Do you sometimes wish you could step into a chef's kitchen and just peek around at what all's going on in there? What are their secrets for always having delicious food? Do they keep a little bag of "awesome" to sprinkle over their chicken, or a jar of "yummy" to spoon over their pasta? Or do they just go to the grocery store EVERY SINGLE DAY? Well, I don't know about them, but I'm inviting you in to MY kitchen to share some of my secrets with you. Pull up a stool and stay a while. Here are the top 10 ingredients I CAN'T LIVE WITHOUT!
1. Lawry's Garlic Salt:
I would say that Garlic Salt is my ultimate "secret" for delicious food. I use it in place of regular salt on just about everything I cook. The parsley flakes mixed throughout add a little "pop" of color to the dish. I feel that the garlic flavor and the larger granules of salt take things to the next level of yummy-ness. Use it generously over roasted potatoes or marinated grilled chicken. You will never see my pantry without one of these green bottles.
2. Fresh Spinach:
Oh, don't give me that face. Like you, I'm not partial to the frozen junk that you have to squeeze all the green liquid out of for it to be edible. I mean FRESH spinach, that comes in the bag near the lettuces in your grocery store. If you don't already, learn to love it! Spinach is rich in iron, full of anti-oxidants, and, unlike other forms of produce, is available year-round. Um, and it's good! Taylor has become the spinach wizz in our house...he manages to pack so much flavor into it without wilting the spinach so much that it's mushy. I'll return with a recipe later. But I assure you, there is always a bag (or two) of spinach in our refrigerator. It is the perfect, super easy, and super delicious side dish to just about any meal. I would venture to say that we eat spinach every single night.
3. Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts (in bulk):
If you'll refer back to my "Two Breasts are Better than One" post, I give detailed instructions for buying chicken in bulk, stretching it as far as it will go, and making it last as long as you need it to. Chicken is quick, easy, healthy, easy to come by, is a fabulous source of protein, and can take on any flavor you can possibly think of. Try my "Easy Weeknight Chicken Paillard" recipe, marinate it in a taco seasoning packet for fajitas, marinate it with Teriyaki sauce and Italian dressing for a sweet and tangy chicken, bread it for Chicken Parmesan, grill it and serve with corn salsa, stuff it with prosciutto and goat cheese...the possibilities are only limited by your imagination. The day you open my fridge or freezer and don't find little Ziploc bags with chicken breasts in them...is the day Hel....well you know.
My feisty Latina friend, Stacey, introduced me to the wonderful world of Adobo seasoning last summer. She was making her famous Empenadas for me, and explained that it is a common misconception that Latin food is SPICY, when in fact, it is all just very heavily seasoned. They use flavoring agents like "Sofrito" (which we are fortunate enough to have a giant jar of in our freezer- thanks Stacey!) and Adobo to infuse their dishes with as much FLAVOR as possible. Adobo is a spice mixture of salt, garlic, pepper, tumeric, cumin, onion, and oregano. It is bright yellow and might be confused for curry powder, but sprinkle some of this on your chicken or ground beef or eggs or potatoes or spinach....it adds so much flavor, it's ridiculous. You can find it at Publix. Pick up some today!
They say you either absolutely love cilantro or it tastes like laundry detergent to you. I feel so sorry for those who don't have the taste for it, because even the tiniest bit of fresh chopped cilantro adds so much freshness and brightness and depth of flavor to just about anything. Sprinkle it over pizza, stir it into scrambled eggs, toss roasted potatoes in it, marinate chicken with it to be grilled, combine it with diced tomatoes-onions-lime juice for an easy salsa, stir it into rice, toss it in pasta with shrimp and lemon juice....mouth is watering now. Cilantro is dirt cheap and always available in the herb section at any grocery store. Or do like we did and just grow it yourself and have bushels of it readily available to you at all times. :)
Again, this is totally a taste preference thing, but over here, we stir Tabasco into a little bit of everything. Cheese grits, sauteed shrimp, scrambled eggs, we even throw a few dashes into our mayonnaise on turkey sandwiches. Here is my FAVORITE use of Tabasco: DOUSE your hamburger patties in it before grilling them. Trust me. The heat from the grill tames the spiciness of the Tabasco and just leaves an incredible deep flavor into the meat. A friend of mine from high school had a few too many cold ones at the lake one summer....and thought it'd be hilarious to run up and pour Tabasco all over the hamburger patties I'd been slaving away on. I was furious, naturally, thinking they were ruined...but they ended up being the most delicious burgers any of us had ever had. Now, all my burgers get a nice Tabasco shower before hitting the grill. Yum!
7. McCormick's Rotisserie Chicken Seasoning
Ever wonder why rotisserie chickens from the grocery store are so much better than your chicken? It's because 1- they are cooked to absolute roasted perfection, and 2- they use a special seasoning. Well, about a year ago, Mr. McCormick decided to share his Rotisserie Seasoning with the world, and I'm a devoted user of the stuff. Like the garlic salt, I use the Rotisserie Chicken seasoning on just about everything to make it taste that much better. This is by no means limited to just chicken. No no no. Stir some into your next Potato Salad and watch what happens. They're pretty crafty by saying "spices" in their ingredients along with salt, pepper, garlic, onion, paprika, and citric acid. I suspect a bit of cayenne, cumin, chili powder, and sugar.
8. Shredded Parmesan Cheese
A little sprinkle of the stuff goes a long way as far as adding flavor and richness to any dish. Spread some out on a Silpat baking sheet to make a Parmesan bowl for your next salad, mix some together with Panko bread crumbs and lemon zest for a yummy fish breading, sprinkle it over steamed veggies for a little kick, or sprinkle over a buttered piece of bread and top with garlic salt for quick garlic bread. Mix it into hamburger patties or meatballs for a great cheesy effect. I always have a tub or two of the stuff in my cheese drawer.
9. Balsamic Vinegar
This is another love it or hate it item. I happen to love it- actually, can't live without it! Make a delicious caprese salad with simply sliced tomatoes, fresh mozzarella cheese, a fresh basil leaf, and drizzle with balsamic vinegar. Simple. Add a few dashes to a pasta dish. Marinate chicken in it for roasting. Mix 1 cup of Balsamic with 1/4 cup of white sugar, reduce until it forms a syrup, and drizzle over anything that needs some extra tang: caprese skewers, grilled steak, broiled fish, or even berries for dessert. It's beautiful purple color and deep tangy flavor make it a staple in my kitchen.
10. New Potatoes/Fresh Garlic
I had a hard time deciding between the last two, so it's a tie. There is constantly a bag of New potatoes as well as a stem of fresh Garlic cloves in my produce bowl. Always always always. New potatoes are the smaller, less starchy, red skinned potatoes that are action-packed with flavor and much better for you than their bigger brown cousins. Cut 'em up, toss 'em in a bag with Olive oil, rotisserie chicken seasoning, and fresh garlic for awesome oven roasted potatoes. Leave the skins on, boil them, then smash them up with some butter and milk and various seasonings for smashed new potatoes. The skins are very thin and full of flavor and nutrients so they are much more enjoyable to eat than the Russet or Idaho potato skins. As for the garlic, refer back to my Top 10 "Can't Live Without"s: Kitchen Tools for the incredible garlic press. Start using it in any way you would use the canned stuff. You'll never go back.
Have a great weekend, everyone!
The Chef Next Door