March 24, 2012 by paiday
Anyone who has ever eaten at my house has probably, at some point in the night, heard my favorite utterance, “I’m not a cook. I’m a hostess.” Although perhaps this statement contains a bit of false modesty, it also sums up my beliefs in how to cook. Fundamentally, the ingredients should do the work for you, and with a few well chosen ingredients, a meal can be transformed into something truly phenomenal without tons of work on the cook’s part.
So, just for you, my loyal readers, to make up for my absence and to kick of the spring cooking season, I am opening my cupboards to share some of my favorite ingredients. Each of the ingredients discussed below will have you in and out of the kitchen in record time, while guests will believe you are a culinary master. So sit back, mix a cocktail, and start planning a get together for tonight. Believe me, you have plenty of time.
No matter what the occasion, the theme, or the guests, good ingredients are essential. Take for example a perfectly ripe tomato. A fantastic component by itself but sliced and then sprinkled with truffle salt it becomes something transcendent and a most spectacular hors d’oeuvres. This brings me to my first ingredient – salt. Sounds simple, but specialty salts can elevate the most simple ingredients. My favorite are truffle salt (introduced to me by my great friend and fellow hostess, Miriam), coarse sea salt, and flake sea salt. Truffle salt blends wonderfully with cheeses, vegetables, and eggs. The sea salts can be used as a topping for salads or anywhere you would use normal iodized salt. I pick these up in Charleston, but anyone can get them online at a variety of store. My favorite is The Spice and Tea Exchange.
Using seasoned and specialty salts allows the cook to assemble instead of cook. Take for example the salad I made last night. I sliced a tomato, an avocado, and a mango. I layered each of the above in concentric circles and then topped it with coarse sea salt, cilantro, and squeezed a Meyer lemon over the salad. Colorful, impressive, delicious, and best of all, ready in about five minutes.
The next ingredient, or ingredients, I will unveil are not made to go together but each take the basics and make them unbelievable with practically no work on your part. Some years ago, my mother-in-law, introduced me to another one of my cupboard staples, truffle oil. Infused oils of any type are a hosts best friend, but truffle oil offers a complex sophistication unlike other infusions. A drizzle on mashed potatoes turns your kitchen into a gourmet restaurant. Delicious drizzled on any starch, truffle oil complements cheese, artichokes, and salads as well.
Not to be outdone by the savory side of the culinary world, balsamic glaze is a must have as well. Drizzle on meats, fruits, desserts, cheeses, or just about anything else you can imagine and in no time you have a sauce which is reminiscent of a timely reduction without all of the work.
Finally, the coup de tat of timely appetizers for any party, no matter how small and informal or sprawling and elegant, is the assembled tray. Always on hand in my pantry are a selection of olives, pickles, canned meats, and nuts. This is such an important part of my repertoire that I ride to Atlanta at least quarterly to stock up on these essentials at the Dekalb Farmer’s Market. In my deli drawers, I keep sliced salami and pepperoni ordered at the deli counter and a variety of cheeses. With these on hand,