Thursday, January 29, 2009

My Hall of Fame Ingredients

In Ina Garten's homey Barefoot Contessa Family Style, she lists "9 Ingredients You'll Use Again and Again." I thought it would be fun to look in my kitchen and find the things I "couldn't live without," or what I'd want if I were marooned on a desert island (presumably with a nice kitchen!). After I made my picks, I looked back at Ina's list, and 6 of her 9 ingredients are on my list too!

This is MY all-star lineup, in no particular order:

1. Extra-virgin olive oil

I use this for almost everything, except deep-frying. EVOO has the best, richest flavor. For years my preferred brand was Colavita. I recently tried 365, the Whole Foods Store brand, and found it as good as, if not better than, my old stand-by. And at considerably lower price. 365 has a wide range of EVOOs, from Italy, Spain, Greece, etc. I really don't know the differences between these, but I have always been happy with Italian olive oil, so that's what I've been using. I think the most important things to look for when choosing an EVOO, are to make sure it is cold pressed/first pressing, has a good, rich, color, and a taste that YOU like.

2. Kosher Salt

Kosher salt has a much purer taste than ordinary iodized table salt. Once you become accustomed to the taste of the kosher salt, when you taste regular table salt, it tastes extra salty and full of chemicals. I keep a dish of Kosher salt next to my stove, so I can add it as I need to whatever I cook. I just take a pinch or two, sprinkle it in, stir, and taste. I use it for everything, even baking. Actually, I think SALT is one of the reasons that people enjoy restaurant food: many people undersalt their food at home. If you salt a bit at a time while the food is cooking, it is much more flavorful and tasty.

3. Unsalted butter

I love unsalted butter and use it exclusively for cooking and baking. It is easier to tell if butter is fresh if it is unsalted, as salt can mask the taste of rancidity. Of course, you would not to cook with rancid butter! Because butter is highly perishable and also prone to absorbing food odors, I store most of my butter in the freezer. It stays much fresher that way, and you can also stock up while it is on sale. Butter will stay fresh in the freezer for at least 6 months.

4. Chicken broth

Although nothing can match the taste of home-made chicken stock (Alton Brown even calls it "Liquid Love"), high-quality prepared stocks and broths are a pantry staple for me. I love the resealable packages that you can keep in the fridge. Having broth on hand can help me to get a soup on the table pronto. Broth also adds lots of flavor to rice, sauces, etc.

5. Organic, Cage-Free Extra Large Eggs

Not only do I feel safer buying organic, free-range, antibiotic free, locally produced eggs, they TASTE better than the regular grocery store eggs. I like the extra-large size, I feel I get a few more nutrients for the $.

6. White Lily Flour

White Lily Flour is milled in the South from soft red winter wheat and is an absolute must-have for making tender biscuits, fluffy pancakes, and other baked goods. We love biscuits so much that I would buy White Lily only for that. Regular all-purpose flour has a higher gluten content and will produce tough biscuits. I most often buy the White Lily Enriched Bleached Self-Rising Flour.

7. King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

King Arthur is the oldest flour company in the U.S., and was founded in 1790! I'll just quote from their website: "No flour is subject to stricter specifications than King Arthur Flour. The resulting purity and consistency has made King Arthur the trusted flour of baking enthusiasts and professionals for over 200 years." Besides the quality, purity, and consistent performance of this flour, I used to live in Norwich, VT, where King Arthur is headquartered-- so I feel a personal connection to it :)

8. Rumford Baking Powder
It contains no aluminum and therefore does not contribute a bitter flavor to baked goods. To my taste, it is definitely superior to other baking powders.

9. Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Extract
Horribly expensive, but the best-tasting vanilla in the world. They also make Tahitian and Mexican pure vanilla extracts.

10. Hunts Diced Tomatoes
Consistently high quality, ripe, delicious tomatoes, diced and recipe ready. I can't live without these, especially in winter, when fresh tomatoes are not at their best.

11. Grey Poupon Country-Dijon Mustard

I find this is the best-tasting mustard for cooking, sandwiches, and salads. I love to use it for Honey-Mustard Chicken, and also for toasted cheese and tomato sandwiches!

12. Barilla PLUS Pasta

Barilla PLUS is a multi-grain pasta that is higher in fiber, protein and omega-3 fatty acids than traditional pasta, but tastes every bit as delicious. My family has never even noticed the difference!

13. DeCecco Pasta

My favorite kind of "traditional" pasta.

14. Hellmann's Real Mayonnaise
The best-tasting mayonnaise on the market (to my taste).

15. Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce
My favorite Worcestershire sauce, it is consistently high-quality and adds wonderful flavor to soups, sauces, marinades, and salad dressings. Also delicious on steak.

16. Pick-A-Peppa Sauce
From Jamaica, this spicy, savoryBold sauce adds oomph wherever I need extra flavor, especially in soups.

17. Chipotle peppers in adobo sauce

Another terrific flavor booster, these hot, smoky peppers have an inimitable flavor. The picture also demonstrates one of my favorite techniques, freezing recipe-size portions in plastic bags. I generally only use 2 or 3 peppers at a time, and once I open a whole can, it's great to know the leftovers will be waiting in the freezer.

19. Fresh ground black pepper
The only kind of pepper I ever use. My Peugeot pepper grinder was a gift given to me by my dear friend Steve in approximately 1990, and it's still going strong!

20. Orange-Blossom honey
My favorite kind of honey, it has a light, sweet, slightly floral flavor with a touch of orange. Try adding it to whipped cream in place of sugar for a delicious change of pace.

21. Mazola Pure Canola Oil spray
I couldn't cook without non-stick spray, and this canola oil spray adds a light, natural taste to foods.

22. Fleur de Sel
This hand-harvested sea-salt has a distinctive taste and crunch that are perfect for finishing salads and other foods. I never use this delicate product for cooking, it is for "tasting" only. A light sprinkle on buttered, homemade bread is a real treat! As an aside, I found this article on salt highly entertaining.

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