Kitchen Essentials

  • We Olive

    My two favorite ingredients, which I always have in my kitchen and have been known to travel with are Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar.  People are always confused about both of these ingredients.  I will try to clear any confusion you may have regarding these ingredients.

    The darker the olive oil, the stronger the flavor.  The method in which the oil is processed is what determines if it is extra virgin olive oil.  Olive oil is also best used fresh.  It doesn’t age well.  I recommend using the robust olive oil for dishes like pasta, or when you drizzle it on your vegetables.  Use a lighter olive oil for salads or bread dips.

    Most people think there is only one flavor balsamic vinegar.  If you haven’t tasted different types of balsamic vinegars, you are really missing out.  I use balsamic vinegar to marinating steaks as well as for common uses such as a salad dressing.  Once you get a few delicious balsamic vinegars the sky is the limit.

    The quality of your olive oil and balsamic vinegar are not directly related to the price.  I have spent obscene amounts of money on these only to be completely disappointed.  If you want a delicious salad dressing or a fantastic pasta sauce, you cannot start with a subpar major ingredient.  Both olive oil and balsamic vinegar are essential to the flavors of your dish.  Think of them as your supporting actor.  They make a significant difference.

    I know many people who claim they are olive oil and balsamic vinegar snobs and spend $30 or more on a bottle on something that is barely mediocre.  I was always on the hunt to find that perfect olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  You know the one you taste at your favorite restaurant and when you try to make the salad dressing or bread dip at home, it never tastes the same?  Well, it’s simple, you don’t have a quality olive oil or balsamic vinegar necessary.  Thanks to We Olive you can.

    I discovered We Olive on a trip to Santa Barbara.  The We Olive store was filled with barrels of olive oil and balsamic vinegar varieties that they make.  They use sustainable farming practices which is another plus.  They also have bottles from other companies, but I never waste my time on those.  You can taste each of the different flavors before purchasing.  They do allow you to take your own containers or buy one of theirs.  I recommend buying one of theirs.  However, when I lived over three hours away from the closest We Olive store, I purchased gallon size glass bottles and filled those babies up.  It is not cheap, but it’s completely worth it.  If you don’t live anywhere near a We Olive, don’t worry, they have a website

    My staples that I always buy are the Aged Balsamic Vinegar and the Arbequina Olive Oil and I use these for salad.  I also like the Mission Olive Oil for drizzling over pasta, vegetables or dipping sauces.  With respect to balsamic vinegar, I use the peach and blackberry for salad dressings too.  the Peach Balsamic goes great with fish and chicken and the Blackberry Balsamic is great with beef or lamb.


  • 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