Having a good stock of pantry essentials makes it so much easier to make something quickly for dinner. When we first moved over here, I was a bit lost with what to cook for dinner because not only was I getting used to the supermarkets here, but I also had no pantry staples. My pantry staples are built up really well now and while there are still some spices that I haven’t had any luck finding, I wouldn’t say that I can’t access any of what I consider my pantry essentials.
Essentials is a loose term here. I’m sure a lot of people would open my cupboards and be amazed at what I had in there, but I can honestly tell you that I use the majority of the items on the below list at least once a week, some of them, almost every time I cook.
This is just one of my pantry cupboards. Yes, I do need three types of Tabasco :)
The Wooden Spoons’ Pantry Essentials
Good quality sea salt flakes
I use sea salt flakes a lot more than fine salt. I honestly could not cook without salt, it’s my number one ingredient. My favourite brand in Australia is Olsson’s but here I have to settle with Maldon. Life is hard ;) The first time Key saw me using Olsson’s salt he laughed so hard. I asked him why he was laughing and he said that it is the brand of salt licks that his parents used to buy for the farm. Trust me, they make amazing salt for people as well as livestock. You can get Olsson’s salt at the Belconnen Fresh Food Markets in Canberra.
It doesn’t have to be extra virgin or even an expensive one. Don’t get me wrong, I always like to have a good bottle of extra virgin as well, but I consider a basic olive oil as a staple. I make sure I have it all the time.
I had so many vinegars in my pantry in Canberra, it was quite ridiculous, but I swear I used them all. In terms of staples I have to have rice wine vinegar and either a red wine or balsamic. Rice wine vinegar is actually really versatile in my opinion and it can not only be used in Asian dishes but also as a substitute for plain white vinegar.
I always have to have shao hsing (shaoxing) wine and Red wine. Like vinegar, alcohol is so good at adding a depth of flavour to cooking. It doesn’t happen in Australia as much, but in Singapore, a lot of red wine is sold with a cork instead of a modern screw top. Make sure you get a screw top one so that it will store well in the pantry. Or drink the bottle after – up to you :)
Black peppercorns and red chili flakes
Need I say more? A great way to add heat and warmth to your cooking. I always find dried chilli flakes a lot more potent then I expect, so go easy on them.
Ground cumin is the most versatile spice if you ask me. It can be used in so many cuisines – Indian, Mediterranean, Mexican and Moroccan just to name a few. I’m so obsessed with this spice that I actually always make sure I have a back up in case I run out half way through a dish.
Dried oregano leaves
Like cumin, dried oregano is so versatile. Both Key and I use this heaps in our cooking.
Cinnamon can be used in both sweet and savoury dishes. I keep whole sticks and powder, but if you just want one, go for the powder as it can be used in place of the whole sticks if absolutely necessary.
We don’t eat massive amounts of pasta, but I often find myself picking out a pack from the pantry when I just want a quick easy dinner.
I use this a lot. When we were in Canberra we bought a big crate of passata from Costco and it was surprising how quickly we got through it all. I personally prefer it to canned whole or chopped tomatoes.
I have taken to making my own stock recently and now that I know how easy it is, I think I will continue to do so. However I included this because until very recently, packaged stock was an essential for me. Try and get salt reduced as I think the packaged ones can be too salty sometimes. Stock is great to make a simple soup but also great in smaller amounts for basic minced meat based dishes or sauces.
I keep plain, self raising and bread flour at all times, but if you don’t bake often just get plain and you can always add some baking powder to it if you need self raising. You’ll find the ratios needed on the side of the baking powder container :)
Well I need sugar for my morning coffee of course, but it obviously has plenty of uses in the kitchen. Again, I have more then one type (raw, fine white, icing and brown) but if you want to keep things simple, just go for a fine white sugar. Bakers will be shocked, but I never bother with caster sugar, so long as it’s fine, plain white sugar does the trick for me.
I plan on doing some more posts later on what I consider my perishable essentials, but for now, I think that gives you a pretty good idea of the things that I first sought out when building up my pantry stocks here.
The reason I thought of all of this? When I first thought up this crumble with mulled wine flavours, I thought to myself ‘oh yes, I’ll use that red wine in the pantry.’ It wasn’t there. I’d used the last of it in my Bolognese. The good news is that I still made it that first time with water instead of the red wine and I can confirm the apple tastes really good cooked that way as well. I restocked with some red wine and made it again. Poor Key had to eat apple crumble twice in a week. I don’t think he minded :)
If you don’t have an apple corer, chopping apples can mean a lot of wasted apple. My way? Slice a thin piece of both ends off. Peel with a sharp peeler. Cut into 4 pieces. Turn each piece on it’s side and cut out just the core. Chop each piece into smaller pieces. For my crumble, I left the apple at this size.
Cooking the apples before you bake them with the crumble ensures that you end up with lovely soft apples and a thick caramelised sauce with mulled wine flavours.
I made this in small ramekins for two individual crumbles. If you have a medium sized oven proof container, you could make one medium sized crumble.
The mulled wine apples can be made ahead of time to this point and then refrigerated in the ramekins. Once you are ready to eat them, make the crumble fresh and scatter it over the apples then bake. If you follow this method, the crumbles may need to cook slightly longer to ensure the apples are hot again.
Rub the cold butter through the flour and sugar until you get a rough bread crumb consistency.
The mulled wine apples would also be lovely served over ice cream without the crumble.
Mulled Wine Apple Crumble
Ingredients – Makes 2 individual crumbles
For the apples
- 1 tbs lemon juice – that’s about half a lemon
- 2 large or 3 small granny smith apples
- ½ tbs olive oil
- 20g unsalted butter
- 1/3 cup red wine – I used a cabernet sauvignon
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 whole star anise
- 2 whole cloves
- 1/3 cup raw sugar
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
For the crumble
- 1/3 cup of plain flour
- 2 tbs raw sugar
- 25g cold unsalted butter, cubed
- Place the lemon juice into a bowl.
- Peel, core and chop the apples into chunks. Place them in the lemon juice as soon as you cut them.
- Heat the olive oil and butter in a medium sized saucepan over a low to medium heat.
- Once the butter is bubbling, add the apples and any lemon juice liquid left in the bowl.
- Saute the apples until they start to soften or for around 5 minutes.
- Add the wine and cook off the alcohol for around 2 minutes.
- Add the rest of the ingredients for the apples.
- On the same heat, let the apple mix stew down and simmer gently for 10 minutes or until you get a thick and reduced sauce. Stir the apples occasionally and push down any sugar that gets stuck on the edges of the pan.
- Once the apples have completed cooking, remove the star anise and cloves and evenly place into 2 small, oven proof ramekins. Set aside while you make the crumble and pre-heat the oven to 220°C.
- To make the crumble, mix together the flour and sugar then rub through the cold butter until you get a breadcrumb consistency.
- Scatter the crumble evenly over the apples, then bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes or until the crumble is golden brown on top.
- Serve hot with custard, cream or ice cream – or all of those :)