An often asked question in our cooking classes concern the proper stocking of home pantries and the usual answer is "it depends". We love to approach food shopping as a continuing education; something exciting rather than just a necessary chore. This means of course, that you must give yourself time to enjoy it. We are not talking here about the quick and harried trip to the grocery store sandwiched (no pun intended) between getting off work, stopping by the gym and rushing home to get something on the dinner table.
Chat with your suppliers
Having a little extra time to chat with your suppliers as well as other shoppers can increase your food knowledge in interesting ways. Many of us have already become package readers, even though that information can possibly be somewhat misleading on the surface. The internet has changed our research and shopping habits; so much knowledge and convenience literally at our finger tips, such as (ahem) www.avantisavoia.com
Locally grown, unadulterated and organic and in season
In larger communities not only can one visit large familiar chains but, small produce dealers, farmers markets, natural food stores, gourmet markets, Asian, Mid-eastern, Hispanic and other ethnic markets. Fresh produce is best locally grown, unadulterated and organic and in season.
Size, nature and tastes
Other pantry items in the kitchen depend very much on the size, nature and tastes of the particular individuals or families. For instance a non- cooking single person would stock their pantry quite differently than that of a large family or a couple that enjoys gourmet cooking and entertaining often.
Let's start with herbs, spices and flavorings
Now, the fact that I am a professional chef means that my pantry is loaded with some supplies that many people would not use. A warm climate and the fact that I have a very small greenhouse allow some fresh herbs to be available to me year round. Many of the upscale grocery stores carry a selection of fresh herbs, as well. My current inventory of herb plants (almost all of them in containers) includes four kinds of basil, oregano, tarragon, sage, rosemary, lemon thyme, bay laurel, chives, lavender, spearmint, peppermint and lemon balm. They look great on the deck, are very convenient to the kitchen and make my cooking look and taste fabulous. I regularly harvest and dry many of these for later use. Do note that many dried herbs begin to seriously lose their potency in about one year.
Dried herbs also play an important role in my kitchen
The basic spice list
Both whole and ground spices and extracts enhance many baked products. The basic spice list is nutmeg, cloves, allspice, cardamom, ginger and cinnamon. A variety of pure and natural extracts have not always been easy to obtain at traditional grocery stores. That problem was solved a few years ago, when we discovered the products of Silver Cloud Estates. Whatever flavor (ordinary or exotic) you wish to have in the recipe that you are creating will dictate the extracts that you keep on hand. Silver Cloud has a huge variety of flavors represented by those in our inventory; coconut, cherry, peach, apple, lemon, orange, lime, mango, strawberry, blueberry, raspberry, apricot, almond and two vanilla products. One is a good quality yet familiar extract. The second, Vanilla Bean Paste is just about my favorite vanilla flavoring ever! A few dried delicacies such as seaweeds, mushrooms and lily buds also come in handy. Several kinds of seeds, nuts and dried fruit are in this category, too.
Some 15 different "peppery" products
Peppers and peppercorns get their own category, however. Ground black and white pepper; whole pink, green, white and black peppercorns are all favorites. Currently, Avanti stocks some 15 different "peppery" products including the standard favorites as well as some really tasty exotics such as Ajis Amarillo, Aleppo Pepper, Marash Pepper, Urfa Pepper, Brandied Pepper, Rainbow Whole Peppercorn Mix and Szechuan Peppercorns.
In Part 2 of Stocking the Pantry we'll talk about the only mineral that we eat as food as well as some information on olive oils and vinegars.