Here is a list of some smaller kitchen tools that would make perfect stocking stuffers!
Garlic Press– I use mine almost every day. You don’t have to mess with peeling garlic, finely mincing etc. You put a clove in the press and just squeeze! The peel stays behind.
Meat Thermometer– I use this all the time as well. I always test meat with a thermometer to make sure it’s done prior to serving. I like this one because it has the quick guide on the side of what temperatures the various meats should reach to be safe to eat. This model automatically turns on and off as you flip the probe out and press it back in. You also want to make sure you calibrate your thermometer on a regular basis. You do this by putting the probe in a glass of ice water and pressing and holding the “Cal” button to calibrate it to freezing.
Heat-Resistant Silicone Spatula-It is worth it to invest in a good quality, heat resistant, silicone spatula. These are my go-to tools for cooking scrambled eggs because I can stir without fear of scraping my pan or having the spatula melt into my eggs. Look for one that is a solid piece, not one with a silicone bottom on a wooden base. I think we’ve all experienced the agony of the spatula end slipping off the handle into whatever we’re cooking. Just avoid that and go with a seamless one!
Silicone Skillet Handle Cover – I have a few of these that I use with my cast iron pans. The handles get hot when cooking with them on the stove and this can help you not have to hold a pot holder the whole time while cooking. I also always put one on right away when I pull a pan out of the oven. On multiple occasions, I’ve grabbed the handle of a hot skillet after it’s come out of the oven not thinking that it’s still piping hot. Now I put these covers on right away!
Cloth Dinner Napkins – We have completely transitioned from using paper napkins, to using cloth napkins. It took me a while to build up a solid collection where we could always have some clean but it has been so worth it. Not only does it reduce our usage of paper products, but I think cloth napkins add a lot of elegance to a table. They also work great to line a bread basket, or arrange a few of them down the center of your table as a runner. Get your kids involved by having them help you fold them in a fun way!
These gifts are items that I use regularly in my kitchen, and I’m sure that the home cook in your life would love them as well!
In the past I have been very selective in the kitchen “gadgets” that I purchase because I have always lacked storage space. I had an Instant Pot in my Amazon cart multiple times but then I would remove it and ask myself, “Am I really going to use that?” If I could just go back and tell myself how valuable this tool is then I could have bought one a long time ago!
Benefits and Features of an Instant Pot
The Instant Pot is an electric pressure cooker and multi-cooker. There are many options out there that have different features but this is the newest version of the one that I have. Here are my favorite features that make the Instant Pot so valuable:
Slow Cooker: You can slow cook in the Instant Pot! If you’re concerned about space in your kitchen, trading in your slow cooker for an instant pot is definitely worth the upgrade!
Saute feature: I love this feature for a roast or for soups. When I used to make a roast in my slow cooker, I would have to brown the roast first in a pan on the stove then add it to the slow cooker. Not only do you dirty to pans, but you lose all the tasty bits in the pan when you move the meat. This is not a problem with the instant pot! You can brown the meat in the pot, deglaze and get up all those tasty bits, then add the meat back in to cook the roast.
Great for cooking rice, beans or grains: I can cook dried beans without soaking them in about an hour. It’s great for weekly meal prep!
Easy Hard Boiled Eggs: I purchased something similar to this egg steamer rack for my instant pot. I put 1 cup of water in the pot, add the egg rack with eggs and pressure cook for 6 minutes. As soon as it’s finished cooking I quick release the steam and move the eggs to a container of cold water to stop the cooking. Perfect hard boiled eggs every time! Then put them in a jar with a little water and shake the jar around for a quick way to peel the eggs.
Meal prep: I add 4-5 boneless skinless chicken thighs to the pot. Cover with your favorite salsa and pressure cook for 20 minutes. Quick release the pressure and shred the chicken. It’s tender and shreds so easily for tacos, enchiladas, topping a salad etc. You can do this with other meats such as pork tenderloin but I use BBQ sauce and a little water instead.
Bowl in Bowl Method: Use the egg steamer rack from above and place your meat or other meal element in the bottom of your cooker. Then place a small glass bowl on top of the trivet filled with your other meal element. This recipe alone from Food 52 for Butter Chicken is worth purchasing an Instant Pot and it utilizes the pot in pot cooking method. You could also cook something in the bottom and place a steamer dish on the trivet to steam a veggie to pair with your meal. Think meatballs in the bottom and pasta in the bowl on top. So many possibilities!
Consider Purchasing Some Accessories
If you already have an Instant Pot, or you’re looking for some gifts ideas for someone who already has one, consider some of these accessories you can buy such as a glass lid or a steamer basket. I haven’t experimented with this yet, but there are a lot of recipes for making desserts as well using a springform pan like this. Or another option would be these egg bite molds, perfect for mixing an egg with some veggies and cheese for small portable omelet bites.
If you’re concerned about the space that it takes up in your kitchen- trust me, it’s worth swapping out your slow cooker for an Instant Pot. They take up about the same amount of space, but an Instant Pot is so much more versatile. They make great gifts. I think it would be especially useful for someone living in a small apartment where they don’t have a kitchen at all because it can be used to prepare such a variety of meals. Do you get it yet, that I love this thing?! 🙂
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been resisting the urge to put up my Christmas decorations for a few weeks now. 2020 has been such a weird and challenging year, and looking forward to Christmas and Thanksgiving has lifted my spirits recently. I’ve already put up one small tree in my dining room for some “cozy winter light” and we’ll see if I can make it until after Thanksgiving for the rest of the decorations.
With Christmas and the holidays comes gift giving season. I love giving gifts but I’m sometimes unsure of what to get someone if I don’t know a lot about their hobbies. My husband for example is a musician and I find it challenging to purchase music related gifts without him specifically telling me something that he wants. I usually search for gift guides on the internet related to various hobbies where someone familiar with them lists some items that your loved one may be interested in. I have put together a series of post to inspire some gift giving for the aspiring chef and home cook in your life, or pickup some items for yourself 🙂
My first post in this series is about my love for cast iron, and the story behind my favorite cast iron pan.
The History Behind My Cast Iron Skillet
My family is from Texas, and I have a lot of special memories of cooking with my Grandmommy when we would travel there for visits. She shares in my love of thrift store shopping and collecting cookbooks.
I remember the best cheeseburger I ever had was one that she made for me on one of her iron skillets. She used a tortilla iron skillet, or one with really short sides. The skillet retained the heat so well and gave the burger a perfect sear. Then she melted the cheese on top and the little bits around the edge that melted onto the skillet got crispy. Then she spread some butter on the buns and toasted those as well. WOW! I’m salivating just thinking about those burgers. I remember that summer we went to some flea markets, and I just had to have one of these tortilla iron skillets. I found one, and it’s the one I still use when I make burgers or warm up tortillas. Every time I use it, I think of her and my memories of that delicious burger she made me. I also bought a small 6 inch skillet to take home that summer and those two pans were the start of my cast iron collection.
Years later I was in search of a larger cast iron pan that I could cook a chicken in. I had been searching for one and had asked for a new Lodge pan for Christmas. She got wind of this, and in her love for wanting to bless others, she found a way to get me one of her large cast iron pans all the way from Texas.
The special thing about cast iron is that as long as you take care of it properly, it will just get better with age. More seasoning is added every time you cook with it. Every time I cook with that pan I feel like in a way I’m back in my Grandmommy’s kitchen cooking with her because her seasonings are also the pan. Someday I will be able to pass it down to the next generation and share with them the stories of the meals that have been prepared, and the conversations shared around that skillet.
Pros of Cast Iron
It’s a great pan for searing meat and finishing it in the oven. I cook my pork tenderloin in cast iron by first searing it on the stove, then transfering the pan to the oven to finish cooking. This is also an excellent way to cook a steak or pork chop.
It just gets better with time as you cook with it. Every time you cook with your cast iron, you’re adding seasoning and increasing the non-stick layer of the pan through the fat that you use. I can fry an egg in my cast iron skillet without it sticking because I have built up a nice non-stick seasoning layer.
They’re great to bake in. I bake biscuits in them or if you have a smaller one you can bake a giant cookie. Skillet pies are also delicious… Cobblers… you get the idea.
Cleaning Cast Iron
I think people can be intimidated by cast iron because they’re unsure of how to clean it. NEVER put your pan in the dishwasher. I’m cringing just thinking about that… I like to clean mine while they’re still hot because the gunk comes off easier that way. I use a metal spatula, or a hard rubber scraper to scrape up any bits that are stuck on the bottom. I may even add a small amount of water to help loosen up any stuck on gunk. Then I use a paper towel to wipe out the pan, and wipe again with a clean damp paper towel. Usually that’s all it takes!
For the bigger messes, you can use a small amount of soap and water, but always make sure you season it afterwards to make sure your pan doesn’t get rusty. Seasoning requires adding a small amount of oil, smearing it around with a paper towel, and heating the pan up again. This is good practice to do periodically anyway to keep you pan in good shape. Use an oil with a high smoke point such as canola. Something like olive oil will start to smoke before it really gets hot enough to season the pan.
I think a classic 12 in skillet is a great place to start if you’re interested in experimenting with cast iron. A 12 in is large enough to hold an entire chicken, yet still versatile enough that you could cook breakfast eggs in it. Lodge makes quality cast iron for affordable prices. Here is a versatile skillet that would make a great purchase or gift.
Another option for cast iron is a double burner griddle/grill pan. Mine has a permanent residence on my gas stovetop. It makes excellent pancakes and toast for breakfast and I also use it a lot for grilled sandwiches. Flip it over and you have an indoor grill pan! I cook chicken breasts on mine to slice up for salads. One note on the double burner griddle- our old place had a glass top stove and this pan did not work well. Consider the type of stovetop you have before buying a pan like this. This is the one that I was gifted a few years ago.
If you’re scouring the thrift store for cast iron these are the characteristics I would look for:
Look for an assist handle if buying a larger skillet. This is a small handle opposite from the larger handle. These skillets can be very heavy, and having that assist handle provides two hand holds when pulling something heavy from the oven.
A smooth shiny cooking surface. A well-seasoned cast iron pan will have a smooth and shiny finish. If a pan hasn’t been cared for properly it may have rust or an uneven finish. Some of this can be remedied with a little elbow grease and a good seasoning but unless you find a Griswold or a Wagner pan I would just skip over the rusted poorly seasoned ones.
Make sure it’s not warped. Try to set it on a flat surface and wobble it a little. A warped pan will have hot spots and won’t provide an even cooking surface.
Now what about this enameled stuff?
Enameled cast iron tends to cost more because it has an enameled surface. I don’t know the science behind it, but it’s a layer over the cast iron that assists with making it non-stick. It’s also what you see when you find a cast iron pan that has color on the outside. I have an enameled dutch oven that I use to bake bread or for stews. I love it! I would recommend a 6 qt like this one.
Whether you’re buying cast iron for yourself or as a gift, you won’t be disappointed. They can become family heirlooms where generations are cooking off seasoning that was developed years ago. What a special way to feel connected to others in the kitchen!
Cultivating Hospitality. That is not only the title of my blog, but a mantra I want to live by. I want to cultivate relationships, belonging, togetherness. I want my table to be crowded with food, friends, and meaningful conversation.
I have been mourning every day the loss of togetherness in the forms that I am most accustomed to: The loss of friends and family around my dinner table; The loss of conversations at a restaurant while sharing an appetizer of guacamole; The loss of the excitement you get when you clink your glass together with a friend’s and share a “Cheers!” It’s a lot of loss, and a lot of mourning.
Social distancing has been going on for weeks now and I feel like it’s becoming my “new normal” but within this “new normal” is an adaptation of what togetherness and hospitality looks like. The need for hospitality has not gone away, it just looks a little different now. I’m discovering what it looks like for me every day. Maybe now hospitality means taking only what I need at the grocery store, knowing that someone else probably needs that extra bag of flour and I don’t need two. Or maybe it means tipping more generously than I normally would when I support a local restaurant with a take-out order. And what does connection look like now? Maybe it’s a simple video-check in with a friend you haven’t talked to in a while. Some friends of mine recorded a happy birthday video using some unique instruments that they play and sent it to someone on their birthday. What a great idea! Technology has provided us with the ability to stay connected during this time, but we don’t need to rely on technology for connection. Maybe you can send a handwritten note to a friend in the mail? Or maybe you can bake a treat and leave it on your neighbor’s porch. We’ve had friends drop of cards and care packages over the last few weeks and to say that they lifted our spirits would be an understatement (Thank you friends- You know who you are).
Another thing to consider is how you are fostering connection with the people you’re quarantined with. Just because you’re in the same space as someone doesn’t mean that you’re connecting with them. I’ve found it easy to get caught up in the day to day tasks of working from home or the easy distraction of technology, and before I know it most of the day is behind me with no tangible connection or conversations with my husband. Set aside part of the night where the electronics have to be away and you spend time talking or playing a game together. Make a strict rule of no phones at the table and really prioritize dinner time as an opportunity for meaningful conversation and connection. Ask you family to dress up for dinner and set a fancy table for a restaurant experience at home.
I think what we need right now is hope. I find hope in my faith and that has been a pillar of strength for me during this time. I’m also finding hope in seeing how communities are coming together to support health care workers, or public service professionals. I see the hope in how hard the teachers and parents are working to provide the best education possible for the kids during this challenging time. I see hope in a family spending time together with their phones away and they’re laughing together. I see hope in so many places, especially when I choose to look for it.
So as I reflect on the last few weeks and months, I am left with a challenge to myself: How am I cultivating hospitality in this social distant world? How am I seeking and experiencing hope, and how can I share hope with others?
We’ve been enjoying a loaf of sourdough sandwich bread every week for the last few months. We usually don’t eat the end pieces that are mostly crust but I hate to just throw them away. Earlier in the week I made a vegetable soup and thought the bread would make some beautiful croutons if I crisped them up in the oven. When I started to cut the bread up, I realized I was going to have a lot of croutons… So I decided to use a portion of the bread for croutons, and the rest for some bread pudding.
Cut the sourdough bread into 1 in cubes. I used about 2 cups of bread cubes for my croutons. Toss with a 1-2 TBSP of olive oil, 1/2 tsp garlic powder, salt and pepper to taste. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake at 425 for 7-10 minutes. Watch them so they don’t burn!!! You’re oven may bake them faster so watch them closely. When they come out of the oven toss them with another small drizzle of olive oil and another pinch of salt. Enjoy!
Sourdough Bread Pudding
I adapted this recipe from The Pioneer Woman’s “Plain and Perfect Bread Pudding” recipe. Whisk together milk, vanilla, eggs, and sugars. Pour over bread cubes and pour into a greased 2 qt baking dish. Bake at 325 for about 65-75 minutes or until the pudding is lightly browned and no longer soggy. Let it rest for at least 20 minutes to firm up. Serve with ice cream 🙂
If I would have had some basil and tomatoes I would have made panzanella. I’ll just have to wait on that one until summer 🙂
I don’t know about you, but we have been trying out best to stretch our stockpile and avoid going to the store. My freezer is usually stocked with frozen meals such as lasagnas, chicken pot pies and soups. We’ve been eating about 2 of those meals a week to stretch our grocery trips and it’s freeing up a lot of room in my freezer. I’ve had many moments where I think to myself “Wow! I didn’t know I had this in here!” I have found some gems, like frozen mixed berries and frozen cookie dough balls. I have also found about 5 bags of half eaten frozen vegetables. None of the bags really had enough to cook and feed my husband and I for a meal so I was left trying to figure out how to use them. Then I remembered a recipe that my in-laws make for a delicious vegetable soup.
Their soup has a rich and thick tomato base, reminiscent of a chili. I figured all of the frozen veggies would be great in the soup so I called them to have them refresh my memory on the basics for the recipe. Luckily I had the canned tomato products on-hand and I was able to make the soup using up leftover items in my freezer and pantry.
Below is the recipe, but it’s really just a road map for you to adapt to what you have on hand. They use lima beans in their soup that I believe are frozen. I didn’t have any so I used dried navy beans instead. Since I was using dried beans, I cooked my soup in my electric pressure cooker but you can totally simmer this in a large stockpot on the stove if you’re using cooked beans. Use what you have on hand and clean out your freezer!
We topped our soup with sliced green onions, croutons, and parmesan cheese.
Tonight I formed my meal around some ribeye steaks that I had in the freezer. Frozen broccoli is one of the ingredients that I always try to keep on hand for stir-fry and steaming as a side, so I planned to use that with the steak for beef and broccoli from Pinch of Yum. It was delicious! I served it with white rice and kimchi for a quick tasty dinner. It made enough for leftovers, so we’re going to have the same thing for dinner tomorrow night.
The key to a good beef stir-fry is to cut the beef very thin. I find this is easiest when the steak is still slightly frozen. By transferring the steak to the fridge yesterday morning, I was able to slice it last night with no problem. It was frozen enough to make it easier to thinly slice, but not so frozen that I couldn’t easily get the knife through it. I stored it in a container and it also made dinner come together a lot faster tonight. I highly recommend this extra prep/step!
Leftovers for dinner tomorrow night and dinner out on Friday means I’m done cooking for this work week! It’s a good feeling to utilize the ingredients I have on-hand to minimize waste and to inspire creativity.
Let me know what you come up with for a meal plan with no grocery trip!
Last night I moved some lean ground beef burgers to the fridge to thaw so I could use them as my protein tonight. At first I had planned on making patty melts (basically cheeseburgers on regular bread since I didn’t have any hamburger buns) but then I realized I had mushrooms in the fridge as well! I decided to use the burger patties in salisbury steak instead that way I could utilize the mushrooms.
I paired the salisbury steaks with mashed potatoes and a caesar salad. You can’t have caesar salad with croutons, so I toasted up 2 slices of bread with olive oil and herbs to make some quick croutons.
In about 30 minutes dinner was served and it was the hearty, meaty, stick to your ribs meal that I was craving, but with less calories:)
What I love about this recipe is that you get a rich mushroom sauce without all the cream and butter that is typically in a rich salisbury steak.
Season beef patties on both sides with salt and pepper.
Heat a large heavy bottomed skillet (iron skillet works great) with 1 TBSP olive oil.
. Once the pan is hot, brown the beef patties on both sides, 2-3 minutes per side depending on the power of your stove. Don’t worry about cooking them the entire way through at this point because they will finish cooking in the sauce later. Remove from pan.
Add 1 TBSP oil to pan. Add mushrooms, onion, garlic, and salt and pepper to taste. Allow the mixture to brown slightly and pick up the tasty meaty bits on the bottom of the pan (3-5 minutes).
Add about 2 cups of beef stock and dried thyme. You can add more stock here if you want a thinner sauce. Bring to a simmer and add cornstarch (if you used more stock, add a little more cornstarch here. You can’t mess it up- thin with more stock, thicken with more cornstarch. Just keep in mind that you have to cook it a bit before it starts to thicken from the cornstarch. This won’t happen right away). Stir until the cornstarch dissolves and add the beef patties back into the sauce.
Simmer the sauce and patties until the sauce is the thickness that you want and the patties are cooked through. For me it took about 5 minutes. Simmer longer or shorter until your desired sauce consistency. Serve over mashed potatoes.
To make these potatoes lower in fat and calories, I used chicken stock to flavor and thin them rather than milk and butter. I added a splash of fat free half and half and about 1 TBSP of low-fat sour cream to give some creaminess.
I toasted 2 slices of bread with about 1 TBSP of olive oil, salt, pepper, and dried thyme. I stirred them occasionally until they were crispy. For the salad I used romaine, tomatoes, parmesan cheese, croutons, and store bought caesar dressing. Right before serving I topped the salads with fresh pepper. Easy!
I’m so happy with how this meal turned out. It was a great use of the ingredients I had on-hand and now I’m really looking forward to the leftovers for lunch.
I’m one of those people who find enjoyment in meal planning. I love searching for new recipes to try, and figuring out a strategic way to use up ingredients in the week’s plan. Sometimes though I’m just not feeling it. This week is one of those weeks. We had a busy weekend and meal planning and a grocery trip were just not in the cards.
When I have weekends like this, I challenge myself to use the ingredients I already have in my pantry, fridge, and freezer to prepare meals for the week. I’m calling it the “Shop My Pantry Challenge.” I try to do this once a month or so. I find that it forces me to be creative with what I have and I usually find some new ways to use ingredients that I would have never thought of. It also helps stretch my grocery budget which is always a plus 🙂
Keep go-to ingredients stocked.
There are some ingredients that I always like to have on hand for quick dinners that don’t require a detailed meal plan. I find that I work a menu around a protein so I like to keep things like frozen fish, frozen chicken, and beans on hand at all times to inspire a meal. Some of my go-to ingredients are:
Frozen chicken breasts/thighs
Frozen fish such as barramundi.
Essential condiments such as dijon mustard, soy sauce, sriracha, etc.
2. Find proteins on sale and stock up.
At my grocery store, there is a small section in the meat area for quick-sale meats that need to be frozen or used right away. You can get great deals by buying these proteins! I find nice cuts of steak, ground beef, pork chops, and sometimes even chicken breasts on sale here. I look for the good cuts and purchase them to add to my freezer stockpile. Usually, I build my meal plan around the proteins already in my freezer, then I just continue to pick up the meat when I can get it on sale.
3. Be ok with simple
Sometimes going rogue with a meal plan means being ok with simple. Example- breakfast for dinner! There is no shame in cereal, pancakes, or eggs and toast for dinner! Give yourself a break and be proud that you didn’t order takeout (again).
The 2 Rules
I allow myself to purchase our weekly staples such as bread, milk, lunch meat, and eggs.
I allow myself 1 cheat meal during the week. This week I’m planning Monday-Thursday for meals and Friday will be a night out.
Night 1 Meal: Veggie Dumplings with Miso Soup
Silken tofu is one of my staple ingredients because it lasts a while in the fridge, and it makes miso soup! My husband loves miso soup and will frequently make it for himself for lunch. I happened to have 2 lonely green onions perfect for this soup as well. I experimented by adding some of the shirataki noodles to the soup and we loved it!
I also had some veggie dumplings in the fridge that I bought last week at the store. This was my first time buying these and we really enjoyed them! I just seared them quickly in a non-stick skillet with about 1 TBSP of oil.
I challenge you to try and shop your pantry to put a few meals on the table without a grocery store trip. Be creative with the ingredients you already have, and share the recipes and pictures of what you come up with!
I’m always intrigued by the variety of salsas and dips that you get at Latin American restaurants. Every restaurant has their own special salsa and each one is unique. I enjoy the creamy jalapeno dip at the local tex-mex restaurant, as well as the chunky tomato salsa from the Salvadorian restaurant down the street. About a year ago we tried a new Mexican food restaurant known for their tacos and they served us a smoky black bean dip that our entire table devoured. I did my usual thing where I taste it and take mental notes of the flavor profile so I can attempt to recreate it at home. I remember noting the smoky flavor which I thought could be coming from some chilies in adobo sauce.
Last night we had some friends over and I made the chicken tinga tacos from Pinch of Yum. The recipe called for chilies in adobo sauce and when I had some leftover after I remembered this black bean dip and thought I would try to recreate it. 1 can of black beans, 2 chipotle chilies in adobo sauce, 1 garlic clove, 1 tsp of salt and 1 TBSP of olive oil pureed together left me with the flavor profile I remembered from the dip we were served at the restaurant. It was the perfect compliment to our taco dinner.
Having friends laughing and sharing food around my table fills me with so much joy. It’s how I love on my people. What better way to say “I love you” than with tacos and beer?