Welcome, dear readers, to The Takeout Draft, our recurring feature that combines our love of food, fantasy sports, and arguing on Slack.
Every week, we will select a topic of conversation from the food and drink world. Takeout writers will then field a team via the snake draft format. After five rounds, The Takeout commenteriat will vote on who they believe was victorious in that week’s draft. At the end of 2020, the staffer with the most weekly victories will select a charity of his/her choice that The Takeout will make a donation toward.
The previous Takeout Draft: Best pie was perhaps the most decisive victory ever, and that victory is Allison Robicelli’s by a country mile:
Clearly, the topic of pie lit a fire in our readership’s collective belly, and we’re hoping this week’s subject does the same. At the suggestion of reader Katie_Keys, we’re bringing you a Takeout Draft of the utmost relevance: best pantry staples. Competing in the Thunderdome this week are members of the Takeout staff: Allison Robicelli, Marnie Shure, and Aimee Levitt. The randomizer has selected a draft order:
Marnie: Okee doke, I’m going to kick this thing off with onions
Allison: Good call! I cannot function without onions.
Aimee: Yellow or red?
Marnie: Usually red, but we get both! We typically just keep our onions on the countertop, but I’ve been storing them in the cool dark of our wooden sideboard, and they’re preserving beautifully.
Allison: Well look at you fancy pants with your bougie “wooden sideboard”
Marnie: They really make everything into a certifiable MEAL, one that feels CRAFTED.
Aimee: Grown up food!
Marnie: And they’re so cheap.
Allison: It’s a solid base for just about anything. If you don’t know what to make, just start sauteing some onions and then throw shit in.
I can’t imagine functioning without onions in my kitchen. But even more than onions, I cannot function without my first pick: garlic.
Marnie: EXCELLENT choice. It was between onions and garlic for my first pick!
Aimee: DAMN. I was going to pick that one!
Allison: I do not believe in restraint with garlic. It’s a measurement where you should almost always follow your heart.
Marnie: You might win the draft on garlic alone
Allison: I’ve noticed I almost always call for six cloves of garlic for all my recipes. You can always scale it up or down as you with, but for me, six is my personal sweet spot.
Marnie: There’s so much flavor and it takes up so little space in your kitchen
Allison: With onions, you can’t always taste them distinctly in a dish, which oftentimes is the point. But garlic, I like tasting.
It doesn’t need to be assertive, but in many dishes, I think it should make its presence at least known.
I think maybe I should stop there because we’re all going to talk about how horny we are for garlic for the next hour. Aimee, you go.
Aimee: Since I have been foiled... I have to go with butter.
Allison: God, do I love butter.
Aimee: I grew up in a home where we had to eat margarine, and when I finally got butter, it was such a revelation.
Marnie: God bless butter
Allison: I built my entire damn career off butter. Even though oil makes a better cake, I still like using butter because it’s my most craved flavor.
I’m not much for sweets that are too sweet. What I realized I crave is fat—specifically, milk fat. I can easily put away a quart of half and half, which no one should do, so I won’t officially endorse doing that.
ANYWAY, is there anything more delicious than crusty bread with salty butter? It’s the most satiating thing on earth.
Marnie: Yes, the salt! Salted butter is my passion
Aimee: Kerrygold is the best. I just had some on toast.
My next pick is more practical than exciting: flour.
Marnie: Excitingly practical
Allison: There’s no cake without flour.
Aimee: There is nothing good without flour.
No cakes, breads, pies, stews, rarebits, waffles, pancakes, etc. etc. etc.
Marnie: It’s only the start of round 2, and Aimee’s picks can make a delicious loaf of bread while I have......a pile of onions. I gotta step it up, and fast
Aimee: I had two picks, though, and you’ve only had one so far.
Also, I have no yeast, which means I only have matzo, and eeeeuch.
Allison: When my husband first got diagnosed with a mysterious autoimmune disease, we had to give up flour for two months, and it was AWFUL. Thank god we found out he can have flour. He can’t have sugar or dairy anymore (our bakery was literally trying to kill him), but we can make do with that. Flour, though? NOPE. Aside from baked things, what about roux?
Aimee: That’s what I meant with stews and rarebits.
Marnie: Flour is such an unsung workhorse
Allison: There would be no cheese sauces! No bechemels!
Aimee: Also shrimp wiggle.
Allison: WIGGLE WIGGLE WIGGLE
You can also toast flour, like I did in the gumbo bread recipe. I’ve been using that in a lot of things recently.
Oh, and then you need flour to bread fried chicken.
Damn, good pick. For my second pick, I’ve got something in the flour family... pasta.
Aimee: The source of so many meals.
Allison: I don’t think there has ever, ever been a time in my entire life where there was not pasta in my kitchen. I can’t conceive ever being without it.
Even when it’s completely plain, it’s good.
Marnie: That’s right! The store-bought dry stuff. It’s always good enough.
Allison: There’s something a little rebellious about eating completely plain pasta, and l love it. It’s one of those things you can only do on your own.
Aimee: Or if you’re a child.
Marnie: “Plain” as in not even olive oil?
Allison: Absolutely, 100% plain. The pieces start sticking together and, like Aimee said, it makes you feel like you’re a kid again. It’s an ingredient that doesn’t necessarily need any other ingredients.
And it takes almost no effort to make it into dinner. Like, you can add butter and salt, and that’s it.
Aimee: Or a sprinkling of Parmesan, which was how I liked mine.
Margarine on it seemed way too decadent.
Allison: If you ate an entire loaf of bread for dinner, that wouldn’t feel like dinner. But pasta with butter and salt? That’s a big fucking deal.
Marnie: Well......many of my meals have been loaves of bread. But we won’t get into that here.
Allison: An entire loaf of bread with butter is an appetizer
Okay, my second pick is.....hot sauce
Aimee: A bold choice. Do you have a personal favorite?
Marnie: Right now we’re working through some Louisiana, which is always good! I like most of the common ones: Sriracha, Cholula, Frank’s, etc. Not as big a fan of thin Tabasco. But generally, when my spouse/personal chef is out of town, I make plain fast meals like scrambled eggs, and hot sauce always makes straightforward food a little more of an event.
Plus if you have a brick of cream cheese and some hot sauce, you’re halfway to a hot dip.
That’s probably the most Midwestern thing I’ll ever say.
Aimee: It’s an official Pickapeppa recipe, The Big Easy: http://www.pickapeppa.com/the-big-easy/
Marnie: OH YEAH
Allison: I’ve been eating nothing but fancy beans and hot sauce for dinner recently. On days where I just can’t bring myself to make dinner, I put fancy beans in the Instant Pot, it’s done in 40 minutes, and then I sprinkle with salt and douse in hot sauce. All fancy beans work.
Marnie: Hmm, well, you leave me no choice but to swoop in and steal PINTO BEANS as my next pick!!
I usually buy canned, not dried, but we’ve done both. They make a welcome addition to quesadillas, our lazy dinner of choice.
(Though technically, all meals are lazy meals for me, because I have almost no hand in making them.)
Aimee: Beans, beans, the magical fruit…
Aimee: And you are lucky to have your own personal chef.
Marnie: I very much am.
Pinto beans manage to be exciting not for their flavor, but how satisfied and full I know I’ll be after eating them. There’s nothing like finishing dinner and knowing you won’t be hungry again until morning.
Allison: I don’t eat pinto beans very often! And every time I do, I remember how much I like them.
Marnie: Crowd-pleasin’ bean
Allison: Okay, so for my third pick, following my now obvious pattern of being a hungry Brooklyn Italian girl, I’m picking olive oil
Marnie: BEAUTIFUL SELECTION
Marnie: Ugh you guys are drafting such beautiful pantries
Aimee: Both aesthetically and gastronomically.
Allison: I use it for freaking everything. It’s good hot and cold. It works in cakes, in salads, and in your saute pan. It’s so good with eggs. Seriously, if you have a very pricey bottle of fancy olive oil, make some creamy, soft scrambled eggs and drizzle a little olive oil on top.
Marnie: Olive oil cupcakes with lemon buttercream frosting? GET OUTTA HERE
Allison: It’s also an excellent moisturizer!
Marnie: Ah yes, that’s very true, especially right now when we’re all drying out our hands with excessive washing
Allison: Olive oil on vanilla ice cream!
Aimee: My next pick is... kosher salt!
Allison: Olive oil WITH KOSHER SALT on vanilla ice cream!
Aimee: You can use it in anything. It’s still amazing to me.
Allison: Everything—everything-—is improved with just a tiny pinch of salt.
Marnie: I love any pantry staple where a single box can last months. Talk about value!
Aimee: I know!
I think I’ve had my current box for more than a year now. And it’s less than half empty.
Allison: You are undersalting your food, my friend. I have gone through 2 boxes this month already.
Aimee: No I’m not. It’s a very big box.
Allison: How big is this box! I demand pictures!
Aimee: 48 oz.
Allison: I buy 48-oz. Boxes!
Marnie: You are a recipe developer
Allison: True. There’s a ton of failed experiments in this house.
Aimee: My next pick is sugar. Which I went through a lot of when I was a grad student, because I was a compulsive stress baker and I needed lots of rewards to get through grading freshman comp essays.
Marnie: That’s a great motivator. And a great round 4 pick
Aimee: “Finish reading this paragraph and you can have a cookie.”
Aimee: “Finish this chapter of Foucault and you can have a slice of cake.”
I think I managed to relate it to Discipline and Punish somehow.
Allison: Sometimes you do your best writing when you’re hungry.
Aimee: Never me personally. I always needed to have a full stomach to think clearly.
Marnie: Full stomach + the promise of a sugary reward. My ideal state!
Allison: I’m really craving cinnamon buns. Gooey, melty brown sugar....
Marnie: How does that translate to your round 4 pick, Allison? Are you gonna go with cinnamon?
Allison: I’m going to go with eggs
We’re just listing stuff to make a cake, guys. We all want cake right now. That’s what’s happening.
Aimee: Or pancakes.
Marnie: We’ve got that 2:30 feeling!
Allison: But aside from baking, I always say that eggs are my favorite protein. I eat them for dinner at least 3 nights a week.
I’ll make a ton of vegetables, and then put a crispy egg on top, or I’ll make an omelette, or a carbonara
Or I’ll throw poached eggs on something, if I’m feeling upscale.
Aimee: A crispy egg makes everything better.
Allison: If you’ve got eggs, you’ve always got a meal, morning, noon or night. You can feed 6 people for like a buck fifty.
And never forget about the awesome powers of the Fridge Cleaning Frittata
Marnie: I never, ever shall
My next pick is something that probably doesn’t go very well with eggs: peanut butter
Aimee: But it’s beautiful anyway. It always makes you feel full.
Marnie: Yes! I can’t tell you how much I rely on peanut butter. It’s not only breakfast when you dole it out on a banana or spoon some into your overnight oats (try it!). It’s also perfect right out of the jar when you need a little pick-me-up but don’t want to spoil your meal, or if you’re about to exercise and need an energy boost
Allison: I finally kicked my habit of eating peanut butter from the jar a few months ago.
Aimee: I worked in an office once with a peanut butter ban, and it was so, so sad.
Marnie: Oh nooooooo
Aimee: I substituted cashew butter. I was respectful.
Allison: A fork is the optimal utensil for eating pb from the jar. It aerates it a bit, making for a very pleasant eating experience.
Aimee: I wonder how it works with a spork?
Marnie: It works well with a miniature rubber spatula, I can tell ya that
Allison: I tried to start making the PB healthier, and my favorite way to do it is to dunk a fork in peanut butter, then dunk it in a bag of chia seeds.
Marnie: For my final pick, I gotta give credit where it’s due and go with rice
I’ve always liked rice just fine and appreciated its role as an economical pantry power player. But only recently have I begun feeling actually excited by rice. This is because I’ve awoken to the beauty of pairing rice with various vinegars. A true revelation
Allison: You are all well aware of my relationship with rice pudding, so I don’t even need any other convincing that this is a great pick.
Aimee: It’s also a great canvas for just about anything.
Marnie: Yes! Scramble an egg right in there.
Allison: And, like the aforementioned frittata, let us speak of the beauty that is Clean Out the Fridge Fried Rice
In fact, every time I make rice, I double it just so I can make Clean Out the Fridge Fried Rice a few days later. You never know what it’s going to taste like, but it’s going to be amazing!
Marnie: And filling. A very important consideration in the current pantry landscape
Allison: Okay, for my final pick... vinegar. You know when you’re tasting for seasoning and you think the dish is missing a little something-something? And people will usually reach for the spice rack or add more salt. Nine times out of ten, you’re not missing salt. You’re missing acid.
Just like salt and onions, you don’t even need to taste it. You might add only a tablespoon or so, but it ends up bringing everything together.
Marnie: Plus, cleaning solution
Aimee: It’s magic!
Allison: Normally, in my kitchen, the acid is lemon. But right now, my supermarket is out of lemons, but my vinegar cabinet is there for me.
Marnie: Yes, lemons are hard to find these days, but a bottle of vinegar can last you a while
Aimee: My final pick is red pepper flakes. They’re my favorite way to add heat to anything.
Marnie: Twist ending! Do you put them on pizza?
Aimee: Yes! And in pizza sauce. And with anything that combines garlic and olive oil.
Marnie: Oh hell yeah
Allison: I do this, too!
Aimee: It’s a holy trinity.
Or a power of three or something.
Allison: Like if you saute anything in garlic and oil—pasta, vegetables, whatever—red pepper flakes really take it to another level
Aimee: And they don’t go bad and they last forever.
Marnie: Even if their spiciness fades over time, it takes a long-ass time.
And then you just get to use more
Aimee: Exactly! That’s the definition of a great pantry item.
Allison: I’d say it’s essential. If you’re only going to have a few things in your spice cabinet: salt, pepper, crushed red pepper.
Marnie: Do you think we missed any painfully obvious pantry staples here, gang?
Aimee: Probably, but the commenters will enlighten us.
Allison: If we kept going, I was going to take canned tomatoes and Parmesan. I thought that might be a little too stereotypical, though.