Every cook should have these staples on hand this summer: Unsalted butter is my choice for cooking, so I can control the saltiness of a recipe. I do keep a stash of salted Kerry Gold Irish butter in the fridge to slather onto hot corn-on-the-cob or homemade corn muffins.
Every cook should have these staples on hand this summer:
BREAD CRUMBS: I’m a breadcrumb snob. I make my own. When I buy a sliced loaf, I take out the ends to save; that last half of a bagel or sole English muffin; a square of focaccia; a plain doughnut (rarely) or the last slice of pound cake.
Any bread item goes into my freezer bag. When I’ve saved a good cache, I pulse them in the food processor with some panko (Japanese-style bread crumbs) for crunch. Or I toast the crumbs (without panko) on a baking sheet in a 200-degree oven, watching them carefully, until lightly golden. I freeze these in containers, marked as “plain bread crumbs” or “toasted crumbs” until ready to use.
BUTTER: Unsalted butter is my choice for cooking, so I can control the saltiness of a recipe. I do keep a stash of salted Kerry Gold Irish butter in the fridge to slather onto hot corn-on-the-cob or homemade corn muffins.
CHICKEN STOCK: Who wants to make their own chicken stock in summer? I pick up boxed prepared chicken stock, usually on special during the hot months. I go with low-salt or salt-free organic brands, not out of snobbery, but because those brands taste good.
COOKING WINE: Jug wine. A lot of chefs recommend cooking with something you would drink, but I think if it’s drinkable, you should drink it. Find a decent-tasting, not a rot-gut, jug wine –– one that you could also use to make sangria –– and set it aside for cooking.
CREAM: I keep a half pint of whipping cream in the fridge for economical sundaes or banana splits.
EGGS: Cartons of egg whites are a lower-cholesterol substitute for whole eggs. They make light, fluffy omelets or dense, fudgy brownies. And no messy shells to clean up. On the other hand, I can go through dozens of whole eggs when making deviled eggs. I prefer organic brands, like Eggland’s Best.
GARLIC: California garlic is in at the supermarket. It’s fresher than imported garlic, and although inexpensive, it doesn’t last at all. I store the whole heads in a small bowl on a refrigerator shelf where the circulating air keeps it from wilting. I never skip the garlic chives at the farmers market or from my mother’s garden.
GREENS: Romaine is always on hand for Caesar salad when it’s too hot to cook. Arugula is my other standard, from the farmers market or my mother’s garden, to toss with coarse salt and olive oil, or with fresh strawberries and good balsamic vinegar, or to whirl with garlic and olive oil into pesto for tossing with tortellini or drizzling over grilled fish.
Page 2 of 3 - HERBS: Basil, mint, rosemary, oregano and chives grow in pots just outside my kitchen door. It’s a joy to step outside and snip what I need, the aroma lingering on my hands. Each week, I try a different one at my local farmers market.
ICE CREAM: I keep chocolate and vanilla on hand. A stash of frozen strawberries, bananas and chocolate bits to melt for hot fudge sauce, and whipping cream turns banana splits and hot fudge sundaes into a fun family activity. Friendly’s brand by the half-gallon, if you can get it in your local supermarket, is more economical than high-priced brands by the pint. Tastes as good.
MAYO: In summer, I only make mayo, really a garlic aioli, when I make bouillabaisse, and that requires decent fish and cool weather. Otherwise, I rely on Hellman’s low-fat.
MILK: For cold cereal and iced-coffee, 1 percent milk. Health experts claim that when fat is removed from milk, only the sugar is left — and lowering sugar intake is a concern these days.
OIL: I always keep two kinds of oil on the shelf: olive and canola. For cooking or salads, I use the old stand-by olive oil in the gold can; for more full-flavored salads or drizzling over hot or warm foods, I use EVOO (extra virgin olive oil), which is not meant to be subjected to high heat. I try a small bottle of a different brand at Italian markets. Canola is my go-to for basic cooking oil, basically unobtrusive so the flavor of food shines through.
ONIONS: There’s always a bunch of scallions in the vegetable bin. Red onions are another standby for their sweet flavor and added color in salads and salsas.
PARSLEY: I only use flat-leaf, a.k.a. Italian, parsley. It has a sweet, grassy flavor. It is easy to stem and wash clean of growing soil. I keep it in water, like a bouquet of flowers, on a shelf in the fridge.
PEPPERS: I always have red bell peppers on hand for roasting whole on the grill, and a backup of a few jars of prepared roasted red peppers. I also buy cubanelle peppers, those narrow light green ones, that my grandmother taught me to stuff with bread and olives. Both types are great sautéed and added to frittatas or sandwiches, sliced into salads or chopped into salsas. For heat, I rely on canned chipotle peppers in adobo, chipotle powder, cayenne or red chili flakes.
POTATOES: California whites replace Idaho russets in summer. They’re best for potato salads and for thickly slicing, brushing with olive oil and putting on the grill.
TOMATOES: I like locally grown tomatoes: cherry, heirloom, yellow, purple or zebra, whatever is at the farmers market. Sometimes I’ll buy Jersey reds, but they are less flavorful. Keep tomatoes on the kitchen counter for best flavor; they don’t like cold.
Page 3 of 3 - VINEGARS: Apple cider vinegar for potato salads; red wine vinegar for green salads; a small bottle of good balsamic vinegar for drizzling, sparingly, over grilled vegetables, freshly sliced peaches or strawberries (these also sprinkled with good black pepper); supermarket balsamic vinegar for marinating meats and vegetables before grilling.
YOGURT: I hate all yogurt except Oikos brand Greek yogurt. I top Cheerios and fresh fruit with it for breakfast. It’s rich enough to use in place of sour cream without anyone noticing.
BEST AND EASIEST TOMATO SALAD
Serves as many as you want depending on how much you make, so there are no measurements except the suggestion for olive oil. No cooking, so this is perfect for a hot day when grilling or when you just don’t feel like anything but tomatoes and a hunk of good country bread.
Fresh, ripe tomatoes — as many colors as you can get
2 to 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
Fresh mint or basil leaves — or both
Plain goat cheese, or mozzarella, or feta
Coarse sea salt
1. Cut the tomatoes into bite-size cubes directly into a serving bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and gently toss. Grind black pepper over it. Tear the herb leaves directly into the bowl and toss again gently. Set aside for 20 minutes to blend the flavors.
2. Crumble the cheese over the top. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt and gently toss again. Serve right away.
CRAZY VARIATION: Cut out the basil (keep the mint), cheese and olive oil. Add watermelon cubes and sliced strawberries. If you have a head of fennel in the fridge, add some of the feathery fronds.
Linda Bassett is the author of “From Apple Pie to Pad Thai: Neighborhood Cooking North of Boston.” Reach her by e-mail at KitchenCall@aol.com. Read Linda’s blog at LindABCooks.wordpress.com. Follow Linda for quick recipes on Twitter at @Kitchencall.