Barbara Chisholm on the Top 10 Things to Top It Off

Barbara Chisholm on the Top 10 Things to Top It Off
Photo By John Anderson

1) Camargue Fleur de Sel: A wave from the salt shaker is a reflective motion when whipping up dinner, but when you bring out the Fleur de Sel, it's with delicate precision that one sprinkles the flaky granules. In part because of its steep price ($9.50 for a 4.4-ounce box!), and in part because the oceanic flavor imparted by the hand-harvested salt is best appreciated when you take the time to allow all your senses to appreciate its grainy texture, its aroma of the sea, and its superlative taste as it lifts your green beans from pedestrian to palatial. Available at fine grocers.

2) Fresh Cracked Pepper: Please, throw all tins of ground pepper away. You won't miss it, as it barely imparts any flavor anyway. The effort expended in a few grinds of a mill provides a difference as dramatic as any in the culinary world. Give a good grind, and the first sneeze that results is your first clue as to why good cooks insist on it.

3) Toasted Pecan Pieces: My friend Meredith's mom shared her secret of good cooking: "Add a handful of chopped pecans." That sound advice gets even better if you toast the pecans first. Muffins, salads, cakes, fish crust, chicken breading, just about everything is improved by adding a handful of these sweet and locally farmed nuts.

4) Chile Lime Saltburst: It's the adorable packaging with the wooden spoon and cork-topped jar that will catch your eye, but the devotion comes after you sample the piquant, fiery, and tangy flavor. We can't imagine guacamole, corn, chili, shrimp, etc., without it. We even like to rim a Bloody Mary glass for a real eye opener. The other Saltburst flavors (orange, garlic, chipotle, All Spiceburst, Cracked Malabar) have legions of devotees, too. Available at Farm to Market.

5) TexaFrance Tarragon & Thyme Pesto: When you spread your bread with this herby concoction on top, your turkey sandwich takes on a savory lusciousness that brings the tastes of Provence and even Thanksgiving to your lunchtime repast. Available at Whole Foods, Central Market, some HEBs, and other grocers.

6) Alexander Family Farm Eggs: Our friend Lee likes to top off her macaroni and cheese with an egg. We haven't tested her technique yet, but we do like to top our toast with a perfectly poached egg, and a stack of pancakes is improved by an egg over easy. And the eggs of choice are the locally produced Alexander Farm beauties. The yolks are the color of saffron and so rich and delicious other eggs are anemic by comparison.

7) AgaSweet: Pure organic agave nectar is the base for this unusual and (dare we say it?) healthy sweetener; essential oils provide the flavors. The result is a light, clean, almost elusive sweetener that heightens a bowl of berries and glazes a salmon to perfection. The tangerine/ginger flavor is our particular favorite, but do try the peppermint, cinnamon, lavender, and lemon varieties, too. Available at Farm to Market and Sunset Valley Farmers Market.

8) Koppers Mocha Coffee Lentils: They look like brown and tan M&Ms, but the chocolaty interior is a whole lot more sophisticated in taste. It's like a crunchy mocha latte and makes an ideal accompaniment to top off an after-dinner coffee. Available in the bulk candy sections of Central Markets.

9) BakerMan's Bakery Petits Fours: Top off a dinner party elegantly with these gorgeous gems of cake. They're just big enough to satisfy and small enough to rationalize having just one more. And so gorgeously decorated they fit in with any fancy soiree. Our favorite is the white cake with raspberry filling and vanilla buttercream, but the chocolate with mocha filling and chocolate buttercream has a following in the house, as well. BakerMan's Bakery is located at 120 E. Seventh.

10) Rainwater: It seems so obvious, it's hard to believe no one has done it before. But fresh squeezed cloud juice from Dripping Springs is the first bottled rain water in the country, and it is scrumptious, chlorine free, locally and celestially produced. Richard Heinichen built the colorful tank town of brightly colored rain-collection tanks and collects and purifies the stuff from the skies. The resulting beverage tops off any meal refreshingly. Available bottled at local stores.

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