If balsamic vinegar was the little black dress of the '90s, sea salt is the balsamic of the 00 decade.
It comes in fashionable basic black, or white, or grey.
Or pink, if that's your fashion statement.
It goes with, and on, everything, from cupcakes to crab cakes to coq au vin.
It's smooth yet crunchy, mild yet powerful. It's called a finishing salt, because it's usually added at the end of the cooking, but I think it's really because so many dishes are unfinished without it.
Like a clothes closet without a little black dress.
In the house where I grew up, baking just did not happen.
Nothing, never, no baking, period.
No one is to blame.
In the house where my mother grew up, baking did not happen, so she didn't know the basics, like how to butter and flour a cake pan, and she never taught me.
Hooray for baking spray, which "butters" and flours my cake pans -- and especially the crevices in Bundt pans -- and all I have to do is lift one finger to the nozzle of the can to make it happen.
No baking experience required.
Hi-Lo Foods, a small supermarket in the Latino section of Boston's Jamaica Plain neighborhood, devotes half an aisle to Mexican chocolate. Shopping at the Hi-Lo is an experience in sensory overload in every aisle, but for anyone with a sweet tooth, the chocolate aisle might be the most sensory of all.
I live more than an hour away, so when I do get there, I stock up. In addition to the traditional disks of Ibarra (from Guadalajara, Mexico) and Abuelita (from Nestle), the Hi-Lo sells bars, chips, cocoa mixes, and chocolate candies of every shape and size.
Traditionally, Mexican chocolate is used to make a hot chocolate drink, whipped by hand with a wooden molinillo, the indigenous form of the swizzle stick.
As is true of many things in The Perfect Pantry, I own more than one molinillo. More than two. Okay, four. Two were gifts, and two were market finds in Mexico, for a dollar or so.