Storing Grains, Nuts and Pantry Staples

pantry staples storage

Image courtesy of TheGiantVermin at flickr.com

This blog is the record of my baking experiments. My journey has been to find vegan substitutions, to make recipes work at high altitudes, and, lately, to attempt the world of gluten-free. Along the way I have amassed a cupboard full of new baking ingredients to add to my arsenal of tried-and-true favorites. Sometimes I buy a bagful of something and only use a pinch, so I needed to discover the best way to store everything.

For most pantry staples, their enemy is light and air. Storage in airtight containers will help keep items fresh and lasting longer. Dried fruit, leaveners, spices, and whole grains stored this way are fine in the cupboard. An important note: DO NOT store spices on the counter near the stove as heat and light will destroy them quickly.

Another consideration is temperature. Nuts and seeds have oils in them that will go rancid so they like it very cool if not freezing. The Ideal storage for nuts and seeds is in tightly sealed containers in the refrigerator. I usually take nuts and transfer them to zipper bags before I put them in the fridge. I have also learned to move them to the freezer if I won’t be using them up within a month.

Grains can be as sensitive as nuts and seeds. The best approaches for storing them are covered in a blog from Bob’s Red Mill as listed here:

Whole Grains (wheat berries, brown rice, quinoa, millet, etc) used once a month: room temp
Whole Grains used less than once a month: freezer
Flour, Cereals, Cracked Grains used once a week: room temp
Flour, Cereals, Cracked Grains used less than once a month: fridge or freezer
Baking Mixes: room temp or fridge, do not freeze
Refined Grains, Flours and Cereals (white flour, white rice, etc): room temp
Items that should always be kept in the fridge or freezer: Almond Meal, Hazelnut Meal, Coconut Flour, Wheat Germ, Rice Bran, Flaxseed Meal, Hemp Seeds

For items stored at room temperature, I put them in glass jars if I have the space. When room in the pantry runs low, I transfer goods to zipper bags and then place all of those bags in a plastic bin and put it somewhere cooler, like in the basement. They are then protected not only from heat but also from bugs and rodents. Now, when I need an esoteric flour for a gluten-free baking attempt, I can bring the bin into the kitchen to browse my collection and know that the items are fresh and critter-free. No one wants critters in their baking, especially when it’s vegan.

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Date Nut Bread a la The Ranch House

date nut breadI have wanted to bake the Date-Nut Bread from the Ranch House Restaurant in Ojai, CA ever since I first tasted it. At the time I didn’t even like dates, but this quick bread was pretty decadent. Sweet, moist, and great slathered in butter. The cookbook from that restaurant has been collecting dust on my shelf for many years, so it was finally time to conquer it.

The original recipe is neither vegan nor high-altitude and has a few quirky directions. It took me several tries to come up with a bread that not only tasted (and smelled) fantastic but also had the right texture. I did a few basic veganisms – oil for butter and tofu for egg. I added in some whole wheat flour to make it more healthy, while adapting for altitude by using regular baking powder instead of double-acting.

There is one step I didn’t change. It says to line the bread pan with brown paper. Just do it. I was using a non-stick pan so I thought I only needed a light oiling of the pan – it was a bad idea. The bread cooked perfectly except around the outside where it remained gooey and refused to release from the pan. I got smart on the third attempt and used lightly greased parchment paper. Some directions were written to be followed exactly.

Date Nut Bread adapted from Vegetarian Gourmet Cookery by Alan Hooker
5 ounces chopped pitted dates
3/4 cup boiling water
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/4 tsps baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup blended silken tofu
1 1/4 cups vegan sugar
2 1/2 TBS vegetable oil
1/4 cup almond milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup chopped walnuts
Preheat the oven to 350F. Prepare a mini loaf pan by cutting parchment paper to fit three of the four sections. Lightly brush the pieces of paper with shortening and insert the paper into each of the three sections. The fourth section will not be used.
Put dates in a bowl and pour boiling water over them. Let sit for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, sift together the flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Combine the tofu and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the dates with their water, oil, milk and vanilla and beat again. Blend in the flour mixture in two batches. Add in the walnuts and mix well.
Divide the batter between the three prepared sections of the loaf pan. Bake for 33-35 minutes, or until the tops rise up and crack a little. Remove loaves from pan and place on a rack to cool.

Until next time, happy baking!