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When I’m looking through cookbooks for new recipes to try out, I start by seeing how many of the ingredients that I already have on hand and, lets put it this way, a delightful little breeze blows through hell every time I make an extra trip to the grocery store just to get one special ingredient.  What I cook at home is completely dictated by what I have on hand, which quite often leads to interesting new creations and substitutions.

Any cook, professional or otherwise, relies heavily on having a well-stocked pantry; it allows them to make a great meal when an exciting ingredient comes their way.  This is especially important for the budget-conscious cook.  It took me a few months of saving and stocking up to create my zany little pantry.  (I don’t want to talk about why the dryer is sideways, our house has a lot of ‘character.’  However, I am very happy that my fireman doesn’t mind me playing with paint.)

Here’s what I find to be essential to my personal pantry and from these ingredients I can always find something to throw together in a pinch.  How much of these things you might want to keep in your house is completely dependent on your storage situation and how imminent you think the apocalypse is.

Dry Storage:

  • Pasta – both long and short varieties, also egg noodles for casseroles.
  • Rice – I’m Japanese American, it would be disgraceful to not have sticky rice in the house.  I also usually have long grain.
  • Grits and/or Polenta – classic poor people food
  • Breadcrumbs – I only buy panko, the regular kind I can make from leftovers.
  • Potatoes
  • Dry beans
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • All Purpose Flour – and other basic baking ingredients, you’re smart, you know what they are.
  • Salt/Pepper/Seasonings – these will vary based on what cuisines one prefers.
  • Olive oil
  • Vegetable oil
  • Vinegar – I like most of the vinegars that were failed attempts at booze, rice wine, champagne, apple cider, you get the picture.

Refrigerated

  • Milk
  • Cheese – Usually I have something hard, like parmigiano reggiano, and something soft that makes friends easily, like cheddar or jack.
  • Bacon – meat candy, enough said.
  • Carrots
  • Eggs
  • Wine – I like to keep a box or two in the fridge when I need to deglaze at the end of the day…

Frozen

  • Stock – I concentrate my stock and freeze it in ice cube trays, then store in zipper bags
  • Assorted veggies

Yesterday afternoon I got a craving for an indulgent breakfast treat, and I thought about what was hanging out in my pantry and I came up with a Cinnamon Coffee Cake with crumb topping to make the next morning.  I wanted an easy quickbread  with a nice cinnamon flavor throughout as well as the visual of those swirly cinnamon streaks. If you like, you can use this batter for muffins as well.  This recipe is adapted from Gisslen’s ‘Professional Cooking’ (which some of you are all too familiar with…)  I’m sorry if you don’t have a scale, but I always measure ingredients for baked goods by weight for better accuracy.  That’s just one of the European habits that stuck with me, just like always making sure I enjoy my cappuccini before 11 am.

Cinnamon Streusel Coffee Cake

Makes one loaf – cost approx $1.78

Ingredients

Cake

  • 7 oz. milk
  • 4 oz. (one stick) butter
  • 1 inch piece cinnamon stick
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 10 oz. All Purpose flour
  • 5 oz. granulated sugar
  • 3/4 oz. baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon

Streusel

  • 2 oz. All Purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 oz brown sugar
  • pinch salt
  • pinch cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 oz shortening

Preheat the oven to 375 F and grease a loaf pan

Steep the milk, butter and cinnamon stick in a small sauce pot over low heat for about 15 minutes.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool, remove the cinnamon stick, you might want to use a strainer if you’ve got delicate fingers.  Combine all the streusel ingredients in a bowl and smoosh them together with a fork or your fingers.

Beat the eggs and the vanilla together.  Mix all dry ingredients listed for the cake, with the exception of the ground cinnamon.  Next, add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and gently stir until almost fully incorporated.  At this point, sprinkle the ground cinnamon over the batter and mix in, don’t go crazy, the streaks and swirls of cinnamon are pretty!  Pour into your prepared pan and top with the streusel mix.  Bake for 20 – 30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Whenever I pull a loaf of bread out of the oven, I like to give the pan a firm tap on the side, against the counter.  I don’t know if it’s just superstition or a habit I got from working in a bakery in during college, but I think it helps the bread to release from the pan after it has cooled, give it a try and let me know if it works for you too!  Once the bread is cooled down you can make yourself a cup of coffee and enjoy!

As soon as that happy bread smell started perfuming my house I fired up my expensive Italian espresso machine.

A moka and a milk frother are all you’ll ever need to make fancy Italian coffee

And then I sat down to my perfect, relaxing, indulgent breakfast.

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