Sunday, November 30, 2008

Pantry Must Haves.

I love cooking. It's an unfortunate fact for Sean who has to bear with me constantly trying out new recipes and the endless food tasting. I've been asked what are the few things that I feel are staples that every pantry should have. These are not items that are crazily expensive like foie gras or caviar or summer truffles. 

These items which I recommend you to stock up are items that can make a change in a meal or help you to eat well; simple stuff that can make a dish go from blah to WOW.

What are the 3 most important ingredients in French cuisine? Butter, Butter, Butter. A good butter makes a huge difference to cooking. Whether you are making a savoury dish or a dessert. If you are not up to making your own butter, why not buy a good one? I highly recommend Beurre Echire from France. 

This is a famed artisan French butter, from the milk of cows of the small village of Poitiers and La Rochelle. Known as one of the best butters in France, Echire butter is served in the finest dining establishments (which is why the French covet this butter and keep 85% of the production within France). This sophisticated butter won AOC (Appellation d'Origine Controlee) protected status, and is produced mostly by hand. A light texture, light salting and subtle flavor make this butter just about divine. It is packaged in its traditional lovely basket.

You can get this from Culina in Singapore. It costs SGD$14 per 250g basket.

I've mentioned so much about these Griottines Cherries. These are really yummy whether baked in a cake, over ice-cream, with meat and on its own. You can pour champagne or sparkling white over the syrup and a few cherries for a quick cocktail.

A 50cl bottle (in the picture) costs $25 at Culina.

Porcini mushrooms or Ceps. These are usually found dried in gourmet grocers. They are bought by weight. You need to pour hot water over them and soak them for a while, squeeze the water from them and add them to pasta, mushroom soups, or even risottos. If you are able to get them fresh, pan fry them with a knob of butter. This variety of mushroom is very aromatic. Some grocers even sell it in powder form (I won't recommend).

Eating the truffle itself may be too rich for everyday eating, however having a pinch of truffle salt won't hurt. Truffle and eggs are best friends. Put a pinch of it in your scrambled eggs, or do a truffle salted french toast with a slice of parma ham. You can use it in your cooking in place of normal salt to enhance the aroma of your dish. Why not roast a turkey with it? It is sure to cause a small commotion.

Parmigiano-Reggiano or Parmesan Cheese. I'm not talking of the cheap knock offs that you find on the shelves of your supermarkets. Parmigiano-Reggiano is a hard, fat granular cheese, cooked but not pressed, named after the producing areas of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna, in Emilia-Romagna, and Mantova, in Lombardy, Italy. Only buy those that are cut from the head itself. Grate a little over pasta, eat on its own (with truffle honey), or stirred into soups. It has a sharp, complex fruity/nutty taste and a slightly gritty texture.

You can buy it by weight at Jones the Grocer.

Finally, my favourite Champagne house, Bollinger. It will be tacky if I had told you that if it is good enough for James Bond, it is good enough for me. Bollinger has been managed by the same family since they started producing champagne in 1829. It is one of the last remaining independent Champagne houses left. I love all their different labels. I rate their Special Cuvee as the best non vintage Champagne. Why? The blend includes up to 10% reserve wines, which may be up to fifteen years old. This gives the special cuvee complexity and structure. Hate to boast but this non vintage does taste better than some of the vintages out there and definitely cost cheaper.

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