10 pantry must have

12:59 PM

The festive season is there, the public holidays vortex is about to suck me in. From then until Diwali there is pretty much one school holiday a week, and thanks to a few politicos, this year we are seeing a repeat of the extended Ganesh Utsav, which will be a whole 5 days long thanks to a weekend that falls in the line up. On top of it, a vast majority of Ishita's friends are born between July and September. So much so that until The end of the Diwali break, my life is a succession of social engagement, parties, meet ups, and plots to keep my little monster occupied on those days off.
This is the time of the year I try to simplify things even more than usual, especially in the kitchen. As you all know, I love to cook...and eat. However, cooking is an activity that should remain stress free, and hassle free. So, when I find myself on edge, running from A to B, I'd rather put something simpler and far less time consuming to pull on the table than exhaust myself cooking a multi course meal. I cut corner, find shortcuts, and save myself oodles of times and sanity with a few essentials my kitchen is never without :

a cup of tea and some almonds

1) Always have the ingredients to make a cake on hand and a recipe you can do by heart. I have a basic sponge recipe that need only 5 ingredients. I can from that base make any flavour, and even turn them into cup cakes. If you don't have an oven, find a cold microwave mug cake recipe. Why? because on a stressed out day, a cake can fix anything.

2) Maggi Noodles, or any ramen type noodles really. Do I need to say more?

3) Your favourite tea, or selection of favourite teas. Because a cup of tea and a few munchies makes for the perfect stress relieving snack.

4) A pack of pasta, because this has been a houshold staple in Switzerland for ages. You are always guaranteed to have enough veggies on hand to toss together into a healthy topping. You can toss pasta with just about anything...ANYTHING and a meal on the table in 15-20 minutes. Toss a salad on the side if you feel the need to and you are good to go...tension free.

5) A few bags of frozen things in the freezer. There always be days of chaos, frustration and hair tearing in your life, especially if you have children. These days it is actually simpler to just pull a few cutlets, nuggets, meatballs out of the freezer, cut a few tomatoes and steam some broccoli than attempt a complicated recipe. My favourites are the chicken meat balls from Venky's that just go with anything. I can make them in a creamy sauce, a desi tomato gravy, an oyster sauce, grill them to use I a wrap or sandwich, add them chopped to a soup.

6) Ready to use masala paste mix to pull an Indian dish in minutes. Don't give me the stink eye, or protest that those ready to eat packs are disgusting just yet...hear me out. There is no question that those MTR meal pouch are tasting bad. These, are NOT the one I am talking about here. I am talking about these new masala mix that just help you make your gravy faster. You still have to chop your veggies, paneer or chicken. I have tried a few of these, and they all end up pretty much cutting the prep time in half, freeing as much as 15 minutes of my time in the process. Always have a few handy, a paneer dish will then pretty much be about just buying the paneer from your kirana store.

7) Instant soup packages. It is the same idea as above, saves you time, and you can always garnish then with fresh add ons like chopped carrots, corn kernels, toasted bread cubes or prawns. Serve it with fresh toasted bread and you have a light meal...in minutes. This has been a favourite of Ishita's for dinner this monsoon.

8) Corn flour (known as corn starch by some). All it takes is one teaspoon diluted in a little water to give a new dimension to any gravy or sauce. ONE TEASPOON! You can turn a watery Chloe gravy to a thick velvety one with it, or pull a creamy sauce out of the cooking juice from your chicken if you are cooking continental.

9) An assortment of basic seasoning from all the cuisines you cook the most. I always have olive oil, rice vinegar, soy sauce, fish sauce, barbecue sauce, oyster sauce, chicken and veggie stock cubes and fresh cream around. With all these I can pull any seasoning I need for the dishes I usually cook often.

10) Last but not least, a stack of take out menus. Yes! Because there are days that will be so hectic, that cooking will not be an option...at all. Days it will be safer for all involved if you don't cook. And that is fine, don't feel guilty of that, we are all only human after all.

Cooking everything from scratch, at every single meal and on every single day is an idea that should die once and for all. Our lifestyle has envolved drastically over the decades, people in cities are living hectic lives. Taking a few shortcuts on occasion has never killed anybody, and if the worth of a woman was only measured by her excellence in the kitchen, she would have been a chef, not a homemaker.

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  1. Hmmmm......I love 'shortcuts' in cooking & we have quite a large pantry & freezer to store things in. Plus the communist cadres around here used to call random strikes/bandhs/hartals when we couldn't leave the house for days.
    A brief perusal of our freezer reveals-
    frozen aloo parathas - husband likes to cook breakfast for the kids & guests
    frozen chapattis - I hate making chapattis, period.
    frozen peas- great for peas & paneer, peas & mushrooms, samosa filling, sabzi masala
    frozen spring roll wrappers- great for making spring rolls (duh), samosas, & chocolate empanadas
    In our pantry-
    canned tomato paste- tomatoes can be dodgy or unavailable here, adds a rich deep color & flavor to dishes
    canned peaches, canned pineapple, canned apricots - great for making American style fruit topped 'coffee cake', or what my Dutch family would call a platz (canned mangoes are YUK!, learned that one the hard way)
    maraschino cherries- makes great pink cake, pink ice cream, pink soda for kid's parties, or the cake that is sooooo popular in India the Black Forest cake
    canned coconut cream- great for making ice cream, laddoos, cake, essential for the gravy in many south Indian dishes
    boxed whole milk- necessary when fresh whole milk isn't available for 'noon chai' (salt tea) which is what Kashmiris & Tibetans drink
    powdered whole milk- great for making masala chai, sweet Lipton chai, milk coffee, can be made into a khoya substitute when mixed with very little water to form a paste, can be made into a cream substitute by mixing with less water to thicken gravies also (CAN NOT BE USED FOR SALT TEA/NOON CHAI EVER!!!)
    canned sweetened condensed milk- great base for carrot halwa, barfi, kulfi, ice cream, & caramels
    canned cream- fresh cream is rare, expensive usually rancid here in Nepal,Nestle makes canned cream in these 170 gm tins, they're labelled in Arabic & look a bit odd but if you wish to make a cream based sauce, add lemon juice & make sour cream, or whip some up for a topping they are fantastic! Sometime we get a German brand of cream in a box called 'Emborg', it is quite delicious & I usually make ice cream out of it (It is also about $12 a 1/2 liter)
    Cornflour is also great if you are making a dish with yogurt or cream based sauce, beat in about 1/2 a teaspoon of cornflour into each cup of cream or yogurt before adding to the dish & the cream or yogurt will not split. (It also helps to cool the dish down before adding the cream or yogurt mixed with cornflour down like you would when making a cornflour sauce)
    Mayonnaise- we really don't eat mayonnaise except when I make deviled eggs (husband calls them eggs with cream) but when the butter & eggs get scarce or of poor quality here - I can make a darned decent cake using store bought mayo in place of eggs & butter.
    Thai curry pastes- ever since I introduced my Indian family to yellow Thai chicken & red Thai curry they love them & they are the easiest thing to fix.
    Take out menus are not going to happen in Nepal. Nepal just isn't a 'fine dining' or even mediocre dining destination.
    Finally, that is an absolutely adorable pic of Ishita, what a gorgeous little girl she is.

    1. My freezer is full of chicken, prawns, fish, pizza and pie dough I make in advance. When I make a batch of Mac and cheese or lasagna, I also make a few containers for the freezer. When pumpkins look nice ripe and bright orange I buy some and boil them to make pumpkin purée for pies and other pumpkin flavoured thing.
      I'll try to remember that tip about the corn flour in the the yogurt. I never tried it.

      That picture of Ishita was from last year when the school called for a last minute rainy day and closed because of a high tide alert. Ishita was upset not to go to school and having to remove her school uniform, so I made her a bowl of maggi noodle and told her to snuggle under the blanket to enjoy the rain.

  2. Anonymous10:21 PM

    Omg! Now ish is looking so much like her dad in this pic. Cute. Last year she was looking like u. :)

    1. This picture is from last year :-)

  3. Ishita is so cute in that picture :) All grown up!!

    1. Thanks :-) the picture is from last year when the school called at the last minute to tell us the school would be closed because of a high tide alert and rain. she was upset not to go, and I made her maggi noodles to eat while snuggling under her blanket.

  4. Love having a pasta in the pantry as well as a fresh pesto to use. And maggi - such a quick staple. I also keep all the spices - my fave is turmeric and chilli powder for any dish.

    1. I didn't mention the spice, because this is a given one :-) everybody around here has them. :-) there are so many other things no pantry should be without, these are my sanity saving must haves for stressed out times.


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