Laila’s Cooking Essentials

Truth is I love to cook, so the fact that I encourage people to stock their kitchen with what I think of as the essentials of cooking should by no means be a deterrent. While some people will have their own favorites, others may be reluctant to spend money before they really commit to cooking on a regular basis. I live by the motto that the quality of what goes in comes out.

First, I must warn you that there are two ingredients you cannot do without if you’re following my recipes. Olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I suggest buying these items from a Trader Joes, Whole Foods or a local ethnic market. They have a great selection and don’t charge an arm and a leg. I have to confess, I buy my olive oil and balsamic vinegar from We Olive and it is expensive. But, it is not essential.  I also use coconut oil and ghee.  I NEVER use corn, vegetable or any other type of oil.

Olive oil, is a very healthy and delicious addition to your ingredients. When selecting an olive oil it can get a little intimidating if you’re not familiar with the different oils. The darker the oil the more flavor. Olive oil can get bitter if burned at a high heat so never use olive oil for frying. I personally use olive oil when I want the flavor of the oil to enhance my recipe. For example, salads, pasta dishes, grilling or broiling. Examples of when you don’t want to use it are soups, baking or rice.

Getting back to the type of oil, I suggest stocking up on two, one light and one dark. If you have a favorite just go with that, if you don’t buy two small ones and see which you prefer. Most importantly, find one you love and stick with it. Like I said, I buy my olive oil at We Olive. I like the Tuscan for every day cooking and dressing and I also like the flavored oils, but that’s a personal preference.

Coconut oil is simple; it is all the same from my experience. Unlike olive oil, coconut oil can be cooked at very high heat without changing the flavor of the oil. I use coconut oil to fry, bake, or cook anything where I don’t want the flavor of the oil to be part of the recipe. For example, rice, Mexican food, Thai food. I will always let you know which oil to use and eventually you will be able to figure it out on your own.

Balsamic vinegar is one of my favorite kitchen essentials. I use it like most people use salt. I use it for salads, marinades, grilling chicken, steaks and many, many more things. You will need to try a few and find one or two that you love. My favorite is Aged Balsamic, Blackberry Balsamic and Peach White Balsamic, all are sold at We Olive. However, I recommend also buying one that is not infused with additional flavors. Costco has a great balsamic vinegar as does Trader Joes. I am not a fan of plain white balsamic vinegar but again it has to be what you love.

Moving on to cooking utensils. I am obviously more passionate about the ingredients then the utensils, however, I have found that the better the utensils the better the cooking experience. If you have not already done so, then I recommend buying a good set of knives, you can start with a few basics such as a Cook’s knife 8 inch, Santoku 7 inch, Carving knife 8 inch, Utility knife 6 inch and if you can, a Tomato knife 5 inch, only because cutting tomatoes can be so fun with this knife.

I personally invested in 26 piece set of Wusthof knives, but it is by no means necessary to make such a financial commitment. If you can invest the money, buy the few I mentioned from a good manufacturer and increase your collection as you go. The best way to keep your knives sharp is to sharpen them with a knife sharpener every other time you use them. Also make sure you do so at the correct angle or you can ruin your knives. If you have quality knives, it is a good idea to have them professionally sharpened once a year.

Pots and pans are another essential item (that was a joke). I own a set of Calphalon pots and pans. I prefer the Contemporary Nonstick with the metal handles. I don’t use stainless steel because I cook a few recipes that I would not be able to make with stainless steel. Also, I like the metal handles because I can use them on the stove as well as the oven.

Finally, you will need an electric wine bottle opener so you can open up the second bottle of wine quickly and it won’t interfere with your cooking time. We will be cooking with wine very often and sometimes we will use it as an ingredient.

Laila’s Cooking Essentials

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