Now on to everyday things.
I take cooking seriously and since I became a widower it wasn’t a matter of choice. I am not a foodie but I am a serious California home cook and I can make some good party dishes, replicate some of the things my Grandmother made and I can follow a recipe from a good cookbook. I favor old traditional recipes and restaurants that know what they are doing and able to continue in this day and age.
Here is my list of some items every serious kitchen should have on hand and use. They make it easy to hit the mark without a lot fuss on ordinary meals.
1. Get these items and learn to use them.
A tube of tomato paste and a tube of anchovy paste. Why? Because a tablespoon of tomato paste gives a background base note and depth to any soup or sauce. Anchovy paste also provides a depth and richness to soups, salad dressings, sauces and gravy. It melts in and replaces common salt without leaving any taste of its own. A dab or two brings in a rich slight edge. One reason any attempt at most Asian dishes is not like a restaurant’s is that we westerners don’t use fish sauce as most Asian cooks do. It smells disgusting but it is a vital ingredient. A dab of anchovy paste gives that background note and savory quality to our tries at Asian cooking and works well with western dishes. Just a dab.
2. Spend a bit more than usual and get two bottles of olive oil, not too big. Get a California Extra Virgin oil for salads adding a finishing touch to something and enriching pasta sauce. Get a regular (not virgin) bottle of olive oil, Star or Safeway or any good brand and use that for cooking. Extra Virgin oil tastes of the olives and is the clear slightly green first pressing. For cooking extra virgin oil is too heavy and the heat kills its taste. In most restaurants they use a blend of olive and canola oil which has a higher temperature range but give the olive oil taste. You can buy this blend, but get it smaller quantities because canola oil has a very short shelve life before it goes off, not a problem in a restaurant but if you don’t use it often a real problem at home.
3. Even when the price is great, don’t buy stuff in large quantity unless you will use it in week or two. The big Costco jugs of salsa, tubs of sour cream, jugs of mayonnaise and oil are meant for professional cooks. At home we just don’t use them up fast enough. in the end we don’t actually save money and the go off long before we use them up. Sure it cost more, but buy stuff in quantities that make sense. I still have half a jug of teriyaki sauce from last summer. This applies to spices. None of us can actually use a Costco size two pound container of Montreal Steak rub unless we open a barbecue joint. Buy a smaller practical size that you will use before the flavors go off.
4. You should have a small jar of white pepper. Why? Because it gives a different but smoother “burn” and a mellower zip to dishes. Beside following my Grandmother’s rule that white pepper was for mashed potatoes and cream soups, it is the right pepper for many serious dishes. Except for salads, in France and Italy white pepper is the one used for almost all cooking. The same in Japan and China. Try it and you will taste the subtle difference.
5. At Vons and Safeway markets they have 24 ounce house brand jars of salsa. They are usually on special if you have a club card. Additionally they are the right size for your kitchen. They are clearly marked mild and medium. The chunky salsa and the medium salsa verde are right on point. The other varieties are up to you, mango salsa, southwest with corn kernels and a few more. Try them. Don’t buy a Costco big jug of Pace Picante or La Victoria Suprema unless your are running a Mexican restaurant. They should be used up quickly.