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Ingredients That Changed My Life

2012 October 18

As I was preparing dinner the other night, I began to mentally jot down the ingredients that made an impact on how Greg and I eat today. I counted four in the dish I was making. Four that up until a few years ago I hadn’t heard of and many I didn’t think were at my grocery store (they are there if you check the right places).

Ingredients that changed our lives.

Granted, I am a woman from a small town in Indiana who moved to another small town in Minnesota (with a few years of bigger city living mixed in). From the Midwest to the Midwest (although the first no more than 10 minutes from the city of Ft. Wayne and the second no more than 40 minutes away from the Twin Cities).

I’m no stranger to chain restaurants, living paycheck to paycheck, being a picky eater as a youngster, I didn’t grow up in a gourmande family, and most stores in the area where I lived over the last 30 years didn’t have some of the ingredients that others think nothing to go out to the corner store and bring home. (It truly can be that difficult to find the simplest of ingredients. I understand.)

They may not be groundbreaking or perhaps it’s the opposite and you think me some fancypants chef (ha). I can see it go either way, having a foot in rural and one in urban living (and somewhere in-between but that would mean I have 3 feet….).

I’d guess some of these things have changed your life too or could if you knew about them.

I’ve been in this food enthusiast/food writer scene as homecook for some time now, or at least in the fast lane of learning, adjusting, and opening my mind. Thus my interest has grown, skill advanced, visits to non-chains increased, I’d like to think my ability to put together a delicious meal sans recipe and to know what would make a great meal by just glancing over the recipe has vastly improved.

Not just for me but for my family, for Greg. We have almost daily conversations about ingredients, about food, about what something is missing or could be improved with, and we often create a plan to make something spectacular over the weekend. Something to look forward to at the end of a busy day because there isn’t much rest and relaxation on our weekends.

I know there’s a notion that meals with some of the ingredients are complicated or you won’t like them and therefore, you don’t want to try but that is false. Making a meal with just a few basic items then enhancing the dish with a touch of one or a couple of these ingredients is easy. Not scary. Not newfangled or faddy/trendy. Not for just “those” people who eat “gourmet” dishes.

And if you haven’t thought about these ingredients in a while, maybe take them for granted, perhaps you could try them in new dishes (and share) or old dishes you haven’t prepared in years.

The ingredients are there for everyone. Some have been used for centuries or longer. Some were created not that long ago. Many probably took time to perfect and now they are often inexpensive items on a grocery shelf. Waiting for you to grab and get cooking. If they aren’t inexpensive, they are probably worth the price and worth finding a place to fit in your budget. It often only takes a little.

Sharing these with friends and family excites me. I know you have probably experienced a flavor in this one meal and couldn’t pinpoint what made is so special. Something that if it were missing, would be, well, missed. That’s how I knew an item went on the list. If I’ve had a similar meal missing that something I made a note not to leave it out when making such and such…after testing my missing ingredient theory that is.

Ingredients often make something wonderful happen when paired with one or a few other ingredients-the ones that go hand in hand-so I made a note to try to combine them. That lead to mixing different cuisines and noticing flavors in dishes at restaurants. What it undoubtedly lead to most of all is an appreciation that I state “changed my life.”

So finally, here they are.

Ingredients That Changed My Life:

Chipotles in adobo
Garlic chili paste
Sriracha
Smoked Tabasco
Coconut oil/peanut oil/other oils
Rice wine vinegar/other vinegars (like really good balsamic vinegar)
Miso paste
Oyster sauce
Fish sauce
Smoked paprika
Sesame oil (toasted)
Mirin (sweet rice wine)
Vanilla bean paste/vanilla beans
Fresh ginger
Fresh herbs (beyond basil and parsley)
Curry paste
Cilantro chutney
Preserved lemons
Bitters (for drinks)

Not a cooking ingredient but definitely one for making this blog happen and my life in general better, Instagram.

What do you love? Tell me what I’ve missed or must try.

7 Responses leave one →
  1. October 18, 2012

    I find it interesting that there’s a distinctive Asian flair to your ingredients…mine, too. Being from the Midwest none of those were part of my food growing up but now I can’t imagine not having many of them in the fridge/on the shelf all of the time.

    • October 19, 2012

      I don’t know what it is but when I was young those “special Asian” ingredients didn’t find their way to my mouth and now I can’t get enough. I’m guilty of grabbing it even if I have no clue what to do with it. They eventually wind up in a recipe that sounds interesting…recipes I wouldn’t have tried in the past. I want to give out garlic chili sauce and Sriracha for Christmas.

  2. steph permalink
    October 18, 2012

    i love to make a good curry with green curry paste and coconut milk from the asian market. ps. they opened a few in downtown FW. i was there last time i was home. i’ve also found, at whole foods, a pasion fruit salad dressing that’s a staple in my fridge. it’s fantastic mixed with spinach and sunflower seeds. it’s fabulous for those summer salads.

    • October 19, 2012

      Nice! I’ll have to check those out whenever I get back home. I might be stopping in at Whole Foods this weekend and I’ll look for that dressing. I’m a spinach salad fan. Thanks, Steph!

  3. October 19, 2012

    What a brilliant list! these ingredients are the things that make home cooking great rather than good! I need to head out to the shops and pick some of these up!

  4. October 19, 2012

    Oh my goodness. How I love this post Annie. So much so that I want to do my own. Do you mind if I copy? Thanks for brightening my evening. I hope you are well!

    • October 20, 2012

      Go right ahead! I’d love to read about the ingredients that changed your life. All is well and good luck with the wedding cake!

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