When I think about the essential flavorings and ingredients to have on hand in my kitchen at all times, I am at first tempted to think about dried herbs.
You know what I’m talking about. Those jars, gathering dust in the spice rack. Just last week, when I was preparing a recipe, I found that all I had was a jar of stale, flavorless herbs. Who knows how long they had been there! And then, I realized that I did NOT have the other spice that I was looking for. Because the spice rack is like the “rotting drawer” in my refrigerator, I put things there, and they go bad before I can use them or find them.
So, this year, I’ve decided to keep a few “essentials” in my kitchen–but not in the dried spice rack. Because I want to use fresh flavorings and ingredients with fresh flavors from now on, I plan to keep these either in my refrigerator or on my counter, so they can easily be added to my cooking
I just love the pungent smell of fresh Ginger–whether I add it to the oil when making an Asian stir-fry or grate it into a pitcher of cold water with lemon slices for a refreshing drink. Check out this Heirloom Tomato Salad with Ginger, Lemon, and Chile.
For my next Ginger recipe, I am going to make my own Crystallized Ginger. Did you know that Crystallized Ginger is a natural treatment for nausea and motion sickness?
Unpeeled fresh Ginger can be wrapped and stored in the refrigerator for several weeks. It’s perfect to always have on hand.
I use chopped onions in almost every recipe for cooked veggies, so I plan to take it up a notch by using fresh Shallots as an alternative. I buy three or four large Shallots every time I go to the store and keep them on the counter with my onions. The flavor is a bit more complex than a regular onion’s, plus using Shallots just makes me feel like a gourmet cook. Here’s a basic vinaigrette recipe from the New York Times, using finely chopped Shallots.
Shallots can be stored unrefrigerated in a cool, dry place up to one month, so they are definitely handy.
I’ve been getting a little bored with my sliced cucumbers and celery, which I pack dutifully each day for my morning snack. Ever since I discovered that Jicama (hee-ka-ma) has natural probiotic fiber, I think it will be a good healthy boost to include a few times a week as my morning veggie snack.
One important thing to know is that whole, uncut Jicama should be stored like a potato–in a cool, dry, dark place. However, once you peel and cut Jicama, it will only last a day or so in the fridge and it has a tendency to slime. So only cut up enough to use in one day. Wrap the unpeeled half in plastic and that will stay fresh in the fridge for another week.
The reason I plan to keep Heirloom Tomatoes on hand in my kitchen is because they taste so much better than regular tomatoes. Plus with all the holiday entertaining, I created a recipe with them, which has become my “go-to recipe” anytime I need to make something yummy to take to a party or for a dinner party at home.
- Heirloom Tomatoes
- Fresh Mozzarella Cheese
- Basil Leaves
- Pink Himalayan Salt
- Freshly Ground Pepper
- Balsamic Vinegar Glaze
I purchase Heirloom Tomatoes at the store, making sure to pick up as many different colors and shapes as they have. Because they are kept at room temperature at the store, I also keep the tomatoes on my counter for at least one to two days, so the flavors develop. After washing them, I slice them horizontally into thick slices.
I slice Fresh Mozzarella Cheese (Bel Gioso brand is my personal favorite) into thick slices too. I wash and pat dry the basil, pulling the leaves from the stems (I discard the stems).
Then I layer the tomatoes and cheese with a large basil leaf between them. It’s very colorful! Sometimes, I fill a platter that serves 15 to 20 people or make individual salad plates–it depends on my mood.
I sprinkle the salt crystals and give a quick grind of pepper to taste. And then I drizzle the glaze over everything, making sure there will be enough for each bite.
Yum–I’m getting hungry as I write this!
I hope you’ll join me in keeping some fresh ingredients in your pantry. It really does make a difference!
Happy New Year!