Maren’s Pantry

Maren is a foodie and Brazilophile currently living in Boise, Idaho with her husband and two daughters. She’s always on a long run, curled up with a good book, or attempting something new in the kitchen. Maren left us with her recipe for Estroganofe de Frango.

Are there any herbs you can’t live without? What is your favourite way to use them?

Cilantro – mixed with some rice, it gives instant personality to a basic side dish.

Chives – I love adding them to a simple green salad because they are such an easy flavor-booster.

Basil – in a caprese salad with tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and top-quality olive oil and balsamic vinegar

Which spices are always on your shelf? What is your favorite way to use them? 

While spending nearly four years in Brazil, I learned that flavorful and delicious food can be made with the right balance of just onions, garlic, and salt. Of course, not all Brazilian food is that simple, and many dishes includes spices. But much of what Brazilians eat — rice, beans, meat, salad — is often flavored through only this basic combination. And it is fantastic! So, in short, I don’t have any spices I feel I absolutely need in order to make tasty food. I do love spices, though, and use them in most of my cooking. My favorites are: 

Paprika – sprinkled over roasted sweet potatoes. Those are delicious no matter what, but add paprika and it’s a whole other level! 

Turmeric – in golden milk, my nightly treat.

Ginger – in Southeast Asian-inspired salad dressings and peanut sauces.

the base of most Brazilian dishes

Which pantry staples are you committed to, and what you cook most frequently with them? 

Creme de Leite (table cream) – I discovered creme de leite while in Brazil. It is a necessary base to many Brazilian desserts and also my family’s favorite Brazilian dish, Estroganofe de Frango (chicken stroganoff).

Pine Nuts – I am obsessed with pesto and make it often. Homemade pesto is easy and so superior to anything I’ve found in a store.

Rice –  Ever since Brazil, rice has been my go-to carbohydrate to include with meals. It’s so versatile and goes with almost anything. Our favorites are brown rice and parboiled rice. Both are best when cooked the Brazilian way: sauteed in oil with onions and garlic before adding the cooking water. So much flavor! 

Tinned Black Beans – Beans are such an easy and versatile source of protein, I eat them almost daily. A frequent go-to dinner is Brazilian rice, tinned black beans, a chopped avocado, chopped up spinach and a chopped tomato. I also love them in vegetarian enchiladas.

Popcorn Kernels – My husband and two little girls can only watch TV/movies with popcorn, so we pop some on the stove multiple nights a week. Usually with olive oil, salt, and occasionally an addition of nooch or coconut sugar.

Who or what is influencing you in the kitchen these days? 

My husband and I are “flexitarians” who avoid meat 90-95% of the time. We have been heavily influenced by Michael Pollan, John Robbins, Dr. Colin Campbell, and others advocating for a heavily plant-based diet. Our rule of thumb is that at home, we don’t cook with meat except on some Sundays or special occasions like holidays or having company. When eating out or in others’ homes, we are more relaxed and eat whatever we want. 

What are your dietary restrictions? How does this influence or affect your cooking?

For environmental and health reasons, we decided several years ago to mostly avoid meat. So most of what I cook is vegetarian. It’s led me to explore all sorts of new cuisines and flavors including Middle Eastern, Southeast Asian, Korean, Indian, Brazilian, etc. I am always trying new recipes! We eat lots of beans, lentils, tofu, pasta, rice, and chickpeas. Plus tons of fruits and veggies, fresh whenever possible. I have never found vegetarian cooking to be limiting; if anything, I feel that it has really expanded my pallet.

What is one of your most profound food memories? 

The first place I ever traveled abroad was Paris, France. I was 11, and it was the first time I ever REALLY had an authentically foreign culinary experience. France totally changed the way I thought about food. Food could be so much more than a vehicle to a full stomach; food could taste divine, look elegant, and be longed for and dreamt of! The moments I ate my first pain au chocolat, baguette, and French cheese on that trip (among many other foods) are still vivid in my mind. I’ve been a foodie ever since.

Do you, your friends, or family have any food traditions? 

Yes! My husband and I are convinced that Brazil’s amazing food is supremely underrated, and we consider it our mission to introduce Brazilian foods and sweets to everyone we can. Each time we have company, we introduce our guests to at least one Brazilian food. Pão de queijo, brigadeiro, Romeo e Julieta, vitamina de abacate, and feijoada, to name just a few. 

Estrogonofe de Frango (Brazilian Chicken Stroganoff):

This is a fabulous, easy, classic dish that any Brazilian will know. It has very different flavors from the stroganoff found in the US. We like it best with chicken, but there are also beef and shrimp varieties in Brazil.


  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 lbs chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • Salt, to taste
  • Olive oil
  • 1/2 cup canned or fresh chopped mushrooms (optional)
  • 2 cups of tomato sauce, enough to coat the chicken
  • 2-3 Tablespoons ketchup
  • 1 Tablespoon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 7.6 oz cans creme de leite (table cream, found in the baking isle or Hispanic section of most grocery stores)
  • a handful of shoestring potatoes/potato sticks (available on Amazon or at many grocery stores in the chip section).

1. In a medium to large pot, saute the onion and garlic in the oil on medium high. When onions are translucent, add the chicken and salt. Cook until chicken is entirely white. Add mushrooms and continue to cook and stir for several minutes.

2. Add tomato sauce, ketchup, mustard, and Worcestershire sauce. Cook covered on medium heat covered for about 10 minutes. At this point, add more salt, tomato sauce, ketchup, mustard or Worcestershire sauce to taste.

3. Remove from heat and add creme de leite. Serve immediately over Brazilian rice and sprinkle with shoestring potatoes. 

4. For Brazilian rice: saute some chopped onion and minced garlic in oil. When onions is translucent, add the rice. Saute in the oil for several minutes before adding water, then cook as normal (parboiled rice is best for an authentic Brazilian rice texture and taste, but brown or white rice will work fine).

beginning steps of Estrogonofe de Frango
parboiled rice

One thought on “Maren’s Pantry”
  1. Love this!!! Thank you for the cooking tips, I am trying to cook with less meat and more flavor. Traveling really opens ones taste palate and mind

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