A Few of My Favorite (Kitchen) Things

One of the best things about getting married, aside from my adorable son of course, was the realization of my cooking tool artillery. The marriage may not have worked out, oh well, but my kitchen essentials are still getting it done, every day. As we are getting into the full swing of the holiday season and Black Friday deals are aplenty from now until Christmas, this is a fantastic time to stock up for yourself or get them for your cooking gurus as gifts/stocking stuffers. I already shared a few of my faves in last week’s gift giving post, but here are a whole bunch more!

Ten of My Fave Kitchen Essentials:


OXO Nonstick Tongs 9″ ($9.95) – I literally don’t know what I would do without these guys. I roast a lot of veggies, these are the best tossers around. I used these for pan frying the meatballs on Sunday. Made of stainless steel with no-scratch nylon tips that are heat resistant to 400°F. Dishwasher safe. Why you wouldn’t have some of these around, like 2 pairs, makes no sense, so just get some.

Garlic Peeler ($9) – I use a lot of garlic in my cooking. I usually double what a recipe calls for because who doesn’t like garlic? Sometimes I get lazy and don’t pull the peeler out, I cut the ends off and try to peel it off by hand, but my hands are wet, it’s really sticky, a total mess. The peeler makes a big difference. It’s amazing how easily this floppy tube peels a clove of garlic. Simply insert whole unpeeled cloves, press down firmly, and briskly roll back and forth for a few seconds, until you hear the peel snap. Love.

All-Clad Stainless-Steel Splatter Screen ($59) – Fits 10-12″ pans, dishwasher safe, handle stays cool. I have been using this much more in the past year, as I’ve been moving towards pan-frying steaks exclusively, rather than broiling. It makes a big difference with the mess factor of splattering grease all over the stove when you use this. Please do yourself a favor and pan-fry your steak, there is no better preparation.

Epicurean Utensils Chef Series Turner ($14.95) – This is what I choose to sautee any veggies or brown meat. I really like the shape, the wood, the hard edge. The lightweight yet durable wood-fiber composite won’t harbor bacteria or absorb unwanted flavors and odors. Dishwasher safe.

Le Creuset Stainless Steel Nonstick 12.5″ dia. Frypan ($159.95, on sale from $210) – I need a non-stick pan. No question. I make eggs, a lot, and using my Le Creuset braiser on All-Clad stainless is just a nightmare with the stickage/clean-up factor. Dishwasher-, broiler- and oven-safe to 500 degrees. This is my second Le Creuset Stainless Nonstick pan in 7 years, my old one just got really scratched up. I love this thing. There is no Teflon, so you’re not at risk of poisoning your family, it cleans beautifully. You gotta have a good non-stick frypan and this is a winner.

Vegetable Steamer with Feet ($11.95) – Not sexy, just super practical. I steam green beans and broccoli pretty regularly (if I’m too lazy to roast) because it’s healthy and I actually think vegetables taste good! This steamer just works. I think I got mine from my mom about 15 years ago, but it’s held up great.

Glass Nesting Bowl Set 10-Piece ($29.95) – This is essential for “mise en place.” This French term means literally, “to put in place” or “everything in its place.” The concept is: A cook should have at hand everything he or she needs to prepare and serve food in an organized and efficient manner. I like having everything prepped before I really tackle the cooking, and this set is perfect for holding everything from herbs to chopped onions and garlic!

Ramekin ($2.95) – in the spirit of the nesting bowls, I love ramekins. I also use them for “mise en place” or snacks, or small desserts! The uses are endless.

Stainless-Steel Beverage Bucket ($199) – A must have if you’re hosting a party! You can monogram this guy as well, which is always a fab option. Holds 4–6 lb. of ice and 8 bottles of wine.

Williams-Sonoma Kitchen Towels, set of 4 ($19.95) – Always nice to get some colorful new kitchen towels. Just freshens the kitchen up! Love getting rid of old ones and replacing with new ones every few years!

Would love to know which kitchen essentials you can’t do without and why!

Smitten Kitchen Meatballs & Spaghetti

Today wasn’t the best day. But we all have those, right? My bf Jen suggested I throw myself into a cooking project and that sounded like just the ticket. I asked Oliver what he wanted to eat, because the worst is when I do one of these projects and he won’t touch it. He said pasta. OK! Pasta it is! I wanted to make something I hadn’t made before and looked to one of my food inspirations, Smitten Kitchen. I settled on Meatballs and Spaghetti and spent the last 1.5 hours chopping, hand-rolling and pan-frying meatballs and making marinara. I absolutely love to cook as it is so soothing/relaxing. I am not a meditator. My brain doesn’t shut down. This is the closest I get.

Deb Perelman (aka Smitten Kitchen) adapted her recipe from Ina Garten and I just straight up copied Deb’s version. I like to trust those who know how to get it done, rather than experimenting. It was soooooo good. A little time consuming to make the meatballs, but well worth it! Smitten Kitchen never does me wrong.

Meatballs and Spaghetti – Smitten Kitchen (Adapted liberally from Ina Garten)

Serves 6

For the meatballs:

  • 1/2 pound ground veal
  • 1/2 pound ground pork
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 1/4 cups fresh white bread crumbs (about 5 slices, crusts removed)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more to taste
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 extra-large egg, beaten
  • Vegetable oil and Olive oil

For the sauce:

  • 2 tablespoon good olive oil
  • 2 cup chopped yellow onion (1 large onion)
  • 3 teaspoons minced garlic
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup good red wine
  • 1 (28-ounce) can pureed tomatoes
  • 1 (28-ounce) can chopped or diced tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 3 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For serving: 1 1/2 pounds spaghetti, cooked according to package directions. Freshly grated Parmesan

Make the meatballs: Place the ground meats, bread crumbs, parsley, Parmesan, salt, pepper, onion powder, egg, and 3/4 cup warm water in a bowl. Combine very lightly with a fork. Using your hands, lightly form the mixture into 2-inch meatballs. You will have 14 to 16 meatballs. (Or perhaps 24, which is what I ended up with. I’m sorry I cannot give you a more precise measure; I am sure your amount will fall somewhere in the middle.)

Pour equal amounts of vegetable oil and olive oil into a large (12-inch) skillet to a depth of 1/4-inch. Heat the oil. Very carefully, in batches, place the meatballs in the oil and brown them well on all sides over medium-low heat, turning carefully with a spatula or a fork. This should take about 10 minutes for each batch. Don’t crowd the meatballs. Remove the meatballs to a plate covered with paper towels. Discard the oil but don’t clean the pan.

Make the sauce: Heat the olive oil in the same pan. Add the onion and saute over medium heat until translucent, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes, and cook for 1 more minute. Add the wine and cook on high heat, scraping up all the brown bits in the pan, until almost all the liquid evaporates, about 3 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, parsley, salt, and pepper.

Return the meatballs to the sauce, cover, and simmer on the lowest heat for 25 to 30 minutes, until the meatballs are cooked through. (The good news is that if, say, you’re still waiting for your pot of water to boil for the spaghetti when the meatballs are ready, it’s hard to overcook these. I ended up simmering ours a whole extra 20 to 30 minutes, and they were not in the least dried out. Heaven!)

Serve hot on cooked spaghetti and pass the grated Parmesan.

Holiday Gift Giving for Normal People

Sorry for the absence! I’ve been a little…distracted…but I’m back and thanks to some inspiration from one of my fave pals and most loyal followers, Damiana Smith, I give you today’s post, Holiday Gift Giving for Normal People. I realize “normal” is a bit subjective, but I’m thinking of it in terms of not on Gwyneth Paltrow’s aspirational, out of touch, Goop gift giving list. Generally, these are gifts under $300.

Hard to believe, but the first night of Hanukkah is next week, on Thanksgiving! And Christmas is a mere four weeks away. It’s time to start thinking about who’s getting what and I hope my little list helps a bit! And please, please do me the favor of checking for coupons, there will be so many with Black Friday and holiday sales! Save yourself a little bit ‘o cash and use it towards yourself!

Nespresso Citiz
Nespresso Citiz

Nespresso Citiz Espresso Maker ($187) – All Nespresso machines are 25% off on both Williams-Sonoma and Crate & Barrel  right now, a great time to buy. The Citiz model I purchased doesn’t come with a milk frother, this is straight Espresso/Americano, but for me, it’s perfect as I like black coffee. There are several models out there with frothers if you’re into Lattes/Cappuccino. I am very particular about my coffee and think Nespresso pods taste pretty darn fantastic! I get the purple Arpeggio pods, which are a 9 out of 10 intensity. I order the pods from Nespresso directly at $.65/pod, but they come in one day, super easy. Making a cup of coffee in one minute is just preferable to brewing a pot, especially when it tastes this good. Now that I have one, I can’t imagine not!

Bose SoundLink Speaker
Bose Mini SoundLink

Bose SoundLink Mini Bluetooth Speaker ($199) – I reeeeeeeally want one of these guys, so take note Mom & Dad! This little bad boy goes wherever you do, no plugs, great sound, connects seamlessly via Bluetooth, and the battery plays up to 7 hours. It has 5 star reviews on Amazon. No brainer purchase for a dude or lady.

Juliet Roger Jewelry ($60 – $150) I stumbled upon local Queen Anne jewelry designer Juliet Roger about 5 years ago at a holiday bazaar. Her stuff is just gorgeous and very reasonably priced! I have two pairs of her earrings, both of the styles pictured, and I love them. And I don’t have one of her cocktail rings, but would like to! I have bought the earrings as gifts for friends/family and they’ve been a hit. Total winner.

Folle de Joie Parfum
Folle de Joie

Folle de Joie Perfume ($95)Alright, I’m giving away one of my secrets here, but this is my newest scent and I am obsessed. I have been wearing various Jo Malone scents for awhile now, so this was a really great change of pace with the layers. “The scent opens with a burst of freshness from an intimate blend of calming sweet citrus mixed and a light woodsy floral, giving way to playful hints of rich cognac. Folle De Joie’s mid notes of jasmine and rose add a feeling of summer’s carefree essence while exotic warm base notes of spicy and rich wood and leather nuances broaden the seductive scent.” Yum.

Nordstrom cashmere wrap
Nordstrom Cashmere Wrap

Nordstrom Woven Cashmere Wrap ($176) –  After losing the black cashmere pashmina my mom gave me years ago (yes, I said pashmina, does anyone have those anymore or have they just been rebranded as “wraps” now?), I purchased this in black at the Nordstrom Half Yearly sale. This one is a little weightier than a typical scarf, but I love that. It’s soft, warm, delicious, and big enough that you can also use it as a wrap if you’re wearing a dress.

Amazon Prime Subscription
Amazon Prime Subscription – 1 Year

Amazon Prime 1 Year Subscription ($79)FREE Two-Day Shipping on millions of items, no minimum order size, unlimited instant streaming of thousands of movies and TV shows with Prime Instant Video, a Kindle book to borrow for free each month from the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library. Boom. Done.

Kindle Fire HDX
Kindle Fire HDX

Kindle Fire HDX 16GB with 4G ($329)If we’re talking about Amazon Prime, we might as well talk about a pretty sweet little gadget, the Kindle Fire HDX. I have a Kindle Fire from last year, mine is only Wifi, I wish it was 4G, but I love it. I use it for reading, watching movies on airplanes, and taking to dinner for Oliver’s entertainment. Great purchase, but the one catch is you have to buy/rent your movies on Amazon, either streaming through Prime or downloading via their marketplace.

Netflix GIft Subscription
Netflix GIft Subscription

Netflix 1 Year Streaming Subscription ($95) House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, thousands of other movies and TV shows (I am currently bingeing on Parenthood). Plus the added benefit of lots of great kids shows so you can keep them quiet while you make dinner or actually enjoy a glass of wine. I think $95 is actually ridiculously low for what you get. My Netflix obsession was documented in one of my first posts here.

Frye Toiletry Kit
Frye Leather Travel Kit

Frye  Logan Leather Travel Kit ($178)Spruce up your guy’s travel sitch. This is a gift he would probably never buy himself, but totally enjoy! There are lots of choices out there in various price ranges if you don’t want to spend this much.

Le Creuset Braiser
Le Creuset Braiser

Le Creuset Braiser ($290 for 5-Qt) On sale right now at Williams Sonoma, this is probably my favorite pan, rivaled by my Le Creuset Dutch Oven. Anyone who loves to cook will appreciate this! It is heavy, but I use to make sauces galore, so easy to clean! This is a staple.

Happy Shopping and I think I might do another post about stocking stuffers too, so please send any ideas!

5 Good Reads

Ding, ding, ding. Round two of 5 Good Reads is here! As you all know, I certainly enjoy my TV time, but when I go on vacation, the TV is off and my Kindle is on. I turn into a readaholic, devouring 3 or 4 books in a week and I love that feeling where you can’t wait to pick it back up when you have to put it down! I am also trying to be better about calling it quits on a book that I am not enjoying, which I had to do with one of my selections from the Mexico trip, Mary Coin, although very well reviewed by critics, not my bag.

1. The Light Between Oceans – M.L. Stedman – this is on the of the best books I have read in a long, long time. Katie Peterson, thank you for the recommendation! The writing is fantastic, the story hooks you immediately, I couldn’t put it down and you will cry. My mom read it right after I did and loved it as well. I’m not going to bother summarizing the plot, just go read it, it’s that good. But if you insist, the full description at Amazon here.

2. Doctor Sleep – Stephen King – I need to preface by saying I have been reading Stephen King since middle school and I am a huge fan. I loved this book and I totally dig Stephen King as a storyteller. This is his follow up to The Shining, 36 years later, telling the story of adult Danny Torrance, who is now a “flawed middle-aged man with a tragic past — his special gift, ‘shining,’ dulled with age and alcohol. He’s ‘Doctor Sleep’ now, a hospice worker who eases the end of patients’ lives. He also happens to be the only one who can help a little girl with her own special gift. This is not simply The Shining II. Not only does this story stand on its own, it manages to magnify the supernatural quality that first drew us to young Danny, expanding its mystery and its intensity in a way that might even reach beyond this book into the rest of the King-iverse… and beyond.” Full description at Amazon here.

3. 11/22/63 – Stephen King – OK, since we are on the subject of Stephen King, I have to include one of my favorite reads of 2012. This book was just awesome! The gist of this book is “On November 22, 1963, three shots rang out in Dallas, President Kennedy died, and the world changed. What if you could change it back? Stephen King’s heart-stoppingly dramatic new novel is about a man who travels back in time to prevent the JFK assassination—a thousand page tour de force.” I mean, who isn’t fascinated by Kennedy’s assassination? I cannot say enough good things about this guy, 4.5 stars on Amazon with 5,000+ reviews. Full description at Amazon here.

4. Me Before You – Jojo Moyes – Thank you for the rec Joanna Beals! This is a sweet love story, a total tearjerker, but not sappy or cookie cutter like a Nicholas Sparks novel. I read it in 24 hours. “A Love Story for this generation, Me Before You brings to life two people who couldn’t have less in common—a heartbreakingly romantic novel that asks, What do you do when making the person you love happy also means breaking your own heart?” Full description at Amazon here.

5. The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt – My current read and super enjoyable. A tale of an orphan’s survival, “The story begins with an explosion at the Metropolitan Museum that kills narrator Theo Decker’s beloved mother and results in his unlikely possession of a Dutch masterwork called The Goldfinch. Shootouts, gangsters, pillowcases, storage lockers, and the black market for art all play parts in the ensuing life of the painting in Theo’s care.” I am about halfway through, but it is competing with my DVR for attention right now, so it might take me a bit to finish. Full  description at Amazon here.

I love getting referrals on books you’ve loved, so please keep ’em coming!! Happy reading and here is the link to the last 5 good reads.

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