Pantry Essentials
Updated December, 2007

You might think it’s just a spice, but did you know that there are different kinds of cinnamon? Neither did I until Penzeys educated me – and now that I know there are four kinds available from Penzeys I must stock them all! (Read about my semi-annual Penzeys orders here)

My favorite is the Extra Fancy Vietnamese which I tend to turn to for all of the breakfast spicing or sprinkling. The Ceylon tastes like “English Cinnamon” (I can really put my finger on why I think that) and I like it for baking (it’s my second choice for breakfast). Korintje is my least favorite… even though I’m sure that’s what my mom used – use it wherever you need a cinnamon flavor that’s integrated. China Cassia is stronger and would be good if you were baking or cooking and really needed that cinnamon punch – like if you were making your own 5-spice powder or if you are making cinnamon sugar.
Penzey's descriptions:
1. Korintje Cassia Cinnamon sweet and mellow, this is the cinnamon we all remember from our childhood.
2. China Cassia Cinnamon is strong and spicier than Korintje, with a potent, sweet flavor.
3. Extra Fancy Vietnamese Cinnamon (is) the highest quality, strongest cinnamon available in America today.
4. Ceylon "True" Cinnamon: complex and fragrant, with a citrus overtone and rich buff color.

Wild Rice
Wild Rice
Seems like the wild rice of memory was always hard and dry. I always remember it as black. Turns out that real “wild” rice is hand harvested in canoes using paddles to knock ripe kernels into the boats and then hand dried and processed. Seems like a tremendous amount of work. It’s also more brown and gray than black.
We’ve tried 3 brands so far: Grey Owl, Canadian Wild Rice and Native Harvest. Grey Owl seemed to require more cooking time. Real wild rice comes mainly from Minnesota and Canada. The kernels are fluff up when cooked and split open making them slightly crunchy (or chewy) but with a divine delicate nutty taste. Grey Owl you can buy for $5-6/box and seems like a bargain for all the work involved. The Dean & DeLuca Canadian Wild Rice is more expensive and comes in a clear plastic bag but you get more rice - and Jack has liked it the best of the three. It ran me $15 at Dean & DeLuca; online 2 1lb-bags are $19. Heritage Foods USA offer Native Harvest for $19/pound. It is finer than the other two and has a great nutty flavor. I think I prefer it of the three but I haven’t done a side-by-side comparison.
Grey Owl
Canadian Wild Rice (Manitoba & Saskatchewan)
Native Harvest Wild Rice

Buying Dried Pasta: Why to Pay More
Industrially-made pasta is made fast and dried in hours or minutes. It is very smooth (so your sauce doesn’t stick to it well) and has very little character left from the wheat it’s made from.
The best artisan-made pastas are made of Durum Semolina wheat (from Canada or Italy) and are pressed through bronze dies (which wear out quickly and are expensive) then carefully dried for a few days. Artisan pastas should be rough to the touch (toothy, which will hold your sauce) and when dropped in boiling water should impart a whiff of wheat. Pastas we have in the pantry are Boriana from Montepulciano, Montebello, Latini, Dalla Costa (porcini), Martelli, Morelli (with wheat germ) ( We also use Rustichella D’abruzzo. (

Pasta Sauce
Speaking of sauce. I rarely make plain tomato sauce so we usually use the best we can find in jars and add to it. Jack’s tummy likes it better if the sauce has some cream cutting the acidity and the latest rage here is Vodka Pasta sauce from Dean & DeLuca Alternatively we use Seeds of Change or 365 Organic from Whole Foods (for things like Chicken Parmigiana)

- Click here to see what coffee I've been drinking most recently!

I keep switching honey to try and find one I like anywhere near as well as Rare Hawaiian Organic White Honey from Volcano Island Honey. No luck at any price - from cheap creamed honey to farmer’s market honey to to sulla honey from Italy to expensive varietal honey. It’s $12 at Whole Foods and $25 at Dean & DeLuca. It is the quintessential toast honey. Pair it with unsalted Lurpak butter and heaven awaits. I recently got to try the Winter Honey while we were on the east coast. I don’t like it as well. It seems leaner, not quite as full flavored. You can order direct if you decide to go whole hog. It is sweet so use sparingly. You can also buy it at your local Whole Foods Market.


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Olive Oil
I like full-flavored oils that taste of cured olives. That’s what I want to dip or drizzle. For cooking a medium grade oil is just fine. We do not have a house oil yet. We keep looking we’ve tried dozens of brands cheap and outrageous, some dated some in fancy bottles and some in metal cans. All I can offer is what we have open right now. We did an olive oil tasting recently and Click here for the results.

A L'olivier Basil oil
May, 2005 Find! A L’Olivier Olive Oil infused with Basil. Tastes like summer – tastes like fresh basil and olive oil. $17.50 for a tiny can at Dean & Deluca but I can’t wait to try it on Sliced Heirloom Tomatoes.

So the deal on salt is no matter what the color or texture or name it’s still salt. You can use all salts interchangeably but you probably won’t because of cost.

The main difference in salt is the texture of the grain (or flake) that will send you to the store in search of Maldon Sea Salt, Fleur de Sel and/or Sel Gris (Grey Salt).

If you are using a recipe you need to make sure that you adjust according to the type of salt you use. The recipe standard is usually normal table salt, so if you use Kosher then you need to add a bit more as the grains are slightly bigger than table salt.

We always have 3 salts available in our kitchen. Kosher salt, some sort of coarse salt (for roasting, marinating or BBQing) and a flaked salt like Maldon or Fleur de Sel for finishing dishes. The flavor of the salt is still salty but the texture of the grain or flake can fool your tastebuds into thinking that the salt has a different flavor.

Exceptions to the rule that salt is salt: Red Volcanix salt has traces of minerals other than salt and can give a different taste.

May, 2005 - The Himalyan Pink salt on the market I’m dubious about but the claim is that it actually is better for you and it has almost magical salt qualities. We’ll let you know…

Profumato del Chianti
Seasoned Salt
I’m completely in love with the herb scented salt from Formaggio Kitchen - Profumato del Chianti (Panzano, Italy). I cannot tell you how much I adore this salt. I’m going to attempt to duplicate it but at the moment I can’t live without it – it’s extra fine and seems to impart the perfect amount of rosemary-ness and lavender-ness without over doing it. I love this salt! It’s expensive and an exclusive to them. You must own it – or a good facsimile.

We generally use Tellicherry Black and White from Penzeys and I also have 3 pepper grinders full – one white, one black and one grains of paradise. Our black pepper of the moment is Wynad pepper ($23 for 200g) (Zingerman's).
I love grains of paradise – it has a slightly lemony peppery taste but is not too peppery – and since Jack is not a pepper fan, this is the perfect one for me to use as a finishing pepper. We’ve got the Balinese long pepper that seems so chic these days – but I really haven’t been won over to it. It’s very strong fresh but seems to get lost when cooked and it’s almost fruity – a taste that I don’t seem to like with pepper. (Zingerman's) have Grains of Paradise and Balinese Long pepper. Now I hear I missed their Australia Mountain Pepper. I’ll try it and let you know.

Most of the Panko I have found has (evil) Partially Hydrogenated Oils (vegetable shortening) as an ingredient. I’ve found a couple that seem void of PHO, but I had to search high and low. Most of the online sources for Panko don’t tell you the ingredients. Dean & DeLuca stock a brand with PHO in it. So read your labels and look for these brands:
Miyako Panko
Orchids Panko Japanese Style Bread Crumb – beware their Honey panko has vegetable shortening.
update 12/05: Ian's has just released a line of non-PHO pankos including wholewheat and Italian versions. I'm not sold on the taste though; I still perfer the Japanese ones but these are easier to get.

All Cornmeal is not created equally, hence the quality of your polenta will depend on what you use to make it. This is really true. I’ve found some great polenta flour to recommend: Polenta Flour by Mulino Marino from Gustiamo their stone ground white polenta flour is fantastic. Formaggio Kitchen also sells one – it may be the same producer I don’t know. Dean & DeLuca in St. Helena stock the yellow polenta from the same producer. It’s about $5-6 a package. Do yourself a favor if you are taking the time to cook by starting with this great cornmeal and some homemade stock.

Saba Dressing
from Acetaia Leonardi. I love this stuff and can’t get enough of the raisiny dried curranty taste. It has less acid than balsamics and it’s thick and coats well. It’s cheaper than aged balsamic too! You need to be sparing on its use -but it tastes great. If you like thick aged balsamic try this and let me know what you think! Also available from Dean & DeLuca

Forage Apple Glaze
Forage Organic Apple Glaze
From New Zealand
This stuff is so good you could almost drink it. It’s like apple syrup but with a subtle caramel flavor. It’s complex. It’s fantastic in salad dressings but you can even pour it over ice cream. Try it on sliced pork, on chops as a finishing sauce, or even in a sandwich. Drizzle over foie gras…you get the idea. They also make a Apple Blackcurrant Glaze. Buy it at Dean & DeLuca.

Dean & DeLuca Promo

Breakfast Cheese and beyond
– if you like Cheddar


Cotswold: Dice it, grate it. Throw it in eggs like I do (add a couple twists of black Tellicherry pepper). The green onions really kick cheddar up a notch. It’s mellow and pleasant. I also have a penchant for Spring Hill Jersey Cheddar in eggs. It’s buttery and medium cheddary. Perfect for eggs. Try some of Penzeys Sunny Paris on it.

Or, if you like Swiss like Jack does, try Comte. Eat it plain, grated, melted. Throw it in your eggs (like I do for Jack).

Joanne – I like Assam and Oolong teas. I think I can finally tell the difference between qualities of tea. To recommend roughly: For Assam look for Golden Tipped. For Oolong look for something that mentions Peaches in the description and is very expensive or monkey picked. Good tea is expensive.

I just bought Grace Tea’s Assam/Irish Breakfast tea for my last breakfast choice. I will alternate it with the aged oolong from Generation Tea and the Rishi’s Organic Pu-erh. Both have a subtle smoke element which I enjoy occasionally. The aged oolong and the Pu-erh have complex subtleties which the assam does not have.

FYI – tea as we know it…
The basic black tea in Britain is very cheap tea as a result Brits who like their tea often have never had good quality tea. I’m think I've become a tea snob but I still have a penchant for good british or irish black teabags. I have never found a first flush Darjeeling I’ve liked. I can drink second flush Margaret’s Hope Darjeeling. But again if I have a choice I choose Assam. I drink tea with milk unless I’m at a restaurant that serves green tea. To tell if your tea is good quality you can look at it after you’ve infused it and look at the size of the leaves (or pieces of leaves) The more the pieces look like real whole leaves the better the quality of the tea – a very rough indicator.

SerendipiteaJack has settled into a groove of Serendipitea’s Burrough's Brew – Coconut flavored tea which is also a fair trade and organic tea. The organic black tea is good quality and there are pieces of coconut in the tea. It is delicately flavored and doesn’t have an artificial taste. I like Vanilla better so for flavored tea I choose Serendipitea’s Colonille which I first discovered at the Soho Grande in NYC. Now we order their tea. Shipping is always prompt so we are rarely out of stock. They have a flat shipping charge so we usually order in quantity.
Check out our ordering experience here.

Infusing Tea
We almost never use tea bags (except for the forementioned). We standardly use a Yixing Chinese tea pot (1 of 4 depending on how many we are serving to) or a Large Heath Ceramics teapot. We've just retired out Tetsubin cast iron Japanese tea pot. We used to use the Japanese Bee House pot but converted after getting our first Chinese pot which we never wash only rinse lightly. I like a lot of tea or coffee so I like big mugs or cups. We drink out of Emile Henry mugs or the ones Jack’s mom made for us.

We use Westbrae Organic. We usually keep White on hand in case we have a Black Cod emergency.

For baking use superfine or Baker’s Sugar or Palm Sugar if the recipe is forgiving. If you use Superfine Sugar you will have to use a little less than recommended as the crystals are smaller so you will put more in a cup. It really dissolves well. I always have a raw or gold sugar on hand as well as an assortment of browns and natural sugars like maple, date and palm. I also usually have a liquid sugar on hand as well. I’ve tried Billington’s sugar for coffee etc. and found it doesn’t dissolve well and it really doesn’t change the flavor significantly.

After using Clover Stornetta Organic 2% Milk for Trent for a while we switched to Straus Family Whole milk for the whole family. I like that we are supporting a family dairy with good farming practices who bottle in glass and don't homogenize.

Cream/Half & Half
I usually buy Straus Family if they have it or Clover Stornetta Organic or even Clover Stornetta non-organic (as these dairies do not use BHT or antibiotics). The cream has to be non-UHT. Non-UHT cream whips better besides the fact that I don’t like the whole ultra-pastuerized idea. We have a raw local milk available as well but the taste is strange and hard to get used to.
June 2005 - Rave reviews for Organic Pastures raw cream!!! If you live in California you're in luck! It has the consistency of clotted cream. The flavor seems to change seasonally - so if you don't like it the 1st time you try it wait a few months and try it again.

On hand we usually have Lurpak Unsalted (available widely, incl. Whole Foods) for Joanne’s breakfast (my backup is President unsalted) and Jack uses Pamplie when we can get it (his back-up is Clover salted). We usually keep butter really cold in the bottom of the refrigerator. The house salted is Kerrygold from Ireland. Kerrygold is widely available, including Trader Joe's and Whole Foods. (I just read an article that British butters are often made from imported cream so I will be following up on that – even though Kerrygold is Irish). For house unsalted I usually keep Organic Valley or Whole Foods brand 365 or Clover Stornetta Unsalted on hand for cooking.
Click here for our Butter Tasting Results!

Ghee (clarified butter)
Stores really well in the fridge and besides being indispensable in Indian cooking it’s great to add to some olive oil for sautés to get a buttery flavor or by itself for pan frying or butter searing. It doesn’t burn as easily as plain butter as clarified butter has had the solids (which burn easily) removed. You can make it yourself and keep a jar in the fridge or buy it ready made. I usually have a jar of Purity Farms in the fridge.

White Rice
I admit that I am awful at making rice. The only brand that I consistently seem to manage is Fantastic Foods’ Jasmine Rice. Jack likes it. As a back-up I usually have Calriso on hand and some sort of sushi style rice like Kukuko Rose. Since I got a Zojirushi rice cooker.

Chicken & Vegetable Stock/Broth
Broth/Stock on hand. When I don’t have freezer stock available or to pump up sauces or rice or beans etc. I use Imagine or Pacific brand (organic when possible) as it really has a real chicken flavor to it. It’s drinkable out of the tetrapak but I usually add vegetables to it and then restrain when I use it for soup. The beef is really great for polenta. Not as good as homemade but...

The Pacific brand Mushroom Stock makes the most delicious turkey gravy. The pantry is always stocked with it. I will use Pacific brand Organic Chicken in a pinch. I keep the freezer stocked with homemade chicken stock. When I make soup I usually put away a bit of the stock before I add vegetables. I also like Perfect Additions frozen stock for quick sauces, etc., but it’s not organic and not necessarily a best choice – as they don’t list sources for their meat or chicken or fish, etc.

If we buy pre made supermarket soup it's from Whole Foods or a local gourmet take out or we use frozen that I’ve made or...

Amy’s Soup – Organic Low Fat Minestrone is Trent’s pick of canned soups. It’s actually pretty edible. We’ve tried other flavors like Alphabet, Organic Lentil Vegetable and No Chicken Noodle and Corn Chowder… but none are as good. I hated the Alphabet taste. (Amy's is available at Whole Foods and other stores.)

Flour – Organic is better. (Why?)
I have been told in Bread making and pastry classes by a commercial chef that there is no reason to EVER use All-purpose flour. Conversely I was told that to make pasta you want to use all-purpose flour.

The difference between cake, pastry, all-purpose and bread flour is the amount of gluten (protein) in the flour. You would not want to use cake flour to make bread unless you want your bread to be cake-like. Conversely you would not use bread flour for cake as it would produce a dense chewy cake. The amount of gluten in the flour is what makes the difference. Whole grain flours have less gluten by nature so often when you make whole wheat or rye bread you only use some of the whole grain flour while mixing in some white flour. Or you add a supplement like Vital Gluten Flour to the recipe, which virtually accomplishes the same task. Bread flour has a lot of gluten, cake flour has the least with pastry next then all-purpose.

About Flour & Wheat

Wheat has two main growing cycles, Spring and Winter which produce soft and hard wheat. Hard Wheat has a high starch content aka a high gluten content .

All-Purpose Flour - made out of hard red winter wheat and/or soft winter wheat. Protein - 9.0% - 11.0%.

Self-Rising Flour - Self-rising flour is typically all-purpose flour with baking soda and salt added. Used mostly for scratch biscuits, pancakes and cookies. Protein: 9.5%-11.5%. A higher protein level would alter the light and fluffy texture you desire.

Bread Flour - Made with a greater percentage of hard wheat. Protein - 10.5%-12.0%

High Gluten Flour - Comes from Hard Winter or Spring Wheat. Used for any dough which needs extra strength and elasticity such as pizza, or focaccia. Gluten content 12-13%.

Whole Wheat Flour - It is milled from the whole wheat berry and contains all of the germ and the bran. Most are milled from hard red wheat but you can also find hard white whole wheat flour which is lighter and naturally sweeter. It is used for breads, rolls and pastry. Because it contains the germ and bran, it retains vital nutrients. Whole Wheat can go rancid quickly because of the high fat content of the wheat germ so it needs to be stored properly. Protein 11.5%-14.0%. It is also sometimes called graham flour.

Cake Flour - Usually bleached. Should have a soft texture and smooth feel. It is milled from soft winter wheat. Low gluten/protein content, to produce cakes with a tender crumb. Protein 8.5%-10%

Pastry Flour - Use for cookies and pastries. Made from soft winter wheat. It’s very starchy and has a low protein content. Pastry flour makes pies and pastries have a flaky or tender consistency. Protein 8.5%-10% usually the flour is enriched.

Vital Wheat Gluten - When the wheat flour is washed to remove the starch the derivative pure gluten is then dried and ground into a flour. VWG is used to strengthen flours lacking in gluten, such as whole wheat, rye or non-wheat flours.

Edmond Fallot Mustard

Edmund Fallot or Maille Mustard

If it’s good enough for Thomas Keller’s kitchen it’s good enough for us (Fallot Mustards)! Jack does not favor mustard so I don’t often use it in cooking – if I do it needs to be camouflaged. We stock at least one flavored and one Dijon.
I use the Tarragon Dijon in the Slow Roasted Steelhead Recipe.

Cocktail Mixers
Stirrings - Nantucket Off Shores Mixers

Simple Mojito, Cosmopolitan, Margarita, Apple Martini, Mango Margarita…
You get a Quart of mixer in a glass bottle for $8-9 ($8 at Whole Foods, $9 at Dean & DeLuca) They also make rimmer boxes for coating the glass rims to match the mixers. We tried the Cosmopolitan mix last night with Charbay Key Lime Vodka. It blends effortlessly to make an instant perfect drink. The flavors are perhaps not quite as fresh as if you just split a lime but this is a high level bar cocktail quality. You be easily paying $15.00 a pop for a mixed drink like this in NYC. I’m lazy when it comes to mixed drinks. This makes a cocktail party easy! I didn't like the Mojito mix quite as much. It just needs to be "fresher" to make the grade. By adding your own lime it will help but it's definitely an easy drink to make this way.

Coconut Milk
Chao Koh Coconut Milk
This is the best brand I've used – and the one that’s been recommended to me at more than 1 cooking class. Seek it out it will make a difference in your cooking.

Maya Kaimal Sauce

Curry Sauce: Maya Kaimal Tikka Masala Sauce
Real ingredients. Fantastic flavor. Unless you are making the sauce from scratch this is the best packaged Indian Food producer I’ve found. They make 3 sauces. Tikka Masala is the mildest. You can buy it at

June Taylor's Apple Butter, Jam & Conserves
I’m in love with the Gravenstein Apple Butter. We’ve just tried her blueberry conserve but it’s very odd – in that it is flavored with bay leaves. It’s ok but I wouldn’t buy it again. They use a minimum amount of sugar and no pectin so the final product is often a different consistency than what we are used to. What I love is their philosophy to let the simple flavors shine – and they do! I highly recommend the fruit butters I love the concept of them and the texture. The Pear & Vanilla Butter is also divine. We currently have Strawberry Syrup on the shelf to try and Elephant Plum Preserves.

Stonewall Kitchens & Blueberry Jam
Their basic Farmhouse Pancake and Waffle Mix is the pantry standby for mornings when we need a quick breakfast. I have their chocolate extract but have never found a suitable recipe for it. Their Lemon Dill Cocktail Sauce is the house favorite – and we’ve tried many. I recommend the brand overall. Beware the High Fructose Corn Syrup in their Caramel Apple Butter... so read your labels!

While the style of their preserves are rather commercial the end product is delicious. I haven’t found a better blueberry jam than their Wild Maine Blueberry Jam. Update 12/05: The Whole Foods Artisan Brand Vita Reale Blueberry Jam is better and now the new house choice.

Earth and Vine
They put some of the wildest condiments together. Somehow though maybe it’s my good luck all my experiments have all worked out well. While you definitely need to carefully choose the vehicle for their sauce, marinade, dressing or jam – when you find the right place for it the results can be spectacular. We’re currently enjoying their Banana Rum Pineapple Jam on cottage cheese pancakes – it’s not too sweet and actually rather balanced, the rum flavor being prominent.

Tea n Crumpets
Organic Crumpets. Good flavor and texture. Even Trent liked them! We will buy these again. We have the advantage of buying them at Whole Foods locally but they are available for order on their website. I have not tried the jams they also offer with their label. We have only tried the organic plain version.

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