Must-haves. Secret weapons. Essentials. These are the things I try to always keep on hand.
First, let’s start with several recipes for accompaniments that I think are, well…essential.
Five Spice Nuts – Sprinkle on salads or pop ’em into your mouth for a snack, these are made quickly with just four ingredients (and one of them is water!)
Red Pepper Butter – Compound butters can be made ahead and kept refrigerated or frozen. This one wins points for its rich color, as well as flavor.
Cream Cheese Frosting – So versatile and the more you beat it, the better it gets.
Raspberry Sauce – This sauce has the trifecta: it’s easy to make, it’s beautiful, and it can be used in a variety of ways. Top ice cream and other desserts with it. Serve it as a sauce with slices of cheese. Use it as a glaze for a pork roast.
Thai Peanut Sauce – Michael claims he could eat shoe leather with this sauce. Use it to top stir-fried meat and vegetables. Enjoy it as a dip. I love it with cucumber spears.
Thai Sweet Chili Sauce – This thin sweet sauce (with a little or a lot of heat — depending upon how much chili garlic paste you use) is great for dipping vegetables into, or anything with tempura batter on it, or for pouring over sliced cucumbers. Once you make it, you’ll find lots of uses for it!
Essential Vinaigrette – Don’t think of this vinaigrette as a mere salad dressing. It is a superhero sauce that can rescue a host of dishes from mediocrity. You will find many uses for it, and it’s called for in a bunch of my recipes.
Jalapeño Jelly – Remember the line from Superman “It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s SUPERMAN!” Well, this recipe makes me think “It’s a jelly. It’s a glaze. It’s a super topping!”
Basil Pesto – Make it when the fresh herb is plentiful and sock it away for later use as a spread on tortilla pizzas or the key ingredients for basil pesto cream sauce.
Basil Oil – Are you are a big fan of serving fresh tomatoes with salt, pepper, olive oil, maybe a little vinegar, and some fresh basil? Change it up a little bit by making basil oil to use in place of the basil leaves and olive oil.
FLOWERS! Whether you grow them or buy them, flowers improve the appearance of any table. I particularly love the exotic blooms of orchids. These are phaelenopsis (aka moth orchid). They are ridiculously easy to grow (but you don’t have to tell those who “oooh” and “ah” when they learn you grew them yourself.) There are two crucial things for orchids to thrive: they need the right light (I have mine in a window facing south) and you mustn’t overwater. Feed them after they’ve rested a bit following blooming. That’s it. You’ve now graduated from Orchid Growing 101. The blooms will last on the plant 6-12 weeks. Talk about low maintenance beauty! If the initial cost seems high to you, remember to amortize it over the period of time the plant will continue to live and bloom. It’s like the cost per wearing of your favorite shoes.
LOTS OF IDEAS Creating a beautiful arrangement doesn’t need to be difficult or expensive. The arrangement above took ten minutes to make and cost under $25.00. On Saturday, my favorite florist features 50% off cash and carry after 3:00 p.m. I bought a tropical leaf and used it to line the inside of the vase to hide the stems. Three stems of ornamental kale formed the base of the arrangement. From there, it was a simple matter to insert a few sprays of pink tea roses, a few white ranunculus, and finish it off with white roses with pink tips. Remember that it’s best to use 3, 5, or 7 of each flower. Don’t ask me why. That what “they” say, and my experimentation has shown me “they” are right.
LOW CARB PASTA! Lots of people told me they couldn’t possibly eat low carb because they would perish without pasta. (Cue the death scene: What’s that line from the movie about how it’s getting so cold? Oh, you know.) Well, no need to get melodramatic. You don’t have to forego pasta. Linguine, spaghetti, rotini, penne, lasagna, angel hair — it’s all available in low carb pasta from Dreamfield’s. I dare you to try to tell the difference, taste-wise or texture-wise, between it and the full carb stuff.
LOW CARB TORTILLAS! Make a wrap sandwich. Create a thin crust pizza. Bake chips for use with dip. Sizzle up some quesadillas. Make a cool-looking garnish — either sweet or savory. Low carb tortillas are the utility players of your low carb ingredient team. (And I swear that’s the last sports metaphor you will find on this site, since I can barely distinguish between football and soccer.)
I make crackers/chips by baking low carb tortillas cut into pie-shaped wedges, sprayed with a little cooking spray on both sides, flavored with parmesan cheese or cinnamon Splenda, or a little kosher salt and pepper. They bake at 400 degrees about 5 to 7 minutes and keep remarkably well.
Have you ever laid under the sky on a starry night and contemplated how many hours/days of your life you’ve spent taking the cap off bottles of olive oil, vinegar, and other liquid items and putting them back on? Really?!?! You haven’t? Well, it’s a lot. Squeeze bottles free you from that drudgery. Get several. Fill one with olive oil, one with canola oil, one with balsamic vinegar. Use others for your chocolate sauce, your raspberry sauce, your sour cream. Make zig zags or dots on your plate. Write “Happy Birthday, Dumpling” or create mad swirls or streaks. These are your ticket out of Ordinary, a place you never wanted to live.
An Extraordinary Sweetener! I hate the name. I love the product. No, I don’t have diabetes. I do have a hatred for what sugar can do. Watch Dr. Oz. He sings in the same anti-sugar choir I’m in. (And if you think brown sugar is any better than white, don’t kid yourself.) I often mix a little Splenda with a little Brown Sugar DiabetiSweet. There is a synergistic effect between the two that I find very appealing.
Miscellaneous. You’ll see me refer to “Essential Vinaigrette.” You need some. Experiment with it until you find the oil/vinegar combo you like best. It’s amazingly versatile and useful.
Bread is the biggest challenge on a low carb diet. I’m not going to make my own most of the time (been there, done that), but instead I purchase it over the Internet. I like to buy the sliced bread for an occasional sandwich and to use for making bread pudding. I find the hot dog buns indispensable, however. Not because I’m eating weiners in them, but because they come unsliced and I can slice them into thin little oval-shaped toast points, bake them at 325 with a little cooking spray for about 10 minutes, depending upon the thickness, and end up with a great base for everything from Smoked Tuna Spread to Brie Bites.