Trish Magwood, the owner of Dish Cooking Studio in Toronto and host of Party Dish on Life Network and Fine Living, offers tips on stocking your pantry and making quick and delicious party snacks.
STYLE AT HOME: What should every pantry contain?
Trish Magwood: It depends on what kind of food you like, if you have a young family or if you're single dwellers who like to entertain. But I like to organize my pantry starting with cuisine. If you have four or five main ingredients you can make three main dishes without shopping. For Thai, have a curry paste, a fish sauce and a coconut milk. Then all you need to do is pick up your produce and chicken. If you like Indian, then the best thing to have is a really good-quality fresh-ground garam masala. You can do that on a pork tenderloin or chicken. Also have on hand a nice Indian rice. For Mediterranean, make sure to have capers, olives, sundried tomatoes, roasted red peppers and cans of whole tomatoes. Have a thin pizza crust in the freezer -- or a great frozen pizza dough -- and a variety of pastas. For baking, have all purpose flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and good-quality butter, cocoa, coffee and chocolate. Once you're stocked, you can pretty well open any cookbook and bake any standard dessert.
>S@H: What are the worst offenders with pantry items?
TM: That scary miscellaneous fridge door. Once a month, go through your fridge door and pull stuff to the front, move stuff around, use it or pitch it. The fridge door is the warmest part of the fridge and sometimes it's where we keep the most perishable foods. The other mistake is how we store our foods. I try to stay away from plastic. Glass is better and more healthy for us.
S@H: What item do we tend to keep too long?
TM: Herbs and spices should only sit in your pantry for six months. If they're in an airtight, dark container in a dry space, they can probably go for a year, but if they have no smell and they resemble sawdust then you're going to want to pitch them. It's always best to buy your herbs and spices in small batches from a fresh spice store. Get good-quality peppercorns and grind as you go, because a lot of times that's all we're seasoning with. Maldon sea salt and kosher salt are also key to all your cooking, whether your salting water or seasoning meats or fish.
S@H: What are some easy-to-make but impressive munchies based on our pantry items?
TM: Take a bread boule -- fresh or frozen -- slice it halfway down, drizzle it with lots of good quality olive oil, some dried rosemary and a couple of pinches of Maldon sea salt, wrap it in tin foil and warm it in the oven for 15 minutes. Serve it with store-bought or homemade dips or olive oil. Your house smells like delicious home-baked bread and it takes all of one minute.
You can also dress up olives -- if you buy plain kalamatas or niçoises they should last in the fridge for a year -- with things like orange segments, fennel or herbs. Pour a little olive oil on them and warm them in the oven. Spiced nuts are also really easy -- toast the nuts on a sheet pan in the oven, put a bit of honey or maple syrup and spice them up with a bit of cayenne or chili flakes. Dips are also huge because you can make them in bulk and they store in the fridge for a long time. Try a tomato feta dip, a sundried tomato dip, things that are festive in colour, and serve them in mounds on little tapas plates with fresh crusty breads.
S@H: Can you suggest any creative serving ideas?
TM: I don't like to fuss too much. Let food stand on it own. Things like dip, if they're thick enough, can be on a plate, which I think sometimes looks a lot nicer. Little serving spoons and knives make a big difference. Buy things that are basic staples for entertaining that can work for a variety of uses. I did a class last week where we made little chocolate pots, and I pulled out six different things you could put them in, from an espresso shot glass, to a sherry glass, to a votive candle holder -- as long as you didn't use it for candles.
S@H: Any other entertaining tips and ideas?
TM: Setting up a self-serve bar with a fun signature drink helps the flow of a party. It gets people in the door and gets them feeling relaxed and welcomed right away. Pick something fun, like pomegranate and prosecco, and have it already set up, where all people have to do is grab and go.
For more party recipes, visit the Dish Cooking Studio web site:dishcookingstudio.com.