Monday, January 12, 2009

Cleaning House for 2009...the Best Kitchen Staples

I just lost a lengthy we're expediting this go-round. Argh! Starting anew appears to be the theme today. This post is a smattering of bits, pieces and articles that I hope you'll find helpful as you continue to push through January in high-gear.
Many of you hear me talking (again and again) about stocking your kitchen with essentials -- 10-15 staples to always have around. Why? It'll make your life incredibly easier when you open the fridge at 9pm at night and realize there's nothing there and you're starving. Or when you're ready to saute up a nice bunch of winter greens and realize you've used up all your olive oil down to the last drop. One of my favorite food columnists, Mark Bittman of the New York Times, wrote a great article last week titled "Fresh Start for a New Year? Let's Begin in the Kitchen". In the article, Bittman, who's also the author of the new book, Food Matters, speaks about the value, taste, health benefit (and economic benefit) of kitchen staples like olive oil, dried beans, frozen peas and veggies, vinegar, fresh spices and nuts. Sound familiar? Bittman's essentials may be geared more specificially for cooking, but the general concept is the same. Definitenly worth a quick read. What are my own kitchen staples? Here are the top 10 in no specific order:

1. extra virgin olive oil (can't live without it. cooking, homemade salad dressings, you name it. i'm using a great Greek olive oil at the moment)
2. low-fat plain yogurt (one of my fave breakfasts, keeps me going all morning with some fruit and a handful of granola or nuts. my wintry combo of late has been banana, 5-6 chopped walnuts, and a dash of cinnamon or a teaspoon of maple syrup or apple butter. yum)
3. garlic (i love it. my breath unfortunately, does not)
4. eggs (perfect for a quick, satisfying weeknight meal or easy weekend breakfast)
5. 2% cottage cheese (call me weird, but i love the stuff. it's a super-satisfying snack or breakfast with banana slices...a genius combo introduced to me by my grandmother at the tender age of 1)
6. parmesan, pecorino romano and goat cheese (all are typically found in my fridge. a great way to add a ton of flavor to dishes, salads etc without a ton of calories or fat. i can use pecorino on virtually anything and goat cheese paired with a few wholegrain crackers makes a tasty snack)
7. canned/dried beans (i need to follow Bittman's lead and prepare my dried beans more frequently to save on time and space. cannelini, lentils, chickpeas, kidney and black beans...all great to keep around)
8. balsamic/sherry/champagne vinegars (as i mentioned above, i'm big on homemade salad dressings, the taste just doesn't compare. ideally the balsamic is a good quality, authentic brand from Modena. it's great for marinades and glazes for fish, poultry, meat etc.)
9. nuts and dried fruit (from pecans to walnuts to pine nuts, dried cherries to raisins, i'll use nuts and dried fruit to sprinkle over salads, side dishes, a quick trail-mix on the go)
10. low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth (if i can't make my own, pre-made broth is a good thing to have around for soups, stews, sauteing/braising veggies and chicken. i usually go with the cartons of broth for easy storage in the fridge once open)
11. Bonus points...fresh fruits and vegetables!!! - at least 3 different types of each can be found in my fridge or on my counter top at all times. golden beets, kale, sweet potatoes, carrots, clementines, grapefruits, Empire apples from the greenmarket and grapes in the mix this week)
Next up, since we're speaking of kitchen essentials and favorites, I thought it'd be worth mentioning the cookbook I happen to be reading at the moment. I ordered Tom Colicchio's cookbook, Think Like a Chef, a few weeks ago and it finally appeared in the mail over the weekend. Colicchio is the famed chef/judge on Bravo's Top Chef and owns Craft Restaurant in NYC. I'm a big fan (and it's not only because of his cleanly shaven head). It's a great cookbook that very much mirrors how I personally think about food and the process of creating a dish/recipe. The book takes you step by step through his thought process and hits on techniques first, building up to simple, seasonal recipes. Just the way I myself like to cook! Thanks Tom, this is definitely going to be a staple reference on my shelf!

Finally, on a random not-so-"nutritionist" side note, I was invited to dine at Peter Luger's steakhouse last night with a few friends. Though one might think the massive quantities of steak, Canadian bacon and creamed spinach are a nutritionist's worst nightmare, there's always a way to make the best of any situation and truly enjoy it, healthfully. I'm personally not a big steak eater and never have been since childhood, so why did I accept the invite? Peter Luger's is a long-standing NY institution, I'm always up for trying something new, and I always enjoy the company and conversation of good friends. I can confidently say, we had a pretty healthful meal in the grand scheme of things. Portions and balancing out your order is everything in such a steak-filled situation. I balanced out my meal with the mixed greens salad we ordered to start, fresh steamed broccoli, and some potatoes. Of course I had a few small pieces of steak and a few bites of the Canadian bacon (it's what they're known for, gotta try it). Not a lover of creamed spinach, I skipped over it so I could share in the wonderfulness that is Luger's hot fudge sundae. Umm...heaven and well worth the splurge of calories on a random Sunday evening. Don't worry, I practice what I preach, we shared the sundae.

above photo credit: Miles & Co.

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