Sunday, May 08, 2011

Kitchen Essentials - Ingredients

Click here for the first post in this series (Pans), here for the second (Tools) and here for the third (Storage & Pantry Organization). I thought it would be fun to do a series of posts on my favorite kitchen items - the ones that I own and use and consider to be essentials for how I cook these days. I was not paid or asked to review any of these items. They're just things that I love, things that I've either bought with my own money or received as a gift from family members, things that I would totally buy again.


All Purpose Unbleached Flour

I personally prefer the King Arthur Brand because I like what they stand for. If you're going to use white flour because you love it so much more than whole wheat (I'll admit it, I do!), then at least get the unbleached kind. Bleached flour contains bromides which are a bleaching agent, as well as chlorine dioxide. When chlorine dioxide reacts with the proteins in flour, it creates a chemical called Alloxan. This is what makes the flour look white and beautiful. It's also been shown in tests to destroy cells in your pancreas, making you more at risk for getting diabetes.

King Arthur brand is neither bleached or bromated. It's a high quality flour that can be found at most grocery stores in my area. It's actually a bit cheaper at Super Target than it is on their website!

Frozen Fruits and Vegetables

I am terrible. While I aim to eat fresh fruits and veggies most of the time, I tend to find that a lot of what I buy, if I don't have a specific plan for them, gets forgotten and wasted. I want to continue to feed my family healthy veggies that haven't had all the nutrients cooked out of them (and in most cases, BPA cooked in) which means commercially canned food isn't really an option for me.

Frozen food to the rescue! Vegetables that are bought frozen can actually be more nutritious than their fresh counterparts. How can that be? Well, they're usually flash frozen right after picking. Fresh vegetables need to be shipped, pretty far in some cases. As soon as most things are picked they start to lose nutritional value. If it's taken a week to get your carrots to your store, then they sit there for another couple of days before you buy them, and then they hang out in your fridge for a while before you get around to making them... well, you've lost a lot of vitamins!

On the other hand, if you buy carrots that are frozen, those carrots were frozen hours after they were picked and therefore still had most of their nutrients intact. Freezing preserves those, making them the healthier choice.

The caveat? A fresh carrot from a farmer's market in your town will usually beat all those out without even trying. Also, when you buy frozen fruits and veggies (always in a bag!) check to be sure the pieces are still individual and loose in there. If they're all stuck together in a solid lump that means that at some point they thawed and refroze. This compromises quality and taste, so leave those behind.
Vanilla Extract

If you are buying imitation vanilla extract, you should stop. It's a gross chemical soup that often contains corn syrup. Vanilla extract should not contain corn syrup. For one of the best vanilla extracts out there, you can't go wrong with Nielsen Massey. They have three different varieties; Madagascar Bourbon, Mexican, and Tahitian. I'm a fan of the Mexican Vanilla myself. I add almost double what the recipe calls for and I think it gives my baked goods a slight edge.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

I am lucky that I live less than an hour from the only olive mill in Arizona. This means that I get to buy truly local, high quality olive oil whenever I like without paying shipping. I use a lot of olive oil too. It's my main cooking oil. I always buy the 500 mL bottle since I go through it so fast.

The thing about olive oil is that once you open it, it starts to oxidize. That means that you're losing health benefits the longer you keep it around. That is why, no matter how cheap it is, I will never buy a gallon drum (you've seen them at Costco!) of olive oil. Unless you can go through that in a couple of months, it's just not worth it. Part of the reason I use olive oil is for the health benefits after all!
Parmigiano Reggiano

Powdered Parmesan cheese out of a green shaker can should be a sin. You haven't have parm until you've had the real thing. Yes, it costs more, but a little goes a long way with this stuff. Make sure the rind is stamped with Parmigiano Reggiano to be sure you're getting the good stuff. Grate it with a fine grater over pasta and your mouth will be one happy camper.


The difference between an okay brownie and an awesome brownie is the chocolate that you use to make it. Again, yes, Hershey's cocoa powder and Baker's chocolate are inexpensive, but they taste like it too. Use a better quality chocolate (the three above are my favorites) and you'll get a baked good that will be so good you'll want to cry.

Seriously. If you place a spoonful of cheap cocoa powder next to a spoonful of this beautiful cocoa rouge (which can be found cheaper online than anywhere else) you can see the difference with your eyes. Even if you do the same test with plain Scharffen Berger cocoa (which is still a fine product) you can see the depth of color and quality difference between them.

Buy good chocolate. You're worth it!

Thus concludes my Kitchen Essentials series! What would you consider to be an essential item in your kitchen?


Blogger Samara Link said...

Another good one ... Thanks for the tip about adding extra vanilla. I started buying pure vanilla extract several years ago, but it wasn't until I saw your note about "the good stuff" on FB that I upgraded to a better version. I got the Madagascar Bourbon. When I run out, I'll try the one you use. Thanks for the great suggestions!

3:09 PM  

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