Can't-live-without Pantry Staples (and kitchen gadgets)
There are several items that I keep on hand at all times. Seriously, panic sets in if one of these items runs low. Each of these makes it's way into just about everything that I make.
Textured Vegetable protein (TVP)
*TVP* is most commonly made from soy, but can also be made from cotton seeds, wheat and oats. TVP can be as much as 50% protein in its dry form (no protein deficiencies for us!) and can absorb up to three times it's weight in liquid so marinate and season away with whatever you like best. Its texture when rehydrated mimics meat quite well and is a terrific meat substitute in recipes for things like chili and *tacos*.
Nutritional yeast is a deactivated yeast and is often sold in the bulk section of heath stores and places like Whole Foods. It is yellow in color and is most often in flake form but can also be a powder. It is a significant source of B-complex vitamins and is often fortified with vitamin B-12. "Nooch" is also a complete protein, meaning that it contains all nine essential amino acids. Nutritional yeast has a strong flavor that is best describes as nutty or cheesy; it can be used as an ingredient or a topping on it's own. I like it on popcorn!
For those that haven't been introduced to this magical ingredient yet or can't find it where you live you can get it *here* for about $0.64/oz. Now, if you already know and love nutritional yeast and want to buy in bulk, you can grab *this* six pound monster for just over $0.59/oz.
This is a pantry staple that can really do double duty. Coconut milk makes a wonderful base for creamy sauces; especially Thai or Indian inspired ones. In desserts it creates a fantastic thickness that almond or soy milk can't replicate. For example, I use it in my *peanut butter and chocolate dessert smoothies* ;-) There is a wide variety of brands out there; just be sure to get the full fat kind if you want to really get that creaminess I mentioned. And I like to stay away form the ones that contain guar gum—the fewer ingredients, the better, as far as I'm concerned.
For years I threw away my vegetable scraps. Potato and carrot peels, the ends of onions, mushroom stems, the tops of celery stalks, etc. all went into the trash or the garbage disposal. For years I was wasting vegetable gold!
I’ve since learned that if I save all of my veggie scraps (not greens like spinach or lettuce though) and store them in the freezer until I've got at least a gallon-size bag worth I can make my own stock! I used to use a 5 or 6 quart pot for this but since I've discovered the joys of the *Instant Pot* it has become one of my go-to kitchen appliances. Whichever you use, making your own stock is not only financially smart, it's environmentally friendly and you can really control the flavor and salt.
Because I use cashews in a few different ways I always buy them raw and in *bulk*. The best deal on cashews is to stay away from whole cashews and go with the pieces. Unless you're doing some kind of fancy ass plating and need beautiful whole cashews you'll just be paying more for no real benefit. Whenever I make a cheese sauce, whether for traditional *mac and cheese* or for an *alfredo-style sauce*, I use cashews. Of course, they are a big part of vegan cheesecake recipes, caramel candies, dips, ice creams, cookies and nut butter. I even toss toasted cashews into my salad!
Because I use them so often I have started to boil several cups at a time then freeze them between sheets of parchment paper. This way, I always have soft cashews for any recipe I want to whip up (they thaw very quickly). Cashews are delicious and super versatile—I am never without them.
Stick Blender (also called an immersion blender)
Before I discovered the wonders of a *stick blender* I was never able to get soups smooth. Mostly, because I am completely unwilling to transfer soup from a pot on the stove to a blender in stages then back again to the pot to continue to cook. What a huge pain in the butt.
So, the one that I linked to above is certainly a bit on the pricier side, but I use mine a whole lot so I thought it was best to invest in something well made and that came with a warranty. You can certainly get a stick blender for a whole lot less— *this one* has great reviews and comes with attachements. As you can see, you don't need to blow big bucks here.
The virtues of a stick blender can not be understated. I use mine to puree all kinds of soups, blend up smoothies, as well as break down tomatoes for pasta sauce, and give the mushrooms in my mushroom stroganoff a rough blend (not too much, I like it a bit chunky).
High-speed, powerful blender
I wanted a *Vitamix blender* for a long time. A long time. And, after having it now for about a year or so, I do not regret the expense even one little bit. Not one. Yes, it's a big big expense. And yes, it is totally worth it. It has pre-programmed settings, a HUGE 64 oz container, seriously and amazingly sharp steel blades, and a self cleaning setting (!). You can make your own nut butter in this—it is THAT amazing. I use this for every breakfast smoothie, nut butter, cheese sauce, pasta sauce, mushroom stroganoff, cauliflower rice, oat meal, and pesto sauce I make. My Vitamix really gets a workout. If you've been thinking about pulling the trigger, I'm here to tell you: DO IT!
"Black salt," as it's also called, has a sulfur smell and is pink when raw and turns black when cooked. My husband calls it "fart salt." Kala namak gives dishes an eggy and savory flavor. When used alone you can taste the eggy-ness of it. When used in conjunction with other seasonings the result is a more savory depth of flavor. Once mixed in and cooked, I promise that it does not smell like farts.
Kala namak is particularly handy when making anything that should have a cheesy or creamy flavor. If you're new to it perhaps pick up a small amount before committing to a larger quantity. I usually purchase 1 lb pouches *here* but I'm considering bumping up to the larger size *here* given how often I use it ;-)