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Top Ten Pantry Staples for Best Results

Here is a list of ten ingredients that should be readily kept in the kitchen pantry as cooking and baking staples.

It's simple culinary basics, using quality ingredients results in better taste and texture, as well as the overall success, of prepared foods.

1. Kosher or Sea Salt: An additive-free coarse-grained salt. Used by gourmet cooks and chefs who prefer its texture and flavor. See "Fascinating Facts on Salt"

2. Whole Black Peppercorns: The worlds' most popular spice, pepper in one form or other is used around the world to enhance the flavor of both savory and sweet dishes. Because it stimulates gastric juices, it delivers a digestive bonus as well. Whole peppercorns freshly ground with a pepper mill deliver more flavor than does pre-ground pepper, which loses its flavor fairly quickly. Whole dried peppercorns can be stored in a cool, dark place for about a year; ground pepper will keep its flavor for about 4 months.

3. Jasmine Rice: The world's best everyday rice. An aromatic rice from Thailand that has a flavor and fragrance comparable to the expensive Basmati rice from India, at a fraction of the cost. A beautiful long grain rice with a distinct aroma similar to corn.

4. Pure Vanilla Extract: The vanilla bean was once considered an aphrodisiac, and was so rare that it was reserved for royalty. Pure vanilla extract is about twice as expensive as its imitation counterpart, but there's no real comparison in flavor intensity and quality, and only about half the amount is needed.

5. Canola Oil: For everyday cooking. A health conscious alternative to other vegetable oils because it's been discovered to be lower in saturated fat (about 6 percent) than any other oil. This compares to the saturated fat content of peanut oil (about 18 percent) and palm oil (at an incredibly high 79 percent). Canola oil contains more cholesterol-balancing monounsaturated fat than any oil except olive oil. It also has the distinction of containing Omega-3 fatty acids, the wonder polyunsaturated fat reputed to not only lower both cholesterol and triglycerides, but to contribute to brain growth and development as well. The bland-tasting oil is suitable both for cooking and for salad dressings.

6. Dutch Processed Cocoa Powder: The richer, darker Dutch cocoa has been treated with an alkali, which helps neutralize cocoa's natural acidity. You will taste the difference for it produces a richly intense, yet smooth chocolate flavor.

7. Extra Virgin Olive Oil: Adds its own unique nutty flavor to a variety of foods. The cold-pressed result of the first pressing of the olives, is only 1 percent acid. It's considered the finest and fruitiest of the olive oils and is therefore also the most expensive. Extra virgin olive oil can range from a crystalline champagne color to greenish-golden to bright green. In general, the deeper the color, the more intense the olive flavor. Olive oil should be stored in a cool, dark place for up to 6 months. It can be refrigerated, in which case it will last up to a year. Chilled olive oil becomes cloudy and too thick to pour. However, it will clear and become liquid again when brought to room temperature.

8. Fresh Lemons and Limes: No bottled or canned substitute can compare. Nothing beats mother nature here...nothing.

9. Freshly Grated Parmesan Cheese: There are Parmesan cheeses made in Argentina, Australia and the United States, but none compares with Italy's preeminent Parmigiano-Reggiano, with its granular texture that melts in the mouth. Pregrated Parmesan is available but doesn't compare with freshly grated. Both domestic and imported Parmesans are available in specialty cheese stores, Italian markets and many supermarkets. Using the "canned variety" should be compared to substituting plastic flowers for fresh...which would you prefer to have?

10. Quality 100% Durum Wheat Semolina Pastas: As a general rule, imported dried pasta is superior to American factory-made products, mainly because the imported pasta is only made with semolina, which doesn't absorb too much water and is pleasantly firm when cooked al dente (a nice chew to the tooth). If you ask any Italian, they will tell you it's the pasta, not the sauce, that is the star of the meal!

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