In the Pantry: When to Splurge on Pantry Staples

Should you skimp or splurge? What staples are really worth their salts in that grocery aisle? Here are nine items to add to your pantry:

Nut oil - Spend some money on a good oil, but instead of choosing olive oil, try something a little bit different, like a nut oil. Pick up a walnut oil or a pistachio oil ($16.99) that has really good flavor from a reputable company, like La Tourangelle. Because they roast most of their oils, it will last longer than a raw nut oil. Be sure to keep them in the refrigerator or freezer if you plan on not using them often.

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Infused oils - Try an infused oil, like a high-quality Meyer lemon oil ($15.95). Drizzle a little bit of the oil on a perfectly roasted fish.

Vinegars - For true, authentic balsamic vinegar, choose balsamic vinegar from Modena, Italy. Balsamic vinegar ($21.99) gets better with age. You can drizzle on cheese, fruit, or even ice cream.

Finishing Salts - Think of texture as well as flavor when choosing finishing salts. A lemon flake salt ($5.50) will provide flavor and crunch to a simple dish like roasted asparagus.

Anchovies - It may seem a little displeasing to your palate, but stocking your pantry with anchovies ($12.29) is worth it. To add a savory note to roasted vegetables, crush anchovies and garlic together with an olive oil dressing, or try adding anchovies to your next Ceasar salad.

Mushrooms - In-season, fancy mushrooms can be pricy. Use dried mushrooms ($12.99) in place of rare or expensive fresh mushrooms.

Saffron - Avoid purchasing ground saffron and saffron-imposters. Buy saffron ($11.95) in its full-thread form. To get the best flavor out of saffron, grind it with a bit of sugar and water, and then add to your soup, stew, or rice.

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Vanilla Beans - Look for fresh, pliable vanilla beans ($9.99). You'll be able to open it easily to get the little seeds inside the bean for optimum flavor.

Truffle Oil - Purchase truffle oils ($16.99) and salts from a reliable and reputable source, because sometimes, truffle oil is made with a gas that just tastes like truffles. Or bring home a high-quality, whole truffle. To store the truffle, bury it in short grain rice which allows it to breathe, and then later, turn the rice into a delicious, truffle-infused risotto.

For more cooking tips and tricks, check out host Aida Mollenkamp's book, "Keys to the Kitchen."

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