Cooking From The Pantry

I believe in having a certain amount of food on hand. Generally, two to three months’ worth of regular, everyday food, not dehydrated tofu you keep in a bunker out back.

Before the pandemic, this might have led you to believe I was some sort of doomsday prepper, but after the supply chain shortages of the last two years, I just feel like I am a realist.  I actually have a whole series of posts planned for some point about what reasonable food reserves look like, and how I do it, but today I want to share another benefit of having a deep pantry – the ability to create a good dinner quickly without leaving the house.

Tonight I came home and it was 5:30 and I realized I had forgot to set anything out to thaw for supper, and what’s worse, I had forgotten that I had a meeting at 7 I couldn’t miss.

So I looked in the pantry for inspiration, and saw a couple of potatoes that were in danger of going bad, so I needed to do something with them. We have chickens, so we always have eggs on hand. But even if I didn’t have chickens, eggs last a really long time – much longer than you think – in the fridge. So I pretty much always have lots of eggs on hand. And we always have lots of canned and frozen vegetables.

So I peeled the two potatoes and then sliced them on the mandolin about a ¼ inch thick.  I took down a 10-inch nonstick skillet and put it on medium heat, and then added a tablespoon of olive oil to it. Now, you could use any fat here – butter freezes like a dream, by the way, and I probably have 10 pounds of it in the freezer and there is always a jar of bacon grease in the door of my refrigerator – but I like the flavor of olive oil on potatoes and I have a bottle that lives on the counter by the stove.

Take the potato slices, and place them in the oil so they overlap and cover the entire bottom of the skillet. Add a generous portion of salt and pepper. Again, here is a place you could make changes – I have been known to use a big shake or two of Creole seasoning here, or seasoning salt, or, like I did tonight, just salt and pepper. All depends on what sort of mood you are in.

I like chicken stock, and make it when I have bones to use up, but for things like this, I just keep a jar of the good bouillon base in the fridge (and another, unopened one, in the pantry). Before I peeled the potatoes I had turned on the electric kettle that lives on our counter, and so I added 1 teaspoon of chicken base to 1 cup of boiling water and whisked the hell out of it, to get the base to dissolve. I then pour the cup of stock in the skillet and partially cover it, letting it simmer a few minutes.

While it’s simmering, I open a can of whole kernel corn and reserve the liquid, but then dump the corn in the skillet, spreading it around so there is a layer of corn on top of the potatoes. By now, the potatoes should be getting soft and the liquid boiling away, but if it is boiling away too fast and your potatoes are not yet soft, then add some of the corn broth to the skillet for the additional liquid you need. If they are softening fine, keep it going until the chicken broth has mostly boiled away.

What you are going for here – and it will take you somewhere between 10-15 minutes – is for the potatoes to be soft, and for the liquid to be 90% gone.

While it’s cooking away, you should get out 5 eggs, and scramble them with a whisk until smooth.  Then either shred some cheddar cheese, or, if you got some on sale cheaper than the block of un-shredded cheddar, get out a half cup of shredded cheese. (As an aside, if you do get a bunch of pre-shredded cheese, it also freezes well, and still works for the things it is good for, like this.)

Now your potatoes should be soft, and the liquid mostly cooked away. Before the next step, turn your broiler on high and let it warm up. Then pick up the skillet and shake it a bit, making sure the potatoes haven’t stuck to the bottom of the pan. Then pour the eggs over the contents of the skillet, then sprinkle the cheese all over the tops of the eggs. Then take a spatula and gently lift the edges of the potatoes, so the egg mixture slips amongst the potatoes.

After it has begun to set, constantly moving your spatula around under the edges so it doesn’t stick, then slide the skillet six inches under the broiler and let the top of the egg mixture cook and bubble until it turns the lightest of browns. Pull it out and set it on a trivet to cool while you set the table, then cut it into 4 wedges. It actually plates up better if you let it cool 10 or 15 minutes before you serve it, but I often eat it hot and let the plate be a little messy. I put hot sauce on top of mine tonight, but sometimes do chow-chow or salsa instead.

The worldly among you will recognize this is a sort of a frittata if you are Italian, or a tortilla if you are Spanish. I ate them for years without knowing they were European. This will serve two people for supper, or four people for lunch. It’s free of meat but has 44 grams of protein, and if you used vegetable broth or the juice from the can of corn instead of chicken broth, it would be full-on vegetarian and, of course, it’s gluten free. And it only messed up one skillet and a bowl to scramble the eggs in, only took 20 minutes start to finish to make, and I didn’t even have to have a plan.