When I worked down South at the Manor, there was a huge larder/pantry just off the kitchen through a swinging door. It had an old black slate counter top to keep things cool and it's walls were lined with shelves. At the very back and around the corner there was a huge upright deep freezer and the shelves were full of cut glass bowls and platters and copper and gilt. Next to tat on the back wall there was a huge wine rack filled with wines and liqueurs and cordials and tinctures . . .
The remaining shelves were stocked with the goods which I needed every day to create the magic in the kitchen that I worked . . . pastas, and flours, grains, tins, jars and packets. It was a veritable Aladdins cave for the keen cook. It came with a smell and an aura . . . spiced and earthy and wonderful.
We all have a larder and a pantry. It may not be a big room with slate shelves . . . it may only be a small cupboard that is set aside and reserved for those things that you deem important enough to have to hand to make the magic work in your kitchen . . . but anyplace you store the genius behind the amazing things which work their way out of your kitchen . . . is a larder/pantry. It's all a matter of perspective. Key ingredients. A dash of this and a pinch of that. Must haves. Magic wands. These are mine.
Add a Dash
Every recipe benefits from a little bit of sprucing up.
Herbs and Spices
I always have a variety of herbs and spices to hand. In the warmer months I have an herb garden right outside my kitchen door and I love that, but that is a luxury lots of people just don't have. My mother never had fresh herbs and her cooking was just fine. For those times when you don't have fresh there are some very good products out there that work beautifully. I just love the Bart selection of Freeze Dried Herbs and their spices and flavour pastes and infusions (harissa, curry, lemon grass, chili paste, etc.). They have beautiful vibrant colours and flavours. They may cost a bit more than the others, but they are worth the extra pennies in my opinion. The mouths of the spice jars are wide enough to fit a tablespoon. I like that. They've recently introduced a new flip top they are calling the spoonkler. I think it's pretty special. It has two levels of use, the first flip top giving you the option of sprinkling, or you can opt to flip up the whole lid and dig in your spoon. Genius!
Here are my suggestions on which herbs and spices and flavours that go well together:
BEEF: allspice, basil, bay, caraway, cilantro, coriander, cumin, dill, horseradish, lemon grass, marjoram, mustard, oregano, sage, tarragon, thyme.
CHICKEN: bay, basil, caraway, coriander, cumin, dill, curry, ginger, lemongrass, maroram, mustard, rosemary, sage, tarragon
DUCK: dill, ginger, lemongrass, rosemary, sage, tarragon
EGGS: chives, dill, basil, chervil, coriander, cumin, curry, lemon balm, lovage, marjoram, mint, mustard, parsley, rosemary, sage, savories, tarragon, thyme
FISH: anise, basil, caraway, chives, coriander, curry, dill, fennel, ginger, lemongrass, marjoram, parsley, rosemary, sage, tarragon, thyme
PORK: allspice, anise, basil, chervil, cilantro, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, dill, fennel, ginger, lemongrass, marjoram, mustard, rosemary, sage, savories, tarragon, thyme
LAMB: basil, bay, carraway, chervil, chives, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, curry, dill, lemon balm, marjoram, mint, rosemary, sage, thyme
SALADS: anise, basil, caraway, chervil, chives, coriander, cumin, dill, edible flowers, lemongrass, parsley, tarragon, thyme
TURKEY: bay, basil, caraway, coriander, cumin, curry, dill, lemongrass, maroram, mustard, rosemary, sage, savories, tarragon, thyme
SECRET TIPS FOR ADDING EXTRA FLAVOR TO YOUR RECIPES
Here are some other SPRUCE UP ideas! Next time you are cooking and you want to add that little touch of something extra tryadding these . . .
BALSAMIC VINEGAR - add to your spaghetti sauce. It will taste like your sauce has been simmering all day long.
CELERY SEED - to barbeque sauce. This is a trick I learned from my mom. It adds a fresh green note, even to sauces which have been stored for weeks.
CINNAMON - Add to your chili. The sweetness of cinnamon is a perfect counterpoint to hot chili spices.
COCOA POWDER - add it to iyr bread dough the next time you are making a rye bread. This is the secret that bakers use to make their pumpkernickel so dark. Try adding about 2 TBS of unsweetened cocoa powder to each loaf. IN addition to a rich colour, it also adds a nice bite. I also add some cocoa powder to my gingerbreads to give them that nice dark colour that is so desired in a gingerbread. Start by adding 1 tsp.
COFFEE - add to chocolate bakes. Coffee amplifies the taste of chocolate goodies. Add a spash to cakes, brownies, hot fudge sauce, and the stronger the better. Try using espresso if you have it.
HOT SAUCE - add it to your cheese sauces. Just a few shakes of Tabasco sauce can make all the difference between a cheese sauce that is just humdrum and a cheese sauce that sparkles with flavour! This is a trick that also works to add flavour when you are making creamy and rich Guacamole! Nom! Nom!
LEMON JUICE - add to creamy spreads and dips. A squirt of lemon juice helps to brighten the flavours in sour cream and cream cheese spreads, no matter how good they may taste without it. Try it, and you will see I am right.
LEMON ESSENCE - I always add a half tsp of lemon essence to my baked goods along with the vanilla. I'm not sure why it happens but they always taste even better with just that little pinch of lemon essence. Trust me on this!
HORSERADISH - try adding a tablespoon of horseradish or mustard to your beef stew the next time you make one. It makes a beautiful difference!
NUTMEG - try adding a subtle grating of fresh nutmeg to your muffins batters and bechamel sauces. Just a tiny pinch will have people wondering what your secret touch is that makes your muffins and sauces taste so much better!
OIL - a bit of oil added to your pasta cooking water helps to keep your pasta from clumping together and from sticking to the bottom of the pot. I also think it helps to keep the pot from boiling over, but that could just be my imagination.
PAPRIKA - when flouring pieces of meat, fish or chicken in preparation for frying add a generous dash of sweet paprika to the flour along with the salt and pepper. It helps to give colour without altering the flavour. I also like to add a bit of garlic and onion powder and sometimes celery salt.
SALT - always add a healthy pinch of salt to the cooking water when you are cooking potatoes. They actually absorb more salt from the cooking water than they do when you add it later on, so you may actually reduce your overall sodium intake by adding it while cooking rather than later.
EPICUREAN LARDER ESSENTIALS FOR THE ULTIMATE FOODIE STORE-CUPBOARD
BEANS - dried Haricot beans for the ultimate baked beans and a prime cassoulet, as well as Flageolet if you can find them. Must have tins of cooked kidney, borlotti, cannellini and chickpeas. And yes good baked beans. With a few tins of beans in the larder, a tasty dinner is never far away.
LENTILS - I love mottled teal Puy Lentils, the tiny brown Castelluccio with their nutty, earth flavour . . . Black Beluga, tiny Ustica and of course bagged red ones which need no prior soaking for soups.
PEARL BARLEY (Farro)- Where would I be without pearl barley. It is so useful in soups and stews . . . and makes a darn good substitute for rice in a risotto.
UNUSUAL GRAINS - Couscous (both the regular and the larger Israeli variety), Bulgar for tasty tabbouleh; and yes (if you are so inclined) Quinoa (I have not myself taken to Quinoa, but I know many people do love it.)
DRIED PASTA - It's nice if you have the desire and the aptitude and the time, to make your own fresh pasta, but never under-estimate the value of a good dried pasta. A top quality artisanal pasta is just as good as fresh in many instances. It is worth paying a few pennies more for a reputable name and always be on the look out for bargains on slow dried and bronze die cut. I like to keep a good Spaghetti (preferably one made with eggs) some penne rigate, and a wide ribboned papparadelle in my larder. Shells in several sizes are also handy to have, and of course macaroni.
FLOUR - Double 00 for pasta, pizza and bread is a must. A good plain and a good self raising. (I never buy cheapest or store brand. Good flour is worth the extra expense in better baked results.) I also keep gram (think Pakora and Bhaji) and corn flour, as well as a variety of bread flours. (Stone ground wheat, rye, seeded.) Keep any flour you don't use regularly in the deep freeze and bring it to room temperature before using.
SUGAR - granulated for Todd to use in his drinks and for rolling biscuit dough in, golden caster sugar, golden icing sugar, coarse demerara, dark and light muscovado brown sugars, Coffee Sugar crystals, un-refined coarse sugar cubes (for crunching up and sprinkling on cakes) I also keep in a variety of syrups (Agava, Golden, Dark Treacle, Molasses, Maple)
NOODLES - I keep soba and dried rice and glass noodles for reviving broths and Pad Thai, or salads.
TINNED TOMATOES - Keep the best tinned tomatoes your money can buy. Chopped plum in juice, whole plum, sieved (Passata) and best quality tomato puree (Tomato paste). I also like to keep a good quality mi-cuit tomato (moister, juicier and richer in flavour than sun dried.) I always have tons of tinned tomatoes in my larder and have been known to sit down to just a bowl of chilled tomatoes, garnished simply with some flaked sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper along with a piece of buttered bread for my tea. Delicious!
BREAD CRUMBS - I keep a plastic pot of frozen soft crumbs in the freezer along with a plastic pot of fine dried. (Save your dried up crusts of bread and grind your own.) I also have Panko (slightly sweetened Japanese coarse bread crumbs), which are THE best to use for giving a crisp light finish to fried goodies. I keep them all in the freezer. That way they keep for far longer than they would just sitting on the larder shelf.
CAPERS, ANCHOVIES - I like the non pariel baby capers, packed in sea for their incomparable flavour, but I do keep a jar of the larger Caper Berries which make great garnishes. Tinned whole anchovies and anchovy paste are also worthwhile store cupboard ingredients.
CANNED TUNA AND SALMON - I always have several tins of good quality albacore tuna packed in olive oil for those times when you are longing for a simple supper of a salad or a some of it spread onto sourdough toast. Same with Salmon. Great for using in casseroles and fish cakes as well.
SALT - I love sea salt and I keep it in several varieties, flaked, fine and smoked. I also keep coarse French sel gris marin (Fabulous sprinkled over savory baked goods.)
PEPPER - Whole peppercorns that you can grind yourself, white and black. Pink Peppercorns and jars of brined green peppercorns.
VANILLA - buy the best vanilla you can afford, pure Madagascan Vanilla Extract. Worth every penny. Vanilla pods, likewise. Long, slender and beautiful when their specs are trailed through custards and ice creams. Stuff the dried and spent pods down into your sugar jar, for even more of their Vanilla Goodness . . . and Vanilla Paste. I always have a jar of that in the cupboard. It's a wonderful luxury that I gift to myself.
VINEGAR - I keep a variety of good quality vinegars on hand at all times. A good red wine and white wine. A best quality Balsamico di Modeno, for dipping and special things. A medium quality Balsamic for everything else. Raspberry and Tarragon Vinegars, a good quality Apple Cider vinegar and a good quality Sherry Vinegar. I also keep a bottle of Rice Wine Vinegar for my occasional foray's into Chinese cuisine.
MUSTARD - A real store-cupboard staple. I keep a good quality French Dijon, a good quality grainy Dijon mustard, hot English mustard in both wet and powdered forms, a mild American and my favourite sandwich condiment . . . hot honey mustard.
NUTMEG - I always, always only keep whole nutmegs. I grate my own and I know then that it is always fresh and the best that it can be.
GOOSE FAT - I keep a tin of goose fat for making the best roasties ever.
EGGS - I only use free range organic.
BUTTER - I like Lurpac Danish Butter both the salted and the unsalted for most of my cooking and spreading needs. Occasionally I will splurge on a really good artisanal butter if I am doing something really special where we want really special butter for spreading. There really is a difference in the flavour of butter betwixt the winter and the summer.
OTHER LARDER ESSENTIALS - Smoked Paprika, Harissa Paste, Preserved Lemons, a variety of good quality honeys (Greek, Clover, English Wildflower, French Sunflower, Lavender) both in the set and liquid forms, a variety of good quality jams and preserves and pickles, a variety of shelled nuts (keep in the freezer so they don't go rancid), a good Parmesan and a good Cheddar, small quantities of freeze dried herbs and spices, a good mango chutney, instant and regular yeast.
Got salad? Here's a handy list to help make dressings easy and fun!