Kitchen Essentials for the Holidays
The holidays are quickly approaching, and there are certain food items that you’re going to need to have on-hand in your kitchen. Some of these items are:
Butter: Buy good quality unsalted butter. Butter is used in cookies, pie crusts, and sauces. If you purchase unsalted butter you can control the flavor and seasoning of your particular dish.
Flour: I like to use unbleached flour. It has a better taste, and hasn’t been stripped of nutrients like bleached flour has. I also like to keep a small bag of whole wheat, rice, rye, cake, semolina, and pastry flour on-hand.
Heavy Cream: During the holidays I use heavy cream in sauces, and in my homemade caramel. Heavy cream is also good in coffee, and essential as a topping for those homemade pies. If you haven’t ever had homemade whipped cream, it’s easy to make and worth the extra effort. In addition to heavy cream, I like to have regular milk, buttermilk, skim, almond, rice, soy milk, and half and half.
Yogurt: Greek yogurt has become quite popular over the past few years. It’s thick, creamy texture makes it perfect for breakfast. Good quality yogurt can also be used in quick breads to add moisture and flavor. I also use yogurt as a base in many sauces and dips that call for mayonnaise to help reduce the fat and calorie content.
Eggs: I go through a lot of eggs when I make cookies and quick breads- they’re also nice to have around when relatives visit so I can make over-easy eggs, omelets, eggs benedict, buttermilk pancakes, and waffles. Eggs are also used in crème anglaise– a light, sweet custard sauce served with cakes, pies and other treats.
Salt: I like to experiment with different types of salt. I always have regular, sea-salt, and kosher salt. Try mixing it up with volcanic sea salt, Fleur de Sel (salt from the coastal salt ponds in France), rock salt, and pickling salt. Specialty spice shops have countless types of flavored salts.
Leavening agents: Baking powder, and baking soda
Yeast: I like the dry variety- you can also purchase cake yeast in the dairy section in most local supermarkets.
Spices: For baking: Cinnamon, nutmeg (fresh ground makes a big difference), allspice, ginger and cloves. Other dried spices include, sage, rosemary, cumin, dill, oregano, thyme, coriander, curry powder, peppercorns, saffron, chili powder, celery seed, onion and garlic powder, and arrowroot. Try making your own spice blends using an automatic coffee grinder.
Corn Starch: Corn starch is used as a thickening agent for soups, gravies, and sauces.
Bread: I always like to have a lot of fresh bread around. During the holidays I like to experiment with different types of stuffing, bread puddings and French toast. Don’t throw away that old bread- put it in your food processor and make bread crumbs.
Maple Syrup: Spend a few more bucks and get good quality, organic, Vermont maple syrup.
Sugars: I use quite a bit of sugar during the holidays in my baking. Make sure to have regular, powdered, granulated, dark, and light brown sugar.
Honey: I’m a huge fan of honey- I use it daily in sauces, dressings, and as a sweetener.
Non-Stick Sprays: These are all essentially the same. I use them when baking quick-breads, and cookies.
Assorted Nuts: I use tons of nuts when I bake. I also put nuts on salads, and in stuffing. Try roasting, and making candied nuts during the holidays. Some nut varieties include: cashew, macadamia, Spanish, hazelnut, almonds, chestnuts, regular peanuts, pecans, pine-nuts and walnuts.
Oats: I have several cookie recipes that call for oats. Steel-cut, regular, and instant oats are also used in some of my bread recipes.
Chicken and Beef Stock: I go through quite a bit of stock during the holidays. Homemade is best, but flavored stocks bought in supermarkets are quite good too. I use stocks as flavoring agents in sauces, stocks and soups.
Chocolate: I have a lot of chocolate in my cupboards during the holidays. I keep semi-sweet, milk, and white chocolate chips around. I also have bulk chocolate in the same varieties- Callebaut is my favorite brand, and is available in most specialty, and restaurant supply stores.
Oils: I’m a huge fan of good extra-virgin olive oil. I also buy regular olive oil, veggie, flaxseed, coconut, walnut, peanut, sunflower and canola oil.
Coconut: Coconut is perfect for cookies and other baked goods. In addition to flaked coconut, I also use coconut milk in a lot of my sauces and baked goods. Light coconut milk is available if you’re trying to cut calories.
Sweetened Condensed Milk: This product is used in a myriad of baked goods, and most importantly of all, pumpkin pie!
Canned Pumpkin: Canned pumpkin has its obvious use (pumpkin pie) but is also used in breads, cookies, soups, curries, and stews. Make sure to buy the unsweetened variety so you can control the sweetness and seasonings.
These are just a few of the food items I like to keep in my kitchen. What are some of your favorite must-haves? Let me know and I will post them!
Chef Chuck Kerber