I promised this list when I published my favorite tools and sources. So, here goes!
1. Chicken Stock. I like to keep the freezer stocked with the homemade version, but when I run out or don’t have time to thaw any, I like this brand, which I buy from Costco.
2. Fleur de Sel. This is the really nice, large flaked salt that adds a beautiful finishing touch to things like roasted vegetables. The good stuff really does make a difference here.
3. Unsalted butter. We all know that the Barefoot Contessa recipes are famous (or infamous?) for starting with a pound of the stuff. I buy several pounds when it’s on sale, or from Costco, and keep it in the freezer.
4. Steel-cut oatmeal from Trader Joe’s. My favorite breakfast, hands down. Making it from scratch takes forever, unlike quick-cooking or even old-fashioned rolled oats, but I’ve been known to make a large batch in the slow cooker overnight. The steel-cut variety is less processed and so much healthier, and I love that Trader Joe’s sells individual servings in their frozen foods section. It’s not sweetened nearly as much as most commercially prepared oatmeal, so I like that, too. I add walnuts and a touch of honey, or occasionally some fruit.
5. Honeycrisp apples. Ah, the pride of Minnesota. I love these and eat them religiously when they’re in season. I have my son hooked on them now, too.
6. Local honey. It’s hard to find a locally “grown” sweetener in most parts of the U.S., but honey is a nice alternative. I love our local selection.
7. Walnuts. I keep them in the freezer to prevent the oils from going rancid. I prefer them to pecans, and so sometimes substitute them in recipes.
8. Extra virgin olive oil. This is one thing I don’t buy in bulk, because I’ve read/heard that fresher is better, so I’m constantly buying small bottles of it. I try to buy domestic oil when possible, even though it’s still a haul from California.
9. Local organic eggs. We have several great local producers, and backyard chicken coops are becoming popular even here in Minnesota. The combination of my tiny yard, neurotic dog, and sensible husband will prevent us from raising chickens of our own, so we’re lucky to have a local alternative at the farmers’ markets and grocery stores.
10. Grass fed beef. We have eaten ground beef, steaks, and roasts from Big River Beef, a Wisconsin farm that partners with our CSA. It’s fantastic, and we ordered twice as much for this year. For more information on the health benefits of grass fed beef (and organic food), please watch Food, Inc.
11. Fresh herbs. I grow them in the backyard and receive them in our CSA box in the summer months, and I try to stretch the harvest by freezing pesto. I’m reduced to buying them at the grocery store during the winter, but it’s still worth it.
12. Reduced Sodium Soy Sauce. Even the reduced sodium version of soy sauce adds a nice salty depth of flavor to a lot of my favorite food, and I’ve even been known to add it to beef stew lately. I love it on sauteed spinach, too.
13. Spices from Penzey’s. This place is like heaven to me. You can find spices and herbs that aren’t found at most traditional grocery stores, like vanilla sugar and dried shallots. If you visit an actual store, you can sniff samples before you buy. My favorite pepper mill comes from Penzey’s as well. Their catalog and website are full of fantastic recipes.
14. Lemons. Not only are they in a ton of Barefoot Contessa recipes, they also brighten up a glass of water. When we’re done with them, they go in the garbage disposal to freshen it up. I’ve even snuck some lemon juice into a recipe calling for white wine when I ran out of wine.
15. Canned pumpkin. Sometimes it’s the only vegetable my toddler will eat, and it tastes good.
16. Leeks and onions. They add so much flavor, and they’re easy to keep on hand. Word is that they’re pretty nutritious, too. Just don’t make me eat them raw.
17. Cooking spray with flour. This stuff is amazing. Remember the old days of “grease, then flour a 9×13 pan”? Well, this spray makes all of that possible with one easy step. Do I sound like an infomercial? Look for this version from Pam, or another brand called Baker’s Joy.
18. Vinegar. My crazy grandmother was a big proponent of vinegar’s health benefits, so I’m risking the scorn of my family by writing this, but I’ve become a bit of a vinegar freak in my own right. I love balsamic or red wine vinegar in recipes, and champagne or white wine vinegar is lovely in salad dressing. Apple cider vinegar is nice for marinades. But plain white vinegar is what we use the most at our house, just not for consumption: we clean with it and use it instead of fabric softener in the laundry. It’s non-toxic, great for the environment, and cheap, cheap, cheap. A bowl of vinegar left out in a bowl overnight eliminates most cooking smells (namely: fish) without leaving the fragrance of artificial air fresheners or candles behind. Combined with baking soda, it cleans drains, and diluted with water it cleans coffee pots.
These last two obviously aren’t ingredients in food, but they’re indispensable in the kitchen nonetheless:
19. Hand soap. I wash my hands – a lot. I really like this Trader Joe’s store brand hand soap lately – it’s made from orange blossom honey, a little goes a long way, and it rinses completely without leaving a residue.
20. Band-aids. I’m careful, but accidents happen. The trick is to stop the bleeding and apply a band-aid before my husband catches me holding half of my finger over the sink and asks, “Are you SURE we don’t need to go to the emergency room?” No sense of adventure, that one.