Gastronomy 101, a blog about food and Los Angeles restaurants

BOOK REVIEW: The Homemade Pantry + How to Make Butter

Last year, this was basically the one cookbook I wanted to add to my collection. It's not a collection of recipes for meals; instead it details how to make the basics that you keep around in your fridge or pantry to use in other things. This includes items like butter, cheese, granola, sauces, snacks, etc.

 I love this idea because often on my full time work schedule that often includes unexpected overtime, plus the fact that there are only two of us, meal times are typically geared towards the simple and quick meal for one or two without a lot of major meal planning going on. Baking can be an exercise in frustration when you work from home, as you are then faced with a mound of cookies or other sweets that you really shouldn't eat. You don't want them to go to waste, but there's no convenient break room to dump them in so other people will eat them for you.

Enter The Homemade Pantry, which allows me to scratch my cooking itch by whipping up staple items that I know I will use regularly. The author is Alana Chernila, a food blogger and farmer who found herself married, a mother and running a farm at an age when most of her friends were pursuing graduate degrees or urban careers. Her writing is friendly, clear and approachable. You get to know her a bit throughout the book, and the personal stories really help connect you to the food and the life she lives, but the personal stuff never takes too much attention from the information, which is rendered in a way that's clear and easy-to-follow. The book has a great visual aesthetic as well, with beautiful pictures and a layout and page design that makes everything easy to follow and read.

The beginning is filled with preparatory tips and general advice as well as a detailed list of equipment needed to prepare the things in the book. There's basically everything you need to make all of these simple items. I think this book would make an especially fantastic addition to a parent's cookbook library. Chernila is a mother of two girls and her recipes very much reflect that lifestyle, taking into account busy schedules and hectic homes. If you are feeling guilty because you wish you could fit more wholesome, homemade stuff into your child's diet but are finding time and energy are hard to come by, this is a great way to incorporate some fresh homemade things into your repertoire, and the book includes convenience items like baking mixes and frozen foods that you can make yourself instead of buying them processed and packaged from the store, as well as easy homemade snack and treat ideas that are great for kids.

Below are examples of a couple of items I made from the book, as well as a sample recipe for butter.

Paneer: This is a homemade cheese from the book. It is called ricotta in the cookbook, but it really doesn't fit the defining factor in a ricotta, which is made using fermented and recooked whey ("ricotta" means "recooked"), while this cheese is made with the curds. I would call it a paneer as it is made using basically the same process as an Indian paneer. I do not have a milk cow in my backyard like Chernila does, so I just tried to acquire the best milk I could find. The kind that comes in a real glass bottle! This particular cheese didn't require any fancy ingredients, which is why I chose it to make. It came out very fresh and mild and was delicious in a salad, in sandwiches, or just baked on a toast. There are other cheese recipes in the book, including mozzarella and cream cheese, but they require more specialized ingredients.

Butter: This is a butter I made using the book's method, which is probably about the same as other methods I have used in the past, but it's nice to be reminded of how easy and quick it is to make your own butter. Since this is about the simplest recipe in the book, I'm including it as an example. You will just have to go out and get the book yourself for more.

Butter Recipe from The Homemade Pantry
(Makes 6-8 oz. or 12-16 tablespoons)
  • 1 pint heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  1. Combine the cream and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and cover with a dish towel to prevent splattering. Beat at medium to high speed, peeking in every 20 seconds or so. In 1 to 3 minutes, the cream will be whipped and airy, then it will stiffen. After that, the cream will break, and you will have both liquids and solids in the bowl. 
  2. When the fat separates from the buttermilk, pour the buttermilk into a jar and refrigerate for use within three days (you can use it to make pancakes!)
  3. Run your hands under cold water, then squeeze the butter together, kneading it in the bowl. Place the bowl in the sink, rinse the butter in cold water, and squeeze it again. Repeat this process until the water runs clear and the butter does not release any liquid when you press on it. 

Room Temperature: covered container or butter bell, 5 days
Fridge: covered container, 1 week
Freezer: roll and cut into sticks, wrap individually in plastic wrap and a freezer bag, 3 months

IMPORTANT TIP: Don't skimp on the squeezing and kneading of the butter -- if you do, the buttermilk still trapped in the butter will cause it to go rancid within a day. Keep kneading until there is no sign of cloudy buttermilk coming out of the butter.  


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