Thursday, January 28, 2010

My Top 10

So a while back the Sac Bee had an article about the top items a baker needed to have in their pantry. That got my juices a flowin' the other day when I was making my grocery list about the essentials that I always need in my own pantry. So here are my "Top 10" essentials that I think that every home chef should have in their pantry.

1. Cumin: This is my favorite spice in the whole world. My husband actually banned me from placing additional cumin in our food for 2010. I have to sneak it in our food now. You should have seen his face when I brought home a 1 pound bag that I got at the Mexican grocery store. Oooh he was heated. I put cumin in everything, spaghetti sauce, curry, it's part of my fried chicken spice combo. The smoky earthy flavor that it adds to dishes is incredible. I'd wear it as perfume if I could figure out how to make it.

2. Curry Powder: Now I specifically use Whole Foods Muchi Yellow Curry. I find that alot of curry powders have a overwhelming sweetness to them, that I am not a fan of. I prefer a bit of umami in my curries. I have been using this specific curry powder for over 5 years and it has never done me wrong.

3. Dark and White Chocolate: I only use dark chocolate and if it ain't dark then it's white. Chocolate isn't just for baking, when you take a journey into some of the great Mexican and South American fare, chocolate is used in a lot of the savory dishes. My husband likes to sneak into my stash, so very often I have to hide my chocolate in crazy places that I end forgetting where I put them. It is a staple in my pantry because you never know when you might want to make some Oatmeal, Almond, Dark Chocolate and Flaxseed Cookies or just a Mole for the enchiladas.

4.Chicken Stock: I'm not going to elaborate on this one because this is kind of a gimme. You should always have chicken stock in the pantry and if you don't then you should have the ingredients to make it. I am a big fan of making your own stock and storing it. Every Thanksgiving I make a turkey stock. Taking the entire leftover carcass of the turkey and simmering it down with a mirepoix and herbs for hours.

5. "Good" Vanilla Extract and Vanilla Beans: I would say most people have this item in their pantry, but most don't have good vanilla extract. The typical extracts that are on the shelves are "imitation" vanilla extract and offer a really weak flavor to baked goods. I stress that buying real vanilla extract will make an extreme difference in flavor for your baking needs. As well, I always have vanilla beans in the pantry. I made homemade ice cream for some friends and they complemented me on how it was the best vanilla ice cream they ever had. Well, I chalk that up to the vanilla beans that I scraped into the ice cream. Such an amazing flavor. I love to cook with vanilla whenever I have the opportunity and add it to recipes that don't call for it.

6.Arborio Rice: Now for me this is my "I don't know what to cook for dinner, so we are going to have risotto" go to. Some might feel that risotto is too labor intensive, but for me it's not. Adding hot stock every couple of minutes and letting it do it's thing allows me to have a couple of sips of wine while I talked to Ian or Isaac or pour through a magazine. With multiple ingredient combinations, you can make a great risotto with whatever veggies you have in the frig or garden.

7. Chili Flakes and Peppers: I'm Southern, so I like the heat. Especially in my food. Chilies are another staple that, like cumin, I try to add to everything. I never drink hot cocoa with out it. Try it. Take one dried red chili and crack into simmering milk. Add your dark chocolate pieces or cocoa powder and stir. It is an amazing pop of heat on the back of your throat that just lingers so slightly. Paired with the creaminess of the dark chocolate....don't even get me started.

8. Brown Sugar: Simple staple that most of us have, but again has so many applications outside of baking (from cocktail sauce to Caribbean soups) that I always have a three bags of some form of brown sugar in the pantry. Dark Brown, Golden Brown and the infamous Panocha...for those that speak Spanish this one always makes me laugh. I don't know how they get away with it at the grocery store.

9. Herbs De Provance: This is a new one to my pantry. I am still learning it's many applications. I recently used it in a shrimp stock for a catering and people went nuts over it. So I get braver each time to use it in more and more recipes that I create. When shopping I like to look for jars that have a heavier mix of lavender in them, which tend to be more expensive, but totally worth it in my opinion.

10.Onions and Garlic: In my kitchen there might not be milk, or coffee because of my laziness to go to the store, but there will always be onions. They are universal. Those that cook understand. They are the foundation for 90% of the dishes that I create. It's like salt to pork, onions and garlic to N'Gina.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Happy Belated New Year!!

So I know it's a week late, but Happy New Year. I know you all are at the edge of your seats on baited breathe wondering, "What did N'Gina do for New Year's?" I hate to tell ya and disappoint all that thought I might hit the grid and get "hyphy", break a bottle of Jamesons over a cops head after he scolded me for peeing in the street and then spend the night in the gray bar hotel, but I didn't. Instead I had a very adult evening, sipping on Rittenhouse Rye Whiskey Manhattans at Hawks. Followed by making a curry chicken dinner for my husband and friends. Real quick...we are going to go back to Hawks. I love Hawks...BUT I hate poor service. And that night our bartender was ridiculous. As our group entered the bar I notice three women in the lounge with empty glasses and paid check at the edge of the lounge table they sat at. The bar was completely empty. We strolled up and took seats at the bar and our bartender, 5 minutes later, asked us for our drink order. He started with me, got my order and then slowly made it. He continued to go down the line taking our drink orders one at a time and again, slowly making them. I have watched honey pour out of a jar faster than the way he was making drinks. Questions ran through my head, "Why is he taking one order at a time instead of grabbing all of our orders and making them?" "Why is taking so long to pour my husband's scotch on the' scotch and ice!" And "Why is he making sweat cocktails?" (The last term is what my husband and I refer to someone that is profusely sweating into a beverages that someone will later consume. It started with me putting a chef that I worked with on front street for making "sweat pizzas" and the term has just evolved.)

The bartender was visibly frazzled, and having been a manager of many a restaurant, I looked for reasons why before I started to talk shit. Upon my scan of the restaurant there were no reasons. The dining room floor was slow, the bar was slow. I can only deduce that he heard one of those ads on the radio that go, "Hey are you making $300 a night?...Well if you're not you need to be attending The Bartending College of Sacramento!" He said,"Hell I can be a bartender!" Hey buddy no you can't! Bartending is a underrated skill that, I am sorry my friend, not EVERYBODY can do. When my husband asked him for some bread (because they were not serving appetizers at the bar) he retorted, "I'll have to ask my manager." WHAAAT. For bread? We should have brought our own. My grandma does it and I used to think she was hella crazy for doing so, but I see now that she was just a very sage woman.
Anywho after we left the bar and returned to our home, our friend Clint suggested that we change into PJ's ...what a great idea! They were staying the night and to be in PJ pants instead of high heels just sounded delicious. So we finished our night with a magnum of champagne and wine, my famous curry chicken and alot of laughs.It was one of the best New Year's that I have had in a long time. I told Clint that I would post my curry recipe on my next post, but I just can't. Somethings you have to keep a secret. So I'll just show a picture of it's goodness, and it was good. Since I am not going to post the recipe I will make a promise to anyone that can make it to my house, I will make them my famous chicken curry with all the fixins. Make your reservations now people! Seats are gonna fill up fast. Send me an email or post a comment with a request and I will make you dinner. Happy 2010.