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Saturday, November 12, 2011

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things...

Here are some of the things that I love to keep around to add a little extra punch to my food or to serve as the basis for a quick, easy-to-prepare meal.

1. Jowl Bacon
The sweetness of this particular bacon is delightful against the saltiness typical of bacon.  The crunch and sweet saltiness give great depth and textural variety to a number of dishes from pastas to rices to chicken dishes, veggies, and of course breakfast foods.  Although I'm not at all one to sit down to a breakfast plate and eat a whole slice of bacon on its own, it's nice to use a slice or two of chopped jowl bacon to flavor a dish.

2. Coconut Milk 
Creamy coconut adds an unrivaled delightful velvety richness to both sweet and savory dishes.  My favorite dishes to add coconut milk to are rice dishes, stews, and desserts.  Coconut milk works especially well with rice and beans and SE Asian or West Indian braised and stewed meats.

For savory rice dishes, a TB or two of powdered coconut milk works just as well as the fresh stuff and is much more convenient.  Otherwise, using fresh coconut milk for 1/4-1/2 of the liquid in a rice dish lends great depth and deliciousness.  For sweet rice dishes, fresh coconut milk adds a wonderful richness to make sweet flavors pop and to give them more dimension.

3. Jasmine Rice
Fragrant jasmine rice has a wonderfully soothing scent and a mildly sweet flavor.  It is my preferred rice to steam plain and serve on the side of a meal and my favorite rice for mixed meat and rice dishes such as Haitian rice and beans and Dominican locrio (a dish of meat and rice cooked together).  Of all of the medium to long grain rice, jasmine is my favorite for sweet rice dishes such as rice pudding or arroz con leche as well.

Another great thing about keeping rice around in general is that you can have a delicious and nutritious meal ready in just 30 minutes by adding in canned or frozen veggies and meat along with your seasoned rice.  Also, you can also use raw rice as a thickening agent.  Just soak a palmful rice in enough water to cover it while you prepare a soup; put the soaked rice and water in the blender, strain it, and you've got some old school thickener.  Works much like corn starch would.

4. Canned Tomato Products (tomato paste, crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, whole tomatoes)
Canned tomato products are great to keep around for throwing together quick dishes, making speedy sauces, and for adding extra zing to savory rice dishes.  I actually have an entire shelf in my cabinet that is nothing but tomato products.  I keep whole tomatoes, tomato paste and crushed tomatoes around for making marinara or other pasta sauces and I also use 1-2TB of tomato paste in rice dishes (per 1c of raw dish).  I love to keep diced tomatoes around for soups or to mix into rice or pasta.  I also keep whole tomatoes around to slice up for braised meats or other dishes since store-bought fresh tomatoes have become both pricey and lacking in flavor.

5. Homemade chicken stock
Sometimes when I'm having a lazy day I just end up buying a roasted chicken from the grocery store (preferably Sam's Club, yum!).  Once I've eaten the chicken, I put the carcas in the crockpot with onions, garlic, veggies, herbs, and other seasonings until the bones become soft, about 8 hours or so on low.  Just let it do its thing while you're asleep or at work.  Once it's ready, you just strain the broth and enjoy.  I love to freeze the leftover stock in freezer bags in 1 or 2 cup portions.  Then I just pull out the stock to make soups or to use as the liquid for rices. It's so convenient and tastes so much better than store bought stock or broth.

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