Most great dishes start in the same place: the pantry. Pantry staples like oils, spices and grains are essentials in most recipes. Yet far too often, our pantries turn into places where ingredients get lost rather than used.
Unlike those already forgotten New Year's resolutions, getting a pantry back into shape is not as daunting as it would seem. Keep it small, think different and don't be afraid to go to the experts for ideas. So turn the page for our top 5 items to get your pantry in order and where to get them.
5. Oils at Vom Fass:
Culinary oils can be confusing. When one should be used over another. Which to cook with and which to finish with. Then there is the cost that usually comes with building a quality collection. Which is why it is worth the trip to the Westlake Village outpost of Germany's Vom Fass where they sell all their oils (olive, pumpkin, sesame, etc.) straight from the amphora. Each container is labeled with country of origin, flavor profile and recommended usage. Sampling is encouraged and recipes are posted on the wall, shelves and flow from the staff. And since the pours are sold by 100ml -- a little more than 3 fl. oz. -- it makes picking up a small bottle of the buttery olive oil from Italy as well as that peppery one from Spain a bit more cost effective.
4. Herbs and Spices at Savory Spice Shop:
There's no shortage of places to get great herbs and spices in L.A., Penzey's Spices for staples, Spice Station for specialty, and then all the ethnic markets supplying seasonings from nearly every corner of the world. But now when succumbing to a caffeine craving for Portola Coffee Lab in Costa Mesa, a visit to their new neighbor. Savory Spice Shop is a must. A mini chain based in Colorado, they are a dream mashup of Penzey's, Spice Station and the enclave spice shop. Their stock ranges from nacho sprinkle to dried ghost peppers to Korean black garlic. And, since they pack and grind their own, most of their collection is sold starting at ½ ounce. Purchasing in small amounts is a trick to keep pantry spices fresh because they run out quicker. Which means another trip to Savory Spice shop sooner rather than later, and to Portola for espresso, a win-win.
When it comes to neighborhood markets, it seems like the Eastside has gotten it right. There's the butcher with a conscience at McCall's Meat and Fish, Co. in Los Feliz and the hyperlocal greengrocer, Echo Park's Cookbook. And now Silverlake's Broome Street General Store, where they carry all manner of unique and wonderful pantry items with particular excellence in condiments. Items like The Ojai Cook's jalapeno and horseradish tartar sauce that along with being great for dipping is also amazing brushed on fish before baking. Also Sarabeth's Kitchen preserves, good on toast and even better used in a glaze for pork chops. And they even have a great selection of Asian condiments like the foodie favorite Red Boat fish sauce and imported Marukan rice vinegar blended with honey. Broome Street General Store is small and still evolving, but the dishes their condiments inspire are limitless.
Yes, we are aware that that Surfas can be the one stop shop for all the items on this list. However, while distracted by shopping for those very items or - like us - the cheese and charcuterie counter, it is easy to overlook the selection of flour in their refrigerated section. Along with a range of pastry and high gluten flour, there is high protein quinoa flour, nutty spelt flour, and California milled winter wheat flour. They are all re-packaged by Surfas under their Culinary District brand in tubs and pouches with tight seals for neat storage and to protect the flour from absorbing smells or attracting pantry wrecking bugs. The packaging also makes it easy to store flour in the refrigerator at home. They can be laid flat on the dark bottom shelf, which keeps them fresh and also frees up some room in the pantry for better organization or more space for those other items that always find their way home after a trip to Surfas.
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With the flour in the fridge, smaller fresher portions of oils and spices, and new condiments to experiment with. The pantry is now in shape and ready to get to work. And after all is cooked and done, now comes the question of leftovers. With the continued environmental issues surrounding plastics, the benefits of glass food storage are becoming more apparent. Although most glass containers come with plastic lids, the lids of our favorite, the vintage inspired Bake 'N' Store containers by Anchor Hocking, are completely made of glass. Available in three sizes and sporting flat glass lids to allow for stacking, these sturdy containers work well to store food in the fridge or bulk items in the pantry. Sold at a variety of stores, we recently spotted their new version with an added silicone gasket around the lid at Crate & Barrel. Proving that when it comes the pantry, there is always room for a little improvement.