Ten Favorite Kitchen Items – Food!

Everyone’s got that weird little spice mix or particular variety of noodle they reach for over and over again.  These are ten of the food items I find myself using more than any other – and one gadget I totally forgot to mention last time that is kind of important, whoops.

1. Kosher Salt, and my Salt Cellar

Kosher salt is kind of a no-brainer for the modern cook; you’d be hard pressed to find a cookbook that doesn’t demand it.  Why?  The larger flakes dissolve differently than those tiny little table salt crystals, and if we’re talking sea salt instead of regular kosher, the mineral content can veeeeery subtly affect flavor. I just like the texture of kosher much better in cooking, even though let’s face it, it’s all going to dissolve.  

What I forgot in my last post was this:  The thing I keep my salt in.  It’s handy to have your kosher salt close by and easy to access – obviously using a shaker with the stuff is a problem, and it’s much harder to measure accurately shaking or grinding.  You need something you can both stick your fingers in for a pinch and scoop out of with a measuring spoon. Enter the salt cellar.  They come in a million different varieties, but the one I love most is my Alton Brown model:

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Made by RSVP, not only does it have a removable bowl (dishwasher safe), the bottom is weighted so you can flip it open without the whole thing flying across the counter.  It’s easy to reach into, keeps dust out of the salt (unlike an open bowl type cellar), and came with an adorable little spoon I have never, ever used.  

2 –  Nasoya Tofu

Easily available at the megamart in an array of styles, this particular tofu is thus far my favorite to cook with.  Nasoya makes both regular and silken tofu, but I haven’t tried their silken yet (regular is what you’d cut into cubes and fry; silken is kind of cream-cheese textured and usually gets blended into stuff).  Their organic extra firm is my fave, and after a night in the freezer and a day in my tofu press it has a truly badass texture.  I want to try their superfirm variety but haven’t seen it at my usual stores – one of these days when I can afford to set foot in Whole Foods or our local food co-op, Wheatsville again, I’ll find some and report back.

3 – Nielsen-Massey Mexican Vanilla Extract

Vanilla is, of course, indispensable in baking.  There are three well-known types:  Madagascar (Bourbon), Tahitian, and Mexican.  Madagascar is the most popular, but Mexican has always been my favorite – there’s something robust and rounded-out about its flavor that I love.  Not to mention I was raised on it; living in Texas means access to a lot of cheap, horribly low quality “vanilla” that probably has a thousand toxic chemicals in it, but also to good quantities of the real thing.  Generally I advise against buying it out of the back of a truck.  But Nielsen-Massey is a well known brand of fabulous quality, and while I use other brands depending on available funds, it’s my favorite.

4 –  Jarred Garlic and Ginger

Lord, we thank Thee for whatever genius decided to sell pre-minced garlic and ginger in jars.  Sure, garlic is cheap and easy enough to smash, but being able to scoop out a spoonful without peeling and mincing is one of those little conveniences that makes a huge difference in my culinary enthusiasm.  I don’t care what the hipster foodies say – not every ingredient needs to be fresh-picked and peeled by hand.  Is it better? Probably.  But it’s not always realistic. When you demand that kind of labor and inconvenience you end up with piles of takeout containers.  Pick your battles, guys.  

Jarred ginger is an even bigger helper.  If you make much Indian food, or Asian of any kind, you need fresh ginger, but you have to peel it, mince it, measure it if it’s called for by the teaspoon (most decent recipes specify a size, like a 1″ knob)…or you can open a jar.  I recommend the jars from The Ginger People, who also make medicinal candies (I keep Gin-Gins on hand for motion sickness – a godsend), jarred sushi ginger, ginger syrups, and crystallized ginger.  

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5 – Vadouvan Curry Powder from World Spice Merchants

Curry powder is a curiosity to actual Indians. They don’t use it.  It was in fact an invention by the English to try and recapture the flavors of the subcontinent they’d subdued; in India, home cooks make spice mixes from scratch, usually starting with a base of Garam Masala (“warming mixture”) that they then add to.  Even garam masala varies from house to house; everyone’s granny has her own recipe.  But curry blends can be awesome if you get them from dealers that understand the value of fresh spices (as opposed to a can of yellow dust that’s been on the shelf ten years).  I’ll talk about curry and spices more later, of course, but right now, I have to recommend this particular blend.  It’s a bit different from most masalas in that it originated in an area of India with a lot of French immigrants, and often includes dried shallots and herbs in addition to the spices.  

I used to buy mine from Williams-Sonoma, but apparently they quit making it.  Any excuse to visit World Spice Merchants’ gorgeous website is a good one, though.  It’s beautiful, and their selection is amazing.

6 – Gardein Szechuan Beefless Strips

The first Gardein product I tried was their chicken, and I thought it was absolutely gross.  I’m not sure what possessed me to give the “beef” a shot months later; their stuff isn’t cheap by any means, and I was still mad that I’d wasted whatever it was.  Turns out, the beefless beef was a totally different story, and these spicy, sweet-ish, easy and effortless to prepare strips are a thing of beauty and a joy forever.  I eat them at least once a month, and would more often except that 1) I don’t want to get sick of them and b) as I said, they’re not cheap.  But I can make two meals off of them if I add in a bag of frozen Broccoli Normandy mix and some rice, and it ends up being about five bucks a meal, which still isn’t cheap but is way better, and less horrendous, than anything takeout.  Gardein has a crapload of new products coming out in the wake of this year’s ExpoWest – VegNews.com has been posting all the fun new foods over on Instagram.  I’m particularly jazzed about the two-person frozen skillet meals.  Convenience is important, and convenience with a modicum of nutrition is always a welcome sight.

7 – Frozen Bananas

I’m a relative newcomer to the whole frozen-banana “soft serve” craze that flew around Pinterest for a while.  But this past Christmas my mom gave me my Ninja blender, as noted in my last list, and I became a fool for smoothies; obviously I had to at least try the banana thing, since I already had frozen nanners for smoothies.  Holy crap it was tasty!  My favorite combination thus far is frozen bananas, vanilla almond milk, cinnamon, brown sugar, and a bit of vanilla extract.  Om nom slurrrrrp.

8 – Haagen Dazs Sorbet – Raspberry and/or Lemon

You’d think with the proliferation of vegan frozen treats out there I’d have a favorite in one of the dairy-mimicking lines, but no, my favorite nondairy frozen thing is raspberry sorbet (with the Zesty Lemon coming in a face-puckering second place.) In fact, I have a little song I sing when I eat it, thanks to Prince:

She ate raspberry sorbet
The kind you buy at the grocery store
Raspberry sorbet
And once it was gone she’d go buy some more

Yeah, I’m weird.  I also have a taco song, to the tune of the Dreidel song:

Taco taco taco
I made you out of soy
Taco taco taco
You give me taco joy!

And let’s not forget the immortal Choppin’ Broccoli:

9 – Frozen Veggie Mixes, Especially Birdseye’s “Steamfresh”

Me and früzenveg are like *that.*  (So are me and making up silly words like früzenveg.)  Our local grocery chain, HEB, has a great store brand of veggies, but my favorite mixes are still the ones from Birdseye’s Steamfresh line:

Asparagus, White&Gold Corn, Baby Carrots
Broccoli, Cauliflower, & Carrots (aka Broccoli Normandy in other brands.)
Italian Blend
Baby Potato Blend

10 – Soy Sauce.  Any Soy Sauce. Dear God.

A few years ago I started taking lithium as a mood stabilizer, and two things became apparent within the first few days:  One, it made me pee like a racehorse; and two, it made me crave salt like a madwoman.  I’ve always been a salt slut, but Lithium actually sucks salt out of your body (partly due to all that peeing), so they warn you to keep an eye on your intake and make sure you’re getting enough.  Finally a legit medical excuse to eat more salt!  Suddenly I found I wanted soy sauce on EVERYTHING. I’m not a big rice eater, but I’ve discovered one of my favorite things to fill up on when I “don’t have anything to eat” is a bag of früzenveg with a mess of rice soaked in soy sauce (the traditional kind, shoyu; or tamari, which a lot of people favor – I honestly don’t care which).  

I’m sure there are like a dozen other things I forgot to list, but lucky me and lucky you, I have full editorial control over this blog!  MUAHAHA!  LISTS FOREVER!

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