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How to Build a Purposeful Pantry

By | Solid Pantry | No Comments

If you’ve got a well-stocked pantry, a quick dash to a neighborhood grocery store and a speedy trip through the express line will be all you need to make a delicious meal any time, at the drop of a hat.

Choose a few items from each of the following categories to stock in your pantry (chances are, you’ve got some of these covered already) and you’ll always be just moments away from a tasty meal.

cooking oils

Oils can be used for cooking and for seasoning.

  1. Oil

Flavorful olive oil is ideal for use salad dressings and lightly sautéed or roasted vegetables. A neutral-flavored oil with a high smoke point, such as Grapeseed, safflower, or sunflower seed oil is perfect for high-heat cooking or deep frying.

Sesame oil, walnut oil, hazelnut oil, truffle oil, and other strongly flavored oils can be the finishing touch that turns your meal from ordinary to extraordinary.

  1. Vinegar

As with oils, the right vinegar will take your dishes up a notch or three. For vinaigrettes, try balsamic, red wine, champagne, or sherry vinegar. Flavored vinegars—like fig or tomato-basil—or a good aged balsamic can be drizzled over salad greens or roasted vegetables for a delectable one-ingredient sauce. Rice wine vinegar is mild and perfect for Asian dishes. Apple cider vinegar has just the right tang and hint of fruit to serve well in all sorts of salad dressings, marinades, and other dishes.

  1. Condiments

Mustard, Worcestershire sauce, anchovy paste, fish sauce, soy sauce, hot sauce, chile paste, mayonnaise, ketchup, barbecue sauce, chutney. Condiments make the world go ‘round.

assorted pickles

Pickles add bright color and flavor to all sorts of foods.

  1. Pickled and brined things

Capers, olives, pickles. These can perk up salads, sandwiches, stews, pizzas, pasta dishes, or serve as a satisfying snack.

  1. Seasonings

Salt (kosher or pure sea salt), pepper, fresh garlic, and onions should be standards in your pantry. Also nice to have are dried herbs (oregano, basil, dill), dried spices (cumin, cayenne, sweet and/or smoked paprika, curry powder, chili powder, ground cinnamon, ground ginger, ground clove), and vanilla extract.

  1. Sweeteners

Granulated sugar, brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, agave. These are essential for making desserts, but they’re also useful for balancing savory sauces and marinades.

  1. Chocolate

Unsweetened, semi-sweet, cocoa powder. Of course! You’ve got to have chocolate.

  1. Canned foods

While fresh food is always best, sometimes you just have to fake it. In the dead of winter, you can always rely on certain canned foods to round out your meals and keep you from going hungry. Canned beans are an easy way to add protein to any meal and canned diced tomatoes, coconut milk, or broth can form the basis of countless sauces or soups.

Canned tomatoes (diced, whole, pureed, paste, tomato sauce)

Canned proteins (beans—cannellini, chickpeas, kidney beans, pinto beans, black beans, lentils—as well as canned fish like tuna, salmon, and anchovies).

Canned broth (chicken, beef, vegetable), coconut milk, and pumpkin puree.

whole grains and dried beans

When your pantry is full of whole grains and dried beans, you can always whip up a satisfying meal.

  1. Dried grains, beans, noodles, and bread

Flour (all-purpose, whole-wheat, or a gluten-free all-purpose flour blend)

Dried pasta, couscous, and polenta.

Noodles (rice, soba, udon)

Rice (white, brown, basmati, Arborio)

Oats, barley, bulgur, and other dried grains.

Plain dry breadcrumbs and/or panko breadcrumbs.

  1. Nuts, Seeds, and Butters

Peanuts, cashews, almonds, pine nuts, walnuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, tahini, peanut butter, almond butter.

 

 

Living Real Food Starts in the Kitchen

By | Real Food, Real Food Kitchen | No Comments

Living real food starts in the kitchen, but that doesn’t mean you have to buy a lot of high-end gear. High-tech gadgets like food processors, stand mixers, and high-powered blenders are great to have, and many of them save time and effort in the kitchen, but rest assured that none of these is necessary in order to start living real food.

essential-tools

All you need are a few essential tools.

Following are the 10 essentials of a real food kitchen:

  1. A good quality, sharp, 6- to 8-inch chef’s knife.

Buy the best knife you can afford on your budget (we like the mid-range offerings from Henckels, Wustoff, and Shun) and choose one that feels good in your hand. A small paring knife and a serrated bread knife also come in handy, but neither is essential.

chef's knife

A good, sharp chef’s knife is number one on our list of essential tools.

  1. A cutting board.

The purpose of a cutting board is to protect the countertop from your knife. Sure, you can spend a small fortune on a stunning, 3-inch-thick walnut beauty that will be a centerpiece of your kitchen for years to come, but a simple plastic rectangle from Ikea will serve you perfectly well for now.

  1. A 6- to 8-quart stockpot with a well-fitting lid.

You’ll use this for cooking pasta, beans, soups, or stews.

  1. A 2- to 4-quart saucepan, also with a well-fitting lid.

For making sauces, reductions, reheating soup, or steaming or boiling vegetables.

  1. A 10-inch skillet.

Useful for sautéing, stir-frying, steaming, omelets, and more. For this and the two pots mentioned above, invest in hard-anodized aluminum versions if you can. They are extremely durable, conduct heat well, are nonstick and easy to care for, and most can be used both on the stovetop and in the oven (makes sure the versions you buy are oven-safe since some brands have non-oven-safe handles or lids).

  1. A box grater with multiple hole sizes.

Use it for grating cheese, potatoes, carrots, squash, citrus zest, onions, ginger, or garlic.

  1. A vegetable peeler.

This will only set you back a couple of dollars, and you’ll use it often to peel potatoes, carrots, and other vegetables. It can also be used for making paper-thin slices of hard cheeses like Parmesan or thinly slicing vegetables for salads and other preparations.

baking pans

Baking pans are inexpensive, so you can afford an assortment of shapes and sizes.

  1. A large, rimmed baking sheet (or two).

You don’t need to spend a lot of cash on these, but they’ll be useful for everything from roasting vegetables to baking cookies.

  1. A 9-x-13-inch baking dish.

You can use this for baking cakes, brownies, or casseroles.

  1. A few basic cooking utensils

A spatula, a wooden spoon, a whisk, and a good pair of tongs

Using Fresh Ingredients in the Kitchen

By | Fresh Food | No Comments

Living real food starts with fresh ingredients. Whether you get them from your local farmers’ market, grown them in your own garden, shop at a neighborhood grocery store or a large chain supermarket, filling your fridge with fresh foods is the first step to living real food.

When you’re stocked up with fresh ingredients—even if you just bring a few items home to start—means you’re sure to have something to build a quick meal around. For example, if you’ve got a chicken breast, some fresh peas, and a lemon, as well as a purposeful pantry (read our blog on Building a Purposeful Pantry), you’ll be all set to make a number of satisfying and delicious meals.

Fresh foods can be categorized into 7 main categories:

Aromatics (onions, garlic, chives, fresh ginger, chiles, scallions, and shallots)

Fresh herbs (such as basil, cilantro, mint, parsley, and dill)

When your pantry is stocked with fresh ingredients, a quick, satisfying meal is always just minutes away

When your pantry is stocked with fresh ingredients, a quick, satisfying meal is always just minutes away

Fruit (strawberries, apples, bananas, peaches, melons, and more)

Citrus fruits (A subcategory of fruit, citrus is often used for adding flavor to dishes and providing acid to balance out other flavors in cooking. These include lemons, limes, and oranges.)

Vegetables (asparagus, broccoli, celery, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, squash)

Proteins (chicken, beef, pork, bacon, shellfish, fish, eggs, tofu, beans)

Dairy products (cheese, milk, cream, yogurt, butter)

With an item or two from 3 or 4 of these categories, you will be well on your way to a delicious and satisfying meal.

What Do We Mean by “Real Food”?

By | Fresh Food, Real Food | No Comments

When we talk about real food, we mean food that is that is grown locally, on farms and ranches that don’t use chemical pesticides or fertilizers, growth hormones, antibiotics, or genetically modified organisms (GMOs). It is food that is eaten fresh when it is in season. It is food that is grown and produced using sustainable practices, treating both workers and the environment with respect. It is food made of real ingredients, things you can pronounce that come from honest to goodness places—farms, gardens, ranches, and kitchens, not laboratories or drive-thru windows.

Peas-in-pod

What sets real food apart from processed, additive-laden, ready-made food is that it doesn’t just satisfy your hunger, but nourishes your body and keeps it vital and strong, supports the community, and helps to protect the environment. It doesn’t just feed your body, but also nourishes your life and the world around you. It transforms eating from an item on your to-do list into a pleasurable habit that’s nutritious, delicious, easy, and fun.

Living real food isn’t about what you can’t eat, but rather about eating more of the good stuff—food that is good for your body, your community, and the Earth. This means fresh organic fruits and vegetables, ideally grown locally and purchased from independent grocers or farmers markets, organic dairy products, organic whole grains, wild-caught fish and seafood, organic meats, and minimally processed natural sweeteners like maple syrup, honey, and fruit.

At its core, living real food is about eating what you love, savoring the sense of accomplishment you get from creating meals yourself, and feeling good about what you put in your body. You are in the driver’s seat. Our job is to provide the knowledge, know-how, tools, and inspiration you need to transform the way you eat.

Eating real food is easier than you think. With a bit of knowledge and a few simple tools, anyone can make and eat great meals.

 

Join Us in Living Real Food

By | Real Food | No Comments

Welcome to Living Real Food, your go-to source for tools, advice, know how, and information about eating well with purpose. Living real food is a healthy lifestyle that is based on understanding and eating real food.

Here at Living Real Food, we love healthy, delicious food—not just eating it, but learning about where our food comes from and how it is grown or produced, shopping for and choosing ingredients, stocking our pantries with quality cooking essentials, finding and using the best tools, discovering quick and easy cooking methods, and turning raw ingredients into tasty and satisfying meals.

Before we started Living Real Foods, we wondered how eating got so complicated and confusing. What, we wondered, are the challenges that keep food lovers from enjoying the kind of healthy, sustainable, local, homemade, delicious foods they love? Through our research, we found that many people simply don’t know enough about wholesome ingredients—where to buy them, how to select them, and what to do with them once they get them home to the kitchen. Some simply don’t know the basics of how to prepare fresh foods, while others feel like they never have the right staples in their pantry or tools in their kitchen to whip up a meal. Still others are convinced that they don’t have enough time or money to eat the kinds of home-prepared meals they’d like.

We started Living Real Food because we believe that healthy, delicious, homemade meals are accessible for everyone, even those with limited time, budgets, and cooking experience. By experimenting with a different kind of eating, discovering what you love, boosting your kitchen know how, connecting with others over shared meals, and learning more about the food you eat, you will begin to get even more nutrition, satisfaction, and enjoyment from the foods you love. Living real food isn’t a destination, it is a personal journey and we hope to offer guidance and advice that will lead you to living the real food life you want.

Living real food means eating fresh, delicious, seasonal whole foods

Living real food means eating fresh, delicious, seasonal whole foods

Join us as we set off on the living real food path together. Once you sign up for our newsletter, you’ll start getting real food wisdom delivered right to your inbox, and you’ll also get immediate access to our start guide and our advice on buying seasonal produce, building a personal pantry, and tooling your real food kitchen. You’ll also gain access to our blog posts about what’s in season, recipes, tips, time- and money-saving food preparation ideas, and other inspiring information and advice that will help you start living real food today.

5 Tips for A Successful Farmers’ Market Foray

By | Farmers Market | No Comments

This time of year, there is no better place to do your grocery shopping than your local farmers’ market. You’ll find stalls piled high with peaches, cherries, melons, tomatoes,  squashes, corn, eggplant, and other luscious  fruits and veggies. Not only will you get a great selection of fresh, locally grown, in-season produce, but you’ll also get to talk to the very people who grow it and find out how to tell when it is perfectly ripe, how to store it for best flavor and longevity, and how to prepare it.

Here are our top 5 tips for getting the most from your farmers’ market trip:

  1. Come prepared with large shopping bags.

Some vendors don’t provide bags and those who do often offer only flimsy plastic bags. Keep your treasured produce picks in perfect shape by bringing your own sturdy cloth bags.

Come to the farmers market prepared with small bills

Come to the farmers market prepared with small bills

2. Bring small bills.

Some stalls can get super busy. Make things easy on the vendors and yourself by bringing small bills so that you can give exact change. And don’t rely on plastic since many vendors are cash only.

Come to the farmers market prepared to find whatever is fresh and in season and build your meals around those items

Come to the farmers market prepared to find whatever is fresh and in season and build your meals around those items

3. Do your research.

Before you go, check out our <link to the “What’s in Season” article> to find out what fruits and veggies are at their peak now. Have a general idea of what you’re looking for. Planning to make roasted summer squash gratin? A fresh tomato sauce with the best San Marzano’s you can find? Or maybe you’re thinking a spicy eggplant stir-fry with lots of garlic, fresh herbs, and chilies. You’ll find all of these ingredients in the market this time of year, and having a plan in mind will help you remember everything you need for your meal.

4. Be flexible.

Its great to have a general plan of what you want to cook with your farmer’s market haul, but keep an open mind and allow yourself to nab a pile of cherries just because they look perfectly succulent, or to load up on fiddleheads after hearing the vendor talk about how delicious they are sautéed in butter with a bit of sliced garlic.

5. Ask lots of questions.

The people who grow/produce the food you are buying are the ultimate experts. You can bet they’ve tried cooking or preparing it every way imaginable and they know the best way to store it, how to select the perfect ripeness, and more. Try to hit the market either early or late in the day when it’s not too busy and vendors will be able to give you more individual attention, and then don’t be shy!

 

San Marzano Tomatoes for Sauce

Peel Tomatoes the Easy Way

By | Good Tools, Real Food Kitchen | One Comment

First, you’re probably wondering, “Why do I even need to peel my tomatoes?” Actually,  most of the time, you don’t. For salads and other raw preparations, there is absolutely no need to peel tomatoes. Even for soups and sauces where the tomatoes will be finely pureed, leaving the peel on is just fine. For chunky salsas, too, the peel won’t bother anyone. But for certain things, like a traditional marinara or Bolognese sauce, where whole tomatoes are cooked down until they fall apart into a rich sauce, bits of peel really are unwelcome.

san marzanos with an x

Cutting an X into the bottoms of the tomatoes makes them easy to peel

While it may sound like a big hassle to peel tomatoes, it’s actually easy if you follow a few simple steps. First, bring a large pot of water to a boil. While you’re waiting for the water to boil, prepare an ice water bath by putting a bunch of ice in a large bowl of cold water. Then cut an “x” in the skins of the tomatoes (see photo above) at the bottom. Drop the tomatoes into the boiling water and let them cook for about 45 seconds. Pull the tomatoes out of the water with a slotted spoon and drop them directly into the ice water bath. Leave them in the ice water for a minute or two until they are cooled. Remove them from the ice water and the skins should slip off easily.

Top 5 Quick and Easy Ways to Use Your Summer Tomatoes

By | Fresh Food, In-Season | No Comments

Months go by—the entire winter and spring—with nothing but mealy, pale, tasteless tomatoes in the supermarket. Then one summer morning, you pop over to your local farmers market and holy moly! Piles of beautiful, luscious tomatoes in every hue from red, yellow, and orange, to green, purple, and nearly black. If you’re like us, you respond by loading up your reusable shopping bag with a pound (or three) of every type you see. How can you resist all that tomato-y promise?

Here, our top 5 ways to turn that haul into great summer meals:

San Marzano Tomatoes for Sauce

San Marzano tomatoes are thin-skinned, meaty, and flavorful

 

  1. Get saucy with this Simply Delicious Tomato Sauce.

For the best, easiest tomato sauce, melt a few tablespoons of butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add half a diced onion and cook, stirring, for a few minutes until the onion begins to soften. Add a minced clove of garlic or two if you like. Throw a couple pounds of peeled and diced (ideally a good sauce-making plum variety like San Marzano) tomatoes, along with their juices into the pot. Sprinkle in a couple of healthy pinches of salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally and smashing the tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon, for about 45 to 60 minutes. Taste and add additional salt if needed. At this point, you can also stir in a handful of minced fresh herbs—basil, oregano, mint, thyme, or savory will all add their own distinctive twist. Serve tossed with cooked pasta and sprinkled with freshly grated cheese.

  1. Go raw with an easy no-cook Raw Tomato Sauce.

Sometimes in the heat of the summer what you really want is to not cook. This quick, no-cook tomato sauce is the ideal solution. Dice two pounds of good meaty tomatoes (no need to peel them) and put them in a big bowl, along with their juices. Add 2 to 3 tablespoons of red wine vinegar, 2 to 3 tablespoons of good olive oil, a minced clove of garlic, and a couple of pinches of salt (taste and add more as needed). Let this mixture stand at room temperature for about 15 minutes to let the flavors meld and then toss it with cooked pasta (warm or at room temperature) and serve. For variety, add some diced fresh mozzarella or crumbled feta, sliced Kalamata olives, or fresh, chopped basil, oregano, or mint.

  1. Spice it up with Salsa Fresca.
    Salsa Ingredients

    Assorted heirloom tomatoes, fresh chilies, red onions, cilantro, and lime make a bright, spicy, and delicious Salsa Fresca

In a bowl, toss together 3 or 4 large tomatoes (like >>> or >>>) with half of a red onion, finely diced, 1 or 2 finely diced Serrano or Jalapeno chiles (leave the seeds and ribs in for a spicier salsa, remove them for a milder version), the juice of 1 lime, 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro, and salt to taste. Let stand at room temperature for at least an hour before serving with tortilla chips for dipping/scooping or dolloped onto tacos or other Mexican fare.

Multi-colored heirloom tomatoes pair beautifully with ripe watermelon, bright herbs, and tangy feta cheese

Multi-colored heirloom tomatoes pair beautifully with ripe watermelon, bright herbs, and tangy feta cheese

  1. Combine summer favorites in Tomato and Watermelon Salad with Fresh Mint, Chives, and Feta.

In a medium salad bowl, combine about 3 cups of diced watermelon and 2 or 3 large, diced heirloom tomatoes. In a small bowl, whisk together about 2 tablespoons each of red wine vinegar and olive oil with 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt. Drizzle the mixture over the watermelon and tomato, then sprinkle the salad with about 2 tablespoons minced fresh chives, 2 tablespoons finely julienned fresh mint, a couple ounces of crumbled feta cheese, and 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts. Grind black pepper over the top and serve immediately.

  1. Go slow with Slow Roasted Tomatoes.

When you’ve got way more tomatoes than you can eat before they spoil, the best thing to do is slow roast them in a warm oven, then you can divide them into meal-sized servings in resealable plastic bags and pop them in the freezer to save for the inevitable long, cold season devoid of good tomatoes. Your winter self will thank you! Halve your tomatoes, arrange them cut-side up on a large, rimmed baking sheet, drizzle them with olive oil, sprinkle generously with salt and pepper, and then roast in a 200-degree oven for about 8 hours. Serve warm or at room temperature with toasted baguette rounds and cheese, or puree into a sauce for pasta or pizza.