“Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things….”

With our annual GET REAL Food Challenge at Quantum Crossfit under way, I figured it would be a good time to post some of my favourite pantry (and other) staples.  I know it can be daunting to ditch all your packaged foods and cook everything from scratch.  I also know firsthand that not everyone has time to cook every single thing from scratch.  While I would love to say that I make my own salsa and nut butter, I don’t….at least not while I’m still juggling 15,000 things.  Perhaps in the future I’ll have time to grow my own herbs and make coconut milk, but right now I rely on a few packaged things so that I can create amazing meals and still have a few minutes to see my husband and dogs each day.

Here are some guidelines that I use when buying something from a package:

1)   It must contain 100% real ingredients.  The only exception is my coconut milk which has guar gum in it….since I don’t have any negative reactions to guar gum, I am not going to sweat this.

2)   I aim to avoid packaging that contains BPA

3)   I pick Organic whenever I can afford it.

Here are my pantry staples:

1)   Native Forest Coconut Milk – Native Forest is one of the only canned coconut milks (to my knowledge) which has BPA free cans.  Coincidently, their coconut milk is so creamy and best to make ‘whipped’ cream.  Apparently the Arroy-D brand (which is much cheaper) is also BPA free.

2)   Eden Organic Crushed Tomatoes (and Tomato Sauces) – Eden is also one of the companies aiming to go BPA free and they are one of the only brands that offers Tomatoes in a glass container (vs canned).  It is not guaranteed 100% BPA free because there is some which coats the lid (which is then covered by another protective layer), but as you can read here it’s likely the best option available (aside from making your own).  I find it at Whole Foods for about $6.49 a jar so it’s not cheap….my chili is now a luxury meal.

3)   Wild Planet Canned Tuna and Salmon – Wild Planet also makes the list of companies going BPA free, however at this point only the canned Tuna is BPA free.  I keep this on hand in case of emergency….I rarely eat tuna anymore due to the mercury content (and when I do, it’s sashimi).  I should note that Wild Planet claims to have less mercury than other tuna brands.  In any event, I have switched to buying frozen wild pacific salmon filets when I need something in a pinch…you can bake it in 10 minutes.

4)   Whole Foods 365 Salsa (Hot or Medium) –  As George Costanza said, “salsa is now the number one condiment in America”…I tend to agree that it is definitely one of my favourites. I put it on plain roasted chicken, eggs, veggies….you cannot go wrong with salsa.  Plus it is just fun to say “SALSA!”  Pick a brand that does not have sugar or any other questionable ingredients.

5)   A few good spice blends – I have a few from The Healthy Butcher which I LOVE. It makes seasoning something so much easier…sprinkle and you’re good to go.  The ONE Rub and FIRE Rub carried at the Healthy Butcher are my 2 current favourites.

6)   Bubbies Pickles and Sauerkraut – These are not your average Snooki pickles….Bubbies are all naturally fermented, so they carry lots of the beneficial bacteria that your gut loves.  I do not eat burgers unless they are paired with a Bubbies pickle…running out of these creates an emergency situation in the house.  Bubbies Sauerkraut is also delish.

7)   Frank’s Red Hot – Yes, I would put that sh*t on everything.  In fact, I have to try not to….it’s an addictive substance.  I try to limit my Red Hot use to my weekend eggs and when I eat plain roasted chicken.  Too much of this stuff is not kind to your gut (and shouldn’t be used if you suffer from gut issues), so it should not be used liberally.  I have tried other (more premium) hot sauces, but this one is still my favourite.

8)   Thai Kitchen Red Curry Paste – Add some coconut milk and you have a fast and delicious curry.

Here are a few other things that I always have stock of – you can find all of these at Whole Foods (except maybe #10 which I get at the Healthy Butcher or local farmer’s markets):

1)   Raw Organic Cashews – generally I’ll have a small handful pre-workout with a bit of meat.

2)  Cashew Nut Butter and Hazelnut Butter – Hazelnut butter tastes like Nutella….spread some on a baked apple with cinnamon and you have dessert.

3)   Kicking Horse Coffee – when you’re drinking coffee or espresso black, it’s got to be good quality.  Since I do a half-caf, I like Kicking Horse because they do not treat their caffeine free blends with any chemicals.  Running out of this would also create a major emergency in the house.

4)   Frozen Rapini – because you should never go without your greens and sometimes you just don’t have time to wash, chop and steam.  These work great in chili’s, soups and stews.

5)   Acropolis Organic Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar – I got hooked on this brand when I was introduced to it while cooking with my friend Greg Carver.  The balsamic is AWESOME…it has a wonderful natural sweetness…I swear you won’t go back to another brand.

6)   Simply Natural Organic Mustard – Much like my Frank’s Red Hot, I put this sh*t on everything too…..for dressings, with salmon, on burgers….in place of Jager shots.   This brand is my favourite.

7)  Coconut Aminos – I use this in place of Soy Sauce and Tamari….it works better in sauces than for dipping sashimi as it does taste a bit different from Tamari.

8)  Bragg Apple Cider Vinegar – I like Bragg because it is raw and unpasteurized (aka: it’s not processed).  I mix 1 Tablespoon of this with equal parts mustard and lemon juice to create a mean salad dressing that goes with just about anything.  This is also good to take diluted with water prior to eating to stimulate stomach acid secretion.

9)  Private Stock Chipotle Aioli – OMG this stuff is such a treat….on burgers, roasted veggies (especially sweet potatoes) etc.  I use it sparingly for special occasions only (because it’s not cheap)…usually with my ritual meal of bison burger with Bubbies pickle and roasted root veggies (drooool).

10)  Mad Mexican Guacamole –  This is by far the BEST guacamole I have ever tasted….I’m sorry, but it probably beats your homemade stuff.  I have yet to taste anything better.  They must inject it with crack because it is not only addictive, but it also costs quite a bit…….This is on my worth it list because it tastes sooooo gooood.  This may not be a staple, but it’s definitely something I pick up every once in a while.

Yes, I’d love to be a 100% Paleo elitist who makes every single thing from scratch including grinding up cumin in a mortar and pestle.  Perhaps one day I will achieve this Cave-Martha Stewart status.  In the meantime, I am thrilled that there are some companies that make foods which meet the real food criteria and make me very happy.

Did I miss anything?  What’s in your pantry?