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what are your favorite taste picker upers in the pantry that you couldn't do without?

(I want to start a list to send off to a college student)

ancho chiles in adobe sauce, worcestershire, canned jalapenos, four year old balsamic, rosemary twigs, preserved lemon, curry powder....


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  1. fish sauce, salted shrimps, cumin, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, star annise.

    5 Replies
    1. re: epabella

      Definitely fennel seed. I travel with a little bag of it.

      1. re: c oliver

        i have a huge bag of fennel seeds I bought for a cookie recipe - but I have no idea what to do with it? What do you use it for?

        1. re: Apple

          -on a low flame carefully toast fennel seeds, black pepper corns and coriander seeds and make sure they don't burn. (for an asian variation i'll also add sesame seeds)
          -grind up in mortar and pestle or whatever is handy and mix with some ancho chili powder, a bit of cayenne and brown sugar.

          great as a dry-rub for chicken, pork ribs and chops on the barbecue or smoker.

      2. re: epabella

        holy cow, i love these! it's so great to be able to get access to someone else's go to list--it such an opportunity to make a leap into all new taste sensations

        1. re: fayehess

          don't forget to toast the seeds to bring them back to life before grinding them. keep the pan on low, keep an eye on them and constantly stir because they burn so easily.

      3. Smoked paprika, lemon pepper, extra hot crushed red pepper, sherry vinegar, Spanish extra virgin olive oil, sriracha

        1. Several of the Penzey's spice blends, like "Sunny Paris" or "Tuscan Sunset" or Fox Ridge."

          Rice wine vinegar, sherry vinegar, white and red wine vinegars, and good old apple cider vinegar. Sesame oil. Good quality honey.

          Organic versions of "Better than Bouillon" soup base (I wouldn't use these as my primary stock but they are great at "kicking it up" when your homemade stock is missing something).

          Tabasco sauce (of course!), but also Cholula (really does seem to go better with Latin American foods) and my personal favorite, the oakey, not-too-hot "Tennesse Sunshine" brand of hot sauce.

          Good pepper and a grinder. Whole nutmeg and a grinder. Sea salt. Tamari or good quality soy sauce.

          1. Anchovies, bonito flakes, ume, nori, gari, miso, raisins, peanuts, almonds, dried fruit (apricots, mango, ...), unsweetened bitter chocolate, capers, tomato paste, olives, dried shiitake and matsutake mushrooms, honey, maple syrup, dried African game meat, fermented black beans, kimchee, dried cranberries.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

              Dried African game meat? Where does one find that? I don't know about you, Sam, but when I was a poor college student way back when, I could barely afford ground chuck!

              1. re: cheesemaestro

                In the supermarkets in Nairobi. A little goes a long way.

                We didn't all that much meat back in college and grad school. Still don't.

            2. In addition to those already mentioned: soy sauce, Bragg's amino acids, Tabasco, cider vinegar, seasoned salt, smoked salt, tricolor peppercorns, white pepper, Indian pickles (lime, etc.), roasted pumpkin seed oil.

              1 Reply
              1. re: ChristinaMason

                oh right and to echo what Sam said, dried fruits and nuts of all kinds. My favorites are almonds, walnuts, pine nuts, raisins, and dried cherries or cranberries.

              2. Coconut milk or coconut powder (for even easier storage).

                1. cinnamon, nutmeg, smoked sea salt, vegetable sea salt, ancho chiles, cumin, Caribbean Jerk seasoning, champagne vinegar; fresh herbs like basil, thyme, garlic chives, and sage.

                  On the baking end, bread flour, cornstarch, pure maple syrup, brown sugar, molasses and sweet potato powder

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: Cherylptw

                    sweet potato powder; how do you use that?

                    1. re: JEN10

                      You can use it in baked goods, soup, mashed sweet potatoes. Pretty much in the same way you use regular potato flakes. I dehydrated my own sweet potatoes then ground them up but they can be bought online. I recently used it in a soup that included coconut milk with pork dumplings that was so good that I wondered why I didn't start using it sooner.

                      1. re: Cherylptw

                        Interesting, thank you for the reply!

                        1. re: Cherylptw

                          Great idea to make your own sweet potato powder. I could see using it in a lot of things!

                    2. Anchovies, tinned Italian tuna in olive oil, tomato paste, hot cherry vinegar peppers, dried fruits, capers, green & black olives, local honey & Grade B maple syrup, dried shitake & porcini mushrooms, fermented black beans, dried cranberries, pine nuts, Worcestershire sauce, Malaysian light & dark soy sauce, Indonesian kecap manis, Chinese light & dark soy sauce, low sodium tamari, tabasco, sriracha, hoisin sauce, Rotel, chilies in adobo....etc, etc., etc.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Gio

                        What do you use the kecap manis for. Recipes please. Thanks.

                        1. re: lilmomma

                          I became familiar with kecap manis when I learned it was the secret ingredient in a delicious chicken lunch I enjoyed on a catamaran in St. Maartin. I bought a dozen bottles to take home, 2 broke in my dive bag. It's a lot better on baked chicken thighs, served hot or cold, than on my regulator!
                          I still call it chicken Gabrielle, named after the catamaran.
                          Kecap manis is a strong flavor. It and a bit of orange juice concentrate and some chicken parts makes for good poultry.

                      2. Maggi sauce, cayenne pepper, oyster sauce, walnut oil, sesame oil, capers, anchovies.

                        1. Rotel and El Pato tomato sauces.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: coll

                            I am so happy to have asked the question! What a great list!!!

                          2. Sriracha, cider vinegar, malt vinegar, anchovies, worcestershire sauce, Heintz ketchup, juniper berries, fish sauce, Andalusian olive oil, tuna in oil, unpitted black olives in brine, San Maranzano tomatoes

                            1. Portugese sardines- the roomate will forgive once your student makes the ceasar dressing!

                              Whole black pepper & sea salt or kosher (better buy) -grinders/they come in small sizes
                              romano cheese
                              a good red wine vinegar - white vinegar
                              red curry paste
                              sweet hot chili sauce
                              hot garlic chili sauce
                              hoisin and oyster sauce (need refrigeration though)
                              dark soy sauce
                              sesamee oil

                              pickled hot peppers - pepperoncini do double duty often

                              dried cranberries and apricots, golden raisins
                              halved pecans, almonds with skin and whole

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: chef chicklet

                                Hi CC- can you please post the Caesar dressing recipe? Thanks!!

                              2. Dried and ground mushrooms. (Porcini, currently)

                                A few of the hot sauces mentioned previously. Having several types on hand to match the cuisine you are prepping and eating is an often overlooked (with my fam and friends) but easy culinary pleasure to indulge in.
                                Louisiana/tabasco types for general grub (chili, breakfast, pizza, etc).
                                Sirracha for Asian
                                Cholula/Goya/La Preferida types for Spanish and Mex/Hispanic flavors
                                Yucatan or other habeneros for Coastal/island flavors.
                                A tip of the hot sauce iceberg these thoughts, variety is the something of life.

                                1. Lots of interesting stuff on this list, but you said this is for a college student? I hope he has a very big pantry and lots of money and lots of recipes! My initial reaction to the question was, how do you spice up a pack of ramen noodles or something like that!

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: MazDee

                                    I gather OP is planning to outfit the kid. I store alot of spices in zipping bags so little space required. If you have the flavors, you can cook the food, ramen included.

                                  2. In aggregate, this thread is a really comprehensive list. So much so that it would be interesting to see what kind of cook emerges if an 18 year old takes on the list and goes thru it, using each item.

                                    My "Bams" have been covered, with a few exceptions:

                                    Celery seed. Crush it in a mortar and pestle, and use it in the obligatory sweet baked beans that are at every potluck in my neck of the woods. The two other secrets to my baked beans is to add some tamarind, and rehydrated dried onions along with some stir fried browned onions and slurry of raw onions to give a three-footed foundation to the Allium.

                                    The dried onion thing has been occasionally shot down on this board as falling below the flotation gradient of a true Chowhound,, but for 25 years hosts have been asking me to please bring my baked beans.

                                    Then celery seed and dill seed, ground to powder, for use in cole slaw or cooked cabbage dishes.

                                    For canned tuna salad, the ground celery and dill seed. Folks can't identify it, but they love it.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: FoodFuser

                                      I am going to get some celery seed. I haven't even thought about celery seed since my grandmother used it when she made her old style vegetable soup which could bring people to the door you never saw before in your life.

                                      The trick so far has been to get the 18 year old to cook, period. I was thinking though, that for some kids, if they had a pack of seasonings/crazy jars they never heard of they might just taste stuff on a dare. For this particular girl in the show we are producing, we researched all the individual favorite foods, came up with 4 menus that took no more than 5 minutes to prepare, sent comprehensive grocery lists and cooking instructions off to her dorm and at the end of the day she made tortillas with cheese. I offered the idea of an avocado and/or greens with that dish as well, but more than two ingredients, or ingredients that were unfamiliar meant that they she was hesitant to even buy them at the grocery (and didn't.) It can be really hard to get even older kids to experiment when they are on their own. I think the next step is to get friends involved--get her to invite them over or something. If everyone else is trying new stuff and cooking it themselves maybe that would help. Any advice is much appreciated.
                                      The mini series is on the Dinner Confidential channel: youtube.com/user/dinnerconfidential

                                    2. Fresh ground nutmeg, smoked habanero, coconut vinegar, powdered maple sugar, whole cumin seed, oyster sauce, fish sauce, variety of salts, variety of soy sauces, fresh ground black pepper, smoked paprika, chipotle, rosemary, basil, oregano, thyme, sage, tamarind, brown sugar, balsamic, sherry, red wine, white wine....

                                      Gosh there are so many and I guess some seem obscure but i've come to depend on them over time. I would say too that tasting and experimenting are so important. Tasting spices and sauces alone, toasted, simmered, reduced - it's all so important for realizing what will give something that extra depth or zing. When i go camping I always take little pouches of lots of spices to keep things interesting too. I'm so pepper obsessed I keep a little vile of it in my carry on when i travel by plane :-)

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: Sproutling

                                        Welcome to the Home Cooking board, Sproutling.

                                        As to those "carry with us" pantries that allow us to add zip to a meal no matter where we're stranded, you'd be amazed at what some of us hounds tote around.

                                      2. Tony Chachere Creole seasoning-I use this in low levels-not enough to be spicy but it just makes things taste better egg dishes and potato dishes, slaw etc
                                        Old Bay
                                        Spirits of any kind
                                        Oils-sesame,walnut,toasted peanut,various olive oils
                                        vinegars champagne,rice wine,thick balsamic,muscato
                                        Pickles store-bought or home made- grated dill is great in a mayo type slaw, made Lidia's meat rolls last night w/my dill pickles
                                        not a condiment but method-toasting/browning/caramelization nuts,spices,browned butter,cheese,onions,meat -toasted Parmesan cheese added to potato soup is delicious

                                        1. I love this thread!!

                                          I think there are alot of good go tos - and I am definitely going to add a few to mine own pantry -

                                          My contributions are toasted sesame oil, charmoula, ras el-hanout, whole nutmeg, malt vinegar (ode to Kylie Kwong), and cumin.

                                          1. Dried mushrooms. In everything and anything!
                                            Crushed red pepper.
                                            Lawry's salt.

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: brooklynkoshereater

                                              I used to dried porcini and tried soaking dried shitake for the first time. Maybe it was the brand, but the smell of the mushrooms before I cooked them was like old kitchen sink water--terrible. have you ever experienced this before?

                                              1. re: fayehess

                                                I just bought some too, but haven't tried yet. I usually soak my mushrooms in sherry, hope that takes care of it, mine are from China so probably not the best quality.

                                              1. Crushed red pepper and course-ground black pepper. A recent find for me that I'm getting into is Penzey's "Mural of Flavor." But my real favorite isn't in the pantry. That would be fresh-squeezed lemon juice / zest.