As an avid (yet busy) home cook, keeping a stocked pantry is incredibly important. It’s almost embarrassing to admit, but I spend at least an hour every weekend planning my dinner menu for the following week. Although I can’t imagine I am alone… any diehard foodie knows, if you’re going to cook something, it better be worth the effort. But to be fair, there are also nights where it ends up like an episode of Chopped – literally whipping up whatever I can find in the house (hello pasta puttanesca!)
Over the years I have come across some really great local food producers that I am excited to share with you. Some are new, some have been around since the 1700’s. But the most important thing to keep in mind is that the fresher your ingredients, the better tasting your meal.
I’m a carbs girl. At the end of the day there is nothing more satisfying than a warm bowl of creamy grits (or as I always call it, polenta). I used to get my corn meal from the grocery store, but now I know that Bucks County is where it’s at. Castle Valley Mill has restored several antique stone mills and processing machines and have put them back in operation – how amazing is that?
This is one of my go-to meals once a week, where I will top my polenta with roasted veg, braised meat and comforting sauces.
Ricotta is a meal saver! Boring chicken breasts, pasta and (not-so-boring) vegetables can be transformed by creamy farm fresh ricotta. Fulper Farm’s ricotta is extremely smooth and delicious, not gritty like most ricottas. It’s best when used within 6 weeks after purchasing, but it will last 90 days if you don’t open it right away. Think tarts, tartines, salads, lasagna, cannelloni, ravioli, cavatelli, gnudi, roasted vegetable roll-ups, pizza, sweet or savory pie/cheesecake and more.
There are several instances where honey is the key to life: chai tea, corn bread/biscuits, marinades… you use it more than you think. And it’s the ultimate pantry staple because it never goes bad! In fact, while excavating Egypt’s famous pyramids, archaeologists have found pots of honey in an ancient tomb dating back 3,000 years (and still perfectly edible). And while Tassot has only been making honey since 2002, they are doing an amazing job specializing in raw, chemical free, high quality Artisan honey and bee products. Why buy local honey? Natural local pollen helps your immune system cope with locally occurring allergins. When you purchase honey that is procured from afar, you jeopardizes the quality of honey and an opportunity to enjoy better health.
As I’ve mentioned before, it’s pretty amazing to have a local farm producing rice. Rice has never been grown in New Jersey before, and farmer Jim Lyons is really challenging conventional methods of growing. Rice is a pantry essential, but unfortunately most people don’t realize that the rice they get at the grocery store can go rancid very quickly. That’s why I LOVE fresh New Jersey grown rice… you really can smell and taste the difference. It has become a staple in our house every week, from risotto to stir fry, and a nice alternative to pasta (because as much as I am a true Italian, even I can get tired of eating pasta every night).
A very intelligent, reputable chef has recently told me that grass-fed organic butter is one of the healthiest things you can eat. And while butter can get a bad rep, it is the best way to make your food taste delicious. So if someone is telling me this specific butter is actually good for me… and I am using butter anyway… I am definitely going to take their word.
Psst: It also wins in a taste-test from Food52!
I have to admit, I was attracted to the pretty packaging before I even tried the product. But I LOVE Offbeat Gourmet’s vast variety of gourmet condiments. Sweet, savory, spicy… and all natural, handcrafted containing NO artificial preservatives, artificial flavors or coloring, pectin, corn or high fructose corn syrup. We got to try a bunch of their products at the Superior Woodcraft Locavore event in Doylestown and my favorites were the fig & honey conserve, pickled mustard seeds and their standard hot sauce. Check out their website and order some of their seasonal spreads to spice up any weeknight meal!
When it comes to salad, it has to be out-of-this-world good for me to get excited about it. And that’s where the dressing comes into play. Lettuce and raw veg with a boring dressing has the potential to be a very boring salad. And then when you consider that most salad dressings are loaded with additives of all sorts, PLUS cheap highly processed and artificial ingredients… its like, what’s the point of that salad then? Blazing Star Foods hopes to change that problem one bottle at a time by supplying its customers with affordable alternative flavors such as “Dill Pickle, BLT, Holy Mole’, all of which are vinaigrettes with no processed or artificial ingredients, gums or water.
So there you have it. If you keep these ingredients in your house at all times, even on the busiest of nights you can whip up a local, fresh meal. And if you’re wondering why pasta isn’t on my list, it’s because I couldn’t choose from all of the amazing pasta producers in the area – so stay tuned for a very special “pasta” post.