Top Secret Essentials We Can’t Do Without
This post is part of an ongoing series called “These Are a Few of Our Favourite (20) Things” which features inspirations from the LCBO’s Autumn Food & Drink magazine.
Here at School House Booze, we’re big fans of entertaining and all that comes with it. We like designing the decorations, making the table settings and, most importantly, cooking the food! We like our dining tables to be a buzz of excitement as we stuff delightful food into the faces of the ones we love. Being known as foodies who serve platters of unique new flavour blends is what makes hosting so much fun. Over time you develop a list of pantry essentials and must haves that get to take turns playing “secret agent” in your meals.
Every good home cook knows the excitement that comes with having a *secret ingredient*. We light up a little at the chance to be sneaky and secretive when asked what that delicious mystery flavour can be attributed to. We all know that person who’s spread can wow a crowd – you know the one. They play coy to their awesome talents and (if you’re lucky enough to catch them in the act) they never fail to make cooking look like magic as they spin around the kitchen, flinging spices into pans left and right, a little Mr. Ratatouille if you may. Wouldn’t you just love to know what goes into those incredible dishes?
The Autumn edition of the LCBO’s Food and Drink magazine dives into the kitchen of the savvy Ontarian home chef to expose the most commonly used pantry essentials. Letting down our guards, we were inspired to reveal our most used secret ingredients. As goes with most secrets, things are usually simpler then they seem. We find that as long as you put freshness first, you can’t go wrong, but it doesn’t hurt to throw in a curve ball every once and while 😉 Take a look at the things that we just can’t do without!
Ashley’s Top Secret Pantry Essentials
Honey honey how you thrill me aha. This golden, syrupy liquid has so many non-culinary usages (did you know that it can cure some types of acne?!) but our favourite deployments are all flavour related. It’s no secret that it tastes great in everything; I drizzle it into tea, it sweetens up my baked good, and it give the illusion of healthiness when used in the candy making process 😉 The best way to turn honey into a secret agent in your food is to mix it with meat. Honey garlic chicken is an obvious move, but what about putting honey onto steak? If you spread it onto steak before grilling it, the honey caramelizes and turns the grill lines into delicious tracks of magic. Try it, I dare you.
2. Sweet Smoked Paprika
This was the best souvenir that I bought on my trip to Spain last year. This little tin of sweet smoked paprika packs a big punch. I find that it enhances the taste of other savoury flavours by providing a sweet undertone that satisfies the taste buds of even the most discriminating foodie. In this case, a little bit goes a long way. I toss this spice into almost every dish and I’ve only used up about a quarter of the tin. Sometimes I worry about the day when it all runs out. Then I think that when that fateful day comes there will be no better reason to make a trip back to Spain 😉
3. GOOD Olive Oil
Olive oil can get pricy, especially if you decide to bring a can back with you from Spain like I did. I can still remember opening my suitcase in fear, panicked at the chance to find my clothes and suitcase soaked in high quality olive oil (luckily that didn’t happen!). I got the chance to visit an olive grove while I was over on that side of the world. They really hammered in the importance of using good quality olive oil in your cooking. I can’t recommend splurging on the good stuff enough. You want to look for the bottles marked “first cold-pressed” to ensure that you’re getting the most flavour and nutrients.
4. Cinnamon Sticks
Here’s a secret for you: cinnamon sticks are great for more than just mulled wine and apple cider. I like to throw a stick or two into my meaty dishes as well. You won’t believe how it changes the flavour of savory cooking. Remember, cinnamon sticks aren’t naturally sweet so, with the absence of sugar, this woody seasoning adds a nutty flavour. It creates that famous depth of flavour that leaves your party guests both satisfied and curious. They won’t be able to put their finger on the flavour.
5. Red Chili Flakes
Like heat? So do I! I can’t remember the last time I omitted a dash of red chili flakes from my cooking. Eggs, soup, salads – you name it, if you’re eating at my house you can expect spice and lots of it! Along with adding a taste explosion, there’s also something really aesthetically pleasing about a little sprinkle of red and yellow chili flakes.
Rachel’s Top Secret Pantry Essentials
1. Seasoned Salt
I can’t go a meal without throwing a splash of my trusty seasoned salt onto whatever is simmering over the oven. It’s amazing how salt is that one thing that automatically transforms any meal. What I love about salt is that it doesn’t have to be basic. Take my mother for example, you can’t find a “basic” sea salt in her “salt drawer” (yes, she has a salt drawer). Salt with orange and lime peels? Check. Salt and fennel? Check. The possibilities are endless.
Once upon a time I found everything spicy. I couldn’t even chew a piece of gum without the feeling of my tongue burning. The thought of throwing pepper onto my scrambled eggs seemed crazy to me. Which is why I was surprised to find myself grinding pepper over my pasta carbonara one night. Now I can’t go a morning without pepper on my scrambled eggs. I add it into almost everything, PLUS it doesn’t hurt to add a little “spice” and flavour to your ordinary meals.
When the warmer weather comes around I love to create a mini urban garden on my balcony. Cooking with fresh herbs is one thing, but have you ever thrown a sprig of rosemary into a glass of sparkling water? OHHHH EM GEE. Try it. Try it now. Rosemary is so wonderful for so many things throw it into potatoes, sauteed mushrooms, or your after school cocktail. Oh. you don’t have an after school cocktail? Now that is a must!
Julia Child always cooked with butter. I always cook with butter…therefore I am partially Julia Child, right? Let’s not get into technicalities, cooking with butter is essential in transforming a dish from meh to wowza. It also falls into that category of “if it’s bad for you, it must be good!”
5. Umami Number 5
When I was on exchange in Wales, my mom told me about this magical thing called “umami paste” which was only available in the UK at the time. It’s described as being the “fifth” taste. Seriously this stuff is delicious. You just throw a little bit into any dish and BAM your meal has found that missing taste you didn’t know it was missing. Funnily enough, but the time I arrived home, it was available in Canada. Figures.
OH AND! You Can’t Forget the Wine!
“I cook with wine, sometimes I even add it to the food.” -W.C. Fields
SO. It’s a no-brainer that cooking with wine is an essential in both of our kitchens. Rachel’s fridge is constantly stocked with half drunk bottles of white wine. Maybe it’s because she decided to cut herself off, maybe it’s because she didn’t like the bottle, or maybe it’s because she knew it would be excellent in a pasta carbonara. Ashley prefers to throw red wine into her meals. It really amplifies the taste of tomatoes when added to sauces and there truly isn’t a better way to start off a Sunday brunch then with a little oeufs en meurette (which is fancy for poached eggs in red wine sauce). Cooking with wine doesn’t have to be fancy, in fact, most of the time we just throw it in and hope for the best. Thankfully, almost ALL of the time it turns out perfectly. Yum.
A Pantry Must Have
One word: organization. Let your kitchen do a little bit of the work as you cook. It helps to have it all laid out in front of you. If you add a touch of DIY handiness you can even turn your pro organizational skills into part of your decor!
So, spill your secrets! What’s on your list of pantry essentials?