Friday, January 24, 2014

Stocking the Pantry Part 2

If you missed Part 1 you can read it here

The only mineral that we eat as a food
Salt is the only mineral that we eat as a food and is an essential nutrient and universal ingredient. At one time all salt was produced by traditional artisan methods that included solar evaporation, boiling brine or mining from deposits. Salt was a rare and valuable treasure that was even used as currency. Avanti Savoia offers an assortment of more than 20 various natural salts from around the world which we usually just refer to as gourmet finishing salts.  Different styles, grinds, colors, flavors and nuances have been a delight for the Avanti chefs to experiment with in our cooking school, La Cucina. One of our more exciting adventures with salt is our Natural Salt Block Cooking Tiles, which are cut from deposits in the Himalayan Mountains. They can be used for cooking as well for serving. Just be sure to CAREFULLY READ THE INSTRUCTIONS.
Flavors and nuances
Cooking with wines, spirits, liqueurs and cordials can lend flavors and nuances to many dishes although they have other useful properties, as well. Wines and spirits are used for de-glazing pans, making quick pan sauces and they often add a very important acid component to balance dishes. Marinating with alcohol adds flavor, aroma and assists in tenderizing. Good examples of wines to have on hand are white vermouth, dry red and white table wines, Sherries and Marsala. The flavor required in a particular dish will dictate the choice of liqueurs; such as coffee liqueur for Tiramisu or Grand Marnier for crepes. Don't forget the place of Mirin and rice cooking wine in Asian cuisine.
Cold pressed oils and cooking fats
A selection of several cold pressed oils and cooking fats are also essential. At the top of the inventory is authentic Italian extra virgin olive oil and nowhere is there a better selection that on  Next favorite in our kitchen is unsalted butter, whole or clarified. We do save bacon grease and use it judiciously. For deep frying peanut or canola oil and for specific flavoring nut oils such as walnut, almond and hazelnut are wonderful. Upon occasion we use safflower oil and in baking - vegetable shortening and for good old Southern Biscuits… lard. If you are lucky enough to come by duck or goose fat your credentials as a gourmet cook will be assured.
Riccardo Giusti Balsamic Vinegar of Modena

Condiments and vinegars
Many, many dishes require the addition of liquid condiments and vinegars. These items include Worcester sauce, soy sauce, bitters and favorite hot sauces which vary according to style of cuisine and personal taste such as Sambal, Siracha, Valentina, Tabasco, Louisiana or Texas Pete. Fine Balsamic vinegars from Avanti Savoia are a must, of course. Red and white wine vinegars, rice vinegar, black vinegar, herb and fruit vinegars can add a lot of flavor and style. A collection of sweeteners is certainly required. Our go-tos are granulated and powdered white cane sugar, brown sugar, raw sugar, honey, maple syrup, molasses, and corn syrup and Agave syrup.
Important elements… we couldn't do without
Leavenings, thickeners and baked goods are important elements in any cook's kitchen. We couldn't do without baking yeast, baking soda, baking powder, cream of tartar, arrowroot, cornstarch, xanthan gum, and unflavored gelatin. Using the a fore mention products will enable bakers to create any number of homemade baked goods, however at a minimum a kitchen should also have available nice whole grain breads and specialty crackers. Corn and flour tortillas are necessary for those of us that love Southwestern and Mexican cuisine.
Dry pantry stock
We can't do any baking without our dry pantry stock. Again, for serious bakers there is usually a long list of ingredients but, for the simple home cook the following flours should prove to be sufficient; all purpose flour, self rising flour, whole wheat flour, unbleached white flour and cake flour and bran or wheat germ. Powdered milk and powdered buttermilk are useful in a number of recipes. Gotta have cocoa powder and dark chocolate, period! Several corn products are useful including stone ground cornmeal and grits as well as masa for making tortillas and thickening chili. Depending on personal diet preferences, whole grains and cereals, a variety of rices, beans and legumes can be stocked.
Canned goods and specialty products
One of many specialty pastas

I honestly do not keep a huge collection of canned goods and specialty products, usually opting to purchase the items as they are needed. Tomato products in glass are our choice and Avanti Savoia has three different brands with a variety of styles.  Some of the canned goods needed in recipes could include green chilies, pimientos, beans, artichokes, hearts of palm, packaged broths, Asian specialties (water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, and baby corn), canned tuna, salmon and anchovies and home canned anything. Authentic Italian pastas from Avanti Savoia will come in handy and most kitchens have peanut butter and perhaps some variations such as sun nut butter or almond butter.
The most subjective list of them all
Now, we come to refrigerator items and freezer foods and this probably is the most subjective list of them all. If you eat dairy products, then your refrigerator could have milk, cream, half and half, yogurt, sour cream, cheeses and eggs (although not dairy, of course). Purchase the best and most organic products that can be found. What else may be found in your ‘fridge (besides forgotten science experiments) depends entirely on your taste and cooking needs. Fresh produce, favorite condiments, olives, peppers, pickles, relishes, jellies and jams – experience will tell you what you will have a use for on a regular basis. The freezer is another area that reflects a household’s personality. I do try to catch specials on top quality seafood, poultry and meats, so as to have a few possible main courses always on hand. Because I make our own stocks, I keep a few of these reduced to a concentrated state for easier storage. It is worth noting that some of the world’s finest cuisines are based on the use of stocks and broths.
It depends
So, now at the end of this pantry ramble, I still can only offer the same comment that we started with – “it depends”. The best advice is to carefully consider your needs and budget and collect only the best quality ingredients as well as the freshest. Avanti Savoia can help!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Stocking the Pantry Part 1

We are not talking about the quick and harried trip to the grocery store
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)
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
Juniper Berries at
Juniper Berries
I always enjoy using marjoram, chervil, dill weed, summer savory and saffron, even if they are not homegrown. Also nice to have around are dried preparations such as chili powder, file powder, five-spice powder, turmeric and dry mustard and a selection of curries. Quite a number of whole and ground seeds are essential. Favorites are: coriander, mustard, cumin, juniper berries, poppy seeds, fennel, caraway, dill, celery and black and white sesame seeds.
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.