Spring Cleaning

By: Denise Cooke

Cooking is like love; it should be entered into with abandon or not at all.
-Harriet Van Horn

It is with this spirit and thought that I’m writing this blog.  Hello, my name is Denise Cooke and I’ve worked as a chef for over 20 years in restaurants, catering and as a private chef.  I love food and I love cooking and sharing my food with anyone and everyone.  I’ve cooked for everyone from celebrities to toddlers and one thing remains true: that if you cook with the best ingredients you can find, even the simplest of meals can be a culinary adventure.  That said, my goal for this blog and for you is three fold:

1. To help you embrace eating locally with produce from local farms and fishermen.

2. To guide you in experimenting with new flavors and breaking out of your food comfort zone by embracing the seasonality of fresh fruits and vegetables.

3. To follow the growing season on a local farm (Sweet Georgia P’s) through the CSA box that I’ll be working with each week, and showing you how to make delicious meals, celebrating and preserving the bounty of the summer.

Now, I know a lot of what you receive in your CSA box is most often familiar and you have your go to recipes, but every once in a while you will get something that you’ve never tried and may be intimidated by. Or, there is so much of an ingredient, you don’t know exactly how to prepare and preserve it. We’ll try and come up with some new recipes for old stand-by ingredients and stretch your palate with trying new foods. Don’t be intimidated by your CSA goodies; dive into the box with abandon and you will be richly rewarded with new and unexpected dishes!

In order to have a great experience with the produce that you will find at your local Farmer’s Market or in your CSA, and in the spirit of Spring Cleaning, take a few moments to get yourself prepared. Oftentimes I find people get frustrated with cooking because they don’t have the right ingredients at hand… so they give up and head for the take-out menus.  But by just taking a quick inventory, you will find that with a well-stocked pantry, you will be in good shape to make anything at a moment’s notice, and in the end, you will save time and money and not waste your fresh food.

The following is a list that I’ve compiled that should help you set up a well stocked pantry:

1. Oils – It’s great to stock up on several different kinds, such as EVOO (extra virgin olive oil), vegetable, canola, and peanut oils.  You will use different oils for different cooking, so stocking up at the beginning will save you a trip out later. You can also add herbs to the oils, making quick marinades, dipping oils or even oils for gifts to friends.

2. Vinegars – Balsamic vinegar, both red and white (White is my personal favorite; it’s lighter on the palate, and doesn’t turn everything brown.), plain, apple cider, and champagne.  Again, stock up early and buy in bulk, especially to pickle those cucumbers come July.

3. Beans, Rice and Pasta – Black, navy, pinto, black-eyed peas.  Rices – white, brown, long grain, arborio, quinoa and couscous.  Pasta and noodles (egg, cellophane, soba) in all shapes and sizes to use for quick dinners and summer salads.

4. Baking supplies – Flours (experiment with rice, chickpea and other flours), sugar, brown sugar, cornmeal, baking soda and baking powder, and salt.

5. Condiments – Mustards, both Dijon and whole grain, mayonnaise, ketchup, soy sauce and teriyaki, Worcestershire, salsa, horseradish, and honey.

6. Dried herbs and spices – While fresh is always better, it’s always good to have dried herbs as a back-up.  Make sure they are fresh, toss anything that looks old and has lost flavor.

7. Freezer – vegetables, fruit, sausage, bacon, meat, fish and shrimp, puff pastry, nuts, ice cream and frozen yogurt.

8. Canned goods – broths (chicken, beef and vegetable), beans, sauces, tuna, fruits, veggies, jams, jellies and peanut butter.

9. Ethnic ingredients – Asian, Mexican, Italian and Thai sauces and condiments.

10. Dairy – eggs, butter (both regular and unsalted), yogurt, milk, sour cream, whipping cream, and cheese (Parmesan, goat, feta, cheddar, mozzarella).

11. Alcohol – Remember: If you wouldn’t drink it, then don’t cook with it!  I usually make sure I have the basics around.  Wine, both red and white, and remember sometimes you can buy the smaller bottles so you won’t waste a larger bottle. (Although I have yet to meet anyone who lets wine go to waste!)  For beer, I usually stay away from the lighter versions because I want that full beer taste in batters.  As for hard liquor, I’ve been known to use vodka, tequila, rum, Grand Marnier, just to name a few, in different dishes.  Most importantly, don’t forget champagne!  Always a good one to have on hand for cooking or toasting!

This list is just a jumping off point, and you can add or subtract items that will work for you and your family.  By taking the time now to get your pantry in order, you will be more relaxed and better able to enjoy what will be showing up at your local farmer’s market and in your CSA box every week and have you looking forward to what the growing season will bring to you and what delicious dishes you’ll be whipping up in no time.

Next time:  Early spring veggies

Denise Cooke Bio PicDenise Cooke has been cooking professionally for over 20 years.  She started as a caterer, has had every job in a restaurant and even worked as a private chef in Hollywood.  She now lives on the South Shore cooking for her family and friends.  She currently owns and operates a small cookie company, The Wicked Whisk.

About eSS&SC

The South Shore and South Coast has been home to hunting, gathering, fishing, farming––and great eating––for over 10,000 years. We are committed to identifying, devouring, and sharing all that Southeastern Massachusetts has to offer today and preserving local options for future generations.
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