Kitchen Staples: Things I’d Never Be Without for Cooking and Food Preparation

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I’d like to invite you to come into my kitchen for a moment to share some of my staples I’d never be without. These are the foods, products, and appliances/tools we use every day to prepare food and to maintain our health.

Even though everyone has their own set of preferences about what they use in their kitchen, some of these things are universal and often, they can change over time. Here I’ll discuss why these foods are important to me in keeping my family healthy.

The following items we use to cook or prepare raw foods such as main meals and also side dishes or condiments such as home-made salad dressings, sauces, marinades, and for baking:

Coconut oil - I’ve bought various brands over the years including NutivaJungle Products Beyond Organic, and Tropical Traditions. I’ve liked all the brands pretty well, but I think Beyond Organic is my favorite so far. Right now I’m using a northwest regional brand called Aunt Patty’s Extra Virgin Coconut Oil from Eugene, Oregon. We love it, but my son says he prefers the Beyond Organic, which is an especially nice coconut oil. Aunt Patty’s is currently cheaper than Beyond Organic. Coconut oil has many nutrients including some saturated fat, lauric acid, and capric acid which support immune and digestive health, and are also anti-microbial and anti-fungal.

Olive Oil - Depending, we have used various brands. Currently we are using Napa Valley Naturals extra virgin olive oil brand. Our local health foods store carries it and the taste is delicious. This past year we bought a gallon of Chaffin Family Orchards Olive Oil, which we I had been wanting to try for some years, and it’s so tasty! It is fruity and light, and I can use it for making mayonnaise without that strong olive oil flavor dominating the recipe.

Apple cider vinegar - we use Bragg’s organic raw apple cider vinegar. It’s a great all-purpose apple cider vinegar, and it’s the only raw vinegar I have been able to find in our health food store. I’d like to start buying my other vinegars raw, but I’m still looking. I use this for soaking my bones for stock, soaking beans and other foods (occasionally if I make a soaked grain recipe, and if I’m not using whey or lacto-dairy), in salad dressings, marinades, sauces, and many other recipes.

Red wine vinegar - we use Eden Organic and Napa Valley Naturals organic red wine vinegars. The Eden is especially great because it’s a larger size and is always very cheap – about $2.65 per bottle. I use this in marinades and salad dressings, and many other foods.

Cod liver oil - we buy the Blue Ice Royal fermented CLO from Green Pastures. This along with our diet and the fact that we received a great deal of sun exposure last summer and fall before the extreme cold set in, I believe, has really helped to keep all three of us from getting sick this winter (knock on wood). This is the only way I can get my son and husband to take CLO (capsule form). I admit, I have a hard time swallowing the cream form myself.

Sea salt - I buy our sea salt from the health food store in bulk Redmond Real Salt, or I buy various brands depending what’s on sale: we’ve used Celtic Sea SaltHimalayan Pink Salt, or Real Food Pink salt. These are all good quality and include different colors in the salts (a good indication of a variety of minerals), and taste good.

Unflavored gelatin - this is a very healthful and versatile food, and can be used in so many meals and preparations – soups, broths, stews, smoothies, desserts, the uses are simply endless. I buy either Bernard Jensen’s or Great Lakes brands.

Beef tallow - I bought two 14 ounce tubs of it from U.S. Wellness Meats before the holidays last year so I could make pie crust with it. I have frozen it, and use it as needed for a variety of other cooking such as meats and vegetables. I also get beef fat from local farmers regularly and use it in a lot of the cooking we do – soups, stews, refried beans, casseroles, one-pot meals like chili or other meat/vegetable combos.

Lard - we use lard from locally-raised, pastured pork for so many things we eat. I used it to braise meats, casseroles, cook vegetables, in soups, stews, desserts, and many other meals. It is one of our most used staples in the kitchen. Here is my post about the forgotten craft of rendering lard, health benefits, and how to render/where to find pork fat for rendering.

Liver – yes, liver. Liver is one of the most nutrient-dense foods you can eat, and it should be from pastured sources whether it is beef, chicken, pork, duck or other. Liver can be cooked with onions or concealed in many different meals such as chili, hamburgers, meatloaf, casseroles, soups.  Here are some good suggestions for including this nourishing food which contains Vitamins A, D, E, B12 and B6, zinc, and iron into your meals from Cooking Traditional Foods.

Organic vegetables and fruits - we buy these in season and depending on which farmers are selling and when, locally. In the farmer’s market season, I buy most of my produce from this source and otherwise from my local health food store.

Sprouted nuts - I buy a sprouted, raw nut mix from my health food store. These nuts are not pasteurized or irradiated. It’s important to check with the merchant to find out whether the nuts you are buying are subjected to these processes and to avoid them if they are. I haven’t started soaking or spouting my own nuts yet, that’s next on my list.

Natural sweeteners - although I typically don’t do a lot of baking, this past winter season I did bake much more than usual. I have Wholesome Sweetener’s Organic Sucanat and Organic Coconut Palm Sugar, and Body Ecology’s Lakanto. Sucanat and coconut palm sugar are both great natural sweeteners, and Lakanto is a zero glycemic index, naturally fermented sweetener made from the luo han fruit grown in China. It does NOT feed candida! This is especially important to me because I have had a candida problem for some years – and I know most people have a candida overgrowth, but I’ve really been trying to be conscientious about keeping mine under control because it can keep me awake at night if I am not careful.

Maple syrup - I buy the real, Grade B variety (because it is less refined and contains trace minerals) of whatever is on sale. Currently, we are using Spring Tree and sometimes we buy Coombs Family Farms as well.

Butter - we use Kerrygold. Kerrygold is from grass-fed cows, but they are pasteurized. Kerrygold is not organic, but their farming practices are very clean. I was buying raw, organic butter from grass-fed cows from a fantastic farm in Canaan, Vermont - Baum Farm. The owner, Rob, is really friendly and accommodating. I highly recommend their butter if you can get it.  Read here about the amazing difference between real butter and fake fats such as margarine.

Mayonnaise I have finally had success in making my own mayo! This year I won a stick blender in an online giveaway and used Chaffin Family Orchard’s olive oil, and it turned out great. I have splurged in the past and bought a big bottle of Wilderness Family Naturals to avoid the nasty GMOs and other toxic ingredients in most commercial mayonnaise.

Last year, I bought a small bottle to try and liked it a lot. My husband is not crazy about it, but my son likes it. To save money, however, I’m making it a priority to make mayonnaise again as well as other lacto-fermented foods.

Fermented foods - we regularly eat home-made yogurt, kefir, sour cream, and cultured vegetables. These home-made cultured foods contain much more probiotic (friendly bacteria) than anything you would buy in the store. Read about the amazing benefits of fermented and cultured foods, and how they support digestive, immune, and overall health and well-being. Don’t have time to make these at home? Zukay and Bubbies are both good brands that use real fermenting techniques with sea salt and live active cultures to produce a truly healthy fermented food.

Kombucha – we have started brewing our own, and although we still buy store-bought kombucha, our plan is to step up our efforts to make enough kombucha so that we don’t have to buy much of it in the future.  Even if we don’t get in other fermented foods, we do have kombucha daily. I have had a hard time getting my son to enjoy fermented foods, but he loves kombucha and also lacto-fermented salsa. He will eat home-made yogurt, but not often. It is for this reason that I’ve really had to make certain we have this beverage on hand ALWAYS.

The following are some of our other basic foods we usually have around:

Sourdough or sprouted grain breads - I am finally off GAPS, so I can eat fermented or soaked grains occasionally. My husband and son still eat them more than I do. We normally try not to eat grains except once a week or so. When we do, we buy and BigWood locally-made, organic long-fermented sourdough bread. I haven’t yet started baking my own breads, but my goal is to do this during the new year. Silver Hills breads are mostly organic and are all sprouted. Most of their breads do not contain soy, and their ingredients are very basic and varied – as in, they do offer a nice variety of breads with different grains. Sometimes we use Ezekiel sprouted flour tortillas, but we don’t use them more than a few times a year due to their soy content. I’ve also heard that Ezekiel is now using wheat gluten in their products, and that it is not labeled. Grains do contribute greatly to inflammation, candida or yeast overgrowth in the body, weight problems, auto-immune disorders, and other health issues. Read why grains and wheat in particular might not be the best choice for your health.

Sprouted flour - we use To Your Health sprouted flour. I keep it in my freezer and use it as I need for baking, pancakes, and various other recipes.

Germinated brown rice - we use DHC germinated brown rice. According to Elements4Health, “Pre-germinated rice (PR) is an emerging health food whereby brown rice is soaked in warm water prior to cooking; the warm bath induces germination, or sprouting, which stimulates rice enzymes to produce more nutrients. One such nutrient is the important brain chemical GABA (PR is thus often referred to as “GABA rice”), and animal studies have shown that a PR-rich diet can improve cognitive function. Other studies have found that PR can also act as an anti-diabetic.” Another great brand we use is Indian, organic, basmati rice is from Heavenly Farms. This rice comes out perfect every time and is easy-to-digest.

Ghee - ghee is clarified butter, which has had all the milk solids removed during the heating process, and thus is easier to digest than other dairy foods. Even those with true lactose intolerance or dairy issue can consume ghee without the same problems as other dairy foods may cause. There are many, many uses for ghee. You can use it just like butter. We use it for cooking meats, fish, poultry, eggs, popcorn, vegetables, in soups and stews, and on bread. We use Pure Indian FoodsPurity Farms, and Ancient Organics - all from grassfed cows and certified organic.

Raw cheese - some years ago we used to buy a lot of Organic Valley cheeses.  Over a year ago I discovered that Organic Valley uses practices I don’t like such as ultra-high temperature pasteurization on their products, have made a requirement that none of their farmers can sell raw milk to their customers, and apparently the cheeses they sell with the “raw” label are not actually raw.  I have read that they are heated up to at least 160 degrees fahrenheit. That’s not RAW!  They have also required that their farmers are not allowed to sell raw milk to any of their own customers, and I don’t want to support a company that places such a low value on real food and being honest.

Unfortunately, there isn’t really any raw cheese locally here in Boise where I live. I have considered making it, but I don’t usually have enough raw milk leftover to make cheese as it usually all gets drank around here. Last year I bought some raw cheeses from U.S. Wellness Meats to try them.

I would often also point out that if you bought two of these packages, equaling one pound of cheese, it was comparable in price and sometimes lower than most 1 pound packages of Tillamook cheese, which is good quality and supposedly from grass-fed cows, but is not raw. We also occasionally buy cheese from Ballard Farms in Gooding, Idaho. It’s a local cheese from cows that are on pasture at least some of the time, and they don’t use any hormones in their milk. However, their cheese is more expensive so I try to buy it less often.

Grass-fed beef and steak - We buy all locally-raised, 100 percent grass-fed beef. There are various farmers from which I buy - Wilsey Ranch in Marsing, ID, Malheur River Meats in Vale, OR, and Matthew’s All Natural Meats in Weiser, ID. For more information about the difference between humanely raised, grass-fed meats, read The Grassfed Meat Challenge: Busting Myths About Meat.

Raw milk - also from a small, private local family farm in Nampa, ID. I make weekly batches of yogurt and kefir with our milk. The results were very satisfactory! Read more about why raw milk has superior health benefits to store-bought and pasteurized.

Chickens and eggs from pasture-raised environments - we have been buying chickens from Matthew’s All Natural Meats in Weiser, ID and eggs from Turkey Ridge Farms from Payette, Idaho. These chickens and eggs are really fantastic. The chickens are a bit expensive, but as I reported in my post about real food not necessarily being more expensive, I can get 3 to 4 meals out of one chicken. Most of the name-brand eggs in our health food store are from factory “organic” and factory “free-range” sources, which I won’t buy. And they cost anywhere from $4 – 5 per dozen. Read about why I’ll take my local, bright yellow-yolked pasture-raised ones, for $4.00 a dozen, thank you very much!

Bones from animals and birds on pasture - I buy beef bones, ox-tails, marrow bones, and osso buco (Italian for “‘bone with a hole”) from my local farmers. I recently bought a large batch of them and put them in my freezer. Since I’m on GAPS, I eat bone broth every day. Bones are an incredibly economic way to get a lot of nutrition for very little.

I also make chicken stock once a week with the carcass from a whole chicken which I prepare for our family. After I cook the chicken, I immediately place the carcass into my stockpot on the stove to start broth. I always allow my bones to soak for an hour or so (longer if frozen) in filtered water and a couple of splashes of apple cider vinegar to help draw out more of the minerals from the bones. Then I put the heat up to boil and turn down to simmer. I’ve also started making stock with chicken feet, and the stock is super delicious and wonderful. It’s full of collagen which strengthens our bones and supports our skin tone and quality. It’s also noted for being very effective at diminishing cellulite!

I cook beef bones for at least three days, sometimes longer. Chicken bones I will cook for about 24 hours and then if I haven’t used all the broth, I put it in the refrigerator or freezer. Here’s an informative post about the benefits of bone broth. The gelatin effect you will notice after you have refrigerated your stock – especially after making it with chicken feet – is very effective for healing gut issues and resolving auto-immune responses such as allergies caused by conditions like leaky gut.

Stock is an incredibly versatile and nutritious food, and we use it for many things – sauces, marinades, soups, stews, casseroles, chili, stroganoff, and I often add it to leftover meats and vegetables to make them moist and to give some warmth for lunch the next day. My son frequently gets this for lunch sent to school in a thermos.

I have tried making fish stock twice, once with a grouper head and once with a snapper head. I found that both were just as fishy as the other and were not palatable to me for sipping straight. However, these stocks are fantastic for using in fisherman’s stews, clam chowder, or other seafood stews/soups.

Wild-caught tuna and salmon - I have bought Vital Choice canned sustainable tuna once to try it. It’s the best canned tuna I’ve ever eaten! As our financial situation has still remained tight, I won’t be buying more tuna for the time being. But I do purchase wild Alaskan salmon from various butcher counters in stores locally.

Of course now with all the events surrounding the approval of GE salmon, it’s anyone’s guess as to whether the future of salmon will be safe.

My son loves tuna fish, so I really want to give him the best quality available. We also love salmon, but this time of year there isn’t much available that is fresh or wild caught in our area…but we recently scored some at a great price from the health food store and had it for dinner last week. Then we made fantastic salmon omelets for breakfast the following day. I do buy Wild Planet tuna from the health food store from time-to-time.  Their fish is sustainably-caught, has low levels of mercury and high Omega 3 content.

The following are kitchen appliances and tools I’d never be without:

Food dehydrator - this is one of my first purchases that has enabled me to graduate to the next step of preparing traditional foods. We bought ours in December last year from Cultures for Health. It’s an Excalibur and I am very pleased with it. So far we have made granola and dried fruit. I am planning to make jerky soon, and some other foods I’ve been learning about in the great recipe book I received with my appliance.

Stainless pots and pans - we have a really nice set of All-Clad stainless pans and pots we bought well over 12 years ago, and they are in great shape.

Cast iron - we have a cast iron pan, but unfortunately we let it sit out with food on it one too many times, and now the enamel has been eaten away. We still use it, but will have to wait to purchase a better one.

Crockpot - our crockpot just stopped working, but we had a Rival, and I recently found out it contains lead in it, so I’m either going to buy something else next time or keep looking until I find a lead-free brand. For broth and slow-cooked meals, I’ll continue using my stainless stock pot.

Pyrex, glass, and ceramic baking dishes - I have some of the original Pyrex baking dishes and mixing bowls from my mother (pre-1960) that I treasure and use often, plus a few ceramic baking dishes as well. I know the newer Pyrex aren’t supposed to be as good quality, so I’m grateful to have the ones I do. The glass probably isn’t as safe, but they will have to wait to be replaced until sometime in the future when funds allow.

Mixer - I own a Kitchen Aid hand mixer which I normally only use for desserts which I make infrequently.

Cusinart Food Processor - we’ve had ours for years and it’s great for so many uses, including chopping up nuts and vegetables for culturing, slicing potatoes for breakfast and casseroles, stews, etc.

Cuisnart Stick Blender - I won this stick blender on a giveaway this past spring. I was so excited! It’s been super handy for making mayonnaise. Home-made recipe coming soon!

Omega Big Mouth Juicer I was excited to bring this addition to our kitchen, and we use it for juicing. It’s very powerful, and is easy to assemble and clean up.

Goals for the future:

I’m actually very pleased with my progress of learning about and using traditional foods in my kitchen. But, there’s still some thing I want to do. I will continue to look for bacon, hot dogs, and sausage without nitrates and other chemicals. Those have been hard to find – as well as local cheeses that are raw and without chemicals/hormones/antibiotics. Although raw is not an absolute necessity, the other requirements are and I’m going to continue to search for them. I want to start cooking with organ meats, that’s not something I’ve yet tried. I need to just do it!

My wish list would include: kitchen tools such as a grain grinder, a nice mixer (I like Bosch and Kitchen Aid), and I’d love to buy some Le Crueset cast iron as well as more ceramic or stoneware.

What are your kitchen staples? What items can’t you live without? Are there some you occasionally, but that you wouldn’t use any other alternative because you believe in the health value of what you choose over something else? What is your wish list for items you currently don’t have but wish you did? Please share!

This post is part of Kelly the Kitchen Kop’s Real Food Wednesdays Carnival. 

17 Comments

  • October 12, 2011 - 9:06 AM | Permalink

    Wow, Raine, you sure have a well stocked kitchen! We have a lot of the same staples you do , but not all of them. And we like a lot of the same providers, such as Braggs, Chaffin Family Orchard, Wilsey Ranch, etc.

    I think the only things we regularly carry that are not on your list are naturally fermented foods like Sauerkraut, Kombucha, and a fermented cilantro condiment we make. We also make Fish broth regularly, along with beef and chicken broths. The fish broth is usually made from wild fish heads we get from a local market.

    Great post, and you have given me some ideas of what to add to our larder.

  • October 12, 2011 - 9:18 AM | Permalink

    This was a great post. I liked reading about all the products you use and the details. I will be focusing more on cooking and stocking up my pantry with good quality ingredients in the near future (after baby comes) so this will help me a lot.

  • October 12, 2011 - 9:24 AM | Permalink

    Stanley – I just remembered that I also use Zukay products, and I do also use fermented vegetables that I make at home. I have a batch that I’m still using from back in May, and it will be out probably in the next month or so. I need to get on a new batch soon! I’m glad you use some of the same products we do, I think those are all great and I recommend them to everyone I know. :)

    Suzy – I’m glad this post was helpful. It’s hard to get everything organized at once, and if you have a baby coming, I know you have a lot to think about! I have spent probably the last 6+ years getting my kitchen organized, and we’ll be moving soon, so I’ll have to reorganize when we relocate. We’ll be going to Las Vegas to be near my in-laws, unless my husband gets a job elsewhere. I will have to re-order all of my meat, milk, and produce buying when we are moved, and I know that will be a big job. But, as with most things, one thing at a time, and remember, there is always tomorrow! :)

  • October 12, 2011 - 9:40 AM | Permalink

    AMEN! great list!
    BLessings
    http://bit.ly/ouXgr8

  • Brenda
    October 12, 2011 - 11:18 AM | Permalink

    I love Wild Planet Tuna! I mix it in with brown rice (thought I haven’t ever bought mine germinated yet) for a quick & easy & sustainable lunch.

  • October 12, 2011 - 11:28 AM | Permalink

    i stopped over from Real Food Weds to see what your staples are (we all have different ones). I have a similar list but I also include coconut milk and succanat (water kefir is a daily treat). I have had a Kitchenaid mixer but graduated a few years ago to the Bosch Universal and have the blender attachment. I LOVE it. Grain mills are also great, you can sprout, dry and grind your own sprouted flour and save buckets of money. I also adore my Cuisinart food processor that is many, many years old. It is still kicking. Great post!

  • Erica
    October 13, 2011 - 3:43 AM | Permalink

    Hi Raine Saunders,

    I would think it would still be fine to eat the Organic Valley cheese since the WAPF allows pasteurized aged cheese from pastured animals.

    • October 13, 2011 - 10:14 AM | Permalink

      Erica – yes, pasteurized cheeses are acceptable according to WAP guidelines, I just really want to find some good raw cheeses from sustainable sources. I hear about them all the time on different social networking sites and web sites. I’m not keen on supporting OP because of their lack of ethics, as I explained, so I’m hoping to find some good brands which don’t violate my conscience in such a way.

      • Erica
        October 13, 2011 - 10:39 AM | Permalink

        Same here! This is why I stopped buying their products, and was glad that I found a farm that sells truly raw cheese.

  • January 15, 2012 - 7:20 PM | Permalink

    If you love cast iron, I buy all my pieces vintage off ebay. Very inexpensive and indestructable. My favorites have been my two round griddles. I always make sure that I get the old ones and then ask how the former owners have seasoned them, as some do use chemicals. I also like to cook with vintage glass corning ware. Great for cooking rice and heating up left overs and they are also cheap.
    One other thing we have added to our diet is seaweed. The US is one of the most iodine deficient nations. I sprinkle it in so many dishes – pastas, rice, over cooked vegies, in salads, and I put it in my sauerkraut when I make that. Mountain Rose Herbs has a great variety gathered off the coast of Canada (not anywhere near Japan!).

    Thanks for all your ideas. I will keep your list handy. I’m trying to get us on more raw milk products.

  • Ariana
    January 15, 2012 - 8:48 PM | Permalink

    “I do buy Wild Planet tuna from the health food store from time-to-time. Their fish is sustainably-caught, has low levels of mercury and high Omega 3 content.”

    How do they know it’s low in mercury? I’d love to know, as I miss eating tuna.

  • Peggy
    October 24, 2012 - 11:30 AM | Permalink

    I have found nitrate-free bacon at Trader Joes. Also, Azure Standard (an online food co-op) is an excellent source for all things natural, and the prices are very reasonable – kind of like an online Whole Foods, only less expensive. They carry raw cheeses and chicken feet, organic produce, animal feeds and fencing – a huge variety of items.

  • Chris
    October 24, 2012 - 10:08 PM | Permalink

    Great post! Read the fall 2012 edition of WAPF’s Wise Traditions and you will find an enlightening article about nitrates and cured meats. It turns out that the naturally cured, nitrite-free products end up with MORE nitrates in their end product than their conventional counterparts. I think that if you really want to avoid them you just have to give up that family of foods altogether. Sigh.

  • FarmSchooler
    April 30, 2013 - 9:17 PM | Permalink

    The two BIGGEST things I didnt see on the list (that are more important than all of my homestead efforts even) were a good variety of LOCAL FARMING FRIENDS (not just strangers at a Farmers Market) & my Azure Standard Grocery Club resource. :o)

    • May 4, 2013 - 8:22 AM | Permalink

      Farm Schooler – good additions, but with the items I mention on this list that goes without saying since many of them are sourced from local farms.

  • Louis
    August 26, 2013 - 2:07 AM | Permalink

    Thanks for all your helpful advice, tips, etc …!!! It all is Greatly Appreciated and will be use wisely in future for myself my family friends and all others I can pass it all on to as well …
    Good Day and GOD BLESS YOU Too,
    Ms. Raine Saunders … ;-)

  • August 3, 2015 - 12:41 AM | Permalink

    Admiring the time and energy you put into your blog and detailed
    information you offer. It’s great to come across a blog every
    once in a while that isn’t the same outdated rehashed material.

    Wonderful read! I’ve bookmarked your site and I’m adding your RSS feeds to my Google account.

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