Pantry pride

Jennifer Joles’ secret weapon has doors on it. An accountant with two kids — Emma, 9, and Alex, 6 — a blogger (at momscharlotte.com) and a police officer for a husband, we wondered how she balances all that while cooking dinner at home? Open Joles’ pantry cabinet at her home in Mint Hill, N.C.: She’s learned the trick of making the kitchen do the work.

“I keep it stocked with what I consider basics: beef stock, beans, rice, pasta. There are certain seasonings that I would never not have — Italian seasoning, chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, garlic salt.

“I always have tomato puree or canned diced tomatoes. I can do everything with that. I’m a big Bisquick person. Bisquick can do so many things. You can make breakfast, you can make lunch, you can make dinner.

“Any of those things in your pantry, you can take what you buy perishable and turn it into a meal.”

Dinner at the Joleses’ tends to go a couple of ways. When husband Ray, an officer with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, is working at night, she and the kids have fun meals. They’ll do build-your-own pizza night with store-bought pizza dough or breakfast night with that Bisquick.

“When he’s home, I like to put a real meal on the table. He says I don’t need to do that, but that’s my old-fashioned thing.” Dinner the night before we talked to her was a cold chicken tortellini salad with bread sticks.

“One of the things I talk about in my blog is preparation. If you do as much as you can ahead, it makes dinner that much easier.”

So for that one, she boiled cheese tortellini and cooked the chicken the night before. She shredded the chicken and tossed it with tortellini and bottled Caesar dressing, then refrigerated it. When everyone came home the next night, all she had to do was pull it out, toss it with baby spinach and warm up the bread sticks.

Joles, 43, was the oldest of six kids, so she learned to cook by watching her mother. But she didn’t have any interest in it until after she left college and started living on her own.

As a “bean counter” — her own description of life as an accountant — she watches money carefully and knows that using a kitchen well can save a lot.

“I’m very mindful,” she says. “I’m very big on not wasting food and not throwing things away. If it’s left over, I’m making it into another meal.”

She doesn’t shop much at warehouse clubs. Bulk isn’t always the best deal, she says.

“The snack foods aren’t good to stock up on. They’re expensive. I don’t stock up on cereal. I don’t need a six months’ supply of cereal.”

Instead, she saves by shopping sales and using coupons, particularly watching for double- and triple-coupon deals.

“Whenever I come home from the store, my husband is like, ‘OK, go ahead and tell me how much you saved this time.’æ”

Her best advice for beginner cooks: Keep it simple and avoid recipes with more than 10 ingredients.

“You’ll sabotage yourself and all of sudden, you’re calling the pizza guy.”