The Well-Stocked Kitchen

Here’s what chefs and other experts
say are the key healthy ingredients
for every pantry and fridge.

January 2016

By Allan Richter

Kale is among the favorite food staples of Chef Josh Thomson of The Lodge at Woodloch because it can be juiced, sautéed or dried for chips. Coconut milk is one of the ingredients that Melissa Hartwig, CISSN, considers essential in a healthy kitchen because it can replace dairy milk to help fluff up some mashed potatoes, thicken a sauce or soup, or lighten a cup of coffee. David Noto, food and beverage director at the Omni Bedford Springs, favors frozen berries because they can be pureed and flavor marinades or smoothies.

Meet one of the favorite ingredients that many chefs and food experts say is essential to a healthy kitchen—versatility.

“Versatility is huge,” says Noto. “You don’t want a menu to look monotonous. You want it to show some flexibility. Usually kitchens today are built with very limited space, so you have to have that versatility with the ingredients you use.”

In addition to berries, Noto likes to have on hand nut butters, whether made from almonds, peanuts or cashews, and vegetable or chicken stock, for cooking beans, soups or stews, at the Pennsylvania resort for their versatility as well.

Other chefs and food executives similarly included nuts in their list of essential items for a healthy kitchen. Thomson of The Lodge at Woodloch in Hawley, Pennsylvania, keeps plenty of cashews on hand to accommodate his vegan guests with cashew ricotta cheese and cheesecake.

Nuts, along with seeds, are essential food items for Marilyn Majchrzak, MS, RD, corporate food development manager for the Canyon Ranch resorts, for their versatility as snacks and accessories to cereals and salads. “Our guidelines for creating a snack in terms of calorie range is 150 to 200 calories so we do a combination of nuts, which provide protein and healthy fats, with dried fruit,” Majchrzak says.

In line with Noto’s keeping frozen berries on hand, Majchrzak says Canyon Ranch also recommends keeping frozen fruits and vegetables. “The texture may not be the same, but the research out there shows the nutritional value is maintained because they freeze them so quickly,” she says. “For frozen fruit I would get unsweetened so you don’t get added sugar,
and frozen vegetables without sauces; you can season and prepare them as you wish.”

Among other versatile food staples that are key for Canyon Ranch are oats, which Majchrzak says can be used for breakfast and made into small cakes as side dishes with other meals. Legumes and beans figure prominently in the Canyon Ranch repertoire as well. “Beans really absorb the flavor of whatever you’re cooking with,” she says.

Majchrzak’s list of must-haves for a healthy kitchen essentially incorporates the major food groups. And, like other chefs and food experts interviewed, she makes her selection based on versatility—not just in the range of dishes that can be prepared, but also in nutritional value.

Canned fish such as tuna, salmon and sardines, for example, offer protein and healthy fats. One caveat: tuna should be yellowfin or skipjack, lower in mercury than albacore, she says.
Back at the Omni Bedford Springs, rounding out Noto’s list of the handful of essential food items every healthy kitchen should have on hand are the leafy greens kale, chicory and spinach and most types of beans. About the most exotic item on Noto’s list is quinoa because the chef says it’s important to give his patrons familiarity.

“What I have found after being an executive chef for 15 years and working in kitchens for 25 before becoming food and beverage director is that some people are adventurous, but most are not,” Noto says. “Game meats are much healthier than beef, for example, but most people aren’t going to risk their hard-earned money on a dinner they might not like.”

Where Noto prefers the safety zone of familiarity for his guests, the list of healthy items favored by Thomson of The Lodge at Woodloch includes familiar foods that stray toward the exotic. Instead of spinach, Thomson will use kale; but instead of a basic variety of the phytonutrient-rich variety of the leafy green, he uses the sweeter Red Russian, White Russian and Lacinato varieties to serve in the resort’s Tree Restaurant.

He also counts purslane, a wild green rich in nutrients, among his healthy kitchen must-haves. Thomson likes the green in salads or as a garnish, say, in a tomato mozzarella plate. The kitchen gets much of its greens from the on-property garden.

Similarly, Thomson doesn’t just use ordinary turnips, but Gilfeather turnips. This type of turnip, originally from Vermont, is high in vitamin C, and has a sweet and peppery taste. “It’s a great root vegetable and makes an awesome soup. It’s one of my favorite root vegetables to puree; it’s super- smooth. It’s kind of a cross between a rutabaga and a parsnip in taste. They can grow as big as volleyballs, too. One of them can give you enough soup for a night” in the restaurant.

Thomson also uses different varieties of beets, which he says are as versatile in their health benefits as they are in the varieties of dishes that you can make with them. “They’re great for your liver, a great cleanser, and they’re rich in vitamin A,” he says. “It’s another superfood—lots of iron. You can make borscht, a beet puree, beet chips. We just pickled five gallons of beets. The beet greens are great, too. They have a nice earthy taste.”

Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Matrix: More Than 700 Simple Recipes and Techniques to Mix and Match for Endless Possibilities (Pam Krauss) by the popular food writer Mark Bittman offers 12 recipes for beets—made raw, roasted, braised and buttered—including Borscht Salad, Beets with Moroccan Carrots, and Beets with Pasta and Brown Butter. The book testifies to the culinary versatility trend with entries on a dozen different ways to make vegetable soup, eight ways to throw some slaw together, and four ways to prepare chickpeas, among other combinations.

“For years I’ve said, ‘If you can cook 10 recipes, you can cook 10,000,’” Bittman writes in the introduction. Demystifying the efforts of cooks who are in the kitchen on a regular basis, he says, “As soon as we’re comfortable with core recipes and techniques we begin to improvise, swapping cilantro for parsley, say, or braising in coconut milk instead of wine, or grilling instead of broiling. We embrace the small but meaningful variations that can transform the identity of a dish, make an old favorite taste like a new creation, and turn a modest repertoire of recipes into a lifetime of wonderful meals.”

In her recent book My Pantry (Pam Krauss), noted food activist and chef Alice Waters, writing with her daughter Fanny Singer, also says it is not just the ingredients that make the meal, but the culinary explorations they allow. “I’ve come to realize that it’s the way I use my pantry, more than any individual ingredient, recipe or technique, that defines my personal cooking aesthetic,” Waters says.

Versatility is also expressed in the metamorphosis a food item undergoes in its preparation. Coconuts, one of the hottest food trends in recent years, fit that bill for the meat, oil and milk it yields—and beyond. The coconut cream with which food expert Hartwig, co-author of Whole 30: The 30-Day Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom (Houghton Mifflin Haarcourt), likes to thicken soups is made by simply leaving coconut milk in the refrigerator; the dense coconut cream will separate from the water. “It’s just one of the most versatile kitchen ingredients ever,” Hartwig says of coconut milk.

Coconut oil is on the half-dozen healthy kitchen essential ingredients list of Executive Chef Fritz Zwahlen of The Carillon, a Miami Beach resort that focuses on wellness. Zwahlen, who oversees food and beverage at The Carillon’s restaurant Thyme and at its beach and bar service areas, likes coconut oil for its versatility in its health benefits and culinary applications.
Coconut oil is rich in lauric acid, widely considered a “healthy” saturated fat. “It’s also antibacterial and antiviral,” Zwahlen says. “There are studies that show it destroys viruses like influenza. We sear fishes with it and make dressings. You can use it in pastry, too.”

Avocado, also known for its flesh and oil culinary uses, is another item among Zwahlen’s top half-dozen essentials. “It’s very nutritious,” Zwahlen says. “It’s high in potassium, fiber, vitamins E and D. We make guacamole, use it as a garnish on a salad, we puree it and infuse it with other oils and flavors, and use it as a pulp or a thick sauce; we have a poached shrimp and marinated fish and use a little avocado pulp instead of cream or thick sauce. We use it in soups, avocado dips. You can even grill it and use it as a garnish on fish so it gets a little bit of smoky flavor to it.”

Rounding out his essentials list are thyme and black pepper—in part because they both are not “overpowering,” Zwahlen says. Raw garlic and fermented foods such as kimchi, which provides the stomach with healthy bacteria, are also among his essential food staples. “I use kimchi and do fermented papayas as a condiment. Kimchi can be eaten by itself as a salad, or you can have soup with a little kimchi on the side.”

Not everyone will have a taste for kimchi, but one food item on which there is wide agreement for entry on a list of essential healthy ingredients is some kind of stock or broth. “A must in any kitchen are stocks, and now you can buy organic and low-sodium stocks,” says Canyon Ranch’s Majchrzak. “When we create our home-use recipes, we put in boxed stocks because companies are doing a great job with them and they can make soups and sauces. They’re just really versatile.”

Hartwig, the author, says bone broth is “very simple to make and extremely nutrient dense—full of vitamins and minerals, like particular amino acids, that you may not be getting elsewhere in your diet. Bone broth is really rich in glycine in particular, which is not found in muscle meat. It’s also really rich in collagen, which is good for strong healthy bones, hair, nails and skin, and helps promote healthy digestion. Most people don’t get a lot of collagen in their diet.”

You can get bones from your local butcher or from a whole chicken you’ve raosted, put them in a pot with water, add chopped vegetables such as carrots and onions, along with some fresh herbs, and let it simmer for 12 to 24 hours, Hartwig says. You’ve got the base for an array of soups and stews, and Hartwig suggests drinking a cup in place of your morning coffee “just to get the extra micronutrients.”

There is also consensus on the need for meats and other byproducts from organically raised and grass-fed animals. Michael Lucente, executive chef of the Greenwich, Connecticut, Barcelona Restaurant and Wine Bar, part of a Spanish tapas restaurant group in the Northeast, pointed to the Fermin Iberico de bellota ham in front of him when asked at the recent International Chefs Congress in Brooklyn what he would put on his list of essential ingredients for a healthy kitchen.

The meat comes from free-range pigs fed an acorn diet, and its producers say the meat contains unsaturated fatty acids rich in oleic acid, giving it properties similar to olive oil.
And, of course, organically raised animals, providing meat, eggs and milk, meet the versatility standard that makes them ideal sources for many chefs.

One rule probably trumps the versatility factor when it comes to stocking your kitchen with the food staples that will let you call the room a healthy kitchen: You can stock it for health, but don’t neglect taste. “The key thing is choose what you like, whether it’s seasoning or spices,” says Canyon Ranch’s Majchrzak, “because you’re more apt to prepare those things at home if you really enjoy them.”

Kuhn Rikon Mise en Place Set

The Kuhn Rikon Mise en Place Set makes it easy to measure and organize ingredients for soups, stews, baked goods and more. "Mise en place" means "putting in place" in French, referring to a long-standing tradition of prepping ingredients to save time while cooking. Each cup measures from ¼ to 2 cups. Each piece in the set features a flat edge for scooping ingredients from the cutting board. The set is dishwasher safe. Visit kuhnrikonshop.com.

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CDN Tea Timer for Perfect Tea

The new CDN Tea Timer (TMT1) is preprogrammed with steeping times for green, white, black and herbal teas.  It makes it easy to choose the right steeping time for each time of tea, to reveal its unique flavors and prevent bitterness.  The timer features multiple channels for timing different types of tea at once. Visit amazon.com.

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Avocado Oil Mayo for Clean Eating

Chosen Foods avocado oil mayo is made with pure avocado oil instead of genetically modified, industrial seed oils like soy, corn & canola typically found in mayonnaise. Chose Foods avocado oil mayo is high in Omega 9, the heart healthy, cardio protective fat that found in olives and olive oil. Eggs used in the mayo eggs come from cage-free Nest-Fresh chickens. Chosen Foods uses 100% non-gmo ingredients, a touch of organic honey instead of refined sugar, and rosemary extract as a natural antioxidant to preserve freshness. The result is a delightfully creamy condiment with great flavor. Visit ChosenFoods.com.

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Chocolate Leather for Healthy Snacking

Chocolate Leather, an innovative twist on the traditional dried fruit leather bar favorite, that’s 45% to50% lower in sugar then traditional fruit leather bars and lower in fat and calories than most chocolates. The new chocolate leather contains pure chocolate, cocoa nibs and brown rice crisps that have been transformed into a delicious and chewy chocolate snack, free of dairy and soy. The handy 0.5 ounce serving size chocolate leather snack has just 50 calories and 1.5 g of fat. The new chocolate leather is made with non-GMO ingredients, is non-soy, non-dairy and certified kosher. Visit kayco.com.

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Crunchies Freeze-Dried Snacking

Freeze-dried fruit snacks company Crunchies today, which recently introduced a new logo, product package and marketing campaign, freeze dries in the US and Europe, with fruits sourced from around the world, giving Crunchies products the company’s hallmark of traceability. Available in both single-serve packs and larger grab-and-go resealable pouches, Crunchies freeze-dried products contain no added sugar and no artificial flavors or coloring and are non-GMO, gluten-free, vegan, kosher and halal certified. Crunchies’ lineup includes strawberries, mangos, pineapples, blueberries, raspberries, grapes, cinnamon apple, strawberry banana and mixed fruit. Visit CrunchiesFood.com.

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Hawaiije Spices Up Coffee and More

The spice Hawaije is familiar in the Middle East. There are two types of Hawaije, one used primarily for soups, the other for coffee. Coffee with Hawaije mix from Pereg is made up of ginger, cardamom, cloves and cinnamon, and sometimes aniseeds, and fennel.  One can use it to brew, steep or bake, and it smells as delicious as it tastes. Primarily used in brewing coffee, it is also used in tea, desserts, breakfast pancakes, cakes, and slow-cooked meat dishes. Add it to holiday eggnog, and it will indeed kick it up a notch. Visit pereg-gourmet.com.

 

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Simple Pleasures from
Annabel Langbein

In The Free Range Cook: Simple Pleasures (Annabel Langbein), New Zealand cookbook author and television personality Annabel Langbein includes recipes from her show of the same name, which highlights the use of fresh, natural ingredients and affordable food preparation. The chapter headings in this delightful book—“From the Farm,” “From the Lake and Sea,” and the like—underscore that wholesome approach that makes the most of Mother Nature. There’s even a section on cooking outdoors. Langbein, as the subtitle suggests, does indeed keep things simple for the reader, with recipes that are relatively easy and quick to prepare: ten-minute jam, quick midweek meals, and more. Scanning the included QR codes with your mobile device will bring you video of Langbein at work crafting these delectable meals. The beautiful color photos transform the reader to the wide open spaces of New Zealand, and his or her kitchen to an environment just as healthy. Visit annabel-langbein.com.

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