Archives for January 2011

favorite kitchen gadgets

You know those cooks who are all like, “I prefer to hand-churn my butter and grind meat with sheer manly force. I measure by eye. And I bake pizza with the heat that radiates from my body.”

Yeah. I’m so not one of those people. I use tools. I like tools. And if there’s a gadget that makes cooking easier, I’m all over it faster than a pregnant woman on a double chocolate brownie (and trust me, I’m deceptively quick). In the past 6 months or so, I’ve accumulated several favorites, and I thought it was high time to share. So here they are: my favorite cooking gadgets as of late.

**I’m not paid to promote any of this stuff—these are all things that I have purchased myself or been given as gifts from awesome people in my life.**

The Switchit silicone spreader/spatula. Great to use as a regular spatula or as a spreader for frosting. Narrow enough that it fits in jars and cans to scrape out those last little bits.

A measuring shot glass. Measures teaspoons, tablespoons, ounces and milliliters. Plus prevents the inevitable spills and dribbles you get when measuring liquids with a spoon. (Thanks, Jen!)

An enameled cast iron dutch oven. Hoighty-toighty cooks will tell you that it’s impossible to live without one of these, and I can’t help but agree—I make all of my soups, stews and roasts in this baby. But until my budget improves, I’ll forgo the Le Creuset in favor of good old Martha Stewart (which, btw, is pretty much always on sale at Macy’s).

A microfiber dish drying mat. Unless you have unlimited drying rack space, you inevitably place excess dishes on a towel where they never quite dry. This handy little mat (given to me by my mother-in-law—thanks, Syl!) absorbs and keeps pots and pans in place. You can even place glassware upside down and the insides will dry completely. Then just fold it up and place it with your kitchen towels until you need it again.

My citrus reamer. After I used this baby on a TV cooking demo my relatives called me up to say, “Hey, great job…now where to I get one of those juicers?” The little holes make it super easy to juice without worrying about seeds. *This one is semi-promotional. I got it for free in a conference goodie-bag. But I really do love it.*

Oh, handy-dandy garlic twist. Toss in a few cloves of peeled garlic, twist ’em around, and presto—minced garlic (more like finely shredded…but does it matter?). My brother-in-law Mike gave this to me for Christmas and I’ve never looked back. Plus, it’s durable and super easy to clean.

People ask me how I cook with a toddler and here’s the answer: The Learning Tower. An adjustable, sturdy spot for her to stand at counter-level. It’s one of the best purchases we’ve ever made.

These magnetic nesting measuring cups are my absolute favorite. The tapered design makes them easy to shove into bags of flour and since they stick together, I never lose one.

The same goes for these measuring spoons. I love the double ends, and the narrow side is easy to fit into spice containers.

I’ve broken 4 glass french presses in the past 2 years. Not only is my thermal french press indestructible, but it keeps the coffee hot, too!

Okay, it’s not a gadget. But I can’t rave enough about Snapware food storage containers. They’re truly airtight (I’ve toted soup in my purse), don’t stain, and are color-coded so you’re never struggling to find a lid that fits. I got my set for cheap at Costco.

So there are my recent favorite kitchen tools. What are yours?


brown butter blondies

Okay. This is serious business. We need to have a chat about brown butter. If you’ve never tried it, you haven’t lived. You haven’t breathed. You haven’t run naked into the Pacific Ocean in February (not that I’ve done that…*whistles*).

Brown butter (or is it “browned butter”? The verdict is out. Weigh in in the comments section if you’ve got an idea.) is butter’s richer, nuttier cousin. It takes only minutes to create brown butter from regular old butter, but the results are worlds away. The flavor is richer and more pungent, and brown butter can be used in any recipe where melted butter is called for. Hence: brown butter baked goods. Use it in cookies, bars and brownies and you’ve just taken your treats to the next level.

These mini brown butter blondies (does that make them brunettes?) require only very simple ingredients: butter, brown sugar, egg, vanilla, flour and salt.

*Apologies in advance for the following 3 photos. This is why I do not often take photos under the florescent lights of my stove.

To brown the butter, cut into slices and melt over medium heat in a hefty pan.

Once the butter has melted, it will foam, bubble, and then brown. Stir constantly to ensure that it doesn’t burn.

After about 5 minutes (give or take—use your best judgment), it will be a rich brown color and have a nutty aroma. Remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes.

Stir in the sugar, egg and vanilla and mix until smooth.

Carefully pour into the flour/salt mixture. Stir to combine.

Add whatever fixings you like. I used dried cranberries and coconut in this batch, but chocolate, peanut butter or butterscotch chips would all taste great.

Stir. Smell that heavenly aroma? That’s brown butter, folks.

Dollop generous 1/2 tablespoons into a greased mini muffin pan.

Pop in the oven and you’ve got mini blondie bites.

Serve warm topped with vanilla ice cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon.

If you want to skip a step, you could also spread the batter into a greased 9×9″ pan and slice into squares after baking. I make them mini because they’re cute and I like the ratio of crispy edges to soft middles.

Gooey brown butter centers dotted with tart cranberries and flaky coconut. Warms my belly on a cool winter evening. And since they’re so small, eating three of them is practically calorie-free, right?


It was worth a shot.


Mini Brown Butter Blondies adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Makes 24 mini blondies.

Prep Time: 10 minutes Bake Time: 12-14 minutes

Special Equipment: mini muffin pan

  • 1 stick butter (8 tablespoons)
  • 1 c flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 c packed brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 c your favorite add-in (chocolate chips, dried berries, nuts, etc.)

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Slice the butter and melt in a heavy pan over medium heat. Once the butter begins to bubble, stir constantly for about 5 minutes until butter is brown in color and smells nutty. Remove from heat.

2. In a small bowl, mix together the flour and salt. In a separate bowl, stir the sugar, egg and vanilla into the browned butter until smooth. Combine with the flour/salt mixture. Mix in your add-ins.

3. Grease a mini muffin pan. Spoon heaping 1/2 tablespoons of dough into each cup. Bake for 12-14 minutes until edges are lightly crisp. Do not overbake. Let cool a few minutes before serving. Top with vanilla ice cream or freshly whipped cream and a dusting of cinnamon if desired.

and the survey says…

Remember the recipe survey I gave you last week? To help me tailor the recipes on the site? And to get to know you lovely readers better? Well, to all of you who participated, a huge thank you. The data I collected has been more than helpful as I write my recipes. And for you curious minds, here are some gorgeous charts showing the results.

You statisticians just got a little rush, didn’t ya? I won’t judge.

You leaned between “yes” and “always” for estimated cook times. Noted. I’ll now have Lucy clock me as I cook. If you see “Prep Time: 1,2,3,4” and “Cook Time: Pretzel,” blame the time keeper.

A slight majority think a list of special equipment is unnecessary, but enough of you want to be cautioned about special appliances that I’ll include a list of those from now on.

Let’s compromise and do numbered paragraphs, shall we?

I’ll stick with short and sweet, maybe going into more detail for less familiar ingredients.

I’ll continue with my standard Tbsp, Tsp, Oz, C, etc.

Oh 38%. How I love you. And for you 51%, I’ll employ a nutrition calculator when called for.

For the 58% of you who would like freezing directions, I’ll include those when applicable. And for the 21% of you who have things growing in your refrigerator, I refer you to this video to scare you into safety. Grandma always said, “when in doubt, throw it out!” Okay, not my grandma. I’m pretty sure she still eats Triscuits from 1988. But I’m sure some grandma somewhere says that.

Alright, you 1%: reveal yourselves!

Thanks again to everyone for filling out the survey. Maybe next time I’ll poll you on your favorite foods. Or whether or not you would like to see me do video cooking demos wearing a Spiderman costume. Or which flavor of Lip Smackers is the best. Or which aisle of the grocery store makes your skirt fly up. Or whether you prefer the Beatles or the Stones (there is only one correct answer).

I freaking love surveys!


P.S. Hugs to my husband Dave for putting together these graphs for his Excel-challenged wife. xoxo

raising little bear

It’s been about a billion years since I last gave you an update on my mini-me, a.k.a. Lucy, a.k.a. Little Bear. She’s grown so much and developed so much personality that I fear we’ll be sending her off to either Harvard or clown school next fall.

As she approaches the big 0-2 I’m more amazed than ever that a) we haven’t irreversibly screwed her up yet, b) all of her digits seem to be intact, and c) how much more I love her every single day.

You hear the parenting cliche all the time, but it’s true: there is no love like the love you have for your children, and it only gets bigger and more unimaginable day by day.

Of course there are days when you’d rather jump out the window than hear a Caspar Babypants song one more time. And there are times when you must accept that they have inherited your more charming qualities (or those of your husband…see above).

But when then they emerge from underneath the Christmas tree with a shit-eating grin and proclaim, “Mommy give Lucy tacos for Christmas!” all is quickly forgiven. Especially since all she asked for was tacos. And a Chapstick.

She’s so independent, so stubborn (like me), so curious (like her dad), so fierce, and so funny. She knows how to crack a joke, command the attention of a room, get exactly what she wants by outsmarting her opponent (me), bribe, bargain, and push every button in the book.

But she is also incredibly kind and sensitive. Every stuffed animal must be kissed and tucked in at bedtime. She shares toys with her friends (most of the time). She adores me (unless I’m walking her past Trophy Cupcake, instead of inside). She needs her dad like she needs oxygen. She has buckets of love for her grandparents (in the pic above she’s “helping” Papa put together a storage system for her room).

A friend asked us the other day what we think she’ll be when she grows up. Dave and I were a bit puzzled—we hadn’t really thought about it.

I answered, “anything she wants to be.” And that’s the truth. I know that wherever her life takes her she will be successful. Whatever she chooses to do, she will do it because it makes her happy. And when she’s not happy I’ll stand by her and hold her hand until she is.

And whoever she turns out to be—gay or straight, democrat or republican, astrophysicist or barista—I will be so incredibly proud of my little girl. And I will continue to love her more every single day, not just for who she is but for all of the joy and love and laughter that she brings to my life.

As she continues to grow and change she’ll only burn brighter, bringing that joy and love and laughter to other lives as she breezes through this world with that contagious grin. And I hope that every Christmas, no matter what else is on her list, she will always ask me for tacos.


pasta with creamy roasted vegetable sauce

Have you ever been doing a television interview and been all like, “I just try my best and work really hard. I’m just so lucky to have such great fans. This one’s for YOU, fans!” Then you blush and do your best princess wave, pick up your air guitar and start the opening licks to Uptown Girl. No?

Just me then. Alrighty.

This week has been the sort of humbling, mom-in-the-trenches, peanut butter in your hair kind of situation that would bring Donna Reed to her knees. It’s been so exhausting that its driven me to daydreams about being some sort of rockstar that covers Billy Joel hits. In them I have my own dressing room equipped with bottles of champagne and silk robes and roses. I have my own personal makeup artist and hairdresser. Matt Lauer comes to personally escort me to the Today Show stage in Rockefeller Plaza.

And then I come to, realize I’m standing in the bathroom applying a god-awful shade of mauve eyeshadow, trip over a keyboard shaped like a cat and bang my knee on the toilet.

One of few great (and non-imaginary) things that emerged from this trying week was an incredible pasta sauce. It’s not glamorous. It’s not difficult and it won’t win any blogging awards for creativity or inventiveness. But it is creamy, satisfying, and a healthy weeknight meal for the whole family.

Since my successful foray into vegetarian cuisine, I’ve been anxious to work with roasted peppers again. There’s something about their sweetness, the flavor that roasting brings out in them that I can’t get enough of. Raw? Won’t touch ’em. But roasted until they’re sweet and tangy? Perfection.

Throw them together with two of my other favorite vegetables—zucchini and carrots—and you’ve got a winning combination that makes a killer pasta sauce. It’s thick enough to coat tube-shaped noodles (my favorites), and makes a big enough batch that you could get two dinners out of it, or freeze half for a hectic night.

So the next time you’re daydreaming about having your own personal assistant who will peel grapes while you relax on a chaise lounge, wake yourself and whip up this sauce. It won’t clean the blackberry jam off the ceiling for you, but it will solve that whole “what’s for dinner” dilemma with ease.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a rousing rendition of Just the Way You Are to sing. My public awaits.



Pasta with Creamy Roasted Vegetable Sauce

Prep Time: 20 min Cook Time: 55 min

Tube shaped pastas work well with this thick, chunky sauce. It would also be a wonderful in lasagna! Makes approximately 5 cups of sauce. Serves 8-10.

  • 3 sweet bell peppers (red, yellow or orange)
  • 1 small zucchini
  • 2 carrots, peeled
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp basil
  • salt & pepper
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 6oz can tomato paste
  • 29 oz can tomato sauce
  • 1 c milk
  • 1/4 c grated parmesan cheese, plus more for topping
  • 1 lb or more of your favorite pasta

Preheat oven to 450F. Dice the peppers, zucchini and carrots into 1/2″ pieces. Toss with olive oil, oregano, basil and season generously with salt and pepper. Spread onto a baking sheet lined with foil and roast for 30 minutes, stirring once during cooking. Set aside.

Melt butter in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add garlic and saute 2 minutes or until garlic becomes aromatic. Add the tomato paste and saute 2 minutes more, stirring often. Whisk in the tomato sauce, milk and roasted vegetables. Simmer over medium-low heat for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally (you may need to partially cover pan with a lid or splatter guard—sauce will be thick). Stir in cheese and season with salt and pepper to taste. Toss with your favorite pasta and serve topped with parmesan cheese if desired.