With the busy week we've had around here we have been eating in, mostly assembled salads and left overs and I'm pretty sure Dane had cheerios for all three meals yesterday. In my culinary experience I've come across some ingredients, products, and gadgets that have become favorite secrets and shortcuts to cooking at home.
This week--ingredients that as a Jersey italian--I always have on hand to use in a variety of dishes.
1) Cento Italian Seasoning-- this is not substituted with any run of the mill italian seasoning. It's so special that I can't find it here in the south so my mom has to stock me with italian seasoning when she makes trips down from Jersey. It's that good...and makes that big of a difference. Maybe the secret is in the few crushed red pepper flakes, or the perfect balance of basil and oregano and all other italian yumminess. Add it to tomato sauce, bread crumbs, salad dressing, meatloaf or burgers..it's incredible and can't be duplicated or replaced.
2) Fresh peeled whole garlic gloves (mine purchased in bulk--which now has me thinking I should probably start buying gum, toothpaste, and mouthwash in bulk to offset my apparent obsession with garlic...) I've tried buying garlic in a variety of ways and so far this has been the most cost effective and flavor effective to date. I find the pre-minced jars lack that 'fresh' garlic flavor and the whole bulb of garlic is great but I end up with too many that go bad, or I'm short a clove or two when it comes to using it. I use Christopher Ranch, but I'm sure there's other varieties in the produce section at your grocery store. In a plastic package you can get fresh, whole garlic cloves to chop or grate into recipes or simmer in oil to infuse some flavor. While these packages do have a 'best by date' I throw my whole package (right now I have 48 oz of fresh whole garlic) in my freezer. Whenever I need a clove or two I just take it from the freezer and use a microplane to grate it into whatever I'm making--from sauces to garlic mashed potatoes, this trick hasn't failed me yet. Essentially the garlic can last almost forever in the freezer, I always have enough, and I get that super fresh garlic flavor and fragrance.