By Bonnie Fishman
There are times when a fully stocked Pandemic Pantry is just not possible. I have been confronted with these times and quite frankly, they make me palpitate. I lose my grip on pantry reality. I pace. I fret. I obsess. So, you ask: why not make a grocery run and ease your anxiety? Simple: I’ll be in a particular kitchen for only a short time, not day-after-day, week-after-week, month after-month. The most common scenario for a short-term kitchen is when I travel, usually to Europe. If I’m going to be staying in one spot for a week, I select a rental house with a great kitchen. A must! In short order, I obtain very basic provisions to cook some great meals with local ingredients. These are the must-haves: olive oil, onions, garlic, tomatoes, Dijon mustard, vinegar, eggs, yogurt and cheese (preferably the local variety), great artisanal bread, maybe a handmade cured meat, and jam. Did I mention that I fill one of those seven-day pill counters with different herbs and spices, and bring along a pepper mill (you can’t really assume the rental will have these items)? Then, I’ll go to a nearby fish or meat market and the farmer’s market. Voilà! we have dinner. Enough fantasizing about world travel. Back to reality.
I was recently faced with this very situation–a finite amount of time left in my kitchen. My husband and I were winding down in our new barn house in California. It is now about to become our permanent residence, however, we have a home in Michigan that we’ve lived in for 35 years. (When we came to California in December of 2019, it was for a three-month visit. The pandemic hit and we never left.) We are returning to that house to clear it out, line up a moving van, and put the house on the market. A daunting task. I have a fully stocked pantry there (of course I do!). We’ll be eating out of that for a few months. I do think I’ll have to heave-ho the freezer and fridge items, since they’ve been sitting there for a year and half now. Were there power outages while we were gone? When in doubt, throw it out!
A week or so before we packed the car to drive east, I stopped buying food. That in and of itself is a hard concept to wrap my head around. What, not go to Trader Joe’s? STOP BUYING FOOD. It’s unnatural for me. But I had to buck up and not do it. This left me with the task of using up all the perishables in my fridge and many from the freezer. When I swam my morning laps, I had to get really creative with dinner ideas as I got closer to my departure.
I scanned the freezer contents, then the fridge. I knew I had a fully stocked pantry, so anything that was perishable could easily be supported by the flavor profile of my choosing. I’m thinking shrimp. Should I go Mex, Italian, or Thai?
I chose Thai and went for a standard stir fry. I love coconut milk and this was a perfect opportunity to use it. The full fat is really the best but truth be told, I do use the lite on occasion. You really can’t go wrong with a stir fry. No two are alike in my kitchen, I just use what’s there. I always begin with lots of fresh garlic, ginger, onions, and dried chili pepper flakes. This gives any combination you chose some depth of flavor. I also finish my Thai style stir fry with fresh lime juice and lots of fresh chopped cilantro. If one was lucky enough to have Thai basil handy, all the better. Lastly, I like to have some fresh chopped tomato in it, maybe one or two Roma tomatoes; if that’s not available, a tablespoon of tomato paste added to the coconut milk works fine.
Your pan choice is very important when making any stir fry. A wok is ideal. I personally don’t own one, it’s not my thing. My new pan of choice is a braiser.. It has a large cooking surface with a thick bottom and 4-inch-high sides, usually with two handles. If all else fails, use a very large skillet.
Remember: you can do no wrong–go for it and let us know at The Insider how it all worked out!
Thai-Style Stir Fry
Yield: 4-6 servings
1 1/2 lb. defrosted, peeled and deveined shrimp, 21-25 count, or 1 lb. tofu, cut into 1” chunks
2 Tbs. cornstarch
1/4 c. vegetable oil
2 Tbs. fresh minced ginger
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 medium onion, sliced into thin julienne
1/2 - 1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes, depending on heat desired
1 poblano pepper, cut into thin julienne
1 red pepper, cut into thin julienne
2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced thin on the diagonal
3 stalks bok choy, sliced thin on the diagonal (can use celery if no bok choy)
1/2 lb. green beans, topped, or 2 cups of sliced thinly sliced eggplant
1 can unsweetened coconut milk
1 Tbs. tomato paste
juice of 2 limes
1 bunch scallions, sliced thin on the diagonal
1/2 c. chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 c. dry roasted peanuts (optional)
Blot the shrimp with paper towel so they are thoroughly dry. In a bowl, toss the shrimp or tofu with the cornstarch. In a very large skillet or wok, heat the oil over high heat. Add the shrimp and cook for a total of about 3 minutes, until barely golden but still a little raw in the center. Remove from pan and reserve. In the hot oil, add the ginger, garlic, and red pepper flakes. Cook for 1 minute. Add remaining vegetables. Turn down heat down to medium high. Stir fry for about 20 minutes, stirring often.
Add the coconut milk and tomato paste. Bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer for 5 minutes. Blend in the lime juice and scallions. Return shrimp or tofu to the pan to heat through, about 2 minutes. Adjust the seasoning. Blend in the cilantro and peanuts. Serve over white rice.
Bonnie Fishman attended the Cordon Bleu Cookery School in London. Later, she owned and operated Bonnie’s Patisserie in Southfield, Mich. and Bonnie’s Kitchen and Catering in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. She has taught cooking for over 35 years and created hundreds of recipes. She is now living in Northern California.