One can learn a lot about someone with a quick tour of their panty. Seriously, touring someone's pantry should be a required component of dating. It's perhaps more insightful than peeking into a new beau's medicine cabinet or underwear drawer, not that we've ever done such a thing.
"How adventurous is this guy," you wonder. Let's say his pantry is full of canned chili, bags of Fritos and not much else. We'd venture to guess he's a pretty basic, reliable guy but don't hold your breath for any sort of magic in the kitchen. If he's stocked up on preserved lemons, anchovy paste and tins of San Marzano tomatoes, he's quite possibly a total stud, Jaime Oliver level. Cheese that squirts out of an aerosol can? Put that one back in the pond and keep it moving. Vegemite? Personally, ick, but Australian men are usually irresistible so you may have to make an exception on this one. Plus they have those adorable accents. Bags of biltong? That's marriage material, ladies. Hook 'em and land the deal. He's a KEEPER.
In this strange time, we're of course stocking up and spending much more time at home. I recently organized my pantry and here's what you'd learn about me if you were to take a little tour.
1. I can not be trusted on Amazon. It's not so much a "panic buying" thing, but rather a complete inability to comprehend units of measure. I went down a Thai curry paste rabbit hole and thought how smart am I, I'll stock up on coconut milk and rice and we can have delicious Thai curry. So of course I now have 6 containers of Jasmine rice, two CASES of canned coconut milk and enough curry paste to power a packed Thai restaurant for the next ten years. A similar thing happened earlier this year when I befriended a little squirrel that would sit outside my kitchen window with his longing little squirrel face, just staring at me, telepathically begging me to give him raw almonds. One day, I went into the pantry to find the bag of almonds missing. With an obvious culprit in mind, I hunted down my husband and there he sat in his recliner with an empty bag of almonds and a beer. "Those were for Peanut." "Who the heck's Peanut," he asked. "My squirrel friend, you jerk." So I stormed off and promptly ordered a bag of actual peanuts in the shell on Amazon after reading squirrels are pleased with any kind of nut really, and how ideal to chuck a handful of peanuts out the window for my little Peanut. I was out of town when the fifty pound (I kid you not) bag of peanuts arrived. My husband was like, "Heather, are we sponsoring a bunch of wayward elephants or is there something you're not telling me?" It turns out $49 will buy you an awful lot of peanuts, who knew.
2 - I really (like REALLY) enjoy porcini mushrooms. You are arguably mentally unstable if you don't agree they are the superior star of the whole mushroom family. You have the sad, bland, boring white button mushroom and then you have the porcini. There is no comparison. The very first thing that greets you as you enter into my pantry is a bag of dried porcinis the size of your face. They have the most exquisite Earthy taste and they're a secret ingredient for most anything vegan as they trick your mouth into thinking you're not missing out on meat. Am I vegan? Don't be ridiculous, I run a biltong company. But we do try to go plant-based a few nights a week and the porcini shroom is my ride or die bestie in this endeavor.
3 - I have a toothless cat. Seriously, you'd gather this from a quick trip to my pantry. Not one tooth is in the mouth of that cat. So she lives on jars of human Gerber turkey baby food and apparently, it's delicious. She laps it up like it's the most divine thing on the planet and our other pets are like, "how is this fair? What a cruel world we live in," so we now have to give them all human baby food to keep the peace around here. The good news is that I'm already married because any prospective beau would probably take in the scene of 500 jars of baby food neatly stacked in my pantry, and the fact that I have a toothless wonder of a cat, and run for the hills.
4 - I'm a wench of a woman first thing in the morning, like a little angry troll sitting under a bridge collecting tolls. Coffee creamer is not ideal, I agree. It's nowhere near as good as actual half and half, or almond milk. But in this day and age, one can not be certain one will be able to have fresh dairy in stock. It's not like the dairy farmers of America aren't in full production, but it's more like I'm too lazy to make a run to the store where the parking lot is madness, people are losing their minds and how many Lysol wipes do I really have on hand to wipe down the car door handle, steering wheel, seatbelt buckle, shopping cart, my own hands... So I stocked coffee creamer, the little pods that last forever because they are so full of fake things, they basically never expire. It's a thing. Me in the morning before coffee. I'm a morning monster and I know it. I'm grumpy, like a hibernating bear just starting to stir at the first sign of spring. I'm comatose. I'm unkind and unapproachable. I'm a caffeine addict and there is no self help group that will ever break through and make me change my relationship with a cup of coffee first thing in the morning. Thus, this is quite possibly THE MOST IMPORTANT item in our entire household, aside from Gerber baby food and Peanut's peanuts.
5 - I'm a sauce snob; a saucy snob. Rao's pasta sauce runneth over in my pantry. I love to cook so my preference will alway be to make my own sauce from scratch. Last year, our garden produced so many tomatoes, I was an Italian Mama whipping up batch after batch of sauce from scratch. But I'm not always in the mood to spend hours doing that. Sometimes, I'm not in the mood to do anything but watch The Real Housewives of New Jersey with a face mask slathered on my aging mug. The trouble is that most jarred sauce is full of sugar and tastes inferior. Rao's is my exception. I've actually been to Rao's restaurant, which is both a mystery and a scene. You have to know a guy who knows a guy. You get a reservation at 10:45pm on a Wednesday, and you get your buttocks out of bed and do whatever you need to do to show up. You pay cash. Only cash. You feel like you're buying illegal drugs because there is no menu, no pricing, just a dealer of delicious pasta and legendary seafood salad, and you blindly take whatever he says he's willing to give you because he's doing you a favor and you're lucky to be there in the first place. The meal will go down in the history books as the best ever, and you'll leave with a full belly and a high degree of likelihood that you'll have an epic hangover the next morning because what else is there to do before a 10:45pm Wednesday dinner reservation but have a cocktail or two, or more while you're starving and trying not to stare at Jimmy Fallon sitting at the bar three feet away. I am pleased to announce that my pantry features, center stage, six jars of Rao's glorious red sauce.
6 - I have a kitchen gadget fetish. My pantry is also where I store all of the endless culinary devices I absolutely had to have, but rarely ever use. There's the Moroccan tagine. The air fryer still in the box. The InstaPot pressure cooker that behaves as if Satan himself is inside that thing. The spiralizing attachment for the KitchenAide mixer that I was going to die without, until I realized most every grocery store on the planet now carries pre-spiralized vegetables. There is the Japanese hot pot thing with the bunsen burner base. The fondue set. The deep fryer. The garlic roaster. Slow cooker. Lobster butter thingies that you only need when you dip lobster into butter and it's beneath you to do so unless the butter is ideally heated. Ravioli maker, rice maker, Chinese wok and bamboo steamer. And of course there is the creme brûlée torch. Because I make creme brûlée so often.
7 - I also have an unnatural relationship with cookbooks. There is but of course the extensive collection of what I refer to as "Food Erotica." Tantalizing eye candy; page after page of images that turn me on. Cookbook after cookbook, loaded with food pics that make me moan and groan in this insanely stimulated way. Paella....mmmm. White artichoke soufflé, stop! Stop! I can't. The Mansion on Turtle Creek's chicken tortilla soup, I think I just had a moment, let me gather myself, I'm not presentable. Granted, I rarely ever use any of them because in this digital world, it's so much easier to Google a recipe online and work off your iPhone or iPad like a lazy wanker. How tedious and library-like to have to walk all the way to the pantry, which is so far away, pull a book off the shelf, muck about trying to find a recipe, etc. All of that said, my cookbook collection rivals my shoe collection in terms of how much pride and emotional attachment I feel towards it.
8 - Did I mention I make and market biltong? Lastly, we are biltong craftsmen/women so you'll also find gallon after gallon of apple cider vinegar and pound after pound of every kind of spice, from Smoked Spanish Paprika to Ras El Hanout imported from Morocco. Don't be silly, of course we don't make Biltong Baron product here at the house. But we find inspiration in prototype recipes. If we love it enough, we ask our Spice Lab team to replicate a blend, and then they send a test batch to our USDA-certified production facility who does a second prototype run. And if all of that goes well and we still love it enough, we produce the new biltong recipe for consumers to enjoy (you!). In addition to our Signature Recipe, Vampire Defense, Fire in the Hole and Cowboys 'N Campfires, we're kicking around new concepts that include Unami Tsunami, Totally Tandoori and Turkish Tango. And you bet your bottom dollar that I'm toying with dried porcini biltong recipes because I think we've established that would be insanely delicious, if we could figure it out.
The world is not really all that big. We're obsessed with global flavors, cultures and adventures. Stay tuned as we roll out new recipes and stay well stocked in those pantries, friends, and remember, before you stock it, ask yourself, "would someone break up with me if they saw two hundred cans of Beenie Weenies in my pantry and nothing else?" I would. I would probably actually break up with you because if there's truth to the saying, "you are what you eat," then you're one big Beenie Weenie and who wants to be romantically involved with that?
The Biltong Baron