I’m going full holiday mode in the Ingredient of the Month!
This is your perfect partner for baking, your creative touch for confections and your secret to successfully flavored sweets: Extracts.
By extracts, I mean vanilla, almond, peppermint, orange and any other flavor of extract you may have or want to try!
These little bottles (when you buy the pure kind) are full of so much flavor and can add an interesting touch to many recipes.
Tell me more about extracts:
Flavor extracts are a bit like bitters, made from leaving a certain flavoring to sit in alcohol for an extended amount of time. There are even several easy recipes out there to make your own extract!
Where can I buy extracts:
You can buy the basic flavor extracts at your grocery store or specialty food store. Just make sure you buy those labeled “pure” that have a better flavor than those labeled “imitation.”
Pro tip: I live by my Mexican vanilla, and I highly suggest going to a Mexican grocery store to buy your vanilla. It’s so much more flavorful, and a decent sized bottle will last for a long time!
How do I store extracts:
I store my extracts in my pantry, which is also cool and dark. The great thing about those flavoring agents is that they usually last for a year or more (especially since you only use a little at a time).
How do I cook with extracts:
Most the uses for flavoring extracts are for baking purposes, but there are so many ways to jazz up your recipes with them!
One trick my mom taught me is to put a little vanilla extract on your morning fruit and yogurt. It sweetens it up a little bit and adds some nice vanilla flavor.
This may be a little unexpected.
Today’s ingredient is something that you’ve probably overlooked. You might pass it in the grocery store and think, who would want to eat that? Or you might have it in your fridge and never have used it for anything other than breakfast.
Well, I’m here today to lift this simple ingredient up a bit and hopefully open your mind to all of its creamy possibilities.
So, let’s talk plain yogurt.
Tell me more:
Plain yogurt is (or should be) thick and creamy yogurt without any flavors or much sugar. Siggi’s is my favorite, but I’m also a fan of Stonyfield’s whole milk plain yogurt. Like any other yogurt, it’s made from milk and contains lots of good probiotics!
I personally prefer plain yogurt to Greek yogurt, so I’ll leave it up to you to pick your favorite since they’re nearly interchangeable for our purposes here.
Where can I buy plain yogurt:
You can find plain yogurt in your grocery store, in the dairy/yogurt section or the organic dairy section. Get a yogurt that has high protein, low sugar and I like more on the whole milk side. Some people also make their own yogurt, which I think is great!
How do I store plain yogurt:
Store your yogurt in its container in the refrigerator. Most yogurts last for a few weeks.
How do I cook with plain yogurt:
Well, where do we start. Plain yogurt is such a versatile ingredient because you can control the flavors you add in, as well as if you’re going the sweet or savory route.
You probably know it’s a good sour cream substitute and that it makes a tasty smoothie. You might not know that it makes the perfect topping for Indian dishes mixed with cilantro, salt, pepper and a little lemon juice.
If you have an herb garden, then I bet you’re like me and tend to experiment with various herbs. I’ve found in my herb-story (if you will), that I started growing rosemary several years ago then added basil then mint, and then lavender, chives, sage and thyme this past year.
It’s fun to try new things as far as growing herbs because they’re cheap and you get to find new ways of using them in your cooking.
Which brings me to our Ingredient of the Month: chives!
These little spiky green guys were the surprise of my summer herb garden. They were super easy to grow, loved the sun and added the finishing touch to many of our dips and entrees.
Tell me more:
Chives are an allium (relative of garlic and onions) that grow in long, thin green stems (or scapes) with white roots.
Where do I buy chives:
If you don’t have a window spot or pot or herb garden to grow chives in, you can usually find them in the refrigerated or fresh herb section of your grocery store. Look for chives that are strong and not slimy.
How do I store chives:
I just clip my chives from my garden right when I need to use them. If you buy them from the grocery, then just refrigerate them in the container they came in. They are best used as soon as possible or can be kept in the fridge for a few days.
Let’s talk about dates.
Not the going out kind, but the eating kind!
Normally with these Ingredient of the Month posts, I highlight an ingredient that I love using that you may or may have not tried. Today, I’m sharing an ingredient that I am hoping to start using more but am relatively new to!
So, dates, what’s up with these sweet, pruney looking fruits?
Tell me more:
Dates or date palm is a very sweet fruit that is often used in Middle Eastern food. They are cylindrical and red or yellow. Dried dates (which is what you will usually find in the grocery store) are more dark purple or black.
Where do I buy dates:
You can find dried dates at many grocery stores or specialty food stores. I bought Medjool dates at Trader Joe’s.
Where do I store dates:
Dried dates can be stored at room temperature until opening, then they should be refrigerated and can last a year.
How do I cook with dates:
Dates are a really great sugar substitute, which is why you’ll often find them in baking recipes. If you’re looking for a healthier way to sweeten things like baked goods or smoothies, then dates might be right up your alley!
Here are some more great date ideas:
I’ve created a nice annual tradition for the past two years: blackberry picking at a local farm.
Right before or on the 4th of July, I hop in the car and drive about 15 minutes south (I think) to this quaint farm where there are dozens of rows of blackberries and sometimes blueberries and raspberries. In my few years of experience, I’ve come to find that picking blackberries is the most enjoyable as raspberries are really hard to find and blueberries are smaller and therefore take longer to fill up a bucket.
So, in honor of all of the rest of you blackberry picking (or picking them up at the farmers market or grocery store), bejeweled and tart-sweet blackberries are our Ingredient of the Month.
Tell me more:
Blackberries are a dark purple/black fruit grown on stems or bushes that ripen in the summer. They contain many tiny seeds, and they are high in antioxidants.
Where do I buy blackberries?
If you don’t have a blackberry farm/bush nearby, then you can find them at your local farmers market or at the grocery store likely near the raspberries and other fresh fruits.
How do I store blackberries?
Fresh blackberries need to be rinsed and left on the counter for a day or two or stored in the refrigerator to preserve freshness. To freeze berries, wash and freeze on an even layer on a cookie sheet in the freezer, then put into a large plastic bag. If you bought berries from the grocery store, then keep them in the refrigerator.
How do I cook with blackberries?
So, we all know that blackberries are heavenly popped straight into your mouth, paired with fresh whipped cream or with summer’s best vanilla ice cream, but there are many more options, too.
I don’t know if it was my France trip last year or because of this cute jar from Trader Joe’s, but Dijon has been on my mind lately.
And I think Dijon mustard deserves some space in all of our minds and menus. I used to dislike the sharp flavor of Dijon, but I’ve found that it adds some nice flavor to a lot of recipes!
I’m more a fan of the straight Dijon vs. the grainy mustard, but a little goes a long way with both.
Tell me more:
Dijon is a type of mustard originally made on Dijon in Burgundy, France. It is usually made with white wine and brown mustard seeds.
Where do I buy Dijon?
You can find Dijon at most grocery stores near the other mustards and condiments. I really like this Dijon from Trader Joe’s. You may even have someone locally who makes mustard like this!
How do I store Dijon?
Like most condiments, Dijon can be kept in the pantry until you open it then into the fridge for freshness. Some can be kept for a year or more.
How do I cook with Dijon?
Mustard can add a ton of flavor to sandwiches, salad dressings, meat and more! It’s got a vinegary kick, but it’s so worth it.
You might have thought that this month’s start ingredient would have been strawberries or rhubarb or something seasonal, and I thought about those. But, I decided on going with an ingredient that I’ve been using a lot lately and is wonderful for EVERY season!
Let’s talk about thyme.
It’s an herb that is crazy easy to grow and has lots of wonderful uses in sweet and savory dishes.
Tell me more:
Thyme is a green herb that consists of very small leaves on thin stems. Once thyme starts growing, it can turn into quite a shrub. It is in the mint family and also related to oregano.
Where do I buy thyme:
If you don’t have some growing yet (you should definitely get some from your farmers market or grocery store and try it out), or you can buy fresh thyme from any grocery store. You can also buy dried thyme for use in many dishes.
How do I store thyme:
Once thyme is cut, it should be used immediately if possible. If you bought fresh thyme from the store, then keep it in its plastic container or a baggy in the fridge to use within a few weeks. Dried thyme can be stored in an airtight container in your pantry for a year or more.
How do I cook with thyme:
The most important thing to note about cooking with fresh thyme is that you need to gently pick the leaves off of the thin stems and discard the stems. I like to hold the stem at the top then run two fingers downward to easily collect the leaves. You can use the stems in some cases.
Today’s Ingredient of the Month is something that you all probably already have in your fridge. I mean, even lots of vegetarian people eat eggs because they’re such a good source of protein and are so incredibly versatile.
Eggs are made for frying, scrambling, poaching, baking and accompanying whatever you’re cooking with ease. They’re almost like the perfect package within a shell. You could even say they egg-cel at being egg-ceptionally tasty.
Tell me more:
The eggs that we most commonly eat come from chickens and contain a white and a yolk. They are a great source of protein with the orange yolk being the fat-containing part and the white containing more protein.
Where do I buy eggs:
Always buy eggs local if you can! There is a huge difference in taste and quality between fresh eggs and not. Thankfully these days, you don’t have to have a friend with chickens down the road (though, that’s the ideal situation) when stores like Whole Foods and local grocery stores carry eggs ra ised nearby.
I prefer the brown eggs because I like the look of them and it’s what I grew up eating. But, the color just depends on the breed of chicken and doesn’t necessarily affect the taste. There can also be blue, green and speckled eggs depending on the breed.
How do I store eggs:
Because of the way eggs are transported and sold in the US, eggs should always be refrigerated. (Unless you’re about to bake with them, then I suggest leaving out for an hour or so.)
How do I cook with eggs:
Egg dishes can range from incredibly simple (classic fried or scrambled) to eggs being one of many ingredients in a dish. I always like to have a carton of eggs in the fridge for baking and easy, tasty meals.
We’re delving into the world of a very unique and versatile spice today as our Ingredient of the Month for February.
It’s OK to be honest with ourselves that there just aren’t many new ingredients of types of produce that are coming on the scene in February. We’re still munching on our sweet potatoes, broccoli and greens, but what if there was something that you could put on those to jazz them up a bit. I’m talking about something with some smoke and spice that keeps your winter meals exciting!
I’m talking about something with some smoke and spice that keeps your winter meals exciting!
Smoked paprika to the rescue!
You might know it as Spanish paprika or paprika’s more dangerous and smoky cousin. Let’s learn a bit more about it and how best to use it!
Tell me more:
Smoked paprika is from Spain and differs from sweet Hungarian paprika (we’re talking about the red spice on your deviled eggs here). This variety is made from pimiento peppers that are dried and smoked over an oak fire. Smoke paprika is a fine powder with a rusty (red-orange) hue.
Where do you buy smoked paprika:
You can buy smoked paprika in most grocery or food stores in the spice aisle. I got my fancy container from my mom (which I think she brought back from Spain). It will be labeled as some variety of smoked paprika, Spanish paprika and/or pimenton.
How do you store smoked paprika:
You should store your smoked paprika with the rest of your spices in a cool, dry place. I keep mine in the front of my pantry (making it easy to grab and use).
How can you use smoked paprika:
It may sound crazy, but it’s hard to think of a savory dish that smoked paprika wouldn’t be good in! It kind of tastes like bacon, so you really can’t go wrong. It really brings out the flavor when you saute it in oil for a recipe, as well.
I’m sitting here, looking out at patches of snow in my yard and thinking about cooking in the winter.
Winter cooking is comforting, warm and filling. You want it to be satisfying yet also healthful and colorful (even though the world is a little less colorful).
Winter ingredients are a little more tricky to seek out than spring and summer’s obvious bounty.
For me, a key winter ingredient is the butternut squash.
This flavorful and hearty squash makes a wonderful addition to any salad, soup or main dish. Its flavor goes so well with most other ingredients that you can add it in most anything to make it tasty. As long as you have a big knife to crack it open, you’re golden.
Tell me more:
Butternut squash is a winter squash that grows on a vine. It is shaped like a gourd with a beige outer skin (that needs to be peeled) and orange inside. This type of squash tastes sweet and nutty like a pumpkin.
Where do I buy butternut squash:
Butternut squash (and sweet potatoes) is a staple at your winter farmers market, if you have one. If not, you can find them at your normal grocery store in the produce section. Look for a squash that is firm with smooth skin.
How do I store butternut squash:
Another fabulous thing about this special squash is that it lasts for quite awhile in your pantry. Keep it in a cool, dry area (like your pantry, maybe next to your potatoes), and it will last up to 6 months! This gives you a great reason to buy a butternut squash and then take your time figuring out how you want to use it.