04 August 2012

Weekend Cooking: Review: The Homemade Pantry by Alana Chernila

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Back in the dark ages (when I was younger), those few of us who wanted to make our own versions of commercial foods had few cookbooks to choose from. The go-to book was Helen Witty's Better Than Store-Bought. I still have my well-worn copy, but I'm not sure it's still in print.

The good news is that today's cooks have a number of good cookbooks to pick from. My newest in this area is Alana Chernila's The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying & Start Making.

A couple of things in particular prompted me to buy this book. First, I was pleased to see that there were several recipes for crackers (see my Homemade Crackers post from earlier this year) because I'm always looking for new versions. Second, I was interested in the snack ideas because so many commercial products contain allergens (I'm mildly allergic to peanuts).

Let me start off by saying how much I love the design of this book. The chapters are called "aisles" and mimic sections of the grocery store: canned foods, frozen foods, snacks, breads and crackers, and so on. I also appreciate that the pages are not jam-packed so it's easy to see the ingredients list and read the directions. The sage green and burgundy color scheme fits the down-to-earth style of the cookbook.

Next, I want to assure you that Alana Chernila is no Martha Stewart. She is not a supermom with a staff of thousands. Instead she cooks in a home kitchen with kids running underfoot and mini disasters happening on the stove. Sound familiar? This is why Chernila doesn't make every single meal, every single day totally from scratch. She picks and chooses, depending on her mood and available time.

Thank goodness that Chernila is a self-proclaimed kitchen gadget lover, so we aren't asked to give up our mixer or food processor. The point behind The Homemade Pantry is making tasty, preservative-free foods, not reverting to the 19th century. In the introductory chapters, Chernila tells us what kind of equipment she uses and even mentions some brand names. She also gives us great advice on using the freezer (my preferred way of preserving food) and detailed directions for safe canning.

Throughout the cookbook, Chernila's fun personality comes out in her writing:
Okay, Let's have it out.

I hate cilantro.

I'm one of those people who think cilantro tastes like soap, and I'd happily eat your soap, if you gave me a choice between the two. (p. 107)
And in fact, this is one of her arguments for making her own salsa. No dreaded cilantro. Well, for her . . . I love cilantro.

In addition, she truly wants us to succeed in the kitchen so, when necessary, she identifies what she calls "tense moments"; these are points in a recipe when it's easy to make a mistake. Isn't it great that Chernila has advice already waiting for when we need it?

So what about the recipes? You'll find everything from toaster pastries to pizza sauce, from marshmallows to chicken nuggets. One of my favorite chapters is Aisle 4, "Condiments, Spices, and Spreads," which has recipes for salsas, hot sauce, nut butters, and spice mixes, for example. Oh and I like the drinks chapter and the dairy chapter too. Besides common pantry items, you'll also find recipes for meals, such as veggie burgers, lasagna, pizza, macaroni and cheese, soups, and stews.

Chernila's directions are easy to follow, and besides the tense moments advice, each recipe includes storage directions. After all, the recipes in The Homemade Pantry are meant to stock your freezer and cupboards. Depending on the recipe, storage advice is for the freezer, cupboard, refrigerator, dehydrator, and/or canner.

One last point: Most of the recipes make reasonable quantities. For example, the lentil soup serves 6 to 8, the corn tortilla recipe makes 12, and the mayonnaise makes 1 cup.

I decided to try one of the granola bar recipes because most commercial bars come with a peanut warning. This one called for nut butter; I used Sunbutter, a peanut butter substitute. When I saw the honey and sugar and chocolate chips, I was worried that the bars would be too sweet for me, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that they are not too rich and are perfect for an afternoon snack. I absolutely plan on making these again, especially when I travel.

The introduction to this recipe notes that although there are a lot of ingredients, these bars take almost no work. In addition, the recipes for several of the ingredients (such as, nut butter and brown sugar) can be found in The Homemade Pantry, just in case you don't want to use store-bought.

The Nutty Granola Bar

Makes 16 bars
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup coconut oil or butter (I used butter)
  • ¾ cup nut butter (I used Sunbutter)
  • ½ cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • ⅓ cup honey
  • 2½ cups old-fashioned oats
  • 1½ cups raw sliced almonds
  • ½ cup shredded unsweetened coconut
  • ¾ semisweet chocolate chips
  • ½ cup oat bran (I used wheat germ)
  • ¼ cup sesame seeds
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a 9- by 13-inch baking pan with parchment paper, leaving extra paper to pull the finished product out of the pan.

In a large saucepan, combine the butter, oil, nut butter, sugar, vanilla, honey, and 2 tablespoons water. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently until you have a uniform syrup. Remove from heat. Add all the remaining ingredients except the salt. Stir until thoroughly combined. Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan, and press it as firmly into the pan as possible, first using your hands, then using a spatula or wooden spoon to flatten the top. Sprinkle the salt over the top.

Bake until the edges darken, 35 to 40 minutes. The mixture will be soft when you take it out of the oven but allow it to cool completely before taking out of the pan and cutting into 16 bars.

Storage Room temperature: covered container, 10 days. Freezer: cut and stored in a covered freezer-safe container with layers of parchment or waxed paper, 4 months (thaw at room temperature).

Buy The Homemade Pantry at an Indie, at Powell's, at Book Depository, or at bookstore near you. These links lead to affiliate programs.
Published by Random House / Clarkson Potter, 2012
ISBN-13: 9780307887269
Rating: B
Source: Bought (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


caite 8/4/12, 7:13 AM  

I love cilantro too..but I also love homemade salsa.
and those nutty bars sounds delish.
I need to chech this book out.

(Diane) bookchickdi 8/4/12, 8:14 AM  

My husband hates cilantro too, he is really crazed about it. I wonder what it is about cilantro that inspires such strong feelings, you never hear people exclaim that they hate oregano.

Beth S. 8/4/12, 8:20 AM  

This sounds like such an accessible cookbook. I love that. My next stop after posting this comment is to see if my library has this cookbook. Great review!

Julie P. 8/4/12, 8:52 AM  

I definitely need to check this one out despite the lack of cilatro recipes!

Carol @ Always Thyme to Cook 8/4/12, 9:08 AM  

My family thinks it tastes like soap, too! I like it small doses. I think I'd love this book for the condiments alone. The granola looks so good.

bermudaonion 8/4/12, 9:24 AM  

This sounds like a fantastic book! You know who I thought of when you mentioned cilantro!

Heather S-G 8/4/12, 9:28 AM  

Oh! I have been eyeing this one for a while - and now I KNOW that I must pick it up. It sounds like I'd love it. I had to laugh at her cilantro line (though I LOVE it)...sounds like one for my collection.

Chinoiseries 8/4/12, 9:52 AM  

I don't see anything wrong with cilantro/coriander. Tastes like soap? Hmph! ;) I like the idea of cooking as much from scratch as possible. Yes, supermarkets in our day and age make life a lot easier, but I'm not a fan of preservatives (when it's not necessary) either. Fortunately, I don't have allergies, but for those who do and vegans who don't want to miss out, this book seems like a gem indeed.

SF 8/4/12, 2:14 PM  

Haha I can't tolerate cilantro, either! Neither can my mother or grandmother, so I think it's genetic. We're also that way about caraway seeds. Blegh :P

Later today, I might do a post about the marble cheesecake I made and link up.

Carole 8/4/12, 4:03 PM  

I can't believe it's Weekend Cooking time again - where did the week go? Nice book review.

chrisa511 8/4/12, 5:43 PM  

What an awesome sounding book!!! I think I need to get me a copy of this one :D

Linda 8/4/12, 6:05 PM  

I have this book in my library stack. I can't wait to dive into it.

Joy Weese Moll 8/4/12, 9:55 PM  

I love the idea of a homemade granola bar -- and all those other homemade goodies as well. Sounds like a terrific book!

Unknown 8/4/12, 10:37 PM  

This looks like a great cookbook. I like the recipe you've shared too. I might have to check this one out more. Thanks :)

JoAnn 8/5/12, 9:16 AM  

What a coincidence - I just brought this home from the library last week! Can't wait to take a closer look.

My post might be a little bit of a stretch for Weekend Cooking. Thanks for the invitation to link up!

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz 8/5/12, 10:43 AM  

So many times I find that it has become a habit with me to buy store-bought things which are easy to make at home. Spaghetti sauce, for example. Why buy spaghetti sauce? Usually it's so terribly sweet when you buy it at the store. So much better made with tomatoes from my garden!

Tam Linsey 8/5/12, 11:45 AM  

This sounds like my kind of cookbook. I am gluten intolerant, so modify lots of recipes to be gluten free. Many store-bought items are not safe for me to eat, but if I can make it myself, I know I'm safe. Thanks!

Unknown 8/5/12, 6:20 PM  

I hate cilantro, too, although I'll eat it on soft tacos with lots of lime juice so hmmmm ...

All of these things sound like great ideas. My mother baked bread every weekend and my father made crackers, potato chips, mayonnaise, and homemade mozzarella on a regular basis. It's good to be less dependent on corporate processed food and more on the things you can make yourself. They're so much yummier and way more satisfying.

Melynda@Scratch Made Food! 8/5/12, 10:59 PM  

I have better than store bought and love to read this book! It is old and splattered and beautiful. Thanks for hosting.

Heidenkind 8/6/12, 2:04 AM  

Is there a recipe for homemade cheese puffs? Because I would totally make that.

Daryl 8/6/12, 8:33 AM  

a dear friend of mine is always tasting something store bought and going 'I could make these' .. of course she never does but I am going to get her this book .. thanks!

Zibilee 8/6/12, 10:50 AM  

Oh this is a book that I could most definitely use, and just the picture on the cover shows me that this is one that I will want to dip in to again and again. Those bars look fantastic, as well! I am adding this book to my wishlist of things to buy as soon as possible. Thanks for the great post on this one today!

Anonymous,  8/6/12, 8:01 PM  

I'm glad you mentioned the toaster pasties, because I spent the whole post wondering if those were homemade pop tarts on the cover!

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