Stuff You Should Have In Your Pantry: Instant Chocolate Pudding Mix

By Iron Chef Leftovers

I like simple desserts. I am not a baker and I don’t like spending a ton of time putting things together if I don’t have to, but I do like chocolate and specifically chocolate pudding. Yes, you can buy it premade (which tastes like crap) or the instant pudding mix in the store but really, do you want all of the chemicals and stabilizers in it? Here is the ingredients list for Jell-O Chocolate Pudding:

SUGAR, MODIFIED CORNSTARCH, COCOA PROCESSED WITH ALKALI, DISODIUM PHOSPHATE (FOR THICKENING), CONTAINS LESS THAN 2% OF NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, SALT, TETRASODIUM PYROPHOSPHATE (FOR THICKENING), MONO- AND DIGLYCERIDES (PREVENT FOAMING), RED 40, YELLOW 5, BLUE 1, ARTIFICIAL COLOR, BHA (PRESERVATIVE).

They actually add food dye to chocolate pudding? Sheesh. What if I told you that you could make your own instant pudding mix at home with a handful of ingredients and have it taste about 100 times better than any box mix that you can get? Well, thanks to the culinary genius that is Alton Brown, you can.

The Software
4 oz. Dutch Processed Cocoa Powder
2 oz. Cornstarch
6 oz. Powdered Sugar
1 ½ oz. Non-Fat Dry Milk Powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt

The Recipe
Take all the ingredients and combine them in a large bowl or container with a lid. Cover and shake until completely combined. That is it. You are done. That took about 2 minutes. Store covered in the fridge for 3 months.

Notes
I actually increased the amount of cocoa in this recipe by 1 oz. (it originally called for 3 oz.) because I wanted to. A teaspoon of espresso powder added to this mix would throw this totally over the top. Use a really good cocoa powder, it is your dominant flavor and you want the best you can get. I suppose you want the recipe for making pudding, huh? Well, you will just have to wait a few days for my next post to get that one.

Stuff You Should Have In Your Pantry – Olive Oil

By Iron Chef Leftovers

Welcome to the first installment of what I hope to make a new series – “Stuff you should have in your pantry.” Today’s installment is Olive Oil. A good primer on olive oil can be found here. There is a lot to know about Olive Oil, but I am just going to try to cover the basics here.

Oilve Oil - Liquid Gold

I should start with the disclaimer that Iron Chef Leftovers is Italian and I practically drink the stuff and pretty much use it exclusively in my cooking – it is rare that you will see me cook with another vegetable oil, unless it comes to deep frying, which, you should really be using lard for anyway, but that is for another show. Olive Oil comes in all different types, flavors, price ranges and origins. I won’t bore you with a class on oil, but there are a few basic details you will want to know. I will limit this discussion to a basic level of what you will find in the supermarket, but there is so much more to this than I can ever cover. Trader Joe’s has a good guide to buying Olive Oil here.

There are several different types of Olive Oil which you are likely to encounter on your shopping experience – Extra Virgin, Virgin, Refined (Pure), Olive Oil and Lite. I am not sure what the hell Lite Olive Oil is, so you can forget that one. Pure Olive Oil and Olive Oil contain oil which is clarified using a chemical process, so I really don’t want to buy those, but you can if you so choose. There is nothing really wrong with them and they tend to have a mild taste. I would only recommend using them for cooking. I generally try to purchase oils that are labeled as Virgin or Extra Virgin as those oils are extracted using grinding and squeezing, nothing else. Speaking of grinding and squeezing, you always want to find an olive oil that has been “cold pressed.” This means that during the processing of the oil, the temperature has to be below 85 degrees Fahrenheit. This prevents the oil from turning rancid during the processing (heat = bad juju). It will also go rancid if you store it in a warm place in you home.

Some people will tell you to only buy Olive Oil from Spain or Italy. While that might be a good rule for the high end stuff (I also have tried some excellent oils from Turkey, Greece and California), I have never really found a difference on the lower end. You should be aware that just because something says “Italian Oil” doesn’t mean it is made from all Italian Olives. Look at the label when you buy the oil – if it says “Packed in” or “Produced in”, it generally means that the oil is blended with olives from multiple countries. Single source oil will generally say “Made from”.

If you don’t have an oil that you already like, don’t be afraid to buy a couple different ones and try them. You should taste them just by themselves – if you don’t like the flavor of it by itself, you aren’t going to like it when you use it in cooking. I usually have a couple different types of oil on hand – one for cooking which is generally a virgin or extra virgin oil, supermarket bought and relatively inexpensive, one for using on salads, etc. which is generally a supermarket bought bottle of extra virgin oil and a high end bottle of extra virgin oil that I use for “special occasions”. Right now, my cabinet has 2 oils in it – one from Trader Joe’s – their 100% Italian President’s Reserve Extra Virgin Oil (be careful when you purchase the oil at TJ’s, they have at least 3 different kinds), which runs about $7.99 a liter and I use for both cooking and salads and a high end extra virgin oil from Greece called Malenia which runs about $35 a liter, which is my special occasion oil. The oil should really be stored in a cool dark place and used within about 3 months of opening (it does start to degrade after a while), so I tend to buy larger bottles of my every day oil and smaller bottles the special occasion oil (which does keep the cost down).

I really like the Trader Joe’s oil – it is has a very mild flavor so it does not overpower what you are using it with, is slightly buttery, which for me is something I like when I am using it in cooking and on salads and not heavily floral. It is actually one of the few oils I would say works for use in both cooking and on salads. It is a really good oil for the price and there is a TJ’s close to the homestead. If you don’t have a TJ’s close, I also really like Coltavita, Filippo Berio and Bertoli Extra Virgin Oils for salads and finishing (they tend to be too floral for cooking and should all run around $12 – $15 per liter) and DaVinci, Coltavita and Filippo Berio Olive Oils for cooking (and should all be somewhere around $10 per liter). All of them are available nationally at most supermarket chains, so they should be pretty easy to find. I will put a disclaimer on these recommendations though – I have been buying the TJ’s brand for several years now and I can’t remember the last time I purchased a different all purpose oil, so, buyer beware.

For the higher end, special occasion oil, Melina is my current choice – it has a peppery, slightly smoky flavor that really stands out when you dress a salad with it, especially when you are using heartier greens (rocket, radicchio, etc.). Use it sparingly and pair it with a nice balsamic vinegar (that is for another show), add a little salt and toss and you are ready to go. I also like Melina for just dipping with bread.

When buying a higher end oil, you could just go to the store, buy a couple of them and try them, but that does get expensive in a hurry. Your best bet is to go to a shop where you can taste the oils before you buy them. Olive Oil is much like wine – it varies by where it is grown, the varietal of olives that make up the oil and the methods for producing it. The colors will range from green to golden and the flavors will run from vegetal to spicy. You just need to find what you like. There are 4 places that I would recommend in Seattle for buying oil because of selection and staff knowledge – at the Pike Market, Spanish Table, DeLaurenti and Buona Tavola and in Magnolia, Chef Shop. If you are a novice (or even experienced with purchasing oil) having a knowledgeable staff person guiding you through the tasting is a huge benefit, event when you have no idea what kind of oil you like. They will point out what to look for in the oil and suggest how the oil could be used. Just remember, buy a smaller bottle than you would for your everyday oil – you will need to use less of it as they tend to have stronger flavors and it will help keep the costs more manageable.

The only real subsititute for Parmigiano Reggiano is…

By Iron Chef Leftovers

Parmigiano Reggiano. It is the undisputed king of cheeses (hence the Reggiano) and nothing really compares to its grassy, nutty flavor. Cook’s Illustrated did a taste test (sorry, no link, it is subscriber only) and nothing came close. This question was printed in the Seattle Times and the answer, given by a professional food writer, was vague and really not helpful. Yes, the really high end Parmigiano is pricey, but there are several less expensive sources (granted, they aren’t the highest quality, but will still blow the doors off any other cheese): Costco, Trader Joe’s and Seattle based PFI (probably the best cheese selection in Seattle, but they do have a 1 pound minimum on any cheese) all carry Reggiano at less than $13 a pound.

The writer of the question said that Reggiano was no longer in his budget. I use the stuff in a good deal of my cooking and a pound lasts me almost 6 months (you really don’t need that much unless you want whatever you put it in to taste like Reggiano and nothing else). Between the small amount you need of Reggiano and the larger amount of any other cheese you need to get the same flavor, my guess is that you would spend roughly the same amount a year on cheese. If you are going to do that, you might as well go with the king.