A well-stocked pantry is the key to a happy culinary life. Here are a few items the Good Food team relies on to keep us well-fed and sane. And if, by chance, some of these items make excellent gifts this winter holiday season, all the better.
Faced with making dinner with no garlic in the house, I remembered this jar in the back of the pantry. With a bit of skepticism, I opened it and was surprised to find perfectly cooked garlic enhanced with bay leaves and Aleppo pepper. Delicious!
Yes, you can make easy dumpling sauce with soy and vinegar, but this tangy sauce brings more complexity and tons of umami to the bowl. Based on the lightly sweet and aromatic "fuzhi" soy sauce, it's brewed with brown sugar, mushrooms, garlic, and spices.
Refugee settlement organization Miry's List created a spice kit last year. This year they've added Saffy's Blend to the box. Created by the chefs at Bavel, Bestia, and Saffy, it combines green za'atar, aleppo peppers, and sumac into one versatile mix. All of the net proceeds go to Miry's List, an acclaimed non-profit that helps refugees who have recently arrived in the United States settle into their new homes. Use promo code "KCRW" for free shipping within the continental US.
I love sardines. When I'm ravenous and don't want to cook, they are my go-to meal, and I eat them right out of the can. If I feel like cooking something simple, I'll sauté them with oil, garlic, chile, and a squeeze of lemon for a protein version of aglio e olio pasta. If I have people coming over unexpectedly, I'll combine them with soft butter and parsley to make a paste that I serve with crackers. I also love the boxes they come in, which are tiny works of art.
Not a pantry item, but a necessity. Everyone loves them, and no one replaces a well-used one. There's nothing like this versatile tool.
Salsa macha, much like chili crisp, is essential in my house. There are a few excellent options in Southern California including Taco Maria's supremely spicy version made with chile de árbol. For an everyday workhorse, I can't get enough of Masienda's chunky blend made with chipotle, coffee and peanuts. It's especially good on roasted sweet potatoes.
Teetering between sweet and savory, this chocolate snack mix from Valerie Confections is a real creeper. One bite, and you cock your head to the side. Two bites, and you're muttering to yourself. Next thing you know, you've eaten the whole bag. If you're able to keep some in the cupboard it makes an excellent topper for vanilla ice cream.
I am a granola freak. If I started making my own, I'd become a one-woman granola factory, so I outsource the job to Sarah Lange, baker and owner behind Bearclaw Kitchen. I flip flop between her Maple Way and Honey Run granolas, and always keep one of her Nutty Morning Granola Bars in my purse but her sleeper hit is the Hazel and Spice Granola Butter. (You're welcome.)
I always know that dinner is going to be ok if I have a jar of Sambal Goreng in the pantry. This blend of crisp, fried shallots, garlic and Thai chiles can turn a bowl of rice with a fried egg into something craveable. The first time I used it, my husband looked at me aghast and said, "Where were you hiding this?"
Somehow, I've accumulated a collection of interesting vinegars that have been pushed to the back of the shelf. When Evan interviewed New York chefs Jody Williams and Rita Sodi of Via Carota earlier this fall, I vowed to put them to use. This Thanksgiving, I assembled their Insalata di Cavoletti, using the vinaigrette recipe from the restaurant. Their version calls for an aged sherry vinegar but I've also made it using Rancho Gordo's Pineapple Vinegar (yes, they sell more than beans!) and a magnolia vinegar that I was gifted from Destroyer. Both takes were a chef's kiss.
Last December, I found myself in Costa Rica on a yoga retreat (which is curious as my quads are equally as inflexible as my temperament… but that's another story). Each morning, after a beach run and an hour of downward facing whatever, Lizano, a tangy, slightly sweet sauce which has been produced for a century, made its ubiquitous appearance at breakfast. I snagged a few bottles at the airport so at home I can scramble some eggs, wrap them in a tortilla from Tortilla Tournament winner La Princesita, and give them a good douse from the bottle.
P.S. - You can find Lizano at markets in Southern California and online but for me this was a "eureka" discovery to start off the new year. I promptly made a resolution to eat more of it…
At the risk of veering toward a lowercase, four-letter word gift guide that starts with a "g," ends in a "p," and rhymes with "poop," I am compelled to add Œuvres sensibles to my list. No, you can't cook with these linens but I'm a Taurus, which means at heart, I'm a homebody who likes the finer things in life (even though I often can't afford them). I stumbled across French artist-designer Sarah Espeute on Instagram. Based in Marseille, she makes whimsical, elegant embroidered table linens. If you're looking for a lovely, handcrafted gift for the epicurean in your life, look no further. The brown paper package is literally tied up with string and arrives with a note. You can also do as I did, and treat yourself to Espeute's kitchen towels or napkins with pretty little French words in red like "Histoires" and "Famille." After all, it's December and you know what that means — "One for you, two for me..." Happy Everything, food friends!
Eszett is an underrated shoebox of a restaurant in Silver Lake but if you know about it, you know how good this place is. The restaurant makes its own hot sauces, which it sells in squeezy refrigerator packs. I'm a fan of their Too Small To Bail blend because I love tart, peppery hot sauces, which this is, and it has a hint of sweetness from the kumquats that cuts through the smoky heat of the habaneros. I add a bit to marinades, sauces and the occasional soup or salad dressing. Eszett also offers three other salsas and a salsa macha, all housemade. If you're a heat fiend, you can even sign up for a monthly hot sauce subscription.
One of my favorite spice companies, Penzey's, makes an all-purpose spice blend that works on just about everything. Popcorn, roasted potatoes, vegetables, soups… it hits all the right notes. It's zesty, tangy, salty but not too salty and has a bit of bite. At one point, I figured out what was in it and made my own version. Then, I had a kid. Who has time for that sort of culinary reverse engineering, anymore? I let the experts do their work and buy bags of this stuff.
I'm not much of a baker so I don't know if vanilla paste is actually better than liquid vanilla extract but I do know that this stuff is delicious. Made from high-quality Madagascar vanilla pods, it's powerful and fragrant. You use the same amount of paste as you would liquid. So if a recipe calls for one teaspoon of vanilla extract, you use one teaspoon of vanilla paste or, in my case, you ignore the recipe and double the amount of vanilla no matter what.
On a trip to Sara's Market in City Terrace, where I was stocking up on frozen burritos from Burritos La Palma burritos and cans of De La Calle Tepache, I discovered Tijuana Freddy's Chile Morita salsa. I take my salsa like I take my literature, dark and smoky, and this one is perfect. It brings the heat but not too much so I can dunk tortilla chip after tortilla chip into it. It's also one of my favorite toppings for scrambled eggs. The company also makes a bunch of other refrigerated salsas including a toasted chile arbol, a creamy avocado and a tangy salsa verde.
I discovered pistachio spread (where else?) online and after the one I ordered (online, where else?) never arrived, Evan gave me a jar of this stuff, which she had brought back from Italian. Made by the small company Il Colle Del Gusto ("hills of flavor") in the town of Fara di Sabina, in Lazio, a region in central Italy, this sweet Sicilian pistachio spread is the best. Imagine Nutella minus the chocolate and made with quality ingredients. Boom. I like to spread it on toast or eat the occasional spoonful straight from the jar.
Most of the time, I can't tell the difference between your garden variety cheap table salt and those fancy colorful, artisanal and expensive salts that have become all the rage in the last few years. I challenge anyone to tell the difference, especially when the salt is incorporated into food. So 99% of the time I stick to my large carton of Diamond kosher salt. But for certain things, I loooooooooove using smoked salt to finish a dish. Heating up an uninspired bowl of butternut squash soup from Trader Joe's? Scrambled eggs giving you the blahs? Sprinkle some smoked salt on top. You don't need a lot. And don't waste it by cooking with it. Get a small bag, the darker and smokier the better, and use it as a finishing salt. A little goes a long way.
I lucked out in the mother-in-law department. My MIL is kind, generous and only needs a few things in life. Her family. Her friends. Golf. Words With Friends. Mahjong. And a Tito's Vodka on the rocks at 5 p.m. Since this is my MIL's favorite vodka, we've become fans and now we always keep a bottle in the freezer. Sure, my MIL lives thousands of miles and several states away but you never know when you might need it. Besides, vodka is a crucial part of any well-stocked pantry because what are you going to drink while you're cooking?