While doing their part to maintain social distance, home cooks everywhere are honing their skills in the kitchen. Feast consulted with some of St. Louis' finest chefs and business owners for their best advice on how to make easy, wholesome meals using simple pantry staples. Find out how to make the most of your groceries in this Q&A series, which outlines some pro tips for creating nutritious and comforting from-scratch meals, snacks and more.
Nancy Boehm is the co-owner of Pint Size Bakery, a beloved small-batch bakeshop in Lindenwood Park. Pint Size Bakery is currently offering both online and in-person carryout orders. An online store exclusively for Thanksgiving orders is also available and features items such as a lil pie sampler box using local ingredients, including pie pumpkins grown by Nancy’s mom, dad and a local hobby farmer; pecans from McGraw Hilltop Pecan Farm; and apples from Double Star Farms.
What are some pantry staples you always like to keep on hand at home, and how do you like to use them? I always have a good supply of oils and vinegars on hand. I love nut oils, especially hazelnut and walnut. Of course, I have a good olive oil on hand and sesame oil adds so much flavor to Asian inspired dishes. For vinegars, I like rice wine and red wine vinegar. I also usually have apple cider and champagne vinegars.
In the summer, we have some sort of salad or fresh vegetables most nights with dinner. I’m really picky about salad dressing and love to make my own vinaigrette. I tend to use a lot higher ratio of vinegar than most people, so it is easier to just make my own. Besides your usual salads with lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes, etc., I make a lot of different tangy slaws to go with tacos or stir fried shrimp or chicken.
In the summer, I always splurge on some really amazing aged balsamic. Most of it gets drizzled on tomatoes either from my mom’s garden or the farmers’ market. A little drizzle with caramelized onions makes an amazing jam that goes great with grilled vegetables and meats or even just on a cracker with chèvre.
What are some essential tools in your kitchen you can't go without and why? I feel like I have so many kitchen tools, but there are very few that I use all of the time. Like most bakers and pastry chefs, a heatproof rubber spatula is one of my best friends in the kitchen. Its great for getting every last drop out of a container as well as keeping things from burning on the bottom of a pot. Also, because it is softer than a metal or wooden spoon, it’s perfect for gently incorporating ingredients to make chocolate mousse or the filling for crab cakes.
I really like a silicone spatula that is all one piece versus one with a separate top and handle. At home, I use a 10-inch. The brand Trudeau comes in all sorts of fun colors. At the least, it’s easier to find in my tool drawer because it’s bright red.
Just this summer, we purchased a propane-powered outdoor griddle and I really don’t know how I lived without it. It gets screaming hot, which means I can get an awesome sear on almost anything. Some of my favorite things to cook on it have been salmon, shrimp, pancakes and crispy smash burgers. Using it creates a lot less dishes which I’m sure makes my husband Jason happy – he spends a lot of time cleaning up my messes. Also, it keeps all of the cooking smells outside. I hate waking up the next morning to the smell of last night’s salmon and Brussels sprouts in the kitchen.
When you're seeking something comforting, what are your go-tos? As the weather turns cold, I make a lot of soups like crab and corn chowder, gumbo or even just a simple tomato bisque with a crispy grilled ham and cheese sandwich. Soups are the best because a lot of times they can be prepped ahead and either finished when I get home or simply reheated when we are ready for dinner. My husband is a hunter, so we have a lot of venison chili. I’ll get it ready the night before or in the morning and let it simmer all day. A bowl of chili with a sprinkle of sharp cheddar cheese and green onions and a dollop of sour cream is so comforting.
Usually If I bake at home, I keep it pretty simple. Apple crisp comes together quickly. It has most of the great qualities of apple pies with a lot less hassle. While we like apple at our house, almost any fruit that makes a good pie can be substituted such as peaches, blueberries or even strawberry-rhubarb. Ice cream never lasts very long in our freezer, but if we have it, a scoop on top of warm apple crisp is perfection.