Category Archives: General

Kitchen Resolutions

I swear I won’t start every post with an apology but I totally forgot to write and schedule a Friday Five post before we went to DC last week. I have an alarm set on my phone to remind me and it went off Friday morning and I was rushing out and I was like darn. Oh well. Holidays happen.

We have one more holiday in 2013 and as you can tell by the title of this post, I’m going to be talking about New Year’s resolutions — kitchen style. I occasionally make non-food related resolutions (always trying to work out more or save more or shop less etc etc) but for the purposes of this blog, I figure I would share some of the cooking related thing I hope to do in the new year.

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1) I really want to learn the proper way to sharpen knives. Santa was good to me and I did get some nice fancy new knives for Christmas, but I need to learn how to take care of them better. There is nothing worse than a dull knife — well at least when cooking. I am thinking about investing in one of those knife sharpening stones, watching some YouTube videos and becoming a knife genius. If you have seen those knife stones at any place like Home Goods, let me know.

2) Cooking new things is something I do regardless of if I am making a conscious effort or not. This year I baked bread from scratch and tried my hand at cooking farro. I think in 2014 I want to try a souffle. Oh and a standing rib roast (aka prime rib). I guess I just need an occasion when I can do both. Dinner party anyone?

3) I love spices. They are such a great way to flavor dishes without adding a lot of butter and oil. I find that I reach for the same spices over and over again. Garlic. Oregano. Thyme. They are my fail safes. I want to branch out and try some new flavors. I plan on spending a lot of time in the bulk spice section at Whole Foods.

4) 2013 was the year I learned how to grill. What new cooking technique will I learn in 2014? I definitely want to perfect homemade pasta. I have my eye on a pasta press. Maybe I will try to do more from scratch baking. Who knows? The best part about cooking is that the possibilities are endless.

Wishing everyone a happy, healthy and delicious 2014!

Happy Christmas!

220555_10101805808996140_294304036_oThis was our holiday card from last year. Telly stood still for about 3 seconds and I snapped this pic. And then she started chewing on them. Such is life.

Hope your Christmas is filled with family, friends, love, good food and tons of cheer.

 

The Best Christmas

Christmas peaked for me at very young age.

It was 1987. I was 2. My family still lived in Connecticut. Now I know what you’re thinking: How could you possibly remember Christmas from when you were two? Well it is simple — it was the best. (Also my parents recorded it so I watched it throughout my childhood). But truthfully, I can actually remember parts of that Christmas. And it all centers around one specific thing.

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On the right side of the tree, you’ll see a play kitchen. That was my play kitchen and it was the best toy ever. There is footage of me on that recording of me playing with this play kitchen for hours. Making my dad “eggs.” Force feeding plastic food to my then-baby brother (not really, but I tried). This was where it all started for me.

I’ve loved cooking for as long as I can remember. My mom was always making something. Whether it was dinner for the family during the week or something special like cookies on the weekend. And I always wanted to be there with her helping out. And sometimes she let me.

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Here’s my brother and I helping my mom baked some cookies. Those aprons are pretty hot, right?

Cooking and food are central in my family. Family gatherings center around eating and sitting around the table. We share stories, we poke fun, we laugh. This is where the memories are made. And I feel like my love of food and my love of cooking was sparked with that little plastic kitchen from 1987. Thanks for that, Santa.

 

 

Friday Five: Foodie gift guide

I have finished my holiday shopping already. I was actually done before Thanksgiving. Yes, I’m kind of crazy. I just love buying gifts for people and once it becomes acceptable in my mind to start shopping, I am super productive. That being said, most of you probably haven’t done any shopping yet — so hopefully this can serve as a guide if you have any foodies in your life.

If there was one type of gift I had to get for the rest of my life, it would be food related gifts. Food is my biggest hobby and I LOVE getting gifts related to it. These are all gifts I would be thrilled to get (hint, hint).

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Bella Diamonds Slow Cooker. How freaking adorable is this crock pot? I know adorable isn’t a word one would usually use to describe a slow cooker, but it my mind it can’t hurt. Not only would one of these look good on your kitchen counter, but it has good reviews online. I would personally have a hard time choosing between the blue and the red. Decisions, decisions. You can get these at JCPenney.

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The Taste of America by Coleman Andrews. My second favorite hobby after cooking is reading, so getting a nice cookbook or coffee table book would be an excellent gift. I saw this one in Food Network magazine and added it to my Amazon wishlist. This book is filled with stories about all the food America is known for. Gotta love a little patriotism with your food trivia.

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Microplane grater. Every chef no matter how serious of a cook they are needs a microplane grater. NEEDS. We got the above one as a wedding present and it gets used on a daily basis. It is great (pun slightly intended) for grating hard cheeses like parmesan, zesting a lemon or an orange, or for sprinkling some whole nutmeg on some eggnog (my current favorite use). If I see a microplane on a wedding or gift registry, I buy it immediately for that person.

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Wine pairing or cooking class. I consider myself to be quite competent in the kitchen (or else this blog would be a gross miscalculation on my part), but I have always wanted to take a cooking class. Or a class where you can learn all about wine and food pairing. A lot of time you can even find some of these on Groupon, Living Social or Scoutmob. I know that places like Sur La Table also offer cooking classes, and I’m sure you could find something awesome where you or your gift recipient lives.

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Framed Food Print. I have a background in graphic design, so I love decorating our house with fun looking prints. There are so many adorable food-related prints out there, and I think any foodie in your life would love to find a framed print under the tree or in their stocking. Etsy is a great resource as well as sites like Society 6 or Pinterest. Sometimes even places like HomeGoods or TJ Maxx have some super cute ones as well.

Giving thanks

I think everyone knows my feelings about Thanksgiving. I just love it. And tomorrow at this time, I will be surrounded by my entire family, enjoying everything the holiday has to offer.

It has been an exciting year for both Eric and myself. We moved. We both got new jobs. We traveled a lot. I started this blog. I have a lot for which to be thankful.

I just wanted to say thanks to all of you who have read this blog over the past few months. I don’t do it to gain tons and tons of readers. I do it because I love food and I love writing about food and if someone out there finds ones of my recipes, makes it and likes it, then my job here is done.

So THANK you Kitchen Casual readers. I hope all of you and your families have an excellent Thanksgiving.

The pantry’s most valuable players

I try to keep our fridge and pantry as well stocked as possible. I have found over my years of cooking that there are some items that are harder to keep fresh than others and some that will just last until I need to use them.

I have found a few pantry standouts that I always have on hand that just make cooking easier for me. They are simple ways to add flavor or to cut down on prep time.
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Bouillon: I am a big fan of bouillon.  I very rarely keep chicken stock around because I don’t go through it quick enough without it going bad. Pop a bouillon cube in some boiling water — boom. Chicken stock. I find I don’t notice a difference either between bouillon and stock. I sometimes find it a tad salty, and then I’ll just dilute it with some water. But I probably reach for bouillon a few times a week.
Flavored olive oil: I love me some flavored olive oil. My friend and I bought a Living Social deal for one of those fancy olive oil shops back when I lived in DC (for those who are curious, it was Olio in Old Town Alexandria). Going around and tasting all the different varieties was so much fun for a foodie like me. I left with two in particular that have been staples of mine ever since — Sundried Tomato Parmesan Garlic Olive Oil and White Truffle Garlic Olive Oil. I use these for a simple pasta sauce or on veggies before roasting. The little bottles I got have lasted me a long time, but when they eventually run out, I think I might try to infuse some of my own.
Spices: Some herbs are just better fresh — basil, cilantro, sage. But I find that sometimes dried herbs are just as good if not better, and they are a lot easier to keep and store. One of my favorites is ground ginger. I love fresh ginger, but I have never used up a whole little root, despite how many recipes I’ve made. A little spring of ground ginger in a stir fry or some quinoa can really give a dish some zip. I’m also a big fan of high quality chili powder — it makes a huge difference when cooking tacos or chili. Another one of my favorites is vanilla bean paste. I love vanilla bean in many things. It adds depth of flavor to plain chocolate chip cookies, pound cake or even waffles. Vanilla beans themselves can be quite expensive, but vanilla bean paste is just as good, if not better. I highly recommend picking up a jar.
Pre-chopped garlic: As an Italian, I feel like it is sacrilege to say that garlic chopped and stored in oil is a pantry favorite. But I just cannot help it. It is so convenient. I use it more in everyday recipes — if I was making something for a special occasion I would bust out the fresh stuff.
Let me know in the comments what are your MVPs of the pantry. 

Greetings from South Florida

I know it is kinda late but I just wanted to pop on and say “HELLO” from South Florida. We’ve been enjoying a few days in the sun, checking out Miami and Ft. Lauderdale and eating some delicious food. I’ll be back to normal posting Wednesday (I got an awesome soup recipe for you). But for now, I leave you with this mouthwatering photo of cannoli gelato I took at a shop on Las Olas Boulevard in Ft. Lauderdale.

Drool
Drool

Home Goods and TJ Maxx haul

I am not the first person in the world to profess my love for Home Goods and TJ Maxx. But after the trip I just made, I feel as if we have a very special connection.

Home Goods and the home section of TJ Maxx are like a mecca for kitchen gadgets. From wooden cutting boards to pots and pans to utensils and serving platters, you can find just about anything you’d ever want. When there are certain kitchen items I am on the hunt for (read: a Dutch oven), I make weekly trips to see if they have what I want. The past few times I have gone I have left empty handed, but this time I hit the jackpot.

First up was Home Goods. I had picked up a few things and put them back after I thought it through. Do I really need a French press? In theory, yes. In reality, no. My Keurig works just fine.

photo 4First thing I picked up was this mandolin. Awhile back I wrote that I had an unfortunate incident with my first mandolin and had been looking for a higher quality one for awhile. This Sharper Image one presented itself and the price was right so I decided to get it. The thing I like about this is that it has a stand to prop up the slicer AND the addition blades are built in via a knob you can adjust. I am quite pleased and can’t wait to use it.

photo 3These Russian doll measuring cups were too cute to resist. I always find that I wish I had multiples of certain measuring cups while I am cooking and baking and figure it can hurt to have some extras. Plus these look super cute displayed on my stove. The little skillet on the right was a check out line find. It will be great for melting butter or cooking up one egg without having to dirty up a bigger pan.

After Home Goods I moved on the TJ Maxx. While I resisted the clothing and the shoes — which is quite a feat — I did find some great items.

photo 2The bamboo serving tray was on clearance and something that is good to have for entertaining, home decor — or if Eric ever feels like bringing me breakfast in bed. The little white serving bowl I bought with the idea of using it for veggies or other side dishes. We got a lot of serving dishes for wedding gifts, but nothing this size, so for the price I figured it was a good pick up.

But ladies and gentlemen — we have come to the grand finale.

photo 1I am the proud new owner of this gorgeous cast iron Dutch oven from Cuisinart. And in my favorite color to boot. It is the perfect size and the price was ridiculous — $50! The quality is just as nice as some of the Le Cruset ones I had been eyeing so I am totally pumped about this steal. Now I’m ready to make all sorts of soups and stews this fall and winter. Hooray!

While the spouse is away

Eric and I have a good system going when it comes to deciding what to cook. He’ll let me cook something like quinoa or kale one night and then we’ll make pizza or tacos another night. But there are still some things I can’t get away with cooking when Eric is home, so I take full advantage of the situation when the opportunity arises and I have the kitchen to myself.

This weekend Eric is heading to DC for a weekend trip and I’ve already started planning what I want to make in his absence.  While I could take this as a chance to go out and grab takeout and not cook, these moments of Eric not being home are rare, so I’d rather cook something just for me. When Eric was gone for his bachelor party a few years back, I made sweet potato and black bean chili because I knew it was something he wouldn’t go for. This time around, I am calling on my BFF Martha Stewart and making Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Fennel and Garlic.

Photo from marthastewart.com
Photo from marthastewart.com

Oh man that looks delicious. Eric can’t eat too much pork on account of being allergic it and I’m pretty sure fennel is not his jam, so this is what I’m going to be whipping up over the weekend. The weather has turned slightly cooler in Atlanta (we’re talking mid 70s instead of mid 80s) so this dish will be a great compliment to the quasi cooler weather. If anyone wants to come over for dinner, let me know.

Do you ever cook certain stuff when your significant other is away?

PS I had my FIRST pumpkin spice latte on Tuesday (October 8…that is some kind of record for me). And it was delicious.