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 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, baked goods and more.
Chef Kim Bond co-owns Gooseberries with her husband, Ross Lessor. Gooseberries is temporarily closed for regular business but is currently offering two limited-contact pickup options: "The Weekly Hookup," featuring a limited menu of Gooseberries' comfort food and treats available for pickup or delivery as well as free groceries on Saturdays from 11am until supplies run out (around 2pm). To view the food menu, which includes an option for donating to the grocery share, check out the Gooseberries website and follow updates on its Facebook page.
What food preservation techniques do you deem the most valuable? We love to can stuff – pickles, jellies, sauces. Basically when we get too much to eat in the garden, we turn it into one of those. Too many okra, cucumbers, beets? Throw them in a sterilized jar, fill with two-thirds vinegar and one-third water, salt, spices and then boil the jar in a water bath for five minutes. Pull them out of the water and let them sit until completely cooled. You will hear a pop when the lid seals. That's when you know you can put it on the shelf and eat it months later. My mom taught me how to can. She loved making jams and preserves when I was a kid.
We also like to freeze tomatoes when we get too many. We just used the last of 2019's frozen tomatoes for a marinara sauce recently. You freeze them whole. Then, pull them out of the freezer and dip them in boiling water. The skin comes right off and you can process the tomato from there. Ross's grandma taught him that. She always had a freezer full of tomatoes.
What are some of the most useful items growing in your garden? I like any plant you can use most of, like sweet potatoes, beets, turnips and carrots – you can eat the greens the whole time they're growing and then you get to eat the root. Amaranth is my favorite. You can eat the leaves, flowers, root and the grain. You can even pop the amaranth grain like popcorn! Plus, it is absolutely gorgeous. We grow all the berries (lots of gooseberries) and dabble in fruit trees. It's maybe not as useful considering how much time it takes but eating fruit that you planted years before is so fulfilling. And you know it isn't full of pesticides.
How can home cooks improvise something quickly to sate a sweet tooth? What about a satisfying savory snack? Here is something simple. Put some fruit in a small pan – whatever you have fresh, frozen or canned. Top with a little brown sugar, some oats, a little butter and a teaspoon of whatever jelly you have. Bake it in an oven or toaster oven until browned. It's simple, kinda healthy and satisfying. Fried dough (bread recipe below) is great tossed in powdered sugar and cinnamon. I'm also a big fan of berries, banana, cocoa, agave nectar, peanut butter and oat milk in the blender. You could even throw kale in there if you are trying to get some veggies.
As for savory snacks? Popcorn! We love popcorn. We make it almost every day and put any number of things on it like barbecue seasoning. We are actually going to be selling flavored popcorns soon including rainbow – a bunch of different fruity flavors. During one of our first dates 21 years ago, Ross told me, "Someday, baby, we will be selling popcorn on the side of the road." And soon we will be. Did you know you can make your own microwave popcorn just by putting the kernels in a brown paper bag and microwaving it? It's true.
We also like to keep a dip or spread made out of just about anything puréed, like carrots or roasted tomatoes, for eating veggies with. Steamed edamame with garlic salt is always delicious and satisfying when you pull them from their pods. Another one is fried tofu. Ross's fried tofu leftover cold is just as delicious as it is hot. I could snack on it all day every day.
What is a convenient, comforting meal you like to make with pantry staples? Rice is definitely a comfort food for me. One of my favorites is white rice with kale gravy on top – really simple flavors but so comforting. Boil some kale and garlic together and then after the kale is cooked through, add a cornstarch slurry to it and cook until the desired consistency. Add salt, pepper, more garlic and some soy sauce. Now if you put some tofu on top of that you would have a dish at Gooseberries we call "McKale's Gravy" (get it? McHale's Navy). I always make extra rice because rice, veggies and a sunny-side egg is definitely another comfort food.
Chili is another one for us. Whether it is made from canned beans or dried beans, chili is great right then and great to turn into all kinds of other things later. A staple I like to keep around is a bread dough in the fridge. You can make some flatbreads and wrap up some sautéed veggies in it and it is comfort in your hand. You can make pizza out of it or a calzone. You can fry it and make sweet or savory snacks. You can pull it out of the fridge and let it rise for an hour and bake. Fresh bread – there's not much that's more comforting than that.
Can you recommend an easy beginner bread for readers to make? For an easy beginner bread, take 2 cups of warm water and add 1½ tablespoons yeast. Let sit for about 15 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon sugar. Stir in 5½ cups of flour and 1½ tbsp kosher salt. Knead for a while. If the dough is still wet, add more flour and keep kneading. You could use up to another half cup of flour – it depends on the flour, the humidity in the room, all kinds of stuff. When the dough is ready, you should be able to stretch the dough without it tearing. You should be able to stretch a small amount of dough and be able to see through it like a bubble. Let it rise for one hour. Shape the bread into pans or do free-form loaves. Preheat oven to 375°F. Let rise another 30 or 45 minutes. Bake until golden brown or until it sounds hollow when you knock on it.