Thursday, April 28, 2011

Pantry Master List

I'm someone who likes to cook on a daily basis and bake as often as possible.  Having a well-stocked pantry is essential for my endeavors in the kitchen and I never like to feel limited.  I know it's not always feasible to have everything one needs at all times, but I try very hard to keep my must-haves on hand.  We all have our own style of cooking and your pantry may be completely different from mine.  Keep in mind that this is a master list, one from which you can cook just about anything.  Pick and choose according to your needs and likes.




  • Grains & Flours

Store in airtight containers.

unbleached all-purpose flour, bread flour, whole wheat flour (store in freezer), cake flour (not self-rising), yellow cornmeal (refrigerate), white cornmeal(refrigerate), masa harina, cornstarch, arrowroot, old-fashioned rolled oats (not instant), extra-long grain white rice (not parboiled), extra-long grain brown rice, jasmine rice, basmati rice, Japanese short grain rice, arborio rice, quinoa, bulgur wheat


  • Pastas & Legumes
Store in original packaging.

couscous (Moroccan & Israeli), thin spaghetti, spaghetti, bucatini, linguine, fusilli, farfalle, elbows, ziti, penne, orzo, soba noodles, lasagna noodles, wonton wrappers (store in refrigerator), rice paper rolls, black beans, navy beans, Le Puy lentils, brown lentils, red split lentils, split peas


  • Sugars/Sweeteners
Store in airtight containers.

granulated sugar, superfine sugar, light brown sugar, dark brown sugar, 10X- confectioner's sugar, demerara sugar (in the raw), sanding sugar (coarse & fine), unsulphured molasses, light corn syrup, agave nectar, grade A or B maple syrup, pure honey (a variety and local if possible), flavored sugars (lemon, orange, vanilla, cinnamon & rose)


  • Baking Essentials
Store in original containers.

baking soda, baking powder, cream of tartar, non-fat powdered milk, active dry yeast (keep refrigerated), unflavored gelatin, malted milk powder, meringue powder, almond paste, marzipan, dutch-process cocoa powder, chocolate bars (unsweetened, bittersweet, semisweet, milk and white),
chocolate chips (bittersweet, semisweet, milk and white), chocolate sprinkles, instant espresso powder, gel food colors, vanilla extract, almond extract, coconut extract, lemon extract, orange extract, peppermint extract, vanilla paste, vanilla beans



  • Nuts & Dried Fruit
All nuts should be frozen in resealable bags, dried fruit stored in airtight containers.

blanched almonds (slivered, sliced or whole), hazelnuts, shelled unsalted pistachios, pinenuts, pecans, walnuts, macadamias, dry roasted unsalted peanuts, sesame seeds (black & white), dried coconut (sweetened & natural), cranberries, apricots, candied ginger, prunes, dates, mission figs, raisins, golden raisins, currants, cherries (montmorency or sweet), candied lemon peel, candied orange peel


  • Canned & Bottled Goods
Once opened, refrigerate all bottled goods.  Transfer all canned goods, once opened, to food safe containers and refrigerate

cranberry juice, pomegranate juice, apple juice, unsweetened organic applesauce, apricot jam, raspberry jam, sour orange marmalade, almond butter, natural peanut butter (crunchy or smooth), morello cherries in syrup, oil-packed sundried tomatoes, non-pareil capers, bottled roasted red peppers, kalamata olives, sardines in olive oil, pole caught tuna, wild caught red salmon, anchovies, favorite marinara sauce, unsalted tomato sauce, whole canned tomatoes, tomato paste, evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, coconut milk, pumpkin puree, kidney beans, chickpeas, black beans, navy beans, chipotle peppers in adobo, low sodium chicken stock (for emergencies),low-sodium clam juice, horseradish

  • Condiments
Store in original containers and refrigerate once opened.

low fat mayonnaise, dijon mustard, grain mustard, barbecue sauce, sriracha sauce, low sodium soy sauce, hoison sauce, oyster sauce, Thai style hot sauce, wasabi paste, worcestershire sauce, Louisiana hot sauce,
favorite ketchup

  • Oils
Store in original containers away from heat & light.

extra virgin olive oil, safflower oil, canola oil, peanut oil, dark toasted sesame oil (keep in refrigerator), walnut oil (keep in refrigerator), hazelnut oil (keep in refrigerator)

  • Vinegars
Store in original containers.

balsamic, red wine, white wine, champagne, sherry, apple cider, distilled white, unseasoned rice vinegar


  • Herbs and Spices
Store in airtight containers away from heat & light.

allspice, anise seeds, basil, bay leaf, blackened seasoning, bouquet garni, caraway seeds, cardamom (pods & ground), cayenne pepper, celery seeds, chile pepper flakes, chile seasoning, chipotle chile powder, cinnamon (stick & ground), cloves (whole & ground),coriander, cumin, curry powder (hot & mild), dill, fennel seeds, fenugreek, five spice powder, garam masala, ginger, herbes de provence, juniper berries, lavender, mace blades, marjoram, mulling spices, mustard (ground, black & yellow seeds), nutmeg (whole), oregano (Greek & Mexican), paprika (sweet & hot), peppercorns (green, pink, szechuan, tellicherry, white), pimentón, poppy seeds, rosemary, saffron threads (Spanish), sage, star anise, salt (kosher & fine sea) summer savory, tarragon, thyme, turmeric


  • Freezer Must Haves
homemade chicken stock (1-2 cup portions), baby lima beans, peas (petite or regular), organic sweet corn, vegetable medley, chopped spinach, broccoli, bacon, pesto, egg yolks (if leftover from recipes),
egg whites (if leftover from recipes), unsalted butter, blueberries, cranberries, strawberries, raspberries, pate brisee (pie crust), puff pastry, bread (sandwich, loaves, baguettes), breadcrumbs, ravioli, ALL nuts (they get rancid quickly), deveined shrimp




This list was put together as a source from which to stock a cook's pantry.  If I've left anything out that you  feel should be on this list, please let me know and I'll include it.  I hope this guide serves you well.  Happy cooking & baking!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Organizing Your Pantry

I like having one place for all of my baking and cooking essentials.  In our former Haddonfield home, I had to make do with a small laboratory cabinet that was tucked into a dark corner on the way to the basement.  Our current kitchen has a simple built in with adjustable shelves, right next to my dough counter.  It certainly isn't large by any means, but it serves its purpose and I love it.  Here is how I organize my pantry.


This is my small pantry area.  Antique Ball jars hold my legumes.  The were bought at the Haddonfield Antique Center.

Click here and take a look at the store.




Adjustable shelves allow me to store bulky items.

The top shelf has excess spices and food storage material.  The second shelf holds extracts, honeys, teas and coffee.


These shelves hold pastas, canned goods, condiments, salt & pepper mills, some cereal and wide mouth, Martha by Mail 2 gallon apothecary jars filled with rice, granulated sugar & all-purpose flour.

The bottom shelves hold my heavy or bulky items.  Excess flours, sugars (flavored, powdered, brown and sanding), rice, canned goods and legumes.  This is also where I keep my plastic wraps, bags, foil, parchment & wax paper.



Although this may not be completely organized the way it should be, I am still able to locate anything at a moment's notice.  When it comes down to it, you the cook, should know what you have and what you don't have in your pantry.  This will not only help determine your shopping lists, but it will cut down on expenses.  Check expiration dates on all your bottled and canned goods.  Do as they do at your local supermarkets and place your items accordingly.  The ones that will expire sooner should be up front.  Take the time to organize your pantry over the weekend; it doesn't take very long to do this.  I guarantee you'll cook and work more efficiently this way.  Have fun organizing!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Woodland Wonders

I love taking daily walks, not only for the physical exercise, but also for the learning experience.   Just the other day, I went into the woodland that surrounds our home with my camera in hand and I glimpsed at some of the first signs of spring.  To my surprise, I discovered some plant material and trees that even I didn't know we had.  Perhaps it's part of my curiosity, but I like to know exactly what I have in my own backyard.  With several acres surrounding us, it's sometimes a challenge to accomplish this.  Take a look at a few of the discoveries I made in the woodland the other day.  


 
This is one of the numerous walking trails just behind the house.  The path is flanked by pachysandra and a few daffodils that are just starting to come out of the ground.

 
A bridge that goes over a tiny brook.
I love standing here.


A patch of hostas is coming along quite nicely.  To think that just a few months ago this was all covered in so much snow.

 
As I was climbing the hill, I was immediately drawn to some white flowers in the distance.  I could not believe it.  A white flowering magnolia tree!

 
Look at these flowers.  Beautiful!

 
This bud is just opening.  A few bees were buzzing nearby and I was in heaven.

 
At the top of the hill, by the field, more color was breaking through.  Can you see the vivid pink?

 

As I walked underneath this magnolia I was in complete awe.  Truly magnificent.


 
These cherry blossoms just opened a few days ago.  They bring such beauty to the landscape.




Now that winter's chill is behind us, go outside and take a walk.  Make it a habit to carry a camera because you just may find yourself in front of something spectacular.  Nature has something to teach us everyday and I know I'll continue to be amazed and mindful of my surroundings.  Cheers! 

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Natural Air Freshener

Let's face it, we have all had something in our home whose unpleasant smell permeated every room.  There's no reason why one should put up with such odors when there's a quick, natural solution.  Before you reach for a can of spray or some fragrant candle, why not try this?  Slice up half a lemon (or an entire one) and add it to a small pot of water.  Depending on what you have in your cupboard, you can add about 12 cloves or two tablespoons of mulling spices to this (two cinnamon sticks also work).  Turn on your burner and let this mixture simmer on the stovetop for about 15 minutes.  In no time, your home will be fragrant and free of those nasty odors.   



I'm using mulling spices here.




I like to do this while I'm cleaning up the kitchen and it's so much nicer than using something artificial.  This is especially useful if you have family members with allergies or are highly sensitive to chemicals in your home.  Trust me, your home will smell much better.  A lemon and a small handful of spices are a definite good thing.  Cheers! 



Thursday, April 14, 2011

Forsythia

Forsythia x intermedia always enhances the landscape during spring.  The bright yellow flowers really stand out with breathtaking beauty wherever you plant them.  Around my neighborhood, so many people like to line their driveways with these shrubs or place them around the perimeter of their properties.  They do seem to provide a good screen for privacy, which is especially useful if you don't have a fence demarcating your property line.  I highly recommend that you ask your local nursery for help when choosing these shrubs, because there are several varieties from which to plant. 

 

The landscape is ablaze in bright yellow.
These particular ones get a minimum amount of
pruning, hence their wild appearance.


 
Here's a closeup of these pretty flowers.
A few branches in a vase make a beautiful
spring arrangement.

 

This shrub is down by a glade where we have
 spore-bearing fronds of some ostrich ferns. 


 
 The flowers bloom before their leaves appear
and their color is just gorgeous.


 
A good thing about Forsythia is that they're not difficult to care for.  They do need a bit of space to grow, but as long as you have good draining soil and can offer them full sun, they will fare quite nicely in the landscape.  If you like the wild look of these shrubs there really is no need to prune them every year.  However, if you want a more formal and upright shape, it's best to do your pruning right after bloom; doing it too early or too late will inhibit next year's growth.  You'll want to cut off about 1/4 of your old growth branches right down to the ground.  How do you tell which is old growth and which is new?  Old growth branches will have blooms on them and new ones will not.  If you have some space around your home, think about planting one or two of these this coming fall.  You'll be glad you did.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Tortilla Española

Spanish tortillas are those thick, round omelets filled with potatoes and onions, that I love to eat on the weekends for a light lunch.  I'll show you how I make my version of the Tortilla Española or Tortilla de Patata, which differs a bit from the ones you'll find in Spain or at the budding tapas restaurants that seem to be popping up everywhere.  One thing you won't find in those versions is jalapeño peppers.  I like the little bit of heat these peppers give off, but you can omit them if you want.  My version is also a bit thinner because I use less potatoes.  Let's get started, I'm hungry.

  
The Ingredients
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 lbs. Yukon gold potatoes, thinly sliced 
  • (Idahoes, New or White potatoes can be substituted)
  • 1 medium yellow onion thinly sliced
  • 1-2 seeded and sliced jalapeños (optional)
  • 6-8 tablespoons olive oil
 
Peeling your potatoes is optional; the skins have a good amount of fiber.  If they're organic simply scrub them well.  However, if your potatoes have any green on them, you must peel the skins off.  Slice them no thicker than 1/8" either with a mandolin or with a sharp chef's knife.
 
 
In a 10" nonstick frying pan w/ a tight fitting lid, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil on medium heat and add your onions. Toss well and add your jalapeños.  Season this mixture with salt and pepper.  Saute for about 5 minutes or until your onions and peppers soften.  Add your sliced potatoes on top of your onions, salt & pepper to taste, then place your lid on. 
 
Important: turn your heat to medium-low or you run the risk of burning your potatoes.
 
 
Every 5 minutes, remove the lid & give everything a good toss.  Don't forget to salt & pepper them to taste.  The potatoes will take about 20 minutes or so before they can easily be pierced with a fork or the tip of a knife.
 
 
When everything is fork tender, put the potato mixture onto a 12" plate.   Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in the same pan over medium heat.  Whisk your eggs and pour over your potatoes.  Immediately pour the entire contents back onto your frying pan.  Place your lid on, then lower your heat to medium-low.  
 
  
After about 4 minutes or so, your tortilla will begin to puff around the edges.  Loosen the omelet with a spatula and give the pan a good shake.  The entire tortilla should begin to slide easily.  This is a sign that it's well cooked & that it won't stick to the pan.
 
 
Place your oversized plate on top of the frying pan and get two pot holders ready.  You're going to flip the entire contents, away from you.  Put your left hand, with your pot holder, right where the handle meets the frying pan (where the rivets are).  Place your other hand, with your pot holder, directly opposite.  Keep your hands well clamped on both the pan & plate.  You're going to rotate the side closest to you, up & over(away from you).  This is important because you don't want any of that hot, scalding egg hitting you in the face.  The tortilla should release easily.  Put 2 more tablespoons of olive oil in your frying pan & have your heat on medium.  Return the omelet to the pan and cook for about 2 more minutes.  
 
 
 
Voila! The omelet is done.  I like to let it sit for about 5 minutes before I slice it up.  This should make anywhere from 4-6 servings.
 
 
A nice wedge served with a spinach salad.
 
 
 
 Making a Spanish tortilla isn't difficult at all and it's always a big crowd pleaser.  The other good thing about this omelet is that it can be served either warm or cold.  A mimosa made with Spanish cava and freshly squeezed orange juice, or perhaps a red or white sangria is perfect to have with this.  By the way, don't limit yourself to a weekend brunch to cook one.  Why not try it for dinner tonight?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Soap Bottle

I believe this was one of Martha Stewart Living's first 'good things' to be introduced to us almost 20 years ago.  It is perhaps the easiest thing you can do to make your sink look neat and orderly.  The moment I see one of these in someone's home, I immediately know that I'm in the presence of a kindred spirit.  There are many types of soap dispensers available to the consumer these days, so let your tastes dictate what you want to have in your kitchen.  This is how I keep my liquid dishsoap.



I recycled a wine bottle that held some French rosé.  This one is embossed with the letters CP.  Choose one that's clear and simply fill with your preferred liquid dishsoap.  Don't forget to buy a pouring spout. 

 

I think I've had this bottle & spout for about 11 years now.  That antique Portuguese pig will be a future Good Thing.

 

If you do make one of these for your kitchen, why not fill an extra one to give to a friend who's just moved into a new home?  It's an unexpected gift and one that is sure to be used a lot.  Make this good thing one of your must  haves for the place you call home.  Cheers! 

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Pesto My Way

Do you have a favorite pasta sauce?  I do.  It's pesto.  To my mind, the pure flavor of basil, pine nuts, extra virgin olive oil & a bit of garlic and cheese makes it the perfect pasta sauce.  These days there are so many things labeled "pesto" in cookbooks and at supermarkets, that I think we tend to forget the original Genoese version.  The basil should be farmer's market or garden fresh, the extra virgin olive oil should be your favorite kind (I like Spanish) and the Parmesan should be grated by hand (the kind you find in a can doesn't work).  I actually had to take measurements to provide you with a recipe, but I normally just eyeball it when I make this at home.  I keep it on hand at all times because it's so delicious.  Let me show you how easy it is to make.


The Ingredients

  • 2 packed cups fresh basil, washed and dried--organic of possible
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced or pushed through a garlic press
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts--almonds or walnuts can be substituted
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 6 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
  • 2 big pinches of coarse kosher salt
  • 1 pinch of freshly cracked pepper

Place your basil, nuts and garlic in the bowl of your food processor.  Pulse until coarsely chopped.  Add your cheese, salt and pinch of pepper.


With the machine running, add your extra virgin olive oil until the mixture is smooth.  This doesn't even take a minute.


This is your finished sauce.  Bright green and pungent.  You can use this right away or you can store it in the
refrigerator for a few days.  If you're going to store it or use it in a few hours, I strongly suggest you put a piece of plastic wrap on the surface of the sauce or it will turn a muddy brown color.


I always freeze mine to have on hand.  Simply divide the sauce into an ice cube tray and place in the freezer.  Once frozen, remove the cubes and store in a resealable freezer bag.  One cube is enough for about 4 oz. of pasta.  Some cooks will frown upon the fact that I add the cheese & then freeze the sauce, but I've been doing it this way for over a decade & it has always tasted good to me.


This favorite sauce of mine is suitable for so many types of pasta shapes.  I prefer to have it on linguine or thin spaghetti, but I've been known to throw it on rotini, bucatini, orzo, farfalle, penne, orecchiette and even ravioli.  Don't limit yourself to pasta though.  Try it on boiled potatoes or perhaps some steamed asparagus.  A few dollops of this on bruschetta or on a slice of pizza also works well.  Enjoy it and Buon Appetito!