Category Archives: Perfect Pantry

Perfect Pantry: Hazelnuts

Hazelnuts. Photo Credit: Heather Platt

Hazelnuts. Photo Credit: Heather Platt

I was heavier in college. Or as my mom would say, “you look healthy!” Her sweet voice going up one octave as she tried to be honest and sensitive at the same time. The pitch of one’s voice always rises while stretching the truth.

It’s a common phenomenon, the so-called “freshman fifteen.” Or in my case, the freshman twenty-five. It makes perfect sense now. I had left the comfort of my home to be nourished only by strangely globular and flavorless cafeteria food followed by a tall sugar cone filled with sugary soft serve with sprinkles. Gross, I know.

Another contributing factor to the college chub was my chocolate addiction.  Addiction seems like a strong word but that’s really exactly what it was. I often walked many New York City blocks out of my way to purchase the high-end German milk chocolate bars with hazelnuts at the  specialty corner markets. I was hooked. And though I have loved hazelnuts for many years, this was my only association with them; those damn chocolate bars that made me fat at NYU.

But in recent years, I have discovered that these wonderful little brown nuts have a place in a lot of  healthier  fare. I love them roasted and sprinkled on salads of beets and goat cheese, on chicken like Skillet Chicken with Heirloom Tomatoes, Foraged Mushrooms, Arugula and Hazelnuts. and most recently on Seared Scallops with Chickpea Couscous, Warm Summer Tomatoes, Hazelnuts and Tarragon Aioli. And yes, once in awhile I still enjoy those delicious milk chocolate and hazelnut bars…just not every day.

Hazelnuts. Photo Credit: Heather Platt

Hazelnuts. Photo Credit: Heather Platt

Hazelnuts. Photo Credit: Heather Platt

Hazelnuts. Photo Credit: Heather Platt

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Minimalist Meals: Spaghetti with Peas, Bacon and Carbonara Pesto

Mark Bittman, “The Minimalist” is in some ways, my food idol. He’s funny, clever, sophisticated and has found a way to inspire people to make enticing food, in a quick, simple, approachable, and well, minimal way. Those minimal ones are the recipes that end up getting passed around through families, from aunts to nieces, to friends and co-workers. The best recipes are the ones that turn out shockingly delicious and impressive and you don’t feel bad handing it over to your friend who never cooks because you know even she can pull this one off.

The only problem that I have with the “minimal” recipes, is that I can’t leave them alone. I’m always thinking about what else I could do to  it.  I’ve watched the video of Mark Bittman making this “Creamy Leek and Garlic Pesto” a few times. I’ve been fascinated by it’s simplicity and curious about it’s flavors. It seemed to combine two of my most favorite ways to serve pasta, with carbonara or with pesto. And of course, I had to make it MY way, which was  to add peas, red onion, Parmesan, and a hell of a lot more bacon.

Enjoy!

Heather

The leftovers are great for breakfast with a hardboiled egg!

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Perfect Pantry: Foie Gras

I developed a taste for foie gras in Madagascar. Yes, I just said Madagascar. And yes, I’m serious. I can explain this even though I don’t really like to think about it. If anyone ever asks, “Have you ever had a near death experience?” for some reason, my month-long quarter-life crisis trip to Madagascar comes to my mind. The summer after I spent a semester “studying” in Paris, I was invited by two French friends and another American student to spend most of the summer backpacking through the island in the Indian Ocean off the coast of East Africa. For some reason, this seemed like a good idea at the time. And intoxicated by a sense of adventure (or maybe it was a nice Bordeaux), I said I’d go.

Not too far into the adventure that would include such things as canoeing in tree-trunk canoes for three days down the boa constrictor and alligator infested Manambolo River and  bailing our French friends out of a prison in Antananarivo, we got lost hiking. We had stocked up on canned foods and baguettes in the capital city before we set off on our hike. And as Madagascar had been a French colony for over a century, one of these canned items was foie gras. We survived on these baguettes and fattened goose-liver for a few days until we found some locals to lead us to the next village.

This is not the ideal context in which to eat foie gras.  I recommend it in a more relaxed situation. Anna was in Paris recently with her band. In a conversation I had with her while she was there I managed to explain that I was considering doing a cleanse and  also asked that she please bring me back some foie gras. Clearly I’m never doing a cleanse, and clearly she’s an awesome friend because she brought me back a gold container of it.  I intended to save the pretty can for a special occasion but proceeded to open it late one night after work and sampled it with a a toasted baguette and a glass of red wine. And as I savored the French specialty, I thought back to my adventure eight years ago and realized maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

Heather

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Perfect Pantry: Garbanzo Beans

Item: Garbanzo beans (Also known as chickpeas)

Cost: Approx. $1.00 per 15 oz can

Found in: Grocery stores

Great for: Salads, Couscous, hummus, pasta dishes

If you’re a vegetarian, you probably already have these little guys in your pantry. And if you don’t, you should.  I have been asking my fellow home-cooks what they have in their pantries and everyone has been saying chickpeas. I’m (obviously) not a vegetarian, but I can’t even keep these in stock in my house. They are a fiber and protein rich addition all sorts of dishes.  I recently sauteed them with onions  and served them as a puree under seared scallops drizzled with chorizo oil. Of course, we all should always have some in stock to make hummus. The possibilities are endless. But the point is, get some and start cooking!

Enjoy!

Heather

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Perfect Pantry: Yellow Cornmeal

Item: Yellow Cornmeal

Cost: Approx. $1.00 per pound

Found in: Grocery stores

Great for: Polenta, cornbread, cakesbread-baking, muffins

If you like polenta as much as I do, than you probably already have yellow cornmeal in your pantry. If you don’t already, get some. There are so many different uses for it. Dozens of recipes right here on Three More Big Bites call for it. Polenta is a wonderful creamy side dish to serve with meats, vegetables and sauces. And if you’re more inclined towards baking, have some on hand for cornbread, cakes, and muffins.

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Perfect Pantry: Ground Cinnamon

Item: Ground Cinnamon

Cost: Approx. $2.50 for 2.5 ounces

Found in: Grocery stores

Great for: French toast, poached pears, cakes, and much more!

Sometimes, it’s important to stick to the basics. And after all, that’s what Perfect Pantry is all about: these are my thoughts on which basic items I think everyone who wants to cook should always have on hand. And to really get back to basics, I should mention that the first thing I ever started cooking as a kid was French toast. I grew up in Vermont, where it practically rains maple syrup, so anything to accompany it was always encouraged. In fact, my parents had arranged that rather than pay them money, the local farmer could take the hay from our field in exchange for 2 gallons of syrup. I loved eating French toast and by age 12 had made it enough times that I considered myself an expert on the subject. So wherever I’ve lived since then, if nothing else, I have cinnamon in my pantry to add to my French toast batter. Cinnamon is great for many other sweet and savory things. In fact, more than a dozen recipes on this blog call for it, so have some on hand in your perfect pantry.

Heather

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Perfect Pantry: Marcona Almonds


Item: Marcona Almonds

Cost: Approx. $5.00 per 80z bag.

Found in: Most grocery and fine food stores

Great for: Salads, roasted vegetables, party snacks, pesto, pre-dinner munchies

I love making seasonal salads that incorporate the best fruits of the season, cheeses and nuts. And my favorite nuts to use are Marcona almonds. This variety of almonds, which originated in Spain, are the A-listers of nuts in my opinion. They have a shorter and rounder shape than regular almonds. Their slighty sweeter flavor and more delicate texture is what makes them so special. I should also add, that they are traditionally sold after being slightly fried in oil. I’ve used them in several pesto and pasta dishes on this blog as well as a roasted winter squash dish for Thanksgiving last year with maple syrup and Marcona almonds that pretty much stole the show. I attribute the success of that dish to these little nuts. I highly recommend adding them to a roasted squash or root vegetable dish. Most recently, I’ve been using them in salads with arugula, grapes and Manchego cheese.  And the best part about cooking with these extraordinary nuts is that you get to nibble on them while you’re cooking. It’s a truly pleasurable experience. Be sure to have some on hand for your New Year’s Eve guests!

Happy New Year!

Heather

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