Friday, March 20, 2009

Dad has considerable skills

I'd always dreamed of a large, well-stocked, stylish, organized pantry. The kind you'd see in a magazine, perfect shelves festooned with meticulous rows of canned San Marzano tomatoes and jewel-green bottles of Pellegrino. On her TV show, when Ina Garten would open up her pantry doors and show off her copious storage space -- enough room to display stacks of concentric oval white porcelain baking dishes; a roomy shelf on which she has placed just three simple pitchers -- I'd get a little wistful and jealous. Imagine having enough room that you don't have to cram all of your cookware and groceries on a few limited shelves, pasta boxes on top of platters wedged next to rolls of paper towels balanced on bags of rice.

I realize that my problem stemmed from not only inadequate storage space, but also the possession of WAY TOO MUCH cookware, FAR TOO MANY dishes and a plethora of pantry "staples" that aren't really staples at all, such as multiple varieties of quinoa, several types of couscous and enough chickpeas to feed the Roman army. But the kitchen is my thing. I have a lot of stuff. When I want to make something, chances are I have the necessary ingredients and specialty kitchen tools for the job. Storing it all neatly is the cross I bear.

But then along came Dad. Well, actually, Dad was always there. I should say: along came Dad armed with a really good pantry blueprint. One that unapologetically took into account the demanding and fickle pantry whims of his kitchen-obsessed daughter. A plan to transform an otherwise wasted space into pantry Valhalla. If it seems like I'm bragging in an unbecoming fashion, it's just because I'm so proud of Dad's skills and grateful to have him in my life. And he says I never appreciate him.

Our kitchen has a large closet that used to house the washer and dryer, along with a few sad rows of shelving. It is a good-sized closet; it had to be, to fit a laundry. Since the day we moved in I wanted to convert the space to a roomy pantry. Never mind that the kitchen is spacious already, with plenty of cabinets for dishware and food storage for a normal person. But, I am not a normal person. I needed this extra space! So we moved the washer and dryer to a new laundry room (which Dad also built), and set our sights on the new pantry. 

I had a few rather specific and needy requirements for the new pantry: I really wanted wood shelving. Dad has considerable skills as a carpenter and I really wanted the space to resemble built-in furniture. I wanted dedicated space for the microwave and toaster oven, to get those appliances off the already-cluttered counter tops. I wanted room to accommodate the kitchen electrics we received as wedding gifts but had not removed from their boxes due to a lack of storage space. These electrics include a waffle maker and a deli slicer along with a fantabulous little press that makes sandwiches in the shape of Snoopy. I needed a place to store my second Kitchenaid mixer. Did I mention I have a lot of stuff? 

What Dad created is genius. Floor-to-ceiling shelves, each measured and built to house specific items such as my blue plastic bin of cake decorating supplies and the dog's large container of dry food. The unit is divided in two, vertically. On the right side is a counter top that holds the microwave and toaster oven. In front of the shelves on the left side will be a to-be-constructed rolling unit, hinged on one side, that will store oft-used staples like Barilla pasta and jars of tomatoes. The shelves behind the rolling unit hold less-frequently used items like platters and canning supplies. There is a shelf for my very favorite cookbooks, and room for all the Australian candies and biscuits that I hoard like crazy. There is even a tiny shelf just for pepper grinders, and one for ceramic pitchers (Ina, eat your heart out). Sometimes I just swing open the doors and stare at it. It is a marvel. There are countless reasons I am lucky to have my dad; his pantry-building prowess is near the top of that list.

Dad, thank you for spoiling me. I want you to know I realize how good I have it.



In honor of my pantry, today I present a dish that's heavily reliant on pantry items. I keep many different grains, beans and pastas on hand at all times (along with a wide variety of nuts in the freezer). There is no end to the permutations of side dishes that can be made with such a stocked pantry; this particular combination sounded good to me tonight as an accompaniment to grilled chicken.

If you don't have or can't find red rice and red quinoa, go ahead and use 2 c. jasmine rice and 1 c. regular quinoa. I just find it fun to find and use the specialty grains.  (I find the red rice at my local gourmet market and the red quinoa in the bulk section of Whole Foods.)

3 T. unsalted butter
1 T. olive oil
1/2 large onion, finely chopped
2 t. garam masala
1 1/2 t. cumin
1 1/2 t. coriander
1/4 t. cayenne
2 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed
1 black cardamom pod, lightly crushed
1/2 t. cinnamon
3/4 t. kosher salt
1 1/2 c. jasmine rice, rinsed
1/2 c. red rice, rinsed
1/2 c. quinoa, rinsed
1/2 c. red quinoa, rinsed
2 c. water
2 c. chicken stock

1 c. whole almonds, toasted
4 oz. feta cheese, crumbled

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Toast the almonds on a baking sheet for 5-7 minutes, until they're slightly browned and fragrant.

In a large pot, heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until softened and slightly golden, about 8-10 minutes. Add the spices (garam masala through salt) to the onion and cook for another 3 minutes. 

Add the rice(s), quinoa(s), water and chicken stock and raise the heat to high. Bring to a boil then cover, reduce the heat to low and simmer until the grains are tender, 20-25 minutes. Fluff with a fork and remove to a large bowl. Toss with the almonds and feta and serve.

Makes 8 generous servings.


Anonymous said...

I am very, very jealous of your shelving. I don't have any storage room in my kitchen and it drives me up the wall. One day...

Anonymous said...

What a GORGEOUS pantry. Living in a 1,200 square food apartment, with a tiny galley kitchen, I can only dream of a pantry like that. It is amazing! You are so fortunate to have a father who can construct something that wonderful!

Unknown said...

no more work in the pantry until he does my master bath. love mom

Dianne said...

Hi Mom!!!

You'd think Dad would be flattered, with how we fight over his attention, skills and time. But really, he'd love it if we all just left him alone.

Unknown said...

yes, he would set around and drink chivas. thats why we can't leave him alone

Dianne said...

By the way...I'm so glad you're reading!