Stocking your pantry is one of the most important factors to successful kitchen organizing. I have a tried and true list of ingredients that come
to my rescue over and over again. With the pantry basics I can create almost any dish my family requests. I promise these items will make
your kitchen happier! You’ll need them to be well stocked for The Fresh 20 menu plans!
Click HERE to download your checklist
Whenever possible aim for the best ingredients you can afford, especially when it comes to olive oil and balsamic vinegar. It really makes a difference in the overall taste of your food.
What can I say. You can’t cook without it. A good quality olive oil is the foundation of great meals.
I usually have two different bottles on hand. One for everyday cooking with heat and one for drizzle and dressings. Both should be great quality but let’s face it, I’m not going to use a $30 bottle of olive oil to saute vegetables!
Olive oil comes to us primarily from Spain, Italy and Greece. There are subtle differences in flavor and the best thing to do is taste them side by side. William-Sonoma often has a tasting out. I prefer Spanish brands. I find that they are a little more green and earthy which is something I like in my cooking. Others swear by Italian brands for bread dipping and salad dressings. Experiment! Know the difference. This is one ingredient that has the ability to change the quality of your cooking simply by choosing the right brand!
Don’t be afraid to splurge a little. In the past, I’ve had such a hard time reaching for that 15-20 dollar bottle but I am never disappointed by the flavor and I’ve come to the conclusion that buying quality can change you as a cook. Don’t worry if it’s not in your budget to splurge. There are many supermarket brands that are good solid choices. One note: Always buy extra virgin olive oil!
Whether you’re an experienced cook, or a newbie in the kitchen, chances are you’ve used olive oil in a recipe. Although a long time staple in many kitchens it’s just over the last few years this particular oil has come to the front line of cooking, making its’ appearance in many kitchens as well as our weekly Fresh 20 menus.
Olive oils are created by a cold pressing method that releases oils from the olives. Extra virgin and pure olive oils refer to the first and second pressing of the fruit to obtain their juices.
In your Fresh 20 menus you’ll find that olive oil is used in a variety of ways; marinades, vinaigrette and pestos are just a few. It can also be brushed onto meats and vegetables before cooking or grilling.
As when buying any ingredient for cooking, buy the best that your budget will allow. Look for olive oil that is in a tightly sealed, tinted bottle.
The Fresh 20 recommends O-Live Everyday Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
Grapeseed oil is made from the seeds of grapes, a by product of wine making when the grapes are squeezed of their juices. Not only does this give Grapeseed oil an abundance of health benefits such as Omega Fatty Acids and Vitamins E and C, but lends to a light, neutral taste, making it a perfect pantry staple.
Although not as commonly used as some oils in cooking, you’ll find Grapeseed Oil making a frequent appearance in your Fresh 20 menus. Due to it’s high smoke point of 420 degrees, it is great for sautéing meat, seafood and vegetables. It’s neutral flavor also makes it ideal for using in tossed salads and marinades.
If you are running short on Olive Oil, Grapeseed Oil can easily be used as a substitute.
The Fresh 20 recommends La Tourangelle Grapeseed Oil.
When it comes to pantry items, balsamic vinegar is a must have. The dark, tangy vinegar, a result of fermented white grape juice, has soared to popularity in recent years. Now, it’s not just used by chefs in fancy restaurants, but by home cooks as well.
Traditional balsamic vinegar made in regions of Italy, went through a minimum 12 year aging process, but what we find on our grocery store shelves has been aged around 2 months. As always, when buying pantry staples, purchase the best your budget will allow.
Once you’ve found the perfect balsamic for you, leave the rest to the Fresh 20. In your weekly menus you’ll find new and exciting ways that balsamic vinegar can add flavor to your everyday dishes. The most common being pasta dishes, marinades for meat, roasted vegetables, vinaigrettes and seafood dishes.
The Fresh 20 recommends Acetaia Malpighi Balsamo of Modena.
Each week, as your Fresh 20 menu lands in your mailbox, you’ll often see many of the same ingredients listed under Pantry staples. What may be new to you is how these common ingredients can be used in ways you may not have tried before.
For example, white wine vinegar. Sure, it’s rather neutral flavor, adds a wonderful tang to vinaigrette dressings, when used on salads and in vegetable dishes, but you’ll find that we also use it for tenderizing meat in marinades and to accentuate the flavor of soups and stews.
White wine vinegar’s mildly acidic nature helps to break down meat’s protein structure when used in marinades. This allows the vinegar to tenderize the meat while without adding too much of an acid or bitter taste. You’ll find in your Fresh 20 menus, that it’s often partnered with olive oil and herbs in marinades, giving your meat a tenderness and fullness of flavor, sure to be enjoyed.
Another way to use white wine vinegar is to add a small amount to your heavier stews and soups to bring a brightness to their flavor. It’s often used to accentuate flavors without adding more salt to the dish. It has a wonderful way of balancing flavors without overpowering them.
As you can see, that little bottle of white wine vinegar sitting on your pantry shelf has the potential for so much more than being used in your standard salad vinaigrette. Each week, in your Fresh 20 menus, you’ll have the opportunity to explore and taste all the possibilities of this pantry staple.
Our pick: Napa Valley Naturals
Stock versus Broth? This is often the most pondered question when it comes to this pantry staple.
The difference between the two has to do with how each one is made. Stock is created by simmering, in water, left over bones, trimmings of meat and/or vegetables making a mild flavored base for soups. When making broth, entire cuts of meat (such as chicken breast, legs, thighs) and whole vegetables, not just the trimmings, are simmered together in water over an extended period of time. This creates a richer base flavor when used in soups, sauces and stews.
In your Fresh 20 menus, you’ll find broth is the choice (both chicken and vegetable) to use in inspired dishes bringing flavor to stuffed cabbage, chicken posole and rice pilafs, as well as soups, bisques and risottos.
As always, choose the highest quality ingredients your budget will allow when stocking your Pantry 20.
The Fresh 20 recommends Pacific Foods chicken and/or vegetable low sodium.
When thinking of true pantry staples, Garlic quickly comes to mind. A member of the onion family, garlic is used for everything from marinades to sauces, meat dishes to soups in your Fresh 20 menus.
Garlic is grown during the months of March to August, but is readily available year round, in the produce area of your grocery store. The Fresh 20 recommends garlic from Melissa’s Produce, if available where you shop.
When choosing garlic, look for a bulb that is firm, tightly closed and plump. Avoid bulbs with green shoots coming out of the top, as this means growth is occurring within the bulb and it is not fresh. Each bulb generally contains 10-20 individual cloves. Once home, your garlic should last 3-4 months if stored in a cool, dry place.
Honey is a natural sweetener that is produced from flower nectar by honey bees. It contains about the same sweetness as granulated sugar and performs well in both raw and baked dishes. Maple Syrup is also a natural sweetener, made from maple tree sap. Just as flavorful as honey, it pairs well with both meats and vegetables.
In your Fresh 20 menus, you’ll find honey and maple syrup used in dressings, marinades, and sauces. Although honey and maple syrup are both sweeteners, they’re used in your Fresh 20 menus in small amounts. Paired with other flavors which are sour, tart, spicy, or acidic–honey and maple syrup will balance the flavor profile of the dish, rather than create an overall sweetening effect.
When buying honey and maple syrup, check the labels and make sure to buy ‘Grade A Honey’ and ‘100% Maple Syrup.’ Both of these products contain no artificial ingredients, and are naturally gluten-free.
Oregano became popular in the United States during World War ll. Soldiers returning referred to it as, ‘The Pizza Herb’, after enjoying in the cuisine they ate while stationed in southern Italy.
Today, we enjoy this marjoram relative for the fragrant, warm flavor it’s dried leaves bring to not only Italian dishes, but Latin and Greek as well. In your Fresh 20 menus you’ll find it starring in Swedish Meatballs, Steak Fajitas and Chili Rubbed Flank Steak as well as bringing a fullness to milder flavored vegetable dishes.
Dried oregano is thought to be more flavorful than when it’s fresh. When shopping for your own dried Oregano, the Fresh 20 recommends Penzey’s Spices. Be sure to store it in an airtight container, where it will be good for up to six months.
Herbes de Provence…sounds very fancy, doesn’t it? This pantry staple’s name is derived from it’s place of origin in Provence, France. While the name of this dried herb combination sounds fancy, it couldn’t be more simple to use.
A blend of fennel, savoy, basil and thyme and lavender, Herbes de Provence, brings layers of flavor to meat, seafood and vegetable dishes. It is usually added during cooking or as oil is heating to infuse it with flavor. Rarely is it used at the end of a dish. In your Fresh 20 menus, you’ll find Herbes de Provence used to season pork and seafood prior to searing, as well as in marinades and sautéed vegetable dishes.
Look for a blend that includes the American addition of lavender when shopping for your Herbes de Provence. The Fresh 20 recommends the spice blend found through Penzey’s Spices.
Native to the mediterranean and used in ancient times, Cumin is a spice that has survived the centuries. Grown as a seed on an annual plant, Cumin is then ground into the smoky, warm spice we are familiar with today.
You’ll find cumin used in a variety of dishes in your Fresh 20 menus. It’s warm aroma lends itself well to Middle Eastern, Mexican, Mediterranean and Asian cuisine. It’s also one of the main components in curry powders.
When shopping for cumin as your pantry staple, the Fresh 20 recommends Penzey’s Spices. Store it in an airtight container, where it is good for up to six months.
If you are looking to add a little spice, and maybe even heat to your pantry staples, look no further than cayenne and chili powder. Their warm, fragrant aroma and deep color can bring another level of flavor to almost any dish.
You’ll find, when looking through your Fresh 20 menus, that these two spices can be used together, or separately. There’s a difference in what each spice can do, when added to a dish. We’ll clarify the differences between the two.
Cayenne–made from dried, pulverized fruit of one or more different kind of chiles. Cayenne pepper most often make up the cayenne spice, along with ancho chiles. Often associated with bring a little ‘heat’ to cooking.
Chili powder–a blend of spices that can be used to add layers of flavor, without adding heat. Most often a combination of paprika, ancho chiles, cumin, oregano, cayenne, coriander and garlic powder.
When shopping for cayenne and chili powders, the Fresh 20 recommends Penzey’s Spices. Be sure to store your spices in an airtight container, where they will last up to six months.
Paprika is often the spice we associate as the red adornment sprinkled atop deviled eggs. While that is true, there’s so much more to this spice than that. Made from the dried fruit of a variety of bell peppers and chilies paprika is a deep red-orange spice with a mild, smoky flavor that adds little to no heat when cooking.
A component in chili powder, it stands out well on it’s own in marinades, rubs, stews and chili.
While often associated with Hungarian cooking and Paprikash, in your Fresh 20 menus you’ll find Paprika adding flavor to Gumbo, Sweet Potato Bisque, Steak Chili and Fajitas.
Penzey’s Spices carries the paprika of choice, here at the Fresh 20. When shopping you may also find different varieties of paprika such as Spanish Smoked Paprika that brings a note of additional smokiness to your savory dishes.
Be sure to store your spice in a cool, dark place. In an airtight container it will last up to six months.
Black pepper is known to be one of the world’s most traded spices, making it almost a given that it would be a part of the Pantry 20.
Native to southern India and Indonesia, and grown as the fruit of the Piperaceae vine, grape-like clusters are picked and dried, becoming what we know as peppercorns. From that point it is further ground into black pepper, or kept intact as peppercorns, only to be freshly ground in pepper mills at the time it is needed to season a dish. Known as one of the most common spices in cooking, black pepper is often paired with salt when seasoning and finishing a dish to balance it’s flavor, this is how you’ll most commonly see it used in your Fresh 20 menus.
When shopping for black pepper, The Fresh 20 recommends Penzey’s Spices, if it is available in your area. Once you have purchased your black pepper, store it in a dark, cool place. Ground pepper will retain it’s flavor for up to four months time. Freshly ground black peppercorns, using a pepper mill, will yield the strongest pepper flavor and require less when seasoning a dish.
Don’t underestimate the versatility of black pepper.
When it comes to cooking, there are many things that can make or break the final dish, but how you season it might just be the biggest. Adding salt during cooking, and again when finishing your masterpiece can mean the difference between a meal that is bland and one that is full flavored and enjoyable.
As you browse through your Fresh 20 menu each week, you may notice that kosher and sea salts make a frequent appearance. What’s the difference between the two? Why kosher salt in a vinaigrette instead of sea salt, or even common table salt? The differences in these two salts is subtle, but just enough to change the way you think about them using them.
Kosher salt is an inexpensive, cooking salt, that has gained in popularity and availability over the last few years. It is made using a brine and evaporation process that creates diamond-like crystals. This salt is used by many chefs in their cooking, as they like that it is a salt without additives (iodine is added to common table salt) that creates a burst of salty flavor with its coarse grains. When shopping for kosher salt, be sure to read the ingredients. Some brands have an anti-caking agent that is added. In your Fresh 20 menus, you’ll find that it is also used in everyday cooking when seasoning sautés, creating marinades for meat dishes and bringing a full flavor to vinaigrettes.
Sea salt, which has also become more common place in recent years, is a salt harvested using a method that creates soft, light crystals, making it an excellent finishing salt. A light sprinkle of sea salt on a finished dish will bring a full, salt flavor with each bite, that is just enough to enhance the dish and not overpower. It doesn’t need to be saved just for savory dishes either. Adding a pinch of sea salt to a dessert can compliment the sweetness, making for a fuller flavor. It is especially delicious when paired with chocolate and caramel.
Cooking with kosher and sea salts doesn’t have to be intimidating. In fact, you’ll quickly notice the difference these two unique salts will make in the flavor and enjoyment of your Fresh 20 meals, making them another useful pantry staple.
Tomato paste is a thick paste created by cooking down tomatoes, to reduce their juices, then straining and cooking again to further reduce. The result, is a thick, deep red, concentrated paste of rich, tomato goodness.
At the Fresh 20 you’ll find tomato paste used in a variety of ways. To punch up the flavor of the ground turkey in Turkey Tacos ‘de Papa’, spaghetti bolognese, soups and stews.
Buying your tomato paste in a tube, and adding it in small doses helps to better control the flavor, and means less waste. If you can’t find it in a tube, freeze any left over tomato paste from the can in small freezer bags, to use for later recipes.
When you think of mustard, what comes to mind? The bright yellow, tangy condiment added to potato salad or the finishing touch to a hamburger, straight off the grill? While good ‘ol yellow mustard is great for just those things, Dijon mustard is quickly making itself known as a condiment of choice, as well as a pantry staple.
Dijon mustard gets its name from the region of France, where it originated. This creamy, pale yellow mustard is made from white wine, ground mustard seeds, salt and other spices.
When it comes to using Dijon mustard in your Fresh 20 menus, you’ll find it used as an emulsifier in salad dressings and vinaigrettes, as well as seafood dishes, vegetable sides and salads.
As always, when purchasing pantry staples, buy the best your budget will allow. The Fresh 20 recommends Maille Dijon Mustard if available in your local grocery store. Be sure to refrigerate after opening to ensure freshness.
When it comes to choosing your pasta, the bounty of options can be a bit overwhelming and confusing. What’s better…whole wheat or white pasta? Is there really a difference?
The answer is, yes, there is a difference.
Here at The Fresh 20 we believe the less processed a food, the better. When it comes to pasta, whole wheat is the way to go.
There are 3 parts to a whole wheat grain; the outer layer, known as the bran, the germ and finally the endosperm. In the process of making whole wheat pasta, these layers are preserved, giving you the benefits of a whole grain pasta including Vitamins E and B along with antioxidants and fiber. In the process of making white pasta, these two outer layers are removed taking with them additional nutrients.
When looking at your Fresh 20 menus, you’ll find a variety of whole wheat pastas used; linguini, spaghetti and penne make appearances in combination with seafood, chicken and vegetables, making for a well balanced meal.
Long Grain Brown Rice is a less processed relative to the white rice we all know well. While the two can be used interchangeably, the nutritional value of brown rice makes it the better choice when shopping for your Pantry 20.
This is due in part to the processing of brown rice, versus white. During processing, only the outermost layer of the grain is removed. This not only means it is less processed than white rice, but gives it a firmer texture and higher nutritional value.
When cooking brown rice, take note that it may take longer due to it’s thicker texture and layers.
The mild, nutty flavor and texture of brown rice makes it a great addition to Asian dishes, veggie burritos, rice pilafs and Picadillo that you will find in your Fresh 20 menus.
The Fresh 20 recommends Bob’s Red Mill Long Grain Brown Rice when filling your Pantry 20. Store in an airtight container.
Soy Sauce is a condiment, often associated with Asian cuisine. Invented over 3,000 years ago, it is made by a fermentation process that includes soybeans, roasted grains (often wheat) , brine and various yeast molds. After fermentation has taken place, the mixture is pressed, resulting the dark brown, salty liquid we are familiar with.
In your Fresh 20 menus, you’ll find it used in several Asian, poultry and seafood inspired dishes, such as paired with fresh ginger and molasses in the sauce for Foil Wrapped Chicken & Veggies and again as a base for flavor in Chicken Broccoli Soft Noodles.
When shopping for soy sauce, The Fresh 20 recommends San-J Tamari Sauce, but Braggs Liquid Aminos is a great gluten-free alternative.
As you scan the ingredient lists from your Fresh 20 meal plans each week, you’ve probably noticed we use whole wheat flours for more than just baking. Maybe you hadn’t considered using them when making a roux, as a breading for chicken breasts, or as a thickener when making sauces. Are you’re left wondering if it will effect the texture and flavor of these savory recipes? What about using whole wheat flours in baked goods?
We’ll take a bit of the guess work out by delving into the world of Whole Wheat Flour clarifying the different, and 3 most common types you’re likely to see in our meal plans as well as your grocery store shelves. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by all the places this wholesome flour can be used.
Whole Wheat Flour (also called Graham Flour) is made from the entire kernel of wheat and is, overall higher in fiber and nutrients than many other flours. It also has a lower gluten content, resulting in denser baked goods. To avoid this you can use a 25-50% blend of whole wheat flour with all-purpose flour when baking. For cooking, whole wheat flour can be used just as easily as all purpose flour when making rouxs, as thickeners for sauce and breading for chicken and other meats. Using whole wheat flours in cooking does not change the texture, and adds a subtle nutty flavor to your dish.
Whole Wheat Pastry Flour is milled from a soft winter wheat resulting in a light, airy flour that is great for baking cookies, muffins, pancakes, quick breads and other pastries. It is a great substitute for all-purpose flour, and does not change the color, taste or density of the final baked good. In cooking, it is a flour that can also be used in making roux and sauces, but may be too soft of a flour to use successfully as a breading.
White Whole Wheat Flour is quickly gaining in popularity and use as a flour of choice to replace Whole Wheat Flour when baking. Ground from a lighter, albino version of wheat (versus the usual brownish-red color of it’s darker counter part) White Whole Wheat Flour has all the same nutrients and fiber as Whole Wheat Flour without the heavy baking results and occasional bitter flavor. It can be used to replace whole wheat flours on a 1:1 ratio in recipes (for both cooking AND baking) and can replace up to 50% of the flour called for in a recipe using all-purpose flour. A great way to sneak some whole grains into your meals, without anyone being the wiser!
Using whole wheat flours in your everyday cooking and baking doesn’t have to mean sacrificing your favorite recipes’ flavors or textures. In fact, as you receive your Fresh 20 menus each week, you’ll soon see the many ways that it can be used, making it an essential pantry staple.