Monday, November 9, 2009

Chez Gris: Let's Get Ready to COOK!!!

So, I’ve renamed the “cooking school” segment. It just sounded boring and rigid. As a “home cook” or “non-professional” or “amateur” cook, I’m not sure what right I had calling it a school in the first place. Not, that there is anything wrong with novices, we are taking over the blogosphere as well as the Food Network, this was really meant as a way for me to impart the lessons learned through trial and error. I also want to share some killer recipes while I’m at it.

So, today’s missive: Larder-a-Plenty

Larder comes from the French but all you need to know is it’s a fancy way of saying pantry. A well-stocked pantry can mean the difference between cooking and take out. It can provide a wealth of inspiration. It opens more pages of your favorite cookbook to you. You are prepared for all situations and cravings, but; what do you actually need? I don’t know about you, but cupboard space is very limited in my kitchen so I have to be picky and keep on hand only what I know I’ll need (plus a few goodies). Below is my list of must haves for a well-stocked pantry. Fill in what you’re missing and add whatever else tickles your fancy. Maybe you’ve always envisioned yourself a baker, in which case you will need some form of lard/shortening/Crisco that is absent from my list (as I believe baking is the devil).

Dried Goods:
- Salt (I prefer Kosher, but any kind of sea salt is best. Iodized “table” salt has no place in cooking. As Iodine can be easily ingested through naturally iodine rich foods such as cheddar cheese, eggs, fish, mayo, sea salt, etc., it is no longer necessary to cook with it (unless your doctor has directed otherwise, of course). So, go with the more flavorful option. For more info, check out Alton Brown’s amazing Good Eats show all about salt.

- Pepper (however you prefer it (black, white, mixed), get a pepper mill. Fresh cracked pepper tastes so much better. Several brands now market disposable grinders in the spice aisle. Love it!)
- All-Purpose Flour
- Granulated (white) sugar
- Baking soda and baking powder (mostly for you bakers and desert makers out there! Skip if that doesn’t interest you at all)
- Cocoa powder
- Dried Herbs: basil, cumin, nutmeg, paprika (get Hungarian if you can find it, trust me), parsley flakes, rosemary, oregano, thyme, tarragon, curry powder (also Garam Masala if you love to make curries), Cajun seasoning (it’s the southerner in me coming out, but I could put a little Tony Chachere’s in everything!), red pepper flakes, cinnamon, cayenne, grill seasoning (yum…Montreal Steak seasoning), bay leaves, ginger.
- Garlic
- Shallots
- Onions
- Rice (did you know they make instant brown rice now? So good!)
- Pasta

Wet Goods:
- Worcestershire Sauce
- Soy sauce
- Vinegar (white) and Red Wine (if you love homemade simple salad dressings- I do)
- Balsamic Vinegar (get the best you can afford)
- Hot sauce
- Mustard (whatever you like on sandwich’s and another heartier version like Dijon or Creole)
- Ketchup
- Tomato paste
- Horseradish
- BBQ sauce
- Vegetable stock or broth
- Mayonnaise
- Red and White wine (never cook with cooking wine. If you wouldn’t drink it, why would you cook with it?)
- Eggs
- Yogurt (plain)

I heart fresh herbs, and they are easier to find than ever! To keep yours looking fresh longer, rinse well and loosely wrap in a paper towel. Place inside a zip lock bag and store in your fridge’s crisper. Depending on whom you ask, this will keep them for 1- 1 ½ weeks. For leafier herbs like parsley or basil, you can put them in a cup with a little water and leave on your countertop. If you store them in the fridge that way, put a plastic bag over the tops.
Until next time (I’m working on typing up my Ultimate Cool Weather treat), happy cooking!!

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