Back to Basics

In the quest for balance in my life, I’m learning to embrace simplicity.  This is a struggle for me since I’m naturally a complicated person, chock full of many passions, as well as contradictions.  I tend to over-think everything and second guess myself.

One area in which I’m pretty decisive and confident, however, is my cooking.  I have very definite ideas about flavor profiles and matching the right dishes to any given mood or moment, and I am usually abetted by having a well-stocked kitchen, with a multitude of ingredients waiting to be called upon at will. With a little consideration and planning, there’s no reason this strategy can’t work for you too, whether you are more of a traditionalist in the kitchen or are aiming for a healthier, lighter fare.  If you follow some simple steps, you too can prepare a dish or an entire meal on a moment’s notice with very little fuss. With the fast-paced and overbooked lives we lead today, wouldn’t this be a winning strategy in your home?

The forethought involved is really no more than thinking about what kind of a cook you are (or strive to be) and what kind of foods you and your loved ones enjoy.  Do you tend to eat simple meals, often alone, or with one other person?  Do you entertain often and exuberantly?  Are you still being true to your New Year’s resolution to lose weight or  to live and eat more healthfully?  Since we are barely a quarter of our way into the new year, today I will provide you with my list of “must have” supplies to achieve and maintain a healthier, more conscious cuisine.

Chard:almonds:whole grainSTAPLES FOR YOUR PANTRY

Canned Beans – Black/Pinto/Garbanzo/Canellini – terrific for adding heartiness to salads, soups and other side dishes (also, dried lentils)

100% Whole Wheat & Whole Grains – Breads/Bulgar/Couscous/Farro/Quinoa/Brown & Wild Rice – any or all of the above

Unsalted Raw Nuts – especially Almonds & Walnuts

Dried Fruits – Berries (like Cran/Blue/Strawberries, and Dehydrated Banana Chips) – use these for added natural sweetness and texture

Dried Spices for Swapping out a Variety of Ethnic Flavors – (think Italian, Asian, Indian, Southwestern/Latin & Caribbean) – oregano, thyme, cumin, coriander, cayenne pepper, red pepper flakes, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, sesame seeds, dill, tarragon – using these will help a great deal in sticking to a healthier diet by rescuing your palate from boredom!

100% Fat Free Stocks & Broths – for soup bases, sauces and added moisture – preferably organic

Cooking Sprays – olive oil or vegetable and Good Quality Oils – Extra Virgin Olive for intensifying flavor or adding smoothness; Canola when you need something lighter with neutral flavor, and higher smoking point.

Sea Salts – buy a couple of different flavors, this will encourage you to layer your seasoning throughout the cooking process and to ‘finish’ your dishes with a final sprinkling of smokiness, citrus, or herbed flavor.

All Natural Blue Agave Syrup or Honey

Canned Chipotle in Adobe – One of my ‘secret ingredients’ – a small amount will add an instant smokey dimension to a lot of dishes that need a little kick.

Flavored Vinegars – Balsamic/Fig/Raspberry/Champagne/Tarragon/Citrus – not just for salads anymore! A few drops of these babies will liven up proteins, grains, even desserts! (Grilled peaches, pineapple, or plums anyone?)

STAPLES FOR YOUR FRIDGE

All Berries and Melons – cut up the melon and keep it clearly visible on an eye-level shelf!

Bananas, Stone Fruit & Citrus – in a bowl on a counter where you can see it (and EAT it!)

Fresh Herbs – rinse these and keep them wrapped loosely in damp paper towels in a drawer of your fridge OR, I like to trim the stems and place them in a glass of water about 1/2″ deep on my window ledge  (looks so pretty!) – throw in chopped handfuls to any dish and enjoy the brightened flavor!

Dark Green Leafy Lettuces – Spinach/Collards & Kale/Chards/Mustard & Dandelion Greens – chop and eat raw added into salads, or braise them and enjoy them added to sides (If they seem too “chewy” in their raw state, a light sprinkling of lemon juice and coarse salt will break down the fibrous leaves when rubbed vigorously between your clean hands.  No kidding!)

Sweet Potatoes & Other Root Vegetables – Roast these (chopped and lightly drizzled with olive oil, salt & pepper), then wrap them well and keep in the fridge for a quick, nutritious addition to your meal OR as a simple, satisfying snack.

Flavor Boosters – Fresh Citrus Juices, Mustards (whole grain, dijon, honey), Hot Sauces, Soy Sauce, Fresh Garlic, Fresh Ginger, Miso Paste

Non-fat Plain Greek Yogurt – to replace sour cream & mayo.  Use in sauces & dressings. (Also consider using avocado as a mayo substitute.)

Hummus – all flavors & veggie purees – Eat with whole grain pita or whole wheat tortillas or with fresh raw veggies.

AND DON’T FORGET YOUR FREEZER!

Frozen fruits and veggies are picked and frozen at their ripest and are an excellent source of nutrients, as well as extremely convenient to use at the last minute.

Frozen Vegetables – Use these as last minute side dishes, but also to add bulk to salads, & grains, or puree for tasty dips and snacks.

Frozen Fruits – Use these to prepare smoothies, desserts & to add flavor to protein drinks. Peaches, berries, pineapple, mango & more!

Next up….stocking your “traditional” kitchen…. Stay tuned!

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