Our Favorite Kitchen Items (and A Gift Guide for Someone who Loves to Cook)

Thursday, November 29, 2012

  Although far from being professional chefs, my friend Jen and I  do have eight picky kids and a whole lot of home cooking experience  between us.  Over the years we've spent in the kitchen, we've tried a lot of cooking products.  Some that worked wonderfully well and others not so much.  Today we thought it would be fun to share with you some of our tried-and-true favorite kitchen gadgets and tools that we've discovered, any of which would make a great gift for someone who loves to cook (or as a gift to yourself).   :)   

 *Note:  all photos are  from the website linked in the description.

Paula Deen Signature Porcelain Nonstick 5-Quart Covered Deep Saute Pan (Lara)--With higher sides than the average skillet, this is perfect for anyone who's cooking for a crowd.  The pan is large enough that you can saute your veggies on the non-stick surface and add the rest of the ingredients without transferring everything to another pot.  We've made many a pot of soup in this pan, as well as  pasta dishes.   

Immersion Blender (Jen).  Works great with soups, sauces, or blending things in the pan or crockpot. This way you don't have to transfer things from pan to blender and back to pan.

Lodge 12-Inch Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet (Lara)--While I still love my non-stick pans for some things , I'm a recent convert to cast iron and am quickly growing very fond of them especially for searing meats.  They take more upkeep than most pans, but they can withstand high heat (on the stove or in the oven) and they will last forever if you take care of them properly. 

Pyrex 8-Cup Measuring Cup
 I use this as a bowl when I mix batters all the time.  It is higher than usual mixing bowls so less stuff splatters.  (or is it only me that has pudding always splattering out of the bowl?!).  I always use this to make cheesecakes because I can soften the cream cheese in the microwave because it is microwave proof.  It is also oven proof so you could bake in it if you wanted.  (Perfect for a Barbie doll skirt cake...not like I've ever had the chance to make it with three boys, but I imagine it would be perfect!)

Stoneware Pizza Stone
(Lara)--I've had my pizza stone for almost a decade now and just realizing what a real treasure it is.  We've always baked cookies and rolls on it and love that the bottoms don't get overdone while waiting for the top to brown.  But recently I've learned  the secret to perfect pizza crust that is making me a zealous fan!     I heat the stoneware at 450-degrees before placing the pizza crust and other toppings  on it, then bake at the same temperature.  My kids (even my teenagers) have started telling me how much they prefer our homemade pizza over delivery and I blame it all on the stoneware cooked crust! 

Digital probe thermometer
(Jen)  I use this timer probably every day.  I have had it for years and have only had to change the battery a couple times.  The alarm is nice and loud, so you can hear it if you're in the other room.  it has a separate timer for when your meat is up to the correct temperature.  It is absolutely necessary for the holidays with turkey, ham, cookies, and naughty children in time out!

Apple And Potato Peeler Corer
(Lara)--I feel like this handy little tool shaves off considerable prep time whenever I'm making anything with apples.  It peels and cuts everything perfectly evenly (or you can change it to not peel if you prefer) within about 30 seconds and the uniform thickness of each slice makes the apples cook evenly in whatever apple dish you're making.  Additionally it's great for slicing up apples to give to the kids. 

 Nylon Flat Whisk (Jen).  I can honestly say that when we go on vacation to hotels that have a kitchenette included, I always pack this along in my suitcase.  I love it because it doesn't scratch any surface, and it is flat enough to get into those creases at the bottom of the pan when you're whisking sauces, or even melted chocolate!  Come to think of it, I should ask Santa for another one because I'm always irritated when it is dirty in the dishwasher and I need to use it.

Non-Slip Pastry Mat (Lara)--I absolutely love this mat and use for rolling out pizza crusts, crescent rolls, and pie crusts.   It's one of the best loved tools in my entire kitchen and I highly recommend it for anyone who makes pies or pizzas on a regular basis!

Microplane Zester/Grater
.(Jen and Lara)
  I love this for zesting the skin of citrus products, but also for hard cheeses like Parmesan.   It also works when you want to add that special touch to desserts by grating chocolate on top.  

Cutco Basting Spoon--This spoon came free with a Cutco order I placed one time and I originally laughed that anyone would pay so much money for a spoon from a company that specializes in knives, but I am now its biggest fan.  This is a heavy duty spoon that will stir up the thickest mixtures without any give and the shape of the handle somehow makes it less tiring to stir with than other spoons.   And as with all Cutco products, it's guaranteed for life, which makes it a good kitchen purchase in my book.  

Better Homes and Gardens red and white checkered cookbook (Jen).  This is always my "go-to" cookbook when I am looking for a for no fail recipe.  It has never steered me wrong.  My favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe is from here and the crepe recipe is the one I've been using for over 10 years.

Cutco French Chef Knife--I only own a couple of Cutco knives and I love each of them, but this is the knife that seriously revolutionized my cooking.  That may sound dramatic, but I exaggerate not.  Up until I got this knife, chopping was a chore I dreaded.  Now I beg to chop the veggies, even when someone else is cooking, because I can chop so fast that it makes me feel like a professional chef on a tv show.  :)
  Four tiered swivel buffet server (Jen).  I got this at Costco years ago and it is not only beautiful, but super useful if you like to entertain alot.  I've used it for dessert platters, veggie platters, hors d'oeuvres platters, when there's just not enough room on the table for all the food, and I will soon be using it for a tiered wedding cake for a friend of mine.  I think I only paid $20 for it and I don't even know if you can find this exact one anymore.  (the link is to a similar one at Sam's club).  But even if you can have any kind of tiered serving platter, even a swiveled one, than it is so worth it.  it may be a pain to store somewhere, but if you have to space to keep it safely stored away for a special day, I highly recommend it.



Chicken or Turkey Potpie with Cheddar Crust

Friday, November 23, 2012

Hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving!  We spent a lovely day at my brother's house and enjoyed the chance to eat a turkey that I did not cook myself.   Even more so than usual, our family has much to be grateful for this holiday season and we are so thankful to all be healthy and back under one roof again!  

So we didn't actually have any leftover turkey this year, but still I couldn't resist trying some of our traditional post-Thanksgiving recipes.  Usually we make family favorite Turkey Tacos and  Shepherd's Pie (with turkey and mashed potatoes), but last year we got adventurous and decided to make this beautiful potpie with the leftover turkey instead.   Although we loved the tender flaky crust and deliciously savory filling, we then promptly lost the recipe and it was lost in the shuffle before I could properly document it.  Luckily I recently came across the recipe again and decided to try it again as a post-Thanksgiving supper.  We tried it with a rotisserie chicken and dried herbs (instead of fresh) this time and it did the trick just the same.   We took one bite and decided that we're definitely not letting this one get away from us again. 

Recipe adapted from:  Food Network
Click here for printable recipe.

Posted by Lara.


2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1-1/2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup cold butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
6 tablespoons vegetable shortening (I used butter flavored Crisco)
1/2 cup ice water

5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 onion, chopped
1 Tbs. chopped fresh thyme (or 1-1/2 tsp. dried thyme)
6 stalks celery, chopped
6 carrots, chopped
2 tsp.  salt, divided
1 pkg. (10-ounces) fresh cremini mushrooms, chopped (chop them small enough and even mushroom-haters won't notice them)
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup white cooking wine (or chicken broth)
2 cups chicken stock
2/3 cup heavy cream, plus more for brushing
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley (or 1 Tbs. dried parsley)
5 cups leftover turkey or chicken, shredded
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper


CRUST: In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, fine salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.   Add the cheese, butter and shortening; and cut into the dry mixture with a pastry blender (or in a food processor) until the butter and shortening are in pea-size chunks.  

Add 1/2 cup ice water and stir together just until the dough starts to come together (do not overwork the dough). Turn out onto a sheet of plastic wrap and pat into a disk. Wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour and up to 2 days. (NOTE:  I  refrigerated the dough just during the time it took to make the filling.)

FILLING:  Melt the butter in a pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion, thyme, celery, carrots and  1 teaspoon salt; cook, stirring, until soft, about 6 minutes.
Add the mushrooms and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook until soft, about 6 more minutes. Add the flour and cook, stirring, 2 minutes.

Add the cooking wine (or chicken broth); cook until almost evaporated, about 1 minute. Add the broth, cream and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium low and simmer until thick, about 3 minutes. Add the parsley, shredded turkey/chicken, and salt and pepper to taste. Transfer filling to a 9x13-inch baking dish.

Roll out the crust dough between 2 sheets of parchment paper until slightly larger than the baking dish.

Drape the dough over the filling, press it against the inside of the dish and trim.

Brush with cream, then cut a few slits in the top.

Put on a baking sheet; bake at 400 degrees until golden, about 35 minutes. Let rest 10 minutes before serving.



Thanksgiving dinner for two, in less than an hour

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

I'm thankful that I normally have the whole day to cook and plan out my Thanksgiving dinner. However, I know that there are many out there who have to work, or don't have family close by to be with. Or maybe it's just you and your significant other so you don't want to make a big huge meal. Well, here is an easy Thanksgiving dinner for two, in under an hour. You can still have your stuffing, turkey, potatoes, and pumpkin and not stress about being at work or not having the time to cook.
The Ingredients for the turkey:
2 small turkey breasts (these turkey breasts were the size of a large chicken breast)
1 can turkey gravy
1/2 tsp poultry seasoning (or more to taste)
2-3 celery stalks
1 small onion
butter for sauteing onions and celery
1 tsp orange zest
1 pkg of your favorite stuffing mix

The ingredients for the sides:

2 good sized potatoes
1 bag ready to use salad (your favorite kind)
1 loaf french bread or package of brown and serve rolls
1 can cranberry sauce (jelly or whole)
or whatever you like to eat for your Thanksgiving

(sorry I forgot the picture, but you get the idea!)

The Ingredients for the pumpkin spice custard:**

15 oz can pumpkin
2 eggs (ignore the 4 in the picture)
3/4 c sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon (or less depending on your taste)
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
pinch of nutemeg
1/4 c molasses
1 c milk
6 ramekins 

The Directions:
The night before or the morning before you eat, soak your turkey in a brine. Mine fit in a 8 c Tupperware with about 4 c of water, 2 tbsp salt, and about 1/2 tsp poultry seasoning. You can also add a couple tablespoons of brown sugar and 1 tsp orange zest for added flavor. This will help your turkey retain some of its moisture while baking.  Let soak in the brine overnight or at least for 6 hours.

When it's time to bake, turn on oven to 350 degrees. Scrub and poke your potatoes. When the oven is ready put them in. These will take the longest to cook as they will take about 30-45 minutes.

Read the instructions on your stuffing and follow the directions for two servings. Mine called for 1/4 c chopped celery and 1/4 c chopped onion. Melt butter in pan and sauté onions and celery until almost soft (about 5 minutes). Add the stuffing (for 2 servings) to the butter mixture (my stuffing called for 2 cups of the mix). Mix well. Mix 1/4 of the can of turkey gravy and 1/2 cup of water and add it to the stuffing mixture to moisten it.Spread 1/4 of the can of gravy on the bottom of a 13x9 baking pan. Place the turkey breasts on top and rub with poultry seasoning and salt. Zest 1 tsp of the orange over the chicken breasts.
Pour the rest of the 1/2 can of gravy over the turkey breasts and then top it all off with the stuffing.Cover with tin foil and place in oven for 30 minutes. My turkey breasts were thin so they were definitely ready by then. If you need to, then insert in a meat thermometer and cook until the temperature reaches 165 degrees or the juices run clear. If you want the crispy top of your stuffing, then remove the foil during the last 10 minutes of the cooking time.

Once the turkey/stuffing is in the oven, start on the pumpkin custard. Grease 6 ramekins. (this recipe will make 6 or so, but let's face it, who's really going to stop at one?!)

In a medium bowl add the pumpkin, the sugar, the spices, the 2 eggs and the molasses. (hint: spray the inside of your measuring cup before measuring the molasses to make it easier to come out). Blend well. Add the milk and blend slowly until it's all mixed in. Pour into the greased ramekins. Place ramekins on another rack in the oven (like the rack with the potatoes) and bake for 20-30 minutes. (until a toothpick comes out clean. The custard will start to pull away from the edge a little.)
*IF you want an entire pie, this recipe will fill 1 deep dish pie crust (plus a ramekin or two, ) OR 2 smaller pie crusts. My favorite prepared crust is Mrs. Smiths frozen deep dish. Just keep in mind that it will push you over the hour limit, but put the pie in the oven when the potatoes and turkey come out and you will be able to smell the pie cooking while eating dinner.

Directions for entire pie:  Increase the temperature to 425 degrees. Put pie in the oven and after 15 minutes reduce heat back to 350 degrees.(without opening the oven door)  Continue cooking for about 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean in the center.

** A quick note about my pumpkin pie recipe. This is my mother's and I grew up with this one my whole life. However, it does not have that major pumpkin flavor. While it is definitely pumpkin, all the added spices and molasses makes it more of a gingerbread flavor pumpkin pie. But I love it, because I'm not too keen on the whole squash flavor of pumpkin by itself.

If you're just using the ramekins, then when ready to serve, add some whipped cream and a gingersnap cookie, if desired.While the pumpkin custard and the turkey are cooking, prepare your salad, set the table, pour your cranberry jelly into a bowl (heat if desired), and then relax until the timer goes off.

When your timer goes off and everything is cooked (test temperature of turkey and clean toothpick in pumpkin) then remove it all and prepare to eat. In one hour you have made two turkey breasts cooked in turkey gravy, with stuffing, 2 baked potatoes, salad, cranberry sauce, and a bunch of little single serving crust-less pumpkin pies. No stress. Not a ton of clean up. And plenty of time to spend with your loved one, your friend, or your football game.


About This Blog

My name is Lara and while I'm definitely not a gourmet cook, I do love preparing tasty, healthy meals for my family. Finding new recipes to try and sharing the ones we've already fallen in love with is a passion I've had since college and the reason why I've started this blog! With five kids, I'm usually in a hurry, so you'll find most of these recipes kid friendly and simple to make.

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