As a food and restaurant writer, I’m always looking for ingredients to help me make better meals at home. I love experimenting with new products from grocery stores, multicultural marts and farmer’s markets, and I’ve made some discoveries worth sharing. My ultimate goal is to find products that make preparing meals at home tastier, healthier and most important, easier. So, here’s what I go out of my way to buy, and why.
Like many of us, I prefer products that aren’t full of chemicals and preservatives. I like them even better if they’re local, or in my case, made in the MidAtlantic region. That’s how I found Tessamae’s dressings. An Annapolis mom Tesse Vetter, started Tessamae’s when her sons said her salad dressing was so good she should sell it. The family business manufactures a flavorful collection of organic, all-natural salad dressings, marinades and condiments. My current favorites are French Dijon Vinaigrette, Green Goddess and Lemon Chesapeake—visit Tessamae’s website for recipe ideas.
Top Chef fans may remember Mexican food entrepreneur Rick Bayless, who founded Frontera Grill and Frontera products. One of the reasons I love Frontera is the packaging; his seasoning sauces come in environmentally responsible pouches packed with intense flavors. Try making tacos, enchiladas and carnitas with his authentic sauces; people will think you’re a genius in the kitchen.
Marion’s Kitchen sells restaurant-quality Thai cooking kits at Harris Teeter. Marion’s kits contain almost everything you need to make a genuine Thai dish, including green or red curry paste, noodles, coconut milk, dried herbs, bamboo shoots and chilies. My favorite is the Thai Green Curry but I also like Thai Massaman Curry. Add veggies, meat or seafood for a quick and easy meal. Trader Joe’s sells a similar package for Pad Thai—it’s easy and tastes like you brought take out in from a Thai restaurant.
Okay, this isn’t about dinner, but who doesn’t want to have a little snack in the evening? My family is addicted to Skinny Pop Popcorn, a low-calorie popcorn that tastes like freshly popped popcorn. Best of all, you can enjoy handfuls of it guilt-free. Surrender that unhealthy microwave popcorn. Give up the tasteless air popper; instead buy giant, 12-ounce bags of Skinny Pop at Costco for about $5.
The charcuterie craze is alive and well, as many artisan chefs embrace high-quality cured meats. To serve restaurant-quality salami and sausages at home, stop by Central Farm Markets for MeatCrafters products (also Balducci’s and Mom’s Organic Market). These are the same cured meats served at The Inn at Little Washington, and if it’s good enough for a Michelin-starred restaurant, it’s good enough for me.
Lastly, I can recommend the delivery food service called Sun Basket. I’ve had delivery four times, and each time, my family and I get more excited about the recipes. They make it easy to produce technically difficult meals using the ingredients they ship directly to your home. They have easy-to-follow directions, and all have been very tasty. Pictured above is Lemongrass Stir-Fry Beef, Mushrooms and Kale.
There you have it—six tips for eating better food at home. Portions of this article appeared in VivaTysons Magazine’s July/August 2016