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10 kitchen essentials from Catherine De Orio

The Chicago-based chef and TV host shows us the ingredients and tools she can't live without.

As the host of Check, Please!, the Chicago-based restaurant review television show, Catherine De Orio is no stranger to eating in the Windy City’s best restaurants. But the former lawyer and travel writer is also a trained chef, so she also spends plenty of time in her home kitchen. Drawing inspiration from growing up in an Italian neighborhood, traveling the world and the farm-to-table movement, De Orio often creates healthy meals and snacks using an eclectic mix of tools and ingredients in her well-equipped kitchen. Here are the must-have items at the top of her list.

vita-mix blender

“To say I'm obsessed with this blender would be an understatement. It’s the most powerful blender. I use it for everything—whole fruit juicing, soups, salads, sauces and smoothies.”
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cast-iron grill pan

“Once well seasoned, these pans will give the non-stick benefit of a teflon-coated pan without the chemicals and with better heat distribution. I’m partial to Le Creuset, but there are plenty other great brands on the market.”
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microplane zesters

“These are the best tools for zesting and grating. Citrus zest or grated ginger add so much flavor to a dish without having to worry about extra calories.”
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zahtar

“This is a Middle Eastern spice blend that contains sumac, sesame seeds and a blend of dried herbs as well as additional spices and salt. The blends vary, so taste them to see which you prefer. I have a friend who is originally from Beirut, Lebanon and so his mom sends me the spice from the markets there. I sprinkle it on eggs, stir it into non-fat Greek yogurt and use as a dip for raw vegetables. It’s also great on air-popped popcorn for a savory snack.”
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furikake

“This Japanese seasoning blend contains a variety of things, but mostly dried, ground fish, sesame seeds and seaweed. It varies by brand, and check the label as many contain MSG. I learned about it nearly a decade ago when I was in Hawaii and saw Japanese tourists sprinkle it over their rice in the morning. I tried it and it’s now one of my favorite seasonings!”
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ras el hanout

“This North African blend of spices usually contains a dozen or more ingredients, and some contain close to 30! It translates to “top of the market” which means that the spice purveyor blends the best of the shop’s offerings to make the blend. A typical blend will include cardamom, clove, ground chili peppers, paprika, peppercorn, cinnamon, turmeric, fenugreek, cumin and coriander. I use it when making tangines, as a rub for salmon, or I’ll season roasted vegetables and couscous dishes with it."
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hot pepper spices

“I love anything spicy and have a high tolerance for it. I like to add spice (crushed red pepper, paprika, chili powder) to almost anything since it adds another layer of flavor and gives the added bonus of boasting your metabolism a bit. The list of what to do with these is endless!”
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oatmeal

“I only use steel-cut oats. I love oatmeal as a breakfast option since it’s packed with fiber and it is proven to lower LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol levels. Everyone thinks of oatmeal as a sweet dish, but I make a savory version, too. I’ll sauté tomatoes or mushrooms with some olive oil and garlic and then add those to the cooked oatmeal. I'll add a bit of harissa and sprinkle some fresh, chopped green onions to finish.”
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anchovies

"These are rich in healthy omega-3 fatty acids which are good for your heart and also keep your skin and hair healthy. Anchovies are my favorite way to add extra flavor to sauces and dressings. I really developed a taste for them while living in Italy and spending time in Spain. I like boquerones, white anchovies, to snack on or add to a salad. But plain old olive oil packed anchovies are what I use for cooking to add a deep, savory flavor to my dishes."
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apples

“I prefer Honey Crisp, Gala and Braeburn; they satisfy my sweet craving. Apples are part of the catch-all of staples I always have on hand to make sure I can always snack on something healthy.”