It's not that our move was an especially difficult or stressful one; in fact, we only moved about a hundred feet down the road, into another unit in the same apartment building we've been living in for the past year. We still had to pack, though, and I still instituted a policy of eating down our pantry before the big day, in an effort to minimize waste and opened, half-eaten cargo.
This policy, however, seemed more effective last year, when Jonathan was moving out of the apartment he shared with two roommates, and there were more bodies around to eat the rather, um, interesting things I concocted with what was left in the kitchen cabinets. During that week, I remember making many batches of things like raspberry-banana bread (those frozen raspberries had been hanging around for months), all of which I managed to foist on unsuspecting friends and guests.
This time around, though, we didn't have the same local network of friends to help us eat our way through it all, and I ended up having to pack a few opened bags of flour, grains, and other staples. Everything (in the kitchen at least, the living room is another story) is pretty much in its place now, though, so I guess it's not so bad.
Now comes the happy task of re-stocking the pantry. Every move, of course, comes with the resolution to not accumulate so much stuff, not to let the fridge become overrun with once-used jars of who-knows-what, not to let the freezer become a substitute for the trash can. But a well-stocked pantry is a must for me, and I'm often so glad that I just happen to have some miso in the fridge, or a package of kombu in the cabinet.
Something I especially love is having lots of flavor-enhancing goodies and condiments in the refrigerator. They are quite evil when a move is imminent (I love tahini, but I've never finished an entire jar), but are also perfect for enhancing a quick, simple dinner or for punching up otherwise bland foods. Here are just a few examples:
1. Good jam or marmalade: perfect on toast with almond butter for a quick snack or breakfast; or an easy filling for tarts and other baked goods
2. "Rooster sauce" (sriracha): spicy and yummy in Asian vegetable stir-fries, or on eggs
3. Whole-grain mustard: essential in sauces, braises, and vinaigrettes
4. Vinegar - rice, apple cider, balsamic: adds acidity and flavor to just about anything
5. Ketchup: guilty as charged.
Let's focus on number 5 for a moment. I remember Jonathan being shocked to find that I, a self-proclaimed food snob and all-natural kind of gal, liked ketchup. I blame my mother, of course, who ruined my sister and me by introducing us to the uncannily delicious combination of ketchup and potato chips (it sounds weird, but you eat ketchup with french fries, don't you?).
Well, I've come a long way since my Heinz-and-Cape Cod days, but ketchup is still a winner. It's sweet, it's salty, it's acidic, it's just a bit savory, and seriously, I can't imagine eating scrambled eggs without it. Potatoes bland? Add ketchup. Chicken too dry? You get the idea.
Ketchup doesn't have to be the high-fructose corn-syrupy junk you find in the supermarket though. For starters, you can try an organic variety, which has all the deliciousness and versatility of the garden variety, but with real ingredients. Or, you can really go ketchup crazy, and make some of your own. It's surprisingly easy, customizable, and good. And it makes the best pantry staple. Stored in the fridge, it keeps well for a very long time (I'm not sure how long, but a few weeks, at least), and is good with everything.
I like to make mine spicy, to make things a bit more interesting, but it certainly could be made to taste more like regular ketchup. The recipe below is more of a guideline - instead of measuring things as I go along, I like to taste and adjust as necessary. It's been a while since I've this ketchup in my refrigerator, but now that I'm just about settled into my new kitchen, I'll have to make another batch soon. Enjoy!
1 box Pomi strained tomato puree (yes, it comes in a box)
drizzle of olive oil
1 shallot, minced
1-2 garlic cloves, pressed or minced
few generous pinches aleppo pepper or dried chili flakes
pinch of cayenne pepper (if you like heat)
sprinkling of dried herbs (I use Whole Foods all-purpose seasoning)
generous ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika (more or less to taste)
2-3 tbs. balsamic vinegar
1-2 teaspoons brown sugar
salt to taste
Heat oil in a saucepan, then add shallot and garlic. Saute for a few minutes, until softened. Add chili pepper and herbs, and cook for a minute more. Add strained tomatoes and remaining ingredients, and stir to combine. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, until ketchup is reduced. This will take a while - maybe 20 minutes or so. Keep temperature just below boiling to avoid messy splatters. As ketchup reduces, taste for seasoning, and add more salt, sugar, vinegar, or spice as necessary. Cook to a ketchup-like consistency, then allow to cool before serving. If not serving immediately, store in a glass jar (it will stain plastic) in the refrigerator.