Bay Area: Everyday products we like (2019)

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.

Prosciutto.

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”.

Tea, bagged.

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.

Chicken-Apple Sausage.

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.

Crisp Crackers.

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!

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Andreotti Family Farm’s artichoke- hands down, best flavor, best texture. beats out those from many ‘famous’ farms- Fifth Crow’s for example.

Iacopi Farm’s blue lake beans- these are spectacular. succulent, sweet, yum.

Frog Hollow’s jam, good, but pricey.

Borba Farm’s blueberries. Lots of subtleties. Blueberries that taste like blueberries rather than water. Just don’t get them all so I can’t buy them.

Midwife and Baker bread. Its smaller loaf than Tartine’s so its easier to finish without it getting either all soggy or hard. Tastewise its like 95% Tartine. And finally, more budget friendly (relatively).

Thanks for contributing! I admit I was hoping for more “pantry stand-by items” than seasonal produce - but those blueberries sound scrumptious! It’s my spouse’s fav fruit after mangoes, LOL.

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All varieties of Rancho Gordo dried beans. We belong to their Bean Club so we always have a steady supply.

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@Lethe2020, great idea for a topic! I’m interested to try Kitchens of India brand “Pindi Chana” and Sonoma Meat Company’s turmeric-pineapple pork sausage.

Excellent local things

  • La Palma corn tortillas : we freeze them individually on cookie sheet; stacked and kept in ziploc bag.

  • La Palma flour tortillas: we freeze them individually on cookie sheet; stacked and kept in ziploc bag. Lard + butter enable better crisping and flavor than industrial garbage. Makes great quesadillas as well as tortilla Jian bing (heat bit of oil in pan, add tortilla; 1 egg + salt & pepper cooked on top of tortilla, add sliced scallion greens and chopped cilantro as egg sets; flip when egg nearly sets: spread savory item (e.g., tianmianjiang, Fatted Calf liverwurst, gochujiang) and optional spicy item (sambal oelek, creamy textured salsa, Chili oil) on non-egg side; fill with crunchy things if on hand; fold with egg side out)

  • Papalote salsa: mason jars from restaurant are better than what they distribute to groceries. Lasts two weeks, regardless of whether you open it or not.

  • Rancho Gordo mayocoba beans : cook in instant pot, hand whip with garlic oil I make regularly (garlic slices barely simmered in olive oil for 30 min to an hour)

Fermented things we keep on hand, but I wouldn’t consider best of class, except maybe the Miyoko vegan butter:

  • Sonoma brinery pickles
  • Sinto gourmet kimchi
  • Miyoko vegan butter
  • Wise sons pickle brine hot sauce
  • One of the sauerkrauts or curtido from Rainbow’s bulk area or non-SFBA local Bubbies or Farmhouse Culture (Santa Cruz?)
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hyperbowler, great list - I’m going to remember that La Palma flour tortilla for a mock jian bing with prosciutto…my spouse would flip over that one, I think!

Ooh, other than the trader joe’s Calabrian chili oil, I’ve never gone in an Italian direction—- I’m gonna steal the prosciutto idea (or maybe try some nduja!).

Btw, WeLoveJam’s stuff looks great. Have you (or anyone) tried their Fig and Ginger?

Thanks for starting this topic @Lethe2020! I’m a big fan of welovejam’s Blenheim Apricot jam too and still remember eagerly anticipating my very first order in the mail back when we were limited to ordering just one jar each off their mailing list. I ran across a decent amount of the Numi Aged Earl Grey at Whole Foods in Berkeley (Ashby) today so snagged a box to try - thanks for the tip!

Here are a few of our pantry staples:

  • Cultured Pickle Shop - any of the seasonal specialties. We try and grab a few jars whenever we stop in for Rice & Pickles. Everything we’ve tried has been good, but if they have the French Breakfast Radishes or the Cauliflower, I’ll usually gravitate towards those two.
  • Aedan Fermented Foods Country Miso. We took a miso-making class at Preserved in Oakland with Mariko a few years ago and sampled a variety of her products during the course. The country miso was the most texturally interesting and flavorful as she leaves small chunks of soybean in the paste, and I believe she ferments this version a few months longer than some of her others. We use it in soup, as a marinade for fish, and sometimes substitute a spoonful with instant ramen instead of the packet base for a quick snack. We usually see the country miso on Good Eggs or sometimes at Market Hall in Rockridge.
  • Niitakaya Shiso Katsuo Ninniku, aka “pink pickled garlic”. I was addicted to Aki-san’s version when we used to visit Sushi Sho at their old Albany location. While not quite at the same level, they’re way more accessible. We get ours at Tokyo Fish Market in Berkeley or Mitsuwa in SJ.
  • Hagoromo Canned Sardines - Iwashi De Kenko Shoyu Aji. Admittedly, we’re still searching for our favorite, easily accessible, go-to tinned sardine; however, we enjoyed this one as a bar snack at Umami Mart’s bar a few weeks ago and bought a few tins. There’s also a miso variety. I have it on my list to look for them at Tokyo Fish the next time we’re there. It’s a quick and easy meal with some rice and green onions. We also keep the easily accessible Bela brand Portuguese Sardines (various flavors) in the pantry and add some pasta and a bit of heat; however, I’m sure there are probably better options. I just ordered a few of the Matiz Sardines off of Amazon to try.
  • Little Apple Treats Bohemian Highway Blend Apple Granola. Cocoa + Apples + Rye. A packet of this never lasts so long at our house; however, I haven’t been able to find it locally. I usually throw a few bags of this into the cart as an easy snack when I’m ordering off of Good Eggs. I’m not a raisin fan, so I love that they use their dried apples instead.
  • Nana Joe’s Gluten-Free Paleo Sunrise Cranberry Granola. Nana Joe’s is the more readily accessible granola, so this is more of our go-to for a quick snack or breakfast. Again, no raisins; cranberries instead. We get it at Whole Foods, but I believe they are also at a few Farmer’s Markets too.
  • Basecamp Bakery Oat Porridge Loaf. My husband bakes, but when “Annie” (the starter) is asleep, we enjoy Basecamp’s version (get it through Good Eggs or the Saturday Grand Lake Market). I guess now that we have one in the E. Bay, we can actually get it at Tartine a bit easier too.
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Great idea! I admit to buying the frozen green onion pancakes at 99 Ranch in Albany and throwing an egg on top when I fry them up for an easy kid’s meal, but am inspired to try your version with tortillas. When you mention “crunchy things”, have you found a good home replacement for youtiao (油条), or are you referring to pickled mustard greens?

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Ah, I meant deep fried things, but pickled mustard greens sound great! Easiest thing for me was grabbing fried wontons from an otherwise lousy takeout place. I’ve not enjoyed using tortilla, plantain, or potato chips.

A few years back I used an industrial tortilla, and found the dough too thick and present. La Palma’s meld well with the egg, and take on somewhat of a matzoh brie taste, funny since they’ve got lard in them :slight_smile:

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Things in my kitchen:

Oaktown spices. I get them at the shop on Solano in Albany. They have a wide range of interesting spices and blends. The Penja Black peppercorns from Cameroon are our favorite black pepper. Many interesting chili pepper varieties and other unusual spices including heirloom turmeric and wild mountain cumin. We like their togarashi too.

Cheeseboard pita bread. Available on Thursdays only at the cheeseboard in Berkeley. We freeze it in ziplocks and pull them out to eat with hummus or other dips or have for breakfast with eggs.

Pasture 42 eggs. Usually available on Wednesday and Friday at the Food Coop in Davis. Availability lately has been spotty, call the coop to confirm they have them. They are my favorite eggs. Worth shlepping to Davis for.

Viks chat pickles. Viks chat is a long time east bay institution and they are as good if not better than ever. This year we started getting their Indian pickles and chutneys available at the market adjacent to the restaurant. Our favorite is the ginger garlic pickle. Very intense and assertive it is a crave-able kick to your taste buds. Also their tamarind sauce is very good.

Straus family Greek yogurt. Always a carton or two in my fridge. It’s fantastic stuff. We mix some with chili sauce and serve it with eggs for breakfast. Mixed with fresh fruit or with a drizzle of honey or good quality maple syrup it makes a quick lunch. Or mixed with some spicy pickles from Viks and Viks tamarind sauce for a different quick lunch. Mixed with sautéed spiced ground meat it makes an amazing pasta sauce.

Alexandre milk. The best!

Partanna olive oil. Not local but from Sicily. Available at several Bay Area markets including one of the markets in the Ferry Building (I forget the name of the market) Berkeley bowl and Monterey market. Makes everything taste good - salad, pasta hummus etc.

Bisou chocolate. Chocolate nirvana. There is lots of high end chocolate in the Bay Area but this one is my favorite. Expensive but a notch above the rest. The dark chocolate bars are intensely chocolaty but elegant at the same time. Definitely not everyday because of the price, but a weekend special chocolate treat. http://www.bisouchocolate.com/

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We have a tub of Straus whole milk greek yogurt sitting in the fridge as I type! Yes they are good stuff. Even better when they show up at Grocery Outlet.

Is the 6% Alexandre very creamy? Straus has been our standard. But would love to give this a try some time.

Too bad Areté from Milpitas moved away from the Bay Area. Otherwise they would be a contender for good local chocolate too.

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My favorite local commercial yogurt is Verka, which I get in giant 64 oz tubs at Costco, but is apparently available elsewhere
https://www.verkausa.com/locations
But a bit creamier and therefore better is the house yogurt at Crossroads World Market in Hayward.

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We like the Strauss also but our favorite is the Alexandre. It’s very creamy and goes great in coffee

4505 Meats chicharrones, now available at Safeway and other grocery stores in several flavors. Light, crispy, and savory. No carb (not that I have anything against carbs). Made in San Francisco. 160 calories a bag with 18 grams of protein.

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We have them at The Nugget market as well. Great keto friendly sub for chips, not that it needs excuses to enjoy.

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