When it comes to cooking every day, after a while most of us tend to fall into a comfortable rut. One finds various foods or brands to rely on. With the wealth of today’s food choices, some “one of a kind” or “best of breed” will crop up we feel are worth sharing. As always when it comes to food, YMMV!
I thought it would be fun to have an exchange of some pantry/fridge favorites folks rely having “on hand”. In no particular order, here’s some of ours:
Soup, canned: Amy’s brand Golden Lentil Indian Dal.
Yes, canned. Sometimes you just really don’t feel like hassling with more than a toasted cheese sandwich and a decent bowl of soup. And this dal – if you enjoy spicy Indian food – is more than decent. It is, in fact, better than 90% of the identical soups you’ve been served in local Indian/Nepalese restaurants. This is a thick, seriously spicy, well-seasoned lentil soup. Swirl a little plain yogurt on top, sprinkle with chopped fresh cilantro if you have any, and you could serve it to guests who will think you slaved over a hot stove for at least an hour or two. Oddly, we don’t like any of her other soups at all; just this one. But we like it enough that there are, at any given time, around a dozen cans of it in our pantry. Available from Safeway or Piedmont Grocery, and other retail markets.
Sausages: Silva’s linguica, available in regular or hot.
Naturally, we prefer the hot version. Stick it in the freezer for a month and it gets really hot! But it’s tasty, as well. The best we ever found was Amaral’s in San Leandro, but they closed down and sold the recipe to a Boston company(!) so it’s no longer available in CA. Silva’s is a long-time SFBA Portuguese-American company, started in San Jose and now HQ’ed in Gilroy. Decades ago we had to drive down to San Jose to buy this, but they finally branched out into markets. Safeway carries it, among other grocers. Half a dozen packages are always in our freezer for emergencies. Great in scrambled eggs or quiche, or paella, or split open and grilled for a great panini.
Sausages: Sonoma Meat Company, turmeric-pineapple pork sausage.
We love sausages…but have you noticed that 80% of the sausage displays in stores consists only of wieners, bratwurst, chicken-apple, and andouille, by half a dozen different companies? What is up with this boring sameness when there are literally hundreds of different sausages from various cuisines waiting to be discovered? So when we find something unusual, we try it. Most of the time, it’s a “yeah, it’s okay,” shrug of the shoulders. But this plump, uncooked sausage was different and good. Turmeric is often used as a sub for saffron, but it has its own unique flavor that has an affinity for chicken or pork. Here the pineapple adds just a bit of sweet-tart flavor, but not so much that it turns into a dessert sausage the way chicken-apple has become. This is savory and perfect for those who can’t take chile heat. I first used it in a couscous, but it would also be amazing with diced chicken in a paella. We found it frozen from Good Eggs specialty on-line delivery service, but SMC does have a retail outlet in Santa Rosa.
Sausages: Sonoma Meat Company, merguez.
We adore merguez. Although we don’t think SMC makes the best merguez, it’s good enough that we’re happy with it as it’s easily available to us. Mea culpa: I have yet to visit Oasis Market where I understand they carry their own frozen merguez; it’s on our list to try. But SMC’s version is spicy and reasonably gamy. Yes, we like mutton. We want our lamb to taste like lamb, not beef.
Cheese, Brie and brie-type.
Please don’t ask us to wait in line at the Cheese Board in Berkeley. We don’t and we won’t. In Oakland the best is, of course, Market Hall Rockridge, by the BART station. The downside is, it’s crowded and the parking sucks, even on weekdays. Our alternative is that old reliable, Piedmont Grocery. It carries triple-crème Brie, as well as excellent alternatives such as Brillat-Savarin (occasionally), Fromage d’Affinois, and the excellent Saint Angel . If you prefer, they also carry Mt. Tam , Red Hawk, and Humboldt Fog (which is amazing with fresh beets).
Lettuce, Romaine – Artisan Farms.
We love romaine, and the advantage of buying whole heads is that they stay fresh longer. Artisan Farms grows a special variety of romaine we think is tastier than the usual generic romaine heads. I’ve only found it at Safeway, shoved away in a corner apart from the other lettuces. Headquartered in Paso Robles, they own farmland in San Luis Obispo County, with leased tracts in Arizona and Utah. One of the sons is the owner/chef at Artisan Bistro in downtown Paso Robles, where we dined back in 2015.
We love the Creminelli brand prosciutto . The family is famed in Italy and a decade ago one of the scions came to the U.S. to establish an American company. He chose Utah as the most promising site with the right weather/humidity conditions. His prosciutto is sweet and mild, not salty as other brands are. Piedmont Grocery sells it in pre-sliced packages; we haven’t found a reliable bulk source yet. If you can find it, the Creminelli boar sausage, a salame, is also outstanding. Most often you’ll encounter the Creminelli charcuterie products in restaurants.
Tea, black loose-leaf.
We have only found this at Eurodeli on Piedmont Ave./Oakland. Akbar Gold, 100% pure Ceylon tea . In a metal, 450-gram (just shy of one lb.) canister with a rubber sealed canning-jar type lid, you can brew this extra-strong without it becoming tannic. The leaves are tiny, indicating they are the high quality upper leaf “tips”.
Earl Grey has gotten increasingly “perfumed” and excessively floral for our tastebuds. Instead, Numi has come out with an Aged Earl Grey that tastes like tea, not a liquid floral bouquet. If you are a tea lover, keep an eye out for it. I bought half a dozen boxes of it from Imperfect Produce, but it only shows up once in a while. Neither Safeway nor Piedmont Grocery seem to carry it yet.
Indian vegetarian curry, ready-to-eat.
There are several makers of ready-made Indian foods in the packaged aisle. Most aren’t worth even the minimal effort of opening up the foil bag and pouring the contents into a bowl to MW. One of the very few that we did find remarkably good was the Kitchens of India brand “Pindi Chana”, chick peas curry. My DH is not a bean lover in general, but even he admitted this was excellent.
The taste of most chicken-apple sausages is increasingly sweet and correspondingly ‘flat’. We like dessert as much as anyone, but there’s a distinct line where too much sugar is just…too much white sugar. A brand I’d never heard of, True Story, has an organic Apple & Wildflower Honey Chicken Sausage that pleasantly surprised us. Tender texture, distinct (and tasty) chunks of apple, and a very nice taste of honey got a five-star rating from us. We found it from Imperfect Produce; haven’t seen it in Safeway or Piedmont grocers yet.
I confess I’m not a Melba Toast fan. But my DH is, and I ran across this Safeway store brand: Open Nature Multi-grain Cracker Crisps . It’s unusual for him to like “healthy carbs” so I made a note of this one. Unfortunately, it’s available only erratically at the market I shop at, which is annoying. Ggrrrrrr.
Jam, Blenheim Apricot.
I was about to give up on commercial jams. I really do not like my fruits oversweetened. Then a few years ago I picked a jar of WeLoveJam’s Blenheim Apricot jam along with several other brands/fruits at Market Hall/Rockridge Oakland, for a taste test. This was head and shoulders above all of the others. We now buy it directly from the website, a dozen jars annually. It has the least amount of sugar and is the closest to homemade as one can get (my niece loves to make jam and WeLoveJam’s product is only a teensy-tiny bit sweeter than hers). No, Inna, Blue Chair, Stonewall Kitchen, and Frog Hollow don’t compare, at least IOHO.
Everyone, please join in! What are the products you consider your “reliables”? I’m looking forward to hearing about different food items to try!