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  1. #1
    Deal GURU rtebalt's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2008
    outside Philadelphia, PA
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    Default Upgrade Your Pantry

    Take four meal building blocks — salt, pepper, olive oil, and cheese — from basic to gourmet

    Replace normal table salt with kosher and sea salt. “Ordinary table salts have additives and whiteners and anti-caking agents and a rather murky flavor,” says Sally Schneider, the author of A New Way To Cook (Artisan, $25, Online Shopping for Electronics, Apparel, Computers, Books, DVDs & more). “So I use kosher salt as an everyday salt: It’s inexpensive, and it has a very clear flavor.” She then uses sea salt, which varies in flavor and appearance depending on what water it has been evaporated from, at the end of the cooking process. “Sea salts are quite a bit more expensive and stronger, so it’s easier to oversalt if you use them for general cooking,” Schneider warns. Instead, she just sprinkles some on as a “finisher” to lift the flavor of any dish. Try putting it in a bowl on your table for guests to use.

    Replace that store-bought preground pepper with whole peppercorns you grind yourself. “I have two pepper mills: one for the kitchen and a little one for the table,” Schneider says. Her reasoning? Freshness. “The flavor begins to dissipate as soon as you grind the peppercorns,” she explains. Schneider also recommends purchasing a pepper mill with variable settings for coarse or fine grains, then filling it with quality peppercorns. (Try Tellicherry or Lampong, both widely available.)

    Olive Oil
    Replace corn oil or plain olive oil with extra-virgin olive oil. “When you have a good olive oil on hand, it can be an instant sauce in itself — it’s that delicious,” says Schneider. Look for oils marked “extra virgin,” which means that the oil has been cold-pressed (no solvents were used to extract it) and that it has less than 1 percent acidity. “The term generally indicates a better quality, a more flavorful olive oil,” she notes. Since extra-virgin olive oils can have a wide range of flavors — from buttery and grassy to peppery — Schneider suggests buying small bottles to figure out what you like.

    Parmesan Cheese
    Replace generic Parmesan with Parmigiano-Reggiano. This versatile cheese is handmade in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy — and only in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. Authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano has the name stamped right on the rind. “Ordinary Parmesan — especially the pregrated stuff — doesn’t taste like anything compared to real Parmigiano, which has a very complex flavor,” says Schneider. “It’s not sharp, but it adds just the right kind of saltiness. It’s one of those foods that goes with just about anything.”

    Sugar Snaps with Parmesan
    Hands-On Time: 10 minutes
    Total Time: 15 minutes
    Makes 4 to 6 servings

    1 pound sugar snap peas, ends trimmed
    2 teaspoons kosher salt
    1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
    1/8 teaspoon black pepper
    1/4 cup (1 ounce) shaved Parmesan

    Bring a large pot of water to a boil.

    Cut the sugar snap peas on the diagonal into halves or thirds. Add the peas and salt to the water and cook until bright green and tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Drain the peas and transfer to a bowl of ice water. Drain the peas again, and pat them dry. Transfer to a serving bowl, drizzle with the oil, and sprinkle with the pepper and Parmesan. Serve immediately.

    Tip: To shave Parmesan, pull a vegetable peeler along the flat side. The cheese will come off in elegant curls.

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  3. #2
    Budget101 Guru JennyCup's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2008

    Default Re: Upgrade Your Pantry

    Great ideas!

    I like getting one item from the grocery store that I don't normally get when I go grocery shopping. I have picked up things like smokey onion mustard, strawberry lavender jelly, cilantro pesto, chunks of unique cheese, Akaushi beef, etc. By doing this once a month I am able to build up a nice selection of gourmet items and my family gets to try new things all the time.

  4. #3
    Budget101 Guru
    Join Date
    Jan 2007
    Newberry, SC
    Blog Entries

    Default Re: Upgrade Your Pantry

    Alton Brown introduced me to kosher salt and fresh, ground pepper. I knew they were in the store, but I really did not see the reason for the extra cost...until I started using them! Now, we use nothing else.

    I use mostly peanut oil for frying and I have always used extra virgin OO instead of the regular kind. Peanut oil makes it taste better. Sometimes, I cut down on the cost by blending peanut oil with vegetable oil.
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