Pretty Things: May 2017

Pretty Things: May 2017

1.  H2o Plus:  Sea Salt Collection. I have been waiting to share this product for months because it didn’t feel right sharing a sea salt spray in the middle of winter.  I found this stuff last year on clearance because they were changing their packaging, and now I’m hooked.  I was worried when I bought it that the “clearance” sticker meant they were discontinuing it– thankfully that wasn’t the case.  There’s a whole line of sea salt products, but the spray is my favorite.  It’s an alternative to moisturizer during the hot months, and it smells like the beach.  Not in a fake banana-coconut sunscreen way, but in a real authentically beachy way.  It’s so refreshing.  I also used it in my hair.bodygloss_hero_h20plus


2. Alton Brown: Pickled Watermelon Rind.   Alton Brown is kind of a mad scientist when it comes to food. I love the idea of pickled watermelon rind for several reasons.  First, I usually throw away the rind, but it would be cool to turn it into something new.  Second, I love pickles.  And third, I love watermelon (but who doesn’t??)alton-brown-watermelon-pickles


3.  Heather Christo:  Cilantro, Corn, Potato, and Poblano Chowder.  The colors in this soup are so beautiful!  If you’ve never checked out Heather’s blog, it is one of the most inventive and unusually photographed I’ve come across.  Many of her recipes are vegan or gluten free, and the are all made with allergies in mind.  Everything she makes really is this pretty.27136811955_17eceecccb_b


4.  A Cozy Kitchen:  Spicy Cucumber Margarita.  If you’ve never tried a cucumber drink, you should!  I love infused cucumber water, cucumber soda, and cucumber sparkling water.  I also love jalapenos and margaritas.  Since Cinco de Mayo is coming soon, it’s a perfect time to buy some tequila and try something new!margarita.jpg


5.  Bobby Flay:  Grape Focaccia.  Grapes are at their best between May and September (even though I tend to buy them all year).  I love focaccia because it’s airy and crispy while also being chewy and doughy –kind of like a round baguette, I guess?  But much more flavorful because of the salt and olive oil.  This grape focaccia would be perfect on a warm night with some wine and a good salad.cq5dam.web.400.300.jpeg


6.  Soap Queen:  Soothing Floral Bath Salts.  Every time I find a new homemade beauty product, I always swear it’s the prettiest one I’ve seen so far.  And this one is no exception.  This would be a really gorgeous homemade gift for a good friend.Floral-Bath-Salts-Tutorial.jpg


7.  How Sweet Eats:  Summer Skillet Gnocchi.  Look at the char on the corn!  And the basil!  And the cheese!  Something about Jessica’s recipes make me want to use exclamation marks.  Her pictures seem to jump off the page, and this is basically like summer in a bowl.  And in May, I’m pretty much behaving as if it’s summer anyway.summer-gnocchi-I-howsweeteatscom-6.jpg


8.  Giada de Laurentiis:  S’mores Pizzette.  However, if it’s still a little too chilly to hang outside at night, you can always make these s’mores when you feel the need.  It’s all done indoors, and would be a perfect treat for a kid’s sleepover. 20170108_163630_10358_3095.jpeg


Bonus Post: Glossary of Cooking Terms

Bonus Post:  Glossary of Cooking Terms

Al Dente:  In Italian, it literally means “to the tooth.”  When cooking pasta, it’s cooking it just long enough to be done, but where it is still firm and has a good bite to it.

Berbere:  an Ethiopian spice mix that traditionally is a blend of chili peppers, cumin, garlic, coriander, ginger, basil, korarima, rue, ajwain or radhuni, nigella, and fenugreek.  It reminds me a little bit of a curry spice blend and also of a chili seasoning blend.  Try it on these recipes.

Blanching:  very briefly and partially cooking a food in boiling water.  For instance, when making Creamy Rice Casserole with Chicken and Broccoli, you blanch the broccoli before mixing into the casserole to soften the broccoli without fully cooking it.

Bound salad:  Bound Salads are salads that are generally made of hearty, non-salad leafy ingredients bound together by a thick dressing. Usually, the dressing is mayonnaise.  The salads are chilled before serving to develop and meld flavours, and to keep at a safe temperature.

Calabrian chili paste:  Hot spread sauce is a fiery blend of eggplant, mushrooms, chili peppers, sundried and fresh tomatoes, garlic, salt and vinegar (the brand I buy, Tutto Calabria, is a small producer in Calabria, Italy)

Chiffonade:  a term that refers to a way to cut leafy herbs or vegetables, especially fresh basil.  For this technique, you stack the basil leaves on top of each other and roll them into a cigar shape.  Then you slice thinly to get very delicate pieces.  A basil chiffonade is usually added on top of the dish at the end, such as over eggs or a tomato salad.

Chinese Five Spice:  a blend of five spices that includes star anise, cinnamon, fennel seeds, cloves, and Szechuan peppercorns

Creaming:  a baking term.  This is the technique used to blend butter and sugar together before adding the wet ingredients.

Deglaze:  a technique includes using an acid (vinegar, citrus fruit, or alcohol) to scrape bits off a pan before making a sauce or gravy.  For instance, when searing Sweet Fire Pork Chops, you remove the pork chops from the pan.  To deglaze it, you pour white wine in the pan and use a wooden spoon to scrape the bits off the bottom of the pan before adding the rest of the Sweet Fire sauce ingredients.

French vinaigrette:  a vinaigrette dressing made using oil, vinegar, and flavorings; thickened with dijon mustard

Mince:  cutting up even smaller than dicing or chopping, into very small pieces

Mise en Place:   a French culinary phrase which means “putting in place” or “everything in its place.” It refers to the set up required before cooking, and is often used in professional kitchens to refer to organizing and arranging the ingredients (e.g., cuts of meat, relishes, sauces, par-cooked items, spices, freshly chopped vegetables, and other components) that a cook will require for the menu items that are expected to be prepared during a shift.

The writer and chef Dan Charnas uses the concept of mise en place as a “philosophy” and “system” for what chefs believe and do, even going so far to call it an “ethical code.” In the kitchen, the phrase is used as a noun (i.e., the setup of the array of ingredients), a verb (i.e., the process of preparing) and a state of mind. All of these uses, however, refer to someone who knows to be well-prepared. (found on Wikipedia)

Panko breadcrumbs:  Japanese-style breadcrumbs, made without the crusts of bread

Parcook (aka parboil):  to boil (a piece of food) for a short time often before cooking it fully in another way.  For instance, in my Red Zin Bucatini, I parcook the pasta in water before finishing it in the Red Zin.

Ras El Hanout:  A North African and Middle Eastern spice blend that includes coriander, turmeric, cardamom, sea salt, black pepper, cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

Sift:  putting fine ingredients through a sieve to remove lumps, usually in baking.

Slurry:  when making a soup, a slurry can be used to mix ingredients together that helps the soup blend.  For instance, when making West African Peanut Soup, you ladle some broth into the peanut butter and tomato pasta and mix those together separately before adding it all back to the soup.

[originally posted 9/23/16]

[photos updated and reposted 4/6/2017]

Bonus Post: Essential Tools for the Home Cook

Bonus Post:  Essential Tools for the Home Cook

There are thousands of kitchen tools out there, and there are always new ones coming out.  How do you decide if you actually need a new tool or if you can do it just as well (or even better) with something you already have?  Here’s my list of essential tools and why they’re so important. 

I’m also including a second list at the bottom of stuff that is not necessary for a cook starting out, but it will be a good thing to have if you cook all the time or like to experiment.  I love quality, but I also appreciate a good bargain.  Heavy duty kitchen electrics like blenders and stand mixers can almost always be found refurbished and in perfect condition for less than half the price of a new item (for instance, my stand mixer is refurbished and has worked like new for 6 years now).  

Also, it can be tempting to get the top-of-the-line everything because some companies want you to think anything else is total junk, but that’s not true.  My rule for most of this stuff is to buy middle of the road.  Don’t get the cheapest steak knives from Dollar General, but you also don’t need a $2000 knife block to cook great food!  Unless you’re an award-winning chef (and really not even then), you don’t need that kind of stuff.  Cuisinart, Kitchenaid, and OXO Good Grips have great small tools, and those are brands I tend to trust.   



Blender:  Perfect for smoothies, milkshakes, frozen drinks.  You can also use it to make sauces, salad dressings, or even puree soup.

Canisters:  If you ever bake, it is so much easier to keep canisters of your basics on the counter.  Once I started storing dry baking ingredients like this, I found baking much less daunting.  I keep 4 large canisters—one for flour, sugar, brown sugar, and oats.

Can opener:  Not electric, just a sturdy handheld.   (This is the one I use.)

Cast iron skillet:  A 10-inch (or larger) cast iron skillet can be used for braising, pan frying, frittatas, pancakes, and even stir frying.  (This is the one I use.)

Colander:  I use mine for draining everything from pasta to canned beans, and I also use it to wash fruit like grapes.  Most of the time, you can give the colander a quick rinse and put it right back in the cabinet.

Cutting boards:  You should at least have 3—one dedicated to meat to avoid cross-contamination, plus one small and one large cutting board for everything else.

Dutch oven:  Le Creuset 5 ½ quart comes to mind, but don’t freak about the price.  You can find ones with very minor dings for about 60% off retail price if you go to the outlets or to stores like Home Goods or Marshalls.  The Dutch oven (sometimes called a French oven) can be used for soup, braising meats, and even cooking bread.  (This is the one I have, but I got it heavily discounted because it has a tiny chip on the rim.)

Electric hand mixer:  As happy as I am to have my stand mixer, I use my hand mixer way more.  Getting a good hand mixer and my dry ingredient canisters have made baking much more fun.  The hand mixer is small, quick, and easy to clean, and it’s only about $30.  (This is the one I use.)

Fine Mesh Strainers:  Mine came in a set of 3.  I use the small one for things like dusting powdered sugar.  But I use the large one every single time I bake for sifting dry ingredients.  If you only get one, get the large one.  (I use these.)

Food processor:  You may be able to get by without a food processor, but I don’t think I could.  It’s perfect for grating parmesan cheese, pureeing soup, making sauce, or pureeing vegetables for soufflés or for baby food.  If you get a good one and take care of it, it will last a very long time.

Glad Press and Seal:  I’m not a brand snob, but Glad Press and Seal is so much better than regular plastic wrap.  It creates an airtight seal, and it’s perfect for people who like to make things ahead or meal prep.

Glass casserole dishes: (at least one, but 2 is better).  There are weeks when I don’t use a casserole dish, but often I’m using both at once.  They’re so versatile and can be used for cakes, casseroles, baked pastas, chicken parmesan, or stuffing.  I had one for a long time and bought a second before Thanksgiving one year.   (These are the ones I use.)

Grater, box:  I grate all my cheese myself.  I always buy blocks of cheese (see my pantry basics) because it’s cheaper and much fresher tasting.

Grater, flat:  A flat grater is how I zest fruit.  I also use it for ginger, nutmeg, and garlic.  I prefer it to a Microplane zester.  (This is the one I use.)

Heavy duty foil:  I don’t even bother with the regular foil because it always, always rips.  Not only does heavy duty perform better, you can almost always reuse it.  Unless it has perishable food remnants on it (like melted cheese or juice from raw meat), just fold it in half, and save it for next time!

Ice cream scoop with a trigger:  This is great for portion control, not only with ice cream, but with things like rice and potatoes.  (This is a good one.)

Indoor grill/grill top:  This is perfect for grilled cheese sandwiches and quesadillas.  But it’s also great if you are making protein for just 1 or 2 people, or if it’s raining outside and you had meat for grilling.  (This is the one I use.)

Ladle (2):  It’s always good to have a back-up, and you’ll use this not only for soups, but for rice, sauces, and even serving casseroles during the week.

Kitchen shears:  It’s important to keep your food scissors separate from arts and crafts scissors.  Kitchen shears are useful for snipping fresh herbs, dealing with kitchen twine, and dealing with raw meat and their containers.  (This is the knife block I have.)

Knife, chef:  This is the most important knife in your kitchen.  You can get a nice knife block with all the knives I’ve listed for about $120.  I would actually recommend having 2 chef knives, though:  one for raw meat, and one for everything else.  (This is the knife block I have.)

Knife, paring:  These are great for handling small fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, strawberries, pears, and stone fruit.  They don’t take up any room, and it will most likely come in a knife block.  (This is the knife block I have.)

Knife, serrated:  Serrated knives are best for cutting bread or large fruits like watermelon or pineapple.  It will also probably come in a knife block.  (This is the knife block I have.)

Knives, steak (4):  This should be enough, and it will come in a knife block, too.  (This is the knife block I have.)

Mason jars, assorted sizes:  I can’t tell you how useful these are!  I just started using them 2 years ago to make jar salads.  But now I use them every single time I make a homemade marinade or dressing.  They’ve got measures on the sides, and the seal is airtight.  I have a variety of quart, pint, and half-pint by Ball.

Measuring cups, dry:  A metal set with quarter, third, half, and cup measures should do the trick.

Measuring cups, liquid:  If you only have one, get a 2 cup measure.

Measuring spoons:  Essential for all baking (metal).  (I use these.)

Pan (2-4 quart sauté):  Perfect for browning meat, making an omelet, or cooking one or two pieces of protein.

Pan, baking (8×8 or 9×9 inches):  A baking basic— perfect for brownies.

Pan, muffin:  For muffins and cupcakes.

Pizza cutter:  Perfect for quesadillas, too.

Plastic mixing bowls (as many as possible):  I use these for everything from storing food to mixing salad or making a cake.  (I use these.)

Pot (7 quart soup):  For soups or boiling pasta.

Pot (2-3 quart sauce):  For rice, sauce, or gravy.

Serving pieces:  A good set of 6 is about $30.

Serving platters, assorted sizes:  I say go for all white because it won’t go out of style.  Think of what will go on it:  snacks and appetizers for parties, large pieces of meat.  Since they stack up nicely, get as many as you can.  This is also a great thing to look for at Goodwill.

Sheet pans, stainless steel half size:  Not only are these great for baking chicken, roasting veggies, and cooking frozen pizzas, they also can help add fridge space during the holidays because you can create shelves with them.  I also use one every time I cook lasagna or any other similar dish to catch any spillover.  You should get at least 3, but 5 is even better.   (I use these.)

Slow cooker, 6 quart:  If you don’t have a slow cooker, you are missing out.  You can get one for under $50, and it’s perfect all year round for the easiest meals ever.  I actually have 2 slow cookers -one old and one newer- and that’s super helpful when you have a large family!  (This is the one I have.)

Slotted spoon, metal:  Use for turning veggies while roasting, mixing a casserole or slaw-type salad.  Also good for poaching eggs.

Slotted spoon, wooden:  Use for turning veggies while roasting, mixing a casserole or slaw-type salad.

Silicone baking sheets:  A must-have for baking.  They’re so much easier to deal with than parchment paper, and I’d recommend getting 2.  (I use these.)

Spatula, rubber:  Get 2 if you can.  I use it for omelets, cookie dough, and everything in between.  (I use these.)

Spatula, metal:  Perfect for lifting delicate things off baking sheets.

Tongs (Extra long for outdoor grilling):  If you grill, you must have these.

Tongs (Metal tipped):  Perfect for mixing salads, pastas, and picking up individual things.

Tongs (Rubber tipped):  Perfect for mixing salads, pastas, and picking up individual things.

Vegetable peeler:  For potatoes, carrots, and hard cheese.

Wire rack:  At least one, but two is better.  Use them to let hot food aerate after cooking. Also great for cooking bacon in the oven.  (I use these, and they fit in my half sheet pans.)

Wire whisk:  Good for hand mixing things that don’t need the electric mixer.  Also good for mashing potatoes.  (I use these.)




This next list is stuff that is definitely not necessary for a home cook, but it can become necessary if you start to venture out and cook for fun.  The more you cook, the more you may feel like you need.  But sometimes it’s good to step back and consider if something you already have can do the job as well or better than the specialty product.  

Blender, high power:  I don’t even have one of these yet, but I’m looking at a refurbished Blendtec, at about 75% cheaper than the new version.

Cake stand:  I can’t say this is a must-have, but if you bake, it really is.

Dish, Soufflé:  The name says it all.  You can cook soufflé in a small casserole dish, but it just won’t look as pretty. This is also something that would be great to look for at Goodwill.

Dish, trifle:  This shows off the food really well, and it’s great for parties.  This is also a great thing to look for at Goodwill.

Food grinder, mini:  I use mine all the time for grinding up things like flax seeds and lavender.  But less adventurous cooks can do without one.  (I use this one.)

Griddle:  Not a necessity, but I love this griddle/grill/waffle iron combo from Cuisinart.

Ice cream maker:  Not necessary, but fun to have, especially if you have kids.

Knife, Santoku:  This will actually probably come in your knife block.  (This is the knife block I have.)

Mandolin:  This is necessary if you love salad or you want to make scalloped potatoes.  (I have this one.)

Mixer, electric stand:  This is necessary for making Belgian waffles, pizza dough, whipped cream, whipped potatoes, and lots of other things.  You can get by for a while with just a hand mixer, but if you get serious about cooking, you’ll want a stand mixer.  (I have a refurbished Kitchenaid.)

Pan, Bundt:  These are just fun for making festive cakes, breads, and retro gelatin molds.  (This is the one I have.)

Pan, loaf:  If you want to cook anything like banana bread or zucchini bread, this is necessary.

Pan, pie:  Also great for egg casseroles, cookie pies, and spinach artichoke dip! A great thing to get a Goodwill.

Reusable silicone muffin cups:  Better for the environment.  Also good for packing kids’ lunches.  (I use these.)

Rolling pin, French:  Much better than a standard rolling pin because it’s all one piece, it’s longer and thinner.  (I have this one.)

Slow cooker, small:  Good if your family is small.  Also good for things like queso dip.

Spatula, offset:  If you like to bake, this will quickly become necessary.  (This is the one I have.)

Steamer, bamboo:  Until last year, I’d never thought I’d use this.  I got it for steaming fish, but I now steam all my fruits and veggies in it, too.  (This is the one I have.)  Also make sure you get the ring and the parchment rounds.

Vegetable slicer, spiral:  A fun way to eat veggies.  If you’re gluten-free (I’m not), this is probably a necessity.  (This is the one I have.)

Waffle iron:  Not just for waffles, but also fun for grilled cheese–lots of crispy edges.  (I love this combo.)


Now tell me, is there anything you can’t live without that I didn’t include on the lists?









Bonus Post: My Pantry Basics

Bonus Post:  My Pantry Basics

One of Jon’s co-workers asked me for this after he brought in some leftovers one day.  I think it was West African Peanut Soup.  Usually even something that seems exotic is actually very easy and requires very few ingredients you need to go out and buy. 

This is my list of basics, things that I always try to have on hand.  When you’re searching for recipes and you cook from scratch, it is much easier to decide what to cook when you already have a stocked pantry. 

One thing I love to do is go shopping based on my pantry basics.  Then I get home and search Pinterest based on what I feel like using.  For instance, a search for “chicken and black beans” will give you everything from enchiladas to soups and burrito bowls.  And if you shop based on my pantry basics, you’ll probably have everything else you need to make whatever you choose.  And the good thing about cooking is that you can almost always substitute.  You can always substitute brown rice for white, or honey for maple syrup, or parsley for cilantro (but not always cilantro for parsley).  Whatever, just go with it. 

Also, when it comes to produce, always buy what is on sale.  That is when it will taste the best, because it means it’s in season.  Do not buy strawberries in October or Brussels sprouts in April.  They will have traveled a long distance and will taste like nothing.  Just wait until they start to show up in the bins with the cheapest prices.  I’ll try to mostly post my recipes by season. 

I’m also going to link a few great articles here.  

This one will tell you which produce you should buy organic and which you shouldn’t worry about. 

And this one will tell you when different kinds of produce are in season at which times. 

Here are my pantry basics, divided into categories:


Grains and starches:

Brown Rice

Jasmine Rice

Long pasta (linguine, spaghetti, etc)

Short pasta (penne, rotini, etc)

Potatoes (whatever kind is on sale)



Canned food:

Beans (black, kidney, cannellini, garbanzo, pinto, re-fried, etc)

Tomatoes (crushed, diced, etc)



Cream of mushroom soup

Cream of chicken soup

Crushed pineapple

coconut milk


Sauces and condiments:

Jars of marinara sauce

Peanut butter


Barbecue sauce

Vinegars (rice wine, balsamic, white wine, red wine, white, etc)


Chicken base

Vegetable base

Hot sauce

Dijon mustard

Soy sauce

Worchestire sauce


Real maple syrup



Oils and baking:

Veg oil

Coconut oil

Olive oil

Pam spray

Brown sugar

White sugar

Dried fruit (raisins, cranberries, etc)



Corn muffin mix

Baking Powder

Baking Soda



Always garlic, onions, lemons, and other citrus. Other than that, buy what is on sale because that is what is in season.

Always some kind of salad greens, whatever you like or is on sale.

Always some kind of fresh herbs, whatever you like. Parsley goes with everything.


Meats frozen and portioned out for your family:

Chicken breasts

Bone in, skin on chicken thighs

Ground beef, turkey, or chicken

Boneless pork chops



Ricotta or cream cheese

Parmesan cheese wedge

Cheddar cheese block

Mozzarella cheese block

Salty or soft cheese (blue, goat, or feta)



Sour cream



Spice cabinet:

Vanilla extract

Garlic powder


Onion powder



Chili powder

Curry powder







Ground ginger


Salt and Pepper



Frozen peas

Raw plain nuts (almonds are versatile)


[originally posted 8/17/2016]

[updated 3/18/2017]




2017 Food Goals

2017 Food Goals

One of my favorite things about this blog is that it challenges me creatively.  I think everyone has a creative side, and we have to find out where we can express ourselves and get that satisfaction.  Crafts don’t do it for me, but they do it for some people, but it can be anything.  My “thing” is definitely food and being in the kitchen.  Blogging about my adventures in the kitchen keeps me motivated because I can see my progress, and I can constantly find new ways to cook with old ingredients and everyday uses for uncommon ingredients.  I did a few posts on resolutions already, but those were more generic:  budgets and diets.  My specific resolutions for this year are going to be exploring and mastering -ok maybe not mastering- but getting familiar and more confident with new types of food or ingredients.  I don’t know how I landed on 8 as a good number, but it works for my Pretty Things posts, so I’ll stick with 8 for the food goals.

1.   Marshmallows:  Until I saw Ina Garten do it a 5 or 10 years ago, I never realized that marshmallows could be homemade.  It was pretty naive of me, because of course every packaged item is derived from something homemade, right?  I’ve seen so many beautiful iterations of marshmallows out there on the internet that I’m determined to make a few this year.  Probably not as fancy as Baker’s Royale, but I already have a some ideas for summer s’mores and hot cocoa later this year (so stay tuned!).



image found on Local Milk


2.  Cheesecake:  Cheesecake has always seemed daunting, and I’ve had a couple of springform pans collecting dust in a cabinet for years now.  I used one to make a baked pasta pie (post for that is still in the works), but I feel like I should use it to make a really good cheesecake.  I’m thinking lemon, ricotta, or vanilla bean…


image found on Baking a Moment


3.  Aioli:  I put this on a pretty things list already, but I have to mention it again.  It’s such a simple, but flavorful dipping sauce, and I can’t wait to dip some buttery artichokes into it.


image found on Epicurious


4.  Waffles:  I used our new waffle iron for the first time today!  It was a snow day, so we had a long morning.  I’m working my way towards making a real Liege waffle once I get my hands on some pearl sugar.  We hosted an exchange student from Belgium a few years back, and Jon still talks about the waffles her parents sent us.


image found on Food and Wine


5.  Bread in a Le Creuset French Oven: This is so cool!  I actually bought my first Le Creuset as a factory second at Marshall’s for about 40% of the retail price, and there is a teeny knick that’s hardly visible.  I started looking around for interesting ways to use it, and who would have thought you could make bread in it?  I’m so in.


image found on Le Creuset


6.  Turmeric Latte:  I’ve been wanting to do this for a couple years now, and I finally bought a big canister of turmeric.  Jon wants to use it to whiten his teeth, I want it for face masks and turmeric lattes.  I’m excited to share what I come up with (and if the teeth whitening thing works, I’ll let you know).


image found on Elle UK

7.  Bee Pollen:  Bee pollen as a spur of the moment purchase, yes.  I saw it in Goop Clean Beauty and decided to try it out.  I’m thinking smoothie bowls, oatmeal topping, possibly in some granola.  Again, I’ll be sharing any successes here.


image found on Sed Bona


8.  The Spiralizer:  This was my first New Year Food Resolution.  Everyone’s been so spiralizing for years, and I finally broke down because it just looks fun.  I bought the one most recommended, and I want to spiralize everything from cucumbers to apples to sweet potatoes.  Again, tons of ideas!


image found on Haute and Healthy Living