Cooking comes down to one simple truth: You're only as good as your ingredients. And that means buying the good stuff. No, it doesn't have to be organic, artisanal or even expensive. It just has to be real. Here's an essential pantry checklist of genuine staples for your kitchen.
It melts, mixes and tastes better than margarine. And butter won't leave that oily film on your tongue.
Look for: Terms like "European style" or "sweet cream."
The real cheese, not the powdered stuff in a can, has a salty, nutty almost spicy quality.
Look for: A chunk of Italian-made Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Fresh stalks have infinitely more essential oils and thus flavor than the dried stuff. Like analog TV vs. HD.
Store them: In a glass of water (like a bouquet of flowers) in the fridge.
Garlic peaks right after its been crushed or pressed, making dried or jarred varieties less flavorful.
Look for: Plump, firm bulbs with taught, dry skin.
"Light olive oil" is a marketing term. It simply tastes milder. Extra-virgin olive oil comes from the first pressing and has the lowest acidity along with a slightly fruity taste.
Store it: In a cool, dark place.
Table salt is bleached and filled with chemicals. Kosher salt is chemical free and sea salt has a rich, smooth flavor.
Look for: Terms like "naturally evaporated" and brands from Hawaii or France.