Mrs. McGarrigle’s Top 10 Pantry Essentials: Part 1
It’s no secret that cooking is a passion of ours. For us, there’s something cathartic about spending an afternoon of quality time with ourselves in the comfort of our kitchen and cooking up something spectacular.
But before we can get to the fun part, we always make sure we have our cupboard stocked with these pantry essentials! They ensure the cooking and creation process go much smoother.
1. Olive Oil
Olive oil is easy enough to come by these days, but finding good olive oil isn’t always such a breeze. There are all kinds to choose from, but the most popular olive oils are arguably Extra Virgin (the best quality and taste, but also the priciest), Pure (this one doesn’t have the quality or flavour of extra virgin, but is considerably less expensive) and Light (this one has very little flavour… and no, unfortunately ‘light’ doesn’t mean less calories).
When picking the right oil for yourself, it’s all about your own palette and what kind of flavour works for you – and every olive oil will have a different taste depending on different factors like the kind of olive, where it was grown, and how it was handled. Olive oil is usually produced in the Mediterranean, but also in Israel, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Morocco, California and of course Italy – so start experimenting with different regions to find your favourite.
Some staples you can usually find in our cupboard include Planeta from Sicily, Italy (a complex oil with intense notes of green tomato and artichoke and enhanced with a hint of citrus) and Oli from Tarragona, Spain (it’s a lighter oil with notes of green apple, fresh herbs and almonds – and it’s perfect for bread dipping). Stop by the store next time you’re in town to browse our collection – we’d be happy to give you some pointers.
Tip: Always check the harvest date. Unlike wine, olive oil isn’t supposed to age. Even when it’s stored in the best conditions (somewhere dark and at room temperature) you only have about two years to use it, and only a few months after it’s been opened. If the label doesn’t have a harvest date, put it back!
2. Fleur de Sel
Renowned chefs and cooking enthusiasts the world over have always had a soft spot for fleur de sel – and who can blame them? With its versatility and unique texture, it’s perfect for baking (salted caramels, anyone?) or finishing basically any dish you can think of.
But what is fleur de sel, exactly, and what makes it so special?
Well, it’s hand-harvested sea salt by workers who scrape just the top layer of salt before it sinks right to the bottom of large salt pans. We get ours from the Atlantic salt marshes of Portugal (harvested just three months of the year!), but fleur de sel can also be harvested off the coast of France. Because of its relative scarcity and labour-intensive collection process, fleur de sel is one of the most expensive salts you can buy.
We can’t help but love it, though! It might be a splurge item – but it’s perfect for livening up fish, meat, salads, vegetables or desserts – so we always have a jar on hand.
Tip: Because of its delicate nature (and let’s be honest – its steep price tag), fleur de sel isn’t intended for seasoning a dish while you cook it. When exposed to high temperatures, it melts and loses its great texture so use it to finish a dish you want to add an intense, aromatic flavour to!
Vinaigrettes are perfect for things like meat marinades and salad dressings, and they also add some oomph to dinners with baked salmon, fresh greens or potatoes (full disclosure: they’re also delicious as dipping sauces for pizza crust). It’s always handy to have a vinaigrette around, and it shouldn’t surprise you that we would keep our own in stock!
Our Lemon Dill Vinaigrette is made with a delicious blend of high quality olive oil, aged Balsamic vinegar, Kricklewood’s sunflower oil and our famous Lemon Dill Mustard. It’s one of our personal favourites because you can taste the freshness and it works with all kinds of different meats. Our Maple Balsamic Vinaigrette is smooth and thick with nutty undertones. It’s rich and full of flavour, so it’s perfect for drizzling over fresh tomatoes with basil or your next pasta and Parmesan for something new! We also just added a delicious Honey Garlic Vinaigrette to the roster. We always make it with high quality olive oil, locally-sourced maple syrup, aged Balsamic vinegar, Kricklewood’s sunflower oil and our own Balsamic Cracked Pepper Mustard.
But just because we make our own vinaigrettes doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate the other tasty ones out there! You’ll love Garlic Expressions Classic Vinaigrette – we can’t seem to keep enough of this delicious dressing in stock. It’s 100% natural, made with fresh, whole garlic cloves and packed with flavour. We especially like it over a fresh summer salad, or as a chicken marinade.
Tip: If you have any serious allergies, always read the label! Vinaigrettes can include all kinds of novelty ingredients like truffles, raspberries, egg whites, cherries and even blue cheese – so make sure you’re familiar with the ingredient list before you take it home. Commercial vinaigrettes often contain an emulsifier like lecithin, so be careful if you have problems with soy.
We would never deny the eternal union that is mustard + hot dog, but we also try to encourage customers to think of mustard as a cooking ingredient as well as a condiment! Just a spoonful will add some tangy flavour to recipes and it’s kind of a wonder ingredient: it can emulsify a vinaigrette or easily thicken a stew, so it gets plenty of use in our kitchen.
We use mustard for everything: in marinades for fish or meat, it adds a distinct tanginess that your dinner guests will be asking about. When used as a rub on meats (especially pork!) it creates an incredible crust you can’t get enough of. Use it when breading meat (it acts as one heck of a glue), or add it to your potato salad for a nice change of pace (and of course, it’s also delicious for snacking on with pretzels).
We make fourteen different mustards, each with a unique blend of flavours that you’ll be hard pressed to find anywhere else. But if you’re looking for a versatile and well-rounded mustard to keep on hand, we recommend our Classic Wholegrain Mustard. Inspired by the mustards of France, we make this medium-grain mustard with just a hint of sweetness. It’s relaxed, subtle and suitable for a wide range of recipes (like this one for Mrs. McGarrigle’s Creamy Onion Mustard Tarts).
Tip: The next time you sear some chicken or a steak, don’t throw away what’s left in the pan! If you add a little broth and some mustard and mix it all together, your dish will be accompanied by some of the best gravy you’ve ever had.
5. Canned Tomatoes
Believe it or not, if picked and packaged during their peak, jarred tomatoes can actually taste better than most ‘fresh’ options available at your local grocery store. Plus: they can contain about as much fibre as a slice of whole wheat bread, are full of vitamins and contain cancer fighting properties (which are enhanced by cooking).
They make for a quick and tasty pasta sauce that never lets you down: add tomatoes to sauted garlic and onions, mix in some red pepper flakes, fresh basil and finish with fleur de sel to fool everyone into thinking you slaved over a stove all day! Use them for dips, chili, soups and gumbos, roasts, casseroles… basically, if you have some jarred tomatoes around, dinner just got a whole lot easier.
Tip: If your tomatoes are to be left raw, then you shouldn’t substitute canned for fresh. Raw sauces and salsas aren’t the place for canned tomatoes because they’ve been ‘cooked’ during processing.
Need some guidance on keeping your pantry tidy? Read Isabella Caprario’s article Easy Tips to Help You Organize Your Kitchen Pantry Like a Pro.