The people's voice of reason

Southern Cuisine - February

We ate our way through Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years Day. It was like we were bears preparing for hibernation. The problem being we are about halfway through winter and we have yet to hibernate.

I suggest we slow down with preparing large family meals for the rest of winter. It should be an easy task since there are no major “feast” days until March. Except if you have a large family to start with, and for Valentine's Day and a stray family birthday, try to refrain from honing your culinary skills.

Instead hone your organizational skills by inventorying your freezer(s), refrigerator(s) and pantry. Find out what leftovers you have “squirreled” away with the intentions of preparing a different gourmet feast. What are you going to do with the freezer-burnt leftover turkey and ham. Why are you saving the burnt marshmallow topped, syrup floating sweet potatoes and the leftover fruitcake.

This is a good time to research my past articles about keeping a pantry. Just kidding! I am going to refresh your memory about keeping a well stocked pantry. Remember a pantry should reflect your skills as a cook. The tools(pots, pans, cutlery, etc.) you use do not change unless you break them or they lost their effectiveness for the purpose they were designed. What will change in a well stock pantry are the basic items that you use in most of your meals. After preparing all those meals in the past months, you may be in short supply of some basic items. This returns to the problem of living in a food desert. When you run out of cornmeal or flour, it is not likely that you will grind our own corn or wheat. The nearest store to me is six miles away. Though it has in the past months greatly improved the number of selections offered, the store is still limited in the number of products, even though they are the largest grocery store in Lowndes County. The next full size grocery store is thirteen miles away in Montgomery County and it is still a small limited selection store. For specialty items like gourmet cheeses and deli meats, a larger selection of brand names to choose from, a wider variety of produce to pick from plus live cooking demonstrations and samples, one has to find a tier one grocery store. For those of you that lived in Texas and will understand, I miss my HEB.

So, your choices are, keep a well stock pantry or shop everyday. I do like to shop but I don't like the drives that take as much time as the shopping. I keep a well stocked pantry so my shopping excursions are usually for inspiration and finding new products. Produce is at the top of the list when I go shopping. The next items on the list are to re-stock the pantry.

The following lists are basic guidelines to restock your depleted pantry. Personal tastes and availability will determine the specific items in your pantry.

I have the list broken down into twelve categories, this too can be fine tuned for your specific taste and how you want to organize your pantry.


Salt, pepper, oils, vinegar


Flour, baking soda, baking powder, vanilla extract, evaporated milk


Sugar (brown and white, and/or artificial), honey, maple syrup


Coffee (ground, instant), Tea(loose and/or bagged)


Rice, your preference, white rice has a longer shelf life), pastas(dried), breadcrumbs


Crackers, popcorn, chips, dried fruit, sunflower seeds, peanut butter, oats, applesauce


Chicken (stock or broth), beans(navy, black, chickpeas, pintos), vegetables(corn, green beans), chipotle in adobo, olives(green and black), salsa, tomatoes(diced, crushed, whole, your option), tomato paste, tuna, anchovies.


Bay leaves, Cajun seasoning, chili powder, curry powder, ground garlic, onion powder,

ground cloves, whole cloves, ground cinnamon, whole stick cinnamon, crushed red pepper,

oregano, paprika(plain and smoked),thyme,sesame seeds,ground ginger,whole nutmeg.


Milk, eggs, butter(salted and unsalted), cheese(cheddar and mozzarella), goat, Parmesan.


Carrots, celery, tomatoes, bell peppers, leaf greens, lettuce, onions, lime, lemons, potatoes.


Jelly and jams, mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, pickles, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, Asian fish sauce, pickled jalapenos, capers.


Ground meats, boneless chicken, bacon, veggies, berries, dough(pizza crust, pie crust, puff pastry

You have a list of items in your pantry, but do you keep tract of the amounts of each item. Most items have an expiration or use by date imprinted on the container. Even if the date has not come yet, some items, like spices loose their potency over time. Some items have a long shelf-life and can be purchased in larger quantities. These items include:

White rice, Oats, Honey, could crystallize but can be heated to melt crystals, Sugar, adsorbs moisture and will get hard, same as with brown sugar, Salt, Dried Beans, Vinegar, Dried Pasta, Hard Liquor,

Powdered milk,

Most of these items will last a long time if stored in airtight containers in a dark and cool storage area.

With our pantry stocked, it is time to start cooking. For the waning days of winter a hearty thick bowl of chili does wonders for the soul.

This recipe is even better if you are in a hurry to get a meal on the table because you have every ingredient in your pantry(well you should)!



3 tablespoons vegetable oil

3 tablespoons tomato paste

1 chipotle in adobo, smashed with a fork into a fine paste

3 tablespoons chili powder

1 teaspoon dried oregano

Two 16-ounce jars salsa (about 3 1/2 cups)

Three 15-ounce cans beans, such as kidney, or your preference,

drained (but not rinsed)

Three 15-ounce cans beans, such as black or pinto beans, or

your preference, drained (but not rinsed)

One 15-ounce can corn, drained (but not rinsed)

1 cup long-grain white rice

1/4 cup cider vinegar


Tortilla chips and sliced pickled jalapeños.


1. Heat the oil in a medium pot over medium-high heat.

2. Add the tomato paste and cook, smearing and stirring constantly

with a heat-proof spatula or flat-edged wooden spoon, until dark

and aromatic, about 90 seconds.

3. Add the chipotle, chili powder and oregano, and cook, stirring, for 1


4. Stir in the salsa and 1 1/4 cup water. Stir in the beans and hominy.

5. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and simmer

for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.

6. Meanwhile, bring 1 1/2 cups water to a boil in a small saucepan

with a lid.

7. Stir in the rice, reduce the heat to medium low, cover and simmer

until the water is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Remove from the

heat and let stand, covered, 5 minutes.

8. Remove the chili from the heat, stir in the cider vinegar and let

stand 1 minute.

9. Fluff the rice with a fork, divide it among 6 serving bowls and top

with the chili.

10. Serve with pickled jalapenos and tortilla chips, if desired.

Since Valentine's Day in close and we are discussing preparing meals from your pantry, here is a recipe that fits the bill. It is not your typical Valentine's entree but should remind you of chicken piccata but it does fit in with the items that are in your pantry. The recipe makes a spirited wine sauce. To make more of a Valentine meal have an appetizer of gourmet cheeses, crackers and fig jam, with fresh strawberries, and grapes. Tell your ECHO to play some soothing music. A Red Velvet Pound cake with a cream cheese frosting will be a suitable dessert.



8 oz. multigrain spaghetti

1 c. fresh flat-leaf parsley

1 lemon

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts (see note)

Kosher salt


2 tbsp. olive oil

4 cloves garlic

1 tbsp. capers

1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

1/2 c. dry white wine


1. Cook the pasta according to package directions. Reserve 1/2 cup

of the cooking water, drain the pasta and return it to the pot; then

toss with 1/2 cup parsley and the lemon zest and juice.

2. Meanwhile, thinly slice the chicken crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick

pieces and season with 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Heat

1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add half

the chicken and cook until golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes per side;

transfer to a bowl.

3. Reduce heat to medium, add the remaining oil and chicken and

cook for 1 minute. Turn the chicken, scatter the garlic, capers and

red pepper over the top and cook 1 minute more. Return the first

batch of chicken to the skillet and toss to combine.

4. Add the wine and simmer for 1 minute. Remove from heat, sprinkle

the remaining parsley over the top, then toss with the pasta

(adding some of the reserved pasta water if needed).

Note: My preference is skinless boneless thighs.

One can not think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.


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