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M-J de Mesterton

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The Elegant Pantry

The Elegant Pantry features kitchen essentials, elegant organisation, cooking implements, survival food-storage tips, recipes for elegant sauces, and information on herbs and spices.



Elegant Pantry

Arrange pantry items in groups of similar containers for a well-organised appearance.


Grouping things in similar containers makes an elegant presentation in the pantry.
©M-J de Mesterton has French glasses and plastic lids (see bottom shelf in my photograph).
The jars with red lids used to hold coffee, and were collected over a couple of years (middle shelf).
Spices and smaller bottles are on the bottom shelf for easy identification; large containers are on the top level, where they are still easy to see.
©M-J de Mesterton, 2010



M-J de Mesterton in Elegant Marimekko Apron

Elegant Pantry Essentials



    • Frozen Apple Juice Concentrate or Bottled Apple Juice
    • Cornstarch
    • Unbleached White Flour
    • Rye Flour
    • Yeast
    • Gelatine
    • Almond Extract
    • Vanilla, Imitation or Pure Extract
    • Rum Extract or Flavoring
    • Aluminum-Free Baking Powder
    • Baking Soda
    • Hershey’s Cocoa Powder
    • Chocolate Chips
    • Cinnamon
    • Salt
    • Peppercorns
    • Dried Red Chiles
    • Dehydrated Mixed Vegetables
    • Brown Rice
    • White or Basmati Rice
    • Corn Meal or Grits
    • Dried Pasta
    • Alfalfa Seeds
    • Wheat Berries
    • Dried Parsley
    • Dried Chives
    • Dehydrated Onion
    • Dehydrated Garlic or Garlic Powder
    • Soy Sauce
    • Powdered Ginger
    • Toasted Sesame Oil
    • Sesame Tahini Paste, Joyva brand of Brooklyn is best
    • Almond Butter
    • Popcorn, loose: Jolly Time Organic is better than Orville Redenbacher, at one-third the cost
    • Peanut or Corn Oil
    • Olive Oil
    • Mustard Powder, Colman’s English
    • Spanish or Hungarian Paprika
    • Capers
    • Green Peppercorns in Brine
    • Rose’s Lime Juice
    • Maggi or another brand of Chicken Bouillon Powder
    • Canned Tomato Paste: store brand
    • Canned Whole Tomatoes: store brand
    • Canned Beets: store brand or generic
    • Canned Small, Peeled Potatoes: store brand or generic
    • Canned Green Chiles, whole or chopped
    • Coconut Milk, Canned
    • Whole Water Chestnuts, Canned
    • Canned Ham
    • Canned Vienna Sausage
    • Canned Beef (usually from Argentina)
    • Canned Pineapple, No Sugar Added
    • Peanut Butter
    • Raw Walnuts
    • Almonds
    • Powdered Sugar
    • Brown Sugar
    • White Sugar
    • Molasses
    • Honey
    • Apple Cider Vinegar
    • White Vinegar
    • Boxed Red Wine, and a Cube of White Wine, both for Cooking
    • Frozen Peas
    • Dried Split Peas, Green or Yellow
    • Freeze-Dried Coffee
    • Coffee Creamer (not Coffee-Mate, which contains aluminum–check ingredients)
    • Coffee Beans
    • Tea Bags
    • Non-Fat Dry Milk
    • Powdered Buttermilk
    • Powdered Eggs for Emergencies
    • Bottled Lemon Juice
    • Herbes de Provence (a combination of marjoram, thyme, rosemary and savory, available at Costco)

    • Coconut Milk

    • Posted on March 3, 2012 at 11:25 AM  


      The smoked paprika of Spain is made from several varieties of red capsicums or peppers. The ripe capsicums are brought to a smoke-house, placed on racks above oak-wood fires, and are flipped-over daily by their respective growers, so that they are evenly roasted on both sides. This venerable old drying procedure usually endures for two weeks.

      Once fully dried, the capsicum-stems and most of the peppers' cores are removed. Then, these sweet, smoky-flavoured red capsicums are ground slowly in traditional stone mills which are now powered by electricity. The resulting paprika or pimentón is packed in rectangular spice cans and distributed to markets in Spain and around the world. The price for 70 grams of smoked paprika imported from Spain to the United States lies anywhere between five and fifteen USD, depending upon the purveyor. Pimentón is nearly always a component of Spanish paella, and is an excellent spice-rub, imparting an interesting, piquant barbecue flavour to various meats. The oak-wood smoking process used in La Vera, Spain, gives their paprika a very special, unique quality.

      ©M-J de Mesterton Copyright M-J de Mesterton

     M-J's Ever-Changing, Elegant Pantry Arrangement

    Keeping similar-looking containers in groups makes a more attractive pantry.

    Versatile, Health-Promoting Coconut Milk

    I like to use coconut milk in puddings, pies, cakes and in my coffee. It is smooth, delicious and one 403 ml can contains only fifteen grams of carbohydrate. One-third of a cup has but three grams of it.

    Coconut milk is good for marinating and poaching chicken, for grilled hors d’oeuvres on skewers, and in savoury main-dishes.

    Delicious Coconut Milk, Perfect for Low-Carbohydrate Diets, and Traditional Desserts






    Sauce Béchamel was named for King Louis XIV's head steward, Louis de Béchamel, Marquis of Nointel (1630–1703)His surname has also been spelled Béchamiel and Béchameil.   Marquis Louis de Béchamel was also a French financier and patron of the arts. At his Hôtel de Nointel, Louis de Bechamel commissioned murals by famous French painter Jean-Antoine Watteau.

    Here is a classic white sauce to enhance pasta and egg creations. It is used in northern Italian lasagne (and is called balsamello in Italy), classic macaroni and cheese and Greek pastitsio, as well as in many French dishes. 


    Sauce Béchamel

    4 tablespoons of butter
    4 tablespoons of flour
    1 cup of milk
    One half teaspoon of salt
    Cayenne or white pepper

    Optional: one small onion, minced

    Melt the butter in a saucepan and, if using the onion, sauté it until soft but not browned. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for three minutes. Heat the milk and add it slowly to the mixture, stirring it until thick and smooth. Cook for a further five minutes. Yield: one cup of sauce. This béchamel sauce many be thinned while still hot, if desired, with the addition of more milk.



    New Mexican Red Chile Gravy

    Chop and sauté a clove of garlic in a third-cup of butter or vegetable oil. Add a third-cup of flour, and stir until light brown. Mix in a third-cup of pure New Mexico chile powder (no fillers or other spices, just the pure ground, dried red chile pods) and one cup of water. Simmer this in  a saucepan for about a half-hour, stirring  frequently. Add salt to taste.  Your red chile gravy is perfect on enchiladas or huevos rancheros (see the Elegant Breakfast page).

    Copyright M-J de Mesterton 2006

    Make Your Own Butter

    Six cups of cream

    Salt (to your taste)

    1. Pour the cream into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk. Tightly cover the top of the bowl with plastic wrap and start mixer on medium-high speed. The cream will go through the whipped stage, thicken further and then change color from off-white to pale yellow; this will take at least 5 to 8 minutes. When it starts to look pebbly, it’s almost done. After another minute the butter will separate, causing the liquid to splash against the plastic wrap. At this point stop the mixer.

    2. Set a strainer over a bowl. Pour the contents of the mixer into the strainer and let the buttermilk drain through. Strain the buttermilk again, this time through a fine-mesh sieve set over a small bowl; set aside.

    3. Keeping the butter in the strainer set over the first bowl, knead it to consolidate the remaining liquid and fat and expel the rest of the buttermilk. Knead until the texture is dense and creamy, about 5 minutes. Strain the excess liquid into the buttermilk. Refrigerate the buttermilk.

    4. Mix salt into the butter, if you wish. Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate. Makes about 16 ounces (2 cups) each of butter and buttermilk.

    Elegant Roasted Pineapple Chunks


    Pineapple chunks are soaked in soy sauce and then roasted, so that they may be added to stir-fried rice and noodle dishes without adding too much moisture.

    Elegant Non-Electric kitchen Tools

     This non-electric cooking implement, the Slap-Chop, is extremely useful and easy to use. In this photo, I have used it to chop some shirataki noodles for a vegetarian soup. I've also used this elegant kitchen tool for grinding almonds to a near-powder.

    Acquiring non-electric tools is a smart way to prepare for power-failures and electrical attacks, where the entire power-grid is rendered useless. 


    M-J's Ever-Evolving Pantry 

    Salt, the Seasoning of Life

    Himalayan Salt, Oil on Canvas Copyright 2007 by M-J de Mesterton

    Painting by M-J de Mesterton: Himalayan Salt, Oil on Canvas Copyright 2007 (Do Not Copy)

    Salt and Health (from The Salt Institute–edited by M-J for clarity and legibility)

    Salt is essential not only to life, but to good health. It’s always been that way. Human blood contains 0.9% salt (sodium chloride) — the same concentration as found in United States Pharmacopaeia (USP) sodium chloride irrigant commonly used to cleanse wounds. Salt maintains the electrolyte balance inside and outside of cells. Routine physical examinations measure blood sodium for clues to personal health. Most of our salt comes from foods, some from water. Inadequate salt can be problematic. Doctors often recommend replacing water and salt lost in exercise [see advice on maintaining hydration for weekend athletes, bodybuilders, professional athletes and outdoor athletes such as marathon runners and ultra-endurance athletes, and for those people working outdoors. Wilderness hikers know the importance of salt tablets to combat hyperthermia. Oral rehydration involves replacing both water and salt. Oral Rehydration Therapy (ORT) has been termed, by the British Medical Journal “the most important medical advance this (20th) century.” Expectant mothers are advised to get enough salt. Increased salt intakes have been used successfully to combat Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. The unique microclimate of salt mines is a popular way to treat asthma, particularly in Eastern Europe. Dramatic deficiencies (e.g. “salt starvation” in India) or “excessive” sodium intakes have been associated with other conditions and diseases, such as hypertension and stomach cancer. Testing the salinity of perspiration is a good test for cystic fibrosis; scientists suspect that cystic fibrosis is caused by a deformed protein that prevents chloride outside cells from attracting needed moisture (and, of course, we cannot forget that iodized salt is the choice of public health professionals to combat iodine deficiency, has been fortified to battle other diseases like lymphatic filarisis, and is considered “the first antibiotic”).

    The National Academy of Sciences recommends that Americans consume a minimum of 500 mg/day of sodium to maintain good health. Individual needs, however, vary enormously based on their genetic make-up and the way they live their lives. While individual requirements range widely, most Americans have no trouble reaching their minimum requirements. Most consume “excess” sodium above and beyond that required for proper bodily function. The kidneys efficiently process this “excess” sodium in healthy people. Experimental studies show that most humans tolerate a wide range of sodium intakes, from about 250 mg/day to over 30,000 mg/day. The actual range is much narrower. Americans consume about 3,500 mg/day of sodium; men more, women less. The very large percentage of the population consumes 1,150- 5,750 mg/day which is termed the “hygienic safety range” of sodium intake by renowned Swedish hypertension expert Dr. Björn Folkow. Chloride is also essential to good health. Every substance, including water, can be toxic in certain concentrations and amounts; this is not a significant concern for dietary salt.

    Salt and Cardiovascular Health

    For 4,000 years, we have known that salt intakes can affect blood pressure through signals to the muscles of blood vessels trying to maintain blood pressure within a proper range. We know that a minority of the population can lower blood pressure by restricting dietary salt. And we know that elevated blood pressure, “hypertension,” is a well-documented marker or “risk factor” for cardiovascular events like heart attacks and strokes, a “silent killer.” Cardiovascular events are a major cause of “premature” death and cost Americans more than $300 billion every year in increased medical costs and lost productivity. Reducing blood pressure can reduce the risk of a heart attack or stroke – depending on how it’s done.

    Some have suggested that since salt intakes are related to blood pressure, and since cardiovascular risks are also related to blood pressure, that, surely, salt intake levels are related to cardiovascular risk. This is the “salt hypothesis” or “sodium hypothesis.” Data are needed to confirm or reject hypotheses.

    Blood pressure is a sign. When it goes up (or down) it indicates an underlying health concern. Changes result from many variables, often still poorly-understood. High blood pressure is treated with pharmaceuticals and with lifestyle interventions such as diet and exercise. The anti-hypertensive drugs are all approved by regulatory authorities such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. To be approved, these drugs must prove they work to lower blood pressure. Whether they also work to lower the incidence of heart attacks and strokes has not been the test to gain approval (it would take too long to develop new drugs), but the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute has invested heavily in such “health outcomes” studies.

    Health Outcomes

    The ALLHAT study was funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) to compare the health outcomes of four classes of anti-hypertensive drugs, all of which had demonstrated their ability to reduce blood pressure in relative safety. The idea is that blood pressure is only a “surrogate outcome,” and we should be more concerned with clinically meaningful endpoints. Dr. Jeffrey R. Cutler of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) has supervised the study and explains its importance: “Trials are based on the notion that different antihypertensive regimes, despite similar efficacy in lowering blood pressure, have other beneficial or harmful effects that modify their net effect on cardiovascular or all-cause morbidity and mortality.”

    Lifestyle interventions are “antihypertensive regimes” too. For years, the same situation prompting the ALLHAT trial applied to lifestyle interventions designed to improve blood pressure — they were untested regarding health outcomes. Certain dietary and lifestyle interventions reduced blood pressure, at least in sensitive sub-populations. Whether they also reduced the incidence of heart attacks and strokes had never been tested. Thus, until the 1990s, scientists had never tested the “salt hypothesis” by documenting whether reducing dietary salt actually reduces a person’s chances of having a heart attack or a stroke. As in the drug “health outcomes” trials, this is now changing. The results have vast public health policy implications. We should not be recommending that everyone change their diets without evidence of some overall health benefit.

    Even documenting an association of, for example, low-sodium diets with reduced incidence of heart attacks would only be the first step. Association is not the same as causation. Nevertheless, unless an association is established, we have no reason to think that a causal link is possible. Of the first fifteen “health outcomes” studies of sodium reduction, three have found an association in the general population between low-sodium diets and reduced incidence of cardiovascular events like stroke or heart attack (and two of those were in exceptionally high salt-consuming societies). Three others have identified health risks of low-salt diets. Here’s what scientists have found:

    1. A ten-year study of nearly 8,000 Hawaiian Japanese men concluded: “No relation was found between salt intake and the incidence of stroke.” (1985)

    2. An eight-year study of a New York City hypertensive population stratified for sodium intake levels found those on low-salt diets had more than four times as many heart attacks as those on normal-sodium diets – the exact opposite of what the “salt hypothesis” would have predicted. (1995)

    3. An analysis by NHLBI’s Dr. Cutler of the first six years’ data from the MRFIT database documented no health outcomes benefits of lower-sodium diets. (1997)

    4. A ten-year follow-up study to the huge Scottish Heart Health Study found no improved health outcomes for those on low-salt diets. (1997)

    5. An analysis of the health outcomes over twenty years from those in the massive US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES I) documented a 20% greater incidence of heart attacks among those on low-salt diets compared to normal-salt diets ( 1 2 ) (1998)

    6. A health outcomes study in Finland, reported to the American Heart Association that no health benefits could be identified and concluded “…our results do not support the recommendations for entire populations to reduce dietary sodium intake to prevent coronary heart disease.” (1998)

    7. A further analysis of the MRFIT database, this time using fourteen years’ data, confirmed no improved health benefit from low-sodium diets. Its author conceded that there is “no relationship observed between dietary sodium and mortality.” (1999)

    8. A study of Americans found that less sodium-dense diets did reduce the cardiovascular mortality of one population sub-set, overweight men – the article reporting the findings did not explain why this obese group actually consumed less sodium than normal-weight individuals in the study. (1999)

    9. A Finnish study reported an increase in cardiovascular events for obese men (but not women or normal-weight individuals of either gender) – the article, however, failed to adjust for potassium intake levels which many researchers consider a key associated variable. (2001)

    10. In September, 2002, the prestigous Cochrane Collaboration produced the latest and highest-quality meta-analysis of clinical trials. It was published in the British Medical Journal and confirmed earlier meta-analyses’ conclusions that significant salt reduction would lead to very small blood pressure changes in sensitive populations and no health benefits. (2002)

    11. In June 2003, Dutch researchers using a massive database in Rotterdam concluded that “variations in dietary sodium and potassium within the range commonly observed in Westernized societies have no material effect on the occurrence of cardiovascular events and mortality at old age.” (2003)

    12. In July 2004, the first “outcomes” study identifying a population risk appeared in Stroke magazine. Researchers found that in a Japanese population, “low” sodium intakes (about 20% above Americans’ average intake) had one-third the incidence of fatal strokes of those consuming twice as much sodium as Americans. (2004)

    13. A March 2006 analysis of the federal NHANES II database in The American Journal of Medicine found a 37% higher cardiovascular mortality rate for low-sodium dieters (2006). See their university’s news release. Hear a podcast.

    14. A February 2007 reported in the International Journal of Epidemiology studied 40,547 Japanese over seven years and found “the Japanese dietary pattern was associated with a decreased risk of CVD mortality, despite its relation to sodium intake and hypertension.” (2007)

    15. An April 2007 article in the British Medical Journal found a 25% lower risk of CV events in a group which years earlier had achieved significant sodium reduction during two clinical trials (TOHP I and TOHP II). (2007)

    Controversy Continues For many years, the intense public controversy that has characterized the public policy debate over public health nutrition recommendations on salt intake has focused on the wrong question. Medical experts, public health policy-makers – and the public, trying to sort out the issues reading the consumer press – have all focused on the relationship of sodium intake to blood pressure instead of the relevant question of whether changing intake levels of dietary sodium results in improved health outcomes. See, for example, Salt Institute comments to the (British) Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition. The (British) Salt Manufacturers Association has further information (including its comments to SACN).

    There is no evidence that reducing dietary sodium improves the risk for heart attacks or strokes for the general population. In 1999, the Canadian Hypertension Society, the Canadian Coalition for High Blood Pressure Prevention and Control, the Health Canada Laboratory Centre for Disease Control and the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada issued a joint statement opposing general recommendations for sodium reduction.

    The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Recommendations for a healthy diet, chapter 56 on “Counseling to Promote a Healthy Diet,” at page 634 states:

    There is insufficient evidence that, for the general population, reducing dietary sodium intake or increasing dietary intake of iron, beta-carotene, or other antioxidants results in improved health outcomes (”C” recommendation); recommendations to reduce sodium intake may be made on other grounds, including potential beneficial effects on blood pressure in salt sensitive persons.”

    The debate has confused the public. Medical journalists from ABC-TV’s 20/20 to America’s pre-eminent scientific journal, Science, published by the prestigious American Association for the Advancement of Science, have investigated the source of this confusion. The report in Science won author Gary Taubes a top prize from the National Association of Science Writers and has also been translated into French. Taubes concluded:

    “After interviews with some 80 researchers, clinicians, and administrators around the world, it is safe to say that if ever there were a controversy over the interpretation of scientific data, this is it…. After decades of intensive research, the apparent benefits of avoiding salt have only diminished. This suggests either that the true benefit has now been revealed and is indeed small or that it is non-existent and researchers believing they have detected such benefits have been deluded by the confounding of other variables.”

    In letters to Science, NHLBI contested Taubes’ conclusions, but others found them valid and valuable.

    The Salt Institute is confident that the higher standards of evidence-based medicine will reduce the ongoing controversy, better inform public policy and reduce consumer confusion. For more information about the importance of evidence-based health, you may wish to visit the Cochrane Collaboration (particularly consider the 2003 Cochrane Reviews “Reduced dietary salt for prevention of cardiovascular disease” and “Effects of low sodium diet versus high sodium diet on blood pressure, renin, aldosterone, catecholamines, cholesterols, and triglyceride”), Oxford University (UK) Centre for Evidence-based Medicine, the Health Information Research Unit (McMaster University) or the Canadian Centres for Health Evidence. Using the latest science, we can create better public health nutrition policy and avoid sending confusing messages to consumers.

    There is a lot of current activity on this issue, in medical research, public health policy and popular media ( 1 2 3 ). For further information contactthe Salt Institute (or see an informative presentation by the Institute), federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), The New England Journal of Medicine, American Journal of Hypertension, The Annals of Internal Medicine, The Lancet, British Medical Journal, Public Library of Medicine, Federation of American Societies of Experimental Biology (FASEB), American Heart Association, American Society of Hypertension (ASH), National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), American Dietetic Association (ADA), Society for Nutrition Education (SNE), The American Society for Clinical Nutrition, National Food Processors Association, American Council for Science and Health and (British) Salt Manufacturers Association. Information about clinical trials sponsored by the U.S. federal government is also on-line.

    Published by M-J de Mesterton, December 28, 2008 at 7:46 am