits, or crusts for casseroles.
Potatoes and onions-Versatile veggies that add flavor and substance.
Cream soups-Great for casseroles.
Pasta sauce-Stir into hot cooked pasta for a super-quick meal.
Canned tomatoes-Use in everything from casseroles to pasta.
Broths-Make quick sauces and soups.
Canned tuna-Stir into pasta and salads, or make a creamy spread for a sandwich.
You will still need items, like sweeteners, condiments, oil, and seasonings. A goal for your pantry will be, instead of buying a bottle of stir fry sauce, you will have all of the ingredients to make your own.
This list shows you how things have changed in the South and for that matter, everywhere. The quick fix in food preparation, calling for canned soups, jarred pasta sauces and a baking mix. I would tweak the list to be this:
Beans-dried beans Great Northern, kidney and Lima and dried peas
Rice-long grain white
Grits-yellow and white, stone ground, not instant Flour and cornmeal
Potatoes and onions
Pasta if none other at least macaroni
Country Ham salt cured and very versatile.
Just as a musician can look at the sheet music and mentally hear the notes, the instruments are needed for the rest of us to enjoy the composition. We have the recipes but need the right instruments to produce a meal. Just as you can not play Flight of the Bumble Bee on a bass drum, you are not going to stir fry in a plastic mixing bowl. The list of utensils that you can have varies with your knowledge of cooking and the types of meals you want to prepare. I am going to discuss one such item. The cast iron skillet. No other utensil in Southern kitchens has as many memories and is as revered as the iron skillet. Cast iron skillets are heirlooms. All the memories of the family meals are locked way in the dark recesses of those skillets. Every time a skillet is used, some of those memories are released and are linked with new memories to be shared with the next meal.
Now that you have your seasoned cast iron skillet, and in your pantry you have your corn meal, flour and of course your bacon drippings, let's whip up some breakfast, my favorite meal.
Hoecakes with Country Ham, Fried Eggs and Tomatoes
This is the simple recipe. Some recipes are like flour pancakes with cornmeal added.
2 cups cornmeal
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups boiling water
Enough bacon grease (drippings) to fry the hoecakes.
Mix boiling water, cornmeal and salt and stir until thick. Heat bacon fat to medium high. Shape mixture into 3/8 inch patties (about ¼ cup) and carefully place into your cast iron skillet. Cook until underside is crispy brown about 2 minutes, turn over to brown other side. Makes about 10 to 12 hoecakes. What you don't eat for breakfast, save for lunch and dinner.
Turn down the heat in pan and add ham slices and just heat, then fry your eggs. Slice a tomato and heat it up and place a hoecake on your plate, then a slice of ham then egg on top with a couple slices of tomato on the side. Enjoy.
Use the leftover hoecakes with this recipe for Pork Tenderloin.
COUNTRY PORK TENDERLOIN
4 medium sized parsnips peeled and cut into 2-3 inch lengths
4 small sweet potatoes cut into lengths about the size of the parsnips
8 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons dried thyme
2 pound pork tenderloin
2 tablespoons molasses
2 tablespoons bourbon
Preheat oven to 425. Mix parsnips and sweet potato in big baking dish; top with 6 tablespoons butter and half of thyme. Season with salt and pepper.
Bake until vegetables are tender, stirring and basting for about 30 minutes.
Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a skillet over med-high heat. Season pork with salt and pepper and brown on all sides. Add tenderloin to vegetable dish. In the skillet, mix the molasses, the rest of the thyme and bourbon. Spoon over the pork and vegetables and bake for about 15 to 20 minutes. When done, slice pork into medallions and fan over hoecakes left over from breakfast. Spoon vegetables and sauce over top. Heat more hoecakes and pour hot butter and honey on top and have as dessert.