The Gleeful Gourmand: February 2011

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Well-Stocked Pantry

Ever heard this term? It refers to a pantry that has all the essentials a cook feels they need to have on hand at all times. It’s especially useful to have a well-stocked pantry when you need to whip something up hurry and don’t want to run to the store. When we bought our house, it took me a while to compile my own list of what I deemed “essential” in my pantry. I started by looking up the term online and sneaking a peak in other people’s pantries (this is probably a revelation to my friends and family – you had no idea I was snooping around in your pantries, did you?). What I’ve determined is that “well-stocked” is different for everyone. So over the next couple of weeks I’m running a series on a handful of different pantries that I think are really interesting, and are different from my own. Hopefully we’ll all get inspired as we peek into their pantries!

And, in fairness, I’ve included my own (and yes, that is my pantry in all its glory featured at the left). I left out refrigerator staples, just because the list would get way too long, and items in there are always fluctuating. This is simply stuff I always have on hand, and immediately replace when I run out.

Baking Needs:
Good vanilla (I use Nielsen-Massey’s Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Extract)
All-purpose flour
Sugar: Brown, white, confectioner’s
Baking soda/powder
Syrup: Maple, corn (light and dark)
Natural unsweetened cocoa
Brownie mix
Cake mixes
Chocolate chips (semi-sweet, both mini and regular)
Canned pumpkin
Oatmeal (old-fashioned)

Cooking Staples:
Oils: Olive, Vegetable, Canola
Vinegar: Red wine, white wine, balsamic, distilled white (mostly for cleaning purposes)
Spaghetti/Dried pasta
Canned Vegetables: Corn, tomatoes, black beans
Chicken noodle soups, vegetable soups
Peanut butter/Soy nut butter
Italian breadcrumbs
Rice: Arborio, Brown
Ginger Ale
Condiments: Ketchup, Mustard, Dijon, Salsa (these are also in the fridge, but I always have backups on hand)

Of course I have another pantry shelf devoted entirely to herbs and spices (which I don’t need to get into here, because it would put you all to sleep), and then I have some kid staples that my son likes such as Animal Crackers, V8 Fusion Juice, Goldfish, etc. So now that you’ve had a look in my pantry did you find anything unusual? Pretty ho-hum? Leave it in the comments!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Word Or Two About Salt

This week we received our copy of Bottom Line in the mail and I was intrigued to see this headline screaming from one of the pages: “Salt Is Even Worse Than They Say." My first reaction was to sigh and mutter, “Here we go again.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m just about sick to death of all the alarmist stuff doctors, magazines and the like come out with on a weekly basis about what’s good for you and what’s not. Take the egg, for instance. It’s good for you! It’s bad for you! It’s okay in moderation! It’s the worst food you could eat EVER! Oh, actually, it’s pretty good for you. It’s exhausting trying to keep track of what we should and shouldn’t be doing, and what’s harmful and what’s not.

Regardless, the article did get me thinking about salt intake. According to the American Heart Association, most Americans consume more than 10,000 mg of salt daily. That seems like an incredible amount, but I can believe it. The author (Mark Houston, MD) says we should only consume 500 mg. There’s even a National Salt Reduction Initiative that aims to reduce the amount of salt in packaged and restaurant foods by 25% over five years.

I grew up in a household that was virtually salt-free. My father suffered from high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and back in the 80s the “fear of fat and salt” craze was going strong. My mother omitted adding salt to anything (though we were allowed to add it to our chicken and dumplings). But you know what? I didn’t miss it. Instead of salt, she used fresh and dry herbs to make dishes just as delicious. So when I started cooking in earnest, I was reluctant to put in the salt recipes called for. After awhile I got comfortable with using salt, and saw it’s mighty benefits (seasoning steaks and other meats for the grill, for example). But I also noticed that some recipes I was trying by celebrity chefs called for WAY too much salt. I used the amount they required, and just found it overwhelming. Instead of the natural flavors of the food shining through, all I could taste was salt.

And I wondered, is that because I was conditioned from an early age to not use salt? Or because it really was that salty? And then I started watching Anne Burrell’s show on the Food Network, “Secrets of a Restaurant Chef.” I adore her, but have you ever seen her use salt? She dumps in whole handfuls when calling for a pinch! Even I can tell, without bias, that it’s way too much. But when most celebrity chefs on TV use that amount in everything they make, you start wondering who’s right. Is salt really as bad as they say? And if it is, why are so many chefs using so much of it? When these chefs truly cook for themselves and their families are they really using that much?

I’ve decided that much like everything in life, moderation is the key. If I don’t need it, I won’t add it. Sometimes I salt the water for my pasta, sometimes I don’t. And here’s something else to make you groan: According to this article sea salt is just as bad for you as regular salt. Hooray.

Monday, February 7, 2011

A Dessert To Fall in Love With!

Valentine’s Day. You can think out of the box all you want and switch things up if you’re making a meal at home, but let’s not fool ourselves: Nothing says romance and this holiday like chocolate. As a professed chocoholic, I will take it any way I can get it. But I’m telling you right now there is nothing to compare with the dessert I’m about to share with you. It is the kind of dessert that will seduce you. It demands your attention, and will not be ignored. It will literally sweep you off your feet.

It is pudding.

But wait! Not just any pudding! This is the pudding to end all puddings. It is so rich, velvety, and thick that when you serve it up, you cut it like it’s a pie. This is a lustful pudding – the kind of chocolate decadence that makes your eyes roll in the back of your head and makes you moan in involuntary supreme satisfaction. It takes a little time and care, but if you play your cards right, this one is a showstopper. Which brings me to my next point – this isn’t just for Valentine’s Day! I love bringing this dessert out for entertaining as well.

Hell even if I was completely alone and had no friends and never entertained I would still whip this up and eat of it liberally. It is that good. And I found it last year in Better Homes and Gardens. You just never know when something will jump off the page and rock your world. Prepare to be amazed, chocolate lovers:

Chocolate Pudding Wedges with Cinnamon Toasts

2/3 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup cornstarch
¼ tsp. salt
3 cups whole milk
½ cup whipping cream
10 oz. bittersweet chocolate (60% to 62% cacao), chopped
2 Tbsp. dark rum (optional)
2 tsp. vanilla extract
¼ cup packed brown sugar
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
12 ¾-inch baguette slices

1. In a large heavy saucepan whisk cocoa powder, granulated sugar, cornstarch, and ¼ tsp. salt. Add ½ cup of the milk; whisk to a smooth paste. Whisk in remaining milk and whipping cream. Stir constantly over medium heat until pudding thickens and begins to bubble at edges. Stir 30 seconds more. Add chocolate, stir 1 minute to melt. Remove from heat; stir in rum and vanilla.
2. Transfer pudding to lightly oiled 9-inch deep-dish pie plate. Cool, uncovered, for 2 hours at room temperature. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
3. For cinnamon toasts, in small bowl combine brown sugar, butter, cinnamon, and 1/8 tsp. salt. Spread on one side of each baguette slice. Place on baking sheet. Broil 5 to 6 inches from heat for 2 to 3 minutes or until toasted and sugar mixture is bubbly.

A couple of notes: Cut pudding in wedges. Don’t skip the baguettes. The flavor combinations are spectacular. But watch your time. There have been a few times where I’ve been distracted and burned the toasts easily.

Don’t skimp and buy cheap chocolate. Cheap chocolate has no place in this recipe. Splurge for Ghirardelli or Lindt, and prepare to be seduced.