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November 2012

Mary's Modern Homemaking

What's in Your Cupboard?
By Mary Frances

Mary's Modern Homemaking archive


Homemade chicken soup is easy to make from what you have in the cupboard.


Let's party! Let's dine! Let's do dessert! Don't forget the church potluck! So many events, so little time. The people of the great Pacific Northwest love their food and having fun. Give us a reason, and we'll come. Nothing will slow us down. Not rain, snow, hail, ice, high winds, nor a power outage. We will find a way!

Here in Washington State many a Thanksgiving dinner has been improvised due to sudden loss of power during a storm. But even when we have no electricity the same age-old question is: what to make for dinner? Shopping this time of the year can be more frightful than Halloween! The solution is a well-stocked cupboard.

My cupboard holds many good things, but my most cherished item is a cookbook by Art Smith called, Back to the Table: The Reunion of Food and Family. More than a cookbook, it's all about reunions. Bring family, friends (old or new), and acquaintances together. "Everyone will leap at the chance to capture a precious memory and have a party," Smith writes. This seems to sum it up. The recipes are quick and simple, and a few are passed down from his family. All are delicious. He gives you suggestions on table settings and always encourages everyone to "bless the table."


Back to the Table: The Reunion of Food and Family, by Art Smith


Pantry emergency food

When taking stock of your cupboards keep in mind things that are easy to make, especially when the power goes out. Always have on hand cans of things your family enjoys as well as other easily stored staples; for example, olives, fruits, beans, pasta, rice, and a variety of crackers. Canned meats such as shrimp, tuna, salmon, and chicken will help you be creative when putting together that last-minute to-bring dish. And let's not forget those sauces. Things like cocktail sauce, sweet chili sauce, Tabasco, or whatever is your pleasure. These will help you pull together something fantastic.

Bulk buying—beware

Now is the time to take stock of what you have, what you will need, and what is beyond the expiration date. A long, long time ago I purchased ground cayenne pepper in bulk. The unit price made it an excellent deal; however, the fact that it's been three plus years, and less than half has been used, made it not such a great deal after all. I now find myself having to toss it out because the flavor has gone flat.

Buyer beware when buying in bulk. Which is not to say don't, just be wise about it. Because my family uses a ton of pepper every month, I buy this in bulk by the pound. I buy other spices in bulk as well, just not so much—maybe an ounce or so of some versus more for things I use a lot.

Try to buy whole spices; they last longer than those already ground. Then just grind up what you need. I use an electric coffee bean grinder, which I use only for spices. You can also use a mortar and pestle or even a hand-held crack-type grinder. They all work great.

This time of year make your own pumpkin pie or apple pie spice mixes. Why waste money on something you may use only once or twice a year? I haven't bought these spice mixtures since I discovered that I can use what I already have to blend my own.

Pumpkin Pie and Apple Pie Spice Mix

1/4 cup cinnamon
2 tablespoons ginger
2 teaspoons ground allspice or cloves
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom (optional; great for apple desserts)

Stir to blend together. Store in an airtight container.

Tweak as you wish. This is great in pancakes, muffins, breads, crisps, Apple Betty, or any dessert that requires pumpkin pie or apple pie spices—or use in place of any one of the individual spices. Usually a teaspoon will do.

More dessert ideas

If you are the baking type, consider also stocking up on pie fillings and plenty of canned fruit. Mix together a little brown sugar, cinnamon, oatmeal, and some fruit, and you have a fruit crisp. Better yet, instead of using oatmeal for a topping, brush a biscuit with egg white and sprinkle with a bit of sugar.

For a delicious autumn cake, stir some nuts, cranberries, or raisins into your favorite white or yellow cake batter, add some fruit such as apples slices, bake, and enjoy.

Easy Chicken Noodle Soup

Soup made from fresh ingredients is the best, but when you need to use them, canned and frozen ingredients are great as well.

2 quarts chicken broth
1 quart water
1 large can of chicken—or two if you like lots of meat
1 large can of carrots, or 2 cups frozen
2 medium onions, finely chopped
3 ribs of celery, or 3 tablespoons celery seed
2 to 4 cups cooked egg noodles*
Salt and pepper to taste

Pour in chicken broth and water into a large pot. Bring to a boil. Add chicken, carrots, onions, celery or celery seed, egg noodles, and seasonings. Turn to low and simmer until hot. Serve with biscuits or crackers.

* You can throw in a handful or two of uncooked noodles and simmer in the broth about 10 minutes or until done, then add the rest of the soup ingredients. Or do as I do to save time: cook some extra noodles when you're making them for another meal and freeze in 2-cup plastic baggies. It's convenient to have cooked noodles on hand whenever you need them.

Fresh biscuits from the freezer

I love fresh biscuits, but who has time to make them from scratch every time a craving hits? To avoid using those cans of store-bought refrigerator biscuits, here's a handy tip I love.

Make your favorite biscuit recipe, then cut out the biscuits and place them on a cookie sheet. Freeze for one or two hours, until the biscuits feel firm and cold to touch. Put them in an airtight freezer container or baggie. Next time you want a biscuit or two, place the frozen biscuit(s) on a cookie sheet, bake according to your recipe, butter, and enjoy.


Universally, bread is a symbol for sharing.
As it passes from one to the other around the table,
bread nourishes and comforts as few other foods do.
~Art Smith, Back to the Table


Be ready!

Keeping your cupboards well stocked and fresh means you can be ready for any event at any time. So go ahead, be spontaneous! Be ready! Serve it up like a pro!


Mary Frances lives in Ravensdale, Washington, and loves finding healthy ways to keep her castle clean. She believes that what we clean with can be just as important to our health as what we eat. When she's not cleaning, Mary Frances battles the blackberry vines in her yard. Also enjoy Mary Frances's blog, All American Gal.


Mary's Modern Homemaking copyright 2013.
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