Thursday, April 19, 2012

Blechta kitchen staples: food

A reader of this blog has asked me to list the things we have in our kitchen. Boy, that’s a huge topic, and one that comes with a lot of pitfalls, since we cook very individually, which I’m sure most people do. I also always pull back from things like this because it’s too close to telling people what to do, and I have a natural aversion to that. But on the other hand, isn’t that what this blog is all about: my opinions on food. I guess I just have to get used to this “being an expert” thing, even if every day it’s hammered home to me that there is so much more I don’t know about food and cooking. In fact, that’s a terrific topic for a future posting.

Anyway, Helen (the aforementioned reader) is right. Maybe it is time to take everyone into the Blechta Test Kitchens here in beautiful downtown Toronto, and reveal what’s lurking in our larder. In a later post, I’ll also discuss the tools we use for cooking and why we’ve chosen them.

Certain things in every kitchen are considered staple items, and we’re no different. There are things we must always have on hand so we’re not constantly running to the grocery store. We also have a rough idea what we’re going to cook over the next week, so that I can do a sensible shopping when we make our weekly run to the St. Lawrence Market. It’s amazing how your fridge, shelves, and freezer can fill up with stuff if you don’t. Not having a shopping list is also a great way to have a lot of good food go bad – and to us, that’s a cardinal sin.

So what are considered staples in the Blechta kitchen? Our goal is to have enough food on hand so that we can get away without shopping for a week. I almost always go to the Market, but if I can’t, we’re good to go and don’t have to rely on the supermarket.

To start off, every fall, we preserve chopped tomatoes in 1, 2 and 4-cup Mason jars. Ditto for tomato sauce. Since we cook a lot of Italian food, jars are brought up from the basement at least once a week. Tomatoes also add depth to stews and casseroles, so in winter when we make these a lot, a bit of tomato is generally thrown in. We also preserve chutney, spiced peaches, dill pickles and currant jelly. The only canned tomato we use is paste. It’s possible to make it but difficult because it burns easily and you have to stir it constantly for a very long time while it boils down. We also freeze roasted red peppers that we do up over a wood fire, a favorite fall ritual.

We always have several dried pastas on hand, lately it’s made more with spelt than anything. Pasta is on the menu once or twice every week and spelt is better for you than plain white pasta. For most things, it tastes better, too.

As for grains, we always have white and brown basmati rice, white arborio rice, wild rice, kasha, cornmeal and rolled oats. White and whole wheat flour (or graham when we can find it) are on hand. Whole grain flours are kept tightly wrapped in our freezer. In our freezer we also keep walnuts, pine nuts, cashews and slivered almonds.

For fats, we have several different kinds of cold-pressed olive oils (we use mostly olive oil for cooking), canola oil, sweet butter, heart-healthy margarine, and a bit of rendered bacon fat. For vinegars, we use many so you’ll always find red and white wine, apple cider, tarragon and two different grades of balsamic, one for general cooking and one for very special salads (the expensive stuff). We always have white sugar, light and dark brown sugar and some very special honey from a friend in Quebec. Our freezer holds a liter jar of maple syrup from our source in Eastern Ontario. And there’s usually milk and yogurt on hand.

In the freezer you'll always find an assortment of sausages (from the Sausage King), a package of Berretta ground beef (grass fed when we can get it), a whole chicken and maybe some chicken parts (from Clement Poultry), bacon, and usually a pork steak. We keep canned tuna, baby clams and smoked oysters (something we love) in the pantry, and you can usually find a few salted anchovies lurking in the back of the fridge. Also in the freezer is a good assortment of stock: chicken, fish, beef, lamb, duck and vegetable. (Read about making it HERE.)

Our spice/herb shelves are full with nearly anything you can imagine, and during the growing season we grow at least a dozen herbs either in pots or the garden (bay, chervil, chives, cilantro, sage, rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil, parsley, dill, and summer and winter savory). We always have a stock of juniper berries and Hungarian paprika as well as Spanish (sweet and smoked). We only use sea salt and have many different kinds, and we keep green, red, white, and black pepper in mills. Fresh garlic, shallots, lemons, limes and some fresh herbs in winter are on the top shelf of the fridge door. We have about 5 kinds of mustard (most from Koslik’s) and of course you’ll find low-fat mayo and ketchup. A lot of different rubs, Worchestershire sauce, tabasco, dry mustard, pickle relish, Asian chili sauce are also lurking around for use when needed. We have three different soy sauces on hand at all times, and use them more than you’d imagine. They work much better than salt in most sauces and stews.

For fruits and vegs, you’ll always find red and yellow onions, carrots, celery, various greens, several different kinds of potatoes (from Bob Taylor, “The Potato Guy”), some sort of apple and various fruits in season. We also keep some canned and frozen fruits and vegs for emergencies.

In the fridge’s dairy drawer, we stock parmesan, romano, cheddar and some sort of blue cheese (I’m very fond of blue cheese). You’ll usually find one or two other kinds, since we find it hard to resist when we’re at Chris’s Cheesemongers at the market. We always have some organic eggs from pastured chickens.

Last of all, you will never find us without a spare bag of Kick Ass coffee from Kicking Horse. Vicki could not get up in the morning without it.

So, what do you consider staple items?


Rick Blechta said...

Someone clever has pointed out that I left chocolate off the list. We have three at all times: chocolate chips, 75% dark chocolate and cocoa powder. Thanks, Carol!

HelenL said...

OMG! five types of mustard!! When I regained consciousness...I was overwhelmed by inadequacy. How about these, to balance things out? I keep pomegranate molasses, dried figs, tahini, rose and orange waters from Middle Eastern shops. They add a certain je-ne-sais-quoi to soups, stews, salad dressings. Oh, and the seed flavouring called "sumac" in English. It adds a tartness to soups & dressings if you're out of lemon -- or allergic to citrus.

Rick Blechta said...

Part of the reason we have 5 different mustards is that no one in our family likes the same kind. Vicki likes Dijon, one son likes a honey-based one, another likes a smokey one, and I like one with horseradish. The dry mustard is needed for a number of things, but mostly as an ingredient rather than a condiment.

Your suggestions are very interesting and certainly good additions to any list. I'll have to try "sumac". That sounds quite interesting.

I probably should have mentioned that we always have dark and golden raisins, and dried apricots on hand since we use a handful here and there, especially in hot weather.

Thanks for the suggestions!