Thursday, March 31, 2011

Reader Question - Pantry Must-Have Items

Fabulous Muses,
Now I know that you lovely ladies are no stranger to the kitchen. I, on the other hand, am still grappling with my inner kitchen diva. (I know she's down there somewhere!) What would you suggest as pantry staples to have on hand? I need a list, as I am detail-oriented. (Part of the reason that I'm still grappling with cooking: I need cut & dry recipes! None of this, "add a little of this" or "until it looks like..." Give me measurements!) Help me, Muses. You're my only hope. ;-D

The Redhead in Florida

Hello, dear Redhead in Florida!
One half of this Muse team is a cook; the other is not. One can improvise and figure out all sorts of delectable variations based off of common place recipes, the other likes exact measurements and clear-cut directives. The most important thing to keep in mind when learning to cook is learning what your style of cooking is. It’s ok to need exact measurements and explicit directions – just look for those recipes that have them, and steer away from those that don't. We recommend Epicurious or Cooks Illustrated. Epicurious is free, Cooks Illustrated is not. However, at the cost of a $35 subscription you have access to scores of recipes, video tutorials, expositions on best practices and product reviews. The nice thing about Cooks Illustrated is that they are based on America’s Test Kitchen – as in, they pay chefs and poll readers to test everything countless times so that you don’t have to. Perhaps start with Epicurious – users rate the recipes, so it’s easy to decipher which ones are winners and which ones are not.

Photo thanks to The Daily Green, no the Muses' pantries are not this organized but don't we all wish they were?!

As far as stocking your pantry, Martha Stewart has an excellent list to go by. You can download it as a PDF and print it out for easy reference. Here is a sampling of what to have:

□ Anchovies
□ Assorted pasta shapes
□ Canned tomatoes: whole, diced, crushed, pureed
□ Capers
□ Couscous
□ Dijon mustard
□ Dried and canned beans: cannellini, chickpeas, black, pinto
□ Dried chiles
□ Dried porcini mushrooms
□ Extra-virgin olive oil
□ Imported, oil-packed tuna
□ Kasha
□ Lentils: brown and French green
□ Marinated artichokes
□ Olives
□ Olive paste
□ Quick-cooking polenta
□ Red-wine vinegar
□ Rice: arborio and basmati
□ Sun-dried tomatoes

□ Flour, white and whole-wheat
□ Sugar, granular and confectioner’s
□ Honey
□ Pure Vanilla Extract
□ Baking powder
□ Baking soda
□ Baking chocolate squares
□ Cocoa powder

We recommend keeping a couple of different oils on hand in addition to olive - canola, vegetable and toasted sesame (for stir-fry recipes). Soy sauce and peanut butter are also Team Asche staples, as well as a few different types of nuts at all time (pecan, walnut, almond, pine) and dried fruit (they make salads for interesting).

Remember, practice really does make perfect. The more recipes you make, the more familiar you are with onions that are transluscent, gravy that has thickened and vegetables that are tender. And the single best piece of advice that we cooks can give you is to taste and taste often. If it doesn't taste good, review your recipe, see if you missed something and read the comments/user reviews to see what other cooks have experienced. Think carefully about what it is that doesn't taste good and seek to remedy it yourself. It's like any form of problem-solving that you might do.

Good luck – we can’t wait to hear about your fun creations!

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