Every cook has a different list of staples and go-to items, and while some of them are fairly obvious, just about every cook has a few surprising inclusions. While it's pretty clear that I'm not going to run out of hot sauce any time soon, I do have other things that I simply must have on hand. This list is under development:
Chile Paste - I usually have both Chinese style chile oil and sambal oelek - an Indonesian chile paste without other additives (such as garlic) that is useful in many, many dishes to give a little zing. It's available in Asian markets (even some little corner grocers) and many supermarkets in the Asian or ethnic sections.
Cumin - Whole and/or ground. An essential component of both Indian and Mexican cooking, and a delicious addition to egg dishes, roasted potatoes, and steamed or sautéed cauliflower.
Garlic - Fresh garlic! You can even camp with fresh garlic - it weighs almost nothing and is cheap as heck at less than a quarter per bulb. You get a lot of bang for your quarter-of-a-buck.
Ginger - Fresh gingerroot is very versatile. You can use it in stir-fries, curries, dipping sauces, salad dressings, marinades, cookies, cakes and tea. It's cheap enough that I don't mind if an end-bit goes knubbly on me and dries out - I just toss it and get another one. Dried, powdered ginger has a lot of applications too, and candied ginger is quite settling for the stomach.
Limes - Fresh limes! A little bit of lime juice or zest can be just the thing to pick up a listless soup or curry, it makes great marinades and subtly different vinaigrettes. Plus, you can make great salsa at a moment's notice if you have fresh limes on hand. Also handy for cocktails.
Mustard - preferably a selection that includes at least a hot mustard, a Dijon and dry ground mustard, but I also stock the classic French's yellow, Tewkesbury (horseradish), honey mustard, and a few fancy-ass flavoured ones as well as whole mustard seed. Most sandwiches that I make involve mustard, but so do many of the sauces, soups and stews. It's more of a multi-tasker than many people realize.
Onions - Most recipes that I have that don't involve chocolate begin with cutting up an onion. I get nervous if there are no onions in the house. Standard yellow onions do workhorse duty, but I'm also partial to red onions (especially raw in salads) and green or spring onions. A no-brainer, this one.
Salt - Much maligned as the harbinger of high blood-pressure, salt is an essential mineral and a way to heighten flavour in both meat and vegetables. Personally, I crave salt, in part because of my complicated innards, but I still use less salt than my Grandparents did. Judicious use is the key. I like kosher salt, because it is easy to pick up between the fingers, when you are adding a "pinch."
Tomato Paste - Aside from the usual applications of Italian dishes and assorted pastas of nebulous heritage, tomato paste makes a great pizza sauce (when thinned with water and jazzed up with herbs), adds wonderful dimensions to soups and stews, and acts as a thickening agent in thin sauces. Plus, it's lower in sodium, usually, than most tomato sauces. Available in the 160 ml can, and in closeable tubes for those small-applications.
Vermouth - Ah vermouth! White vermouth, specifically. It's an essential component of a proper martini, it deglazes pans like nobody's business and in doing so can rescue onions from burning, and it can stand in for the tiny measurements of dry white wine in many recipes. Really, I'm not going to be cracking the Pinot Gris unless I plan to drink the rest of it with dinner, and while that's not out of the question, a lot of the time you just need a splash of something that is a) alcoholic and b) less vile than "cooking wine." Which is, as anyone who has tried it knows, fit only for deglazing the kitchen drains. My favourite at this time is a French vermouth called Noilly Prat, but most commercial varieties are perfectly functional.
I read, and re-read cookbooks for entertainment as well as research.
Current read: Bones by Jennifer McLagan
Recent read: Quick and Easy Indian Cooking by Madhur Jaffrey
Under-construction list of the cookbooks that I return to again and again, for recipes and inspiration (in no particular order):
- Seductions of Rice - Jeffrey Alford & Naomi Duguid
- Hot Sour Salty Sweet - Jeffrey Alford & Naomi Duguid
- The Book of Jewish Food - Claudia Roden
- The Africa Cookbook - Jessica B. Harris
- Any of Anne Lindsay's books (although her website is not anywhere as useful as her books)
- Food That Really Schmecks - Edna Staebler - Mennonite inspired country cooking from Ontario
- World of the East Vegetarian Cooking - Madhur Jaffrey
Welcome to the brand new look for Always in the Kitchen. The new site was developed by Julie McGalliard, who sorted out my barely coherent ramblings about what I wanted, and developed the art and technical components for the entire site. Thanks, Julie!
The older pages will be brought into the new format gradually, as I find the time to do it. In the meantime, please be patient. Let me know if you find any broken links, or if the site is acting weird, though.
Always In the Kitchen
© 2003 — 2008 Dawna L. Read