I made a tasty quiche from food storage for my family's Easter brunch (I'll share that recipe later), but it made me think about how much more I cook from my pantry now than I did in the past. Some of you probably don't use long-term storage food in your daily cooking, or even at all. Although I'm not an expert, here are some tricks that helped me get started. Hopefully they'll be helpful to you as well.
Why do I use long term storage foods in my cooking? Quite simply, I want to know how to use these foods if I ever have to rely solely on my storage for sustenance. I didn't want to have to learn to use strange new food items while dealing with an emergency. Those #10 cans can look intimidating at first glance, and I've mentioned before that egg powder scared me for quite a while. Now that I'm more familiar with dry and dehydrated foods, I feel confident in my ability to produce familiar, healthy, delicious meals even while handling an unforeseen event.
How did I start using my food storage? I started by incorporating long-term storage foods into one meal per week. I would substitute one ingredient here or there; for example, I began cooking my own dry beans instead of using canned, pre-cooked beans. If a recipe called for 1 cup of milk, I'd use 1/2 cup fresh milk and 1/2 cup milk that I mixed from powder. Once I became more confident in my ability to cook with my storage foods, I substituted more ingredients until I could make an entire meal from my pantry shelves. I still use a lot of fresh dairy and produce in my cooking but I always have shelf-stable alternatives on hand, AND I know how to use them.
Does food storage change the way I eat? Cooking from your food storage doesn't mean that you need to overhaul your diet, although you will have the benefit of eating fewer processed foods. Do you love soup? There are countless varieties of soups and stews that can be made entirely from dried beans, grains, and freeze-dried vegetables. Does your family enjoy pizza? I posted a recipe for food-storage pizzas just a few weeks ago. The key is to find recipes that you and your family already enjoy, and then adapt them to long term storage. Food storage isn't about eating rice and beans every day (although they're delicious!), it's about maintaining your family's normal diet even when you can't access your grocery store. You should only buy the storage foods that you will actually eat -- otherwise, what's the point?
How do I convert recipes into a storage-friendly option? This is a lot easier than you might think. Start by looking over the ingredient list to one of your favorite recipes. The easiest ingredients to substitute are the ones that don't dramatically change the texture of whatever you're trying to cook. Powdered milk instead of fresh, bouillon instead of broth, and dry legumes instead of canned versions are all very simple swaps that I make almost every day. Then look at the more difficult ingredients and think about ways you could alter or eliminate them to make a more storage-friendly recipe. I often omit certain hard-to-find dried fruits from my baked goods because they're expensive and I don't have them in my storage. Most ingredients have readily-available freeze-dried or powdered alternatives that will get you close to what you want. However, some recipes don't convert as easily -- your grandmother's award-winning buttercream frosting just won't be the same if you use butter powder instead of fresh butter. Experiment until you find several recipes that work for you.
Do I cook with freeze-dried vegetables? I personally do not use dried or freeze-dried vegetables very often, though they are in my food storage and I have tested them enough that I would feel comfortable using them. I like to eat produce from my garden instead, but sometimes I'll open a can of freeze-dried peas or corn if I'm out of the fresh kind. Here's my rule of thumb for starting to store vegetables: I'll order a #10 can of a veggie that I don’t have stored, then I'll open it and cook with it until the can is empty. I'll use that vegetable in as many different recipes as I am able. Then, if I liked the taste and the results, I'll order many more cans and keep them in my storage (but I don't plan on using them until an emergency). It's important to be familiar with your ingredients before you stock up in bulk.
What's a non-emergency benefit of cooking with food storage? One of the biggest benefits of cooking from food storage is that I am rarely, if ever, missing any ingredients from my kitchen. I used to occasionally ruin a recipe or change my meal plan because I was unexpectedly out of milk or eggs, or I only had one can of tomato sauce, et cetera. You probably know the feeling, and it's frustrating! Now I just use my food storage to fill in the gaps. This makes me feel more secure in my meal planning and my husband appreciates that he no longer has to make last-minute trips to the grocery store.
Cooking with your food storage is a rewarding experience, so I would encourage all of you to incorporate more shelf-stable ingredients into your meals whenever possible. Look through older entries in this blog for more tips and recipe inspiration. As always, please feel free to ask any questions or add advice in the comments section below!
Contributed by Kate Wilt