I have been eating a real food diet for at least seven years. Although I am not always a purest, I have discovered a lot of joy in working with real foods and traditional cooking practices. It has given me plenty of room to grow as a cook, to feel well-nourished and to enjoy beautiful food.

It goes without saying that there is a wide variety of produce, grains, and meats and seafood in our diet. But while those items can vary a lot, there are certain things I always like to have on hand and depend on in my cooking. Here are five of them.

Homemade broth: Homemade broth (whether fish, chicken, beef or vegetable) is so far superior to store-bought that I was hooked on it from my first pot. While you have to learn to salt it properly so that its true flavor comes through, it is delicious (and full of calcium and other nutrients when made with bones). With homemade stock on hand, I can whip up a soup, make a stock-based sauce, moisten fried rice, flavor many dishes, and enjoy it just salted and steaming in a mug.

Butter: Butter is a good friend, especially rich yellow butter from cows that were grazing on green growing grass. It is a source of vitamin A and D, and K2. It is also a source of amazing flavor, whether you are dipping clams into melted butter, or you are making a cake. (I also think that butter is better than butter substitutes).

Coconut oil: A second favorite and constantly used fat is coconut oil. You can get a completely “virgin” or “raw” version that have traces of coconut flavor through it, which I’ve learned to love. Or you can also get a natural, expeller-pressed coconut oil that doesn’t have any flavor. I not only use it for certain cooking or baking applications, but I also whirl it into frostings, soft candies and more. I have been using this brand recently: Nutiva Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil. *

Mild olive oil: For making homemade dressings, nothing compares to a flavorful olive oil. My children appreciate a milder olive oil, so I keep that in mind when buying it. In my cookbook, "Fresh: Nourishing Salads for All Seasons," I share a lot of dressing recipes that use this traditional and wonderful oil. I like to buy it from American farmers, whom I trust not to be selling it adulterated with other oil.

Balsamic vinegar: I love the rich flavor of balsamic vinegar, and I have found that a decent, organic balsamic vinegar is lovely (even though the higher priced versions are incredible, I have kept to the budget-friendly versions). I not only enjoy it in a homemade salad dressing, but I also love to splash it into lentil-based soups. It gives just the right amount of tang. I have been making a sort of Italian sausage salad bowl with greens, cucumber, tomato, homemade ground sausage, and splashes of balsamic vinegar, too. It is really tasty and satisfying!

Those are some of the “pantry” items I keep on hand. What are some of yours? 

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