Joy Magazine

Every Cook's Best Friend — A Well-Stocked Pantry

If you really want to kick things up a notch, exotic cousins to some of your pantry staples are worth having on hand when you feel like indulging, or for impromptu entertaining.

Working your way through a fabulous new recipe, and you realize — oh no! I don't have that ingredient. Sound familiar? A well-stocked pantry is an investment in your ability to complete the most basic of recipes.

The Basics

5 Essential Herbs and Spices

Nutmeg: Ground or freshly grated, nutmeg is used in cheese sauces, casseroles, winter squash, meatloaf and sausage dishes, as well as sweet baked goods.

Cinnamon: A touch of cinnamon in Middle Eastern dishes or beef stew, can give the dish body without ever being identified. Have on hand for cookies, pies, cakes, French toast and hot chocolate.

Cayenne Pepper: Surprisingly versatile as a flavor enhancer in very small amounts for cream soups, gravies, and egg dishes. In large doses, it heats up chili, soups, beans, and savory casseroles.

Granulated Garlic: Excellent for soup, tomato sauce, garlic butter, roasted chicken, chili, stew, beef and pork.

Dried Parsley: Add last minute color and flavor to egg dishes, sauces, gravies, pizza, and pasta.

Starting with basic items, always have flour, sugar, salt, pasta, rice, oil and vinegar. These are the anchors of your pantry. If you are an avid baker, add active dry yeast, baking soda, baking powder, cocoa powder, brown sugar and vanilla extract to your stash.

Tomato sauce and paste, broth, beans, oats, crackers, breadcrumbs, cornmeal, honey and canned tuna are equally important staples to have on hand. If you have the storage, you can branch into several types of these products. Expand your variety even more by adding dried fruits, olives and nuts; this will be vital if you are going to raid your pantry for entertaining purposes.

Spices are your signature on the pantry. If you don't already grind your own fresh pepper, try a small bottle of peppercorns with the attached grinder; you will appreciate the complex flavor. Cayenne, and red pepper flakes warm up your winter chili. Cumin, paprika, and a sweet chile powder renovate many meat-based dishes with their unique, smoky flavor. High quality dried herbs, such as parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, will not only have you humming that familiar tune but are essential to a perfectly roasted chicken. Don't forget dried basil, bay leaves, ground mustard, celery seed and a dried granulated garlic or onion to round out your savory collection.

A good baker's collection should contain the ground versions of allspice, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves.

You'll want to refresh your dried herbs and spices at least yearly. Your grocery store will often have sales at the holidays; this allows you to rejuvenate your spice collection at a reduced cost and rotate your stock.

The Exotics

If you really want to kick things up a notch, exotic cousins to some of your pantry staples are worth having on hand when you feel like indulging, or for impromptu entertaining.

Sea salt is making gourmet waves with carefully harvested Fleur de Sel; this gray salt is collected at ocean inlets on the coast of France. Considering it can sell for up to $2 an ounce, you'll want to savor its distinctive flavor where it can be appreciated, atop boiled new potatoes, or a warm French baguette slice slathered with creamy butter.

One of the true gems of any pantry, saffron is ancient and highly regarded. It is the tiny stamen of the purple crocus flower; each delicate thread is collected by hand. A single ounce of saffron threads fetches $100 or more. More reasonably, a gram can be purchased for $10 to $15. A traditional addition to Spanish Paella and French Bouillabaisse, its golden color infuses the dish and adds an indisputable flavor that cannot be replicated with any other spice.

Aged balsamic vinegar brightens and intensifies many different types of food. Much like a syrup, aged balsamic finds a home drizzled over fresh strawberries, creamy gelato, or a 4-year-old piece of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. However, excellent aged balsamic vinegar is expensive; 50-year-old vinegar is $160 for 100 ml but many chefs believe that six-year-old vinegar will also do a great job, and only costs around $40.

Adding several items to your list each time you shop, will eventually garner you a diverse and plentiful collection that fits your personal needs. Leave mid-recipe panic in the past and enjoy the confidence that is a well-stocked pantry.

You'll want to refresh your dried herbs and spices at least yearly. Your grocery store will often have sales at the holidays; this allows you to rejuvenate your spice collection at a reduced cost and rotate your stock.


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