Beth’s Picks: Handy Kitchen Tools

A while back I started writing a post that was a list of all the kitchen tools I consider to be really important for the 5 star home chef, but that list got a bit lengthy and I didn’t know what to keep and what to cut. I like my kitchen tools. A lot. Just ask my friends, who have had to listen to me drone on about my amazing potato masher or my beloved juicer. I’ve also given short lectures on the importance of having a good steamer.

Anyway, I switched gears a bit, and I give you: a very abbreviated list of some awesome products that I tracked down on OpenSky. If you’re without these, you’re not alone, and will probably get along fine. But they sure are fun and nice to have around.

Slow Cooker

This just happens to be the one that I have (though I don’t have that “Little Dipper” deal, and I’m curious what it’s all about). I LOVE MY CROCK-POT. It is such a versatile kitchen tool, and you can make the most amazing meals and barely lift a finger. It does all the work for you, while you are going about your day. Probably my number one recommendation.

Crock-Pot 5 Quart Chrome Slow Cooker, $53

A Good Set of Whisks

They might not seem all that fancy or important, but I love my whisks. I use them for a multitude of things, including whipping up my famous lime vinaigrette. This set is particularly nice because of the silicone coating. Everything will just slide right off–so easy to clean–and they can stand up to pretty high temperatures, and won’t damage your metal cookware. Also, it’s great that they come in a variety of sizes, because sometimes you just need a tiny little whisk.

Three Piece Whisk Set, $18

A Good Set of Rubber Spatulas

Like the whisks, a set of rubber spatulas come in handy for a variety of kitchen tasks. Personally, I like to use them in place of wooden spoons when I’m frying or sauteeing, because they don’t soak up the oil. They are also the best tool there is for getting every last drop of something out of a pan or bowl. I only have two, but I should get more, I use them often and sometimes it feels like they are always in the dishwasher.

Rachel Ray 3 Piece “Spoonula” Set, $18

Prep Bowls

I have already spoken at length in a previous post about the importance of the prep bowl, so I will spare you. But they are super handy to have around, especially if you’re making something that calls for a large number of ingredients to be chopped, sliced, minced or cubed. You can have it all organized and ready to go as you cook the dish. This is a technique that I credit for completely changing how my food turns out. Really.

CaliBowl Cali Stack Nesting Bowls, $30

Handheld Citrus Juicer

This isn’t exactly the juicer that I own, but it’s very similar. And, like I said before, I’m in love. We squeeze a lot of lemons and limes in this house for a lot of stuff, from vinaigrettes to margaritas, and this tool is indispensable for us. If you came into our kitchen on any random day, chances are you’ll see it on the counter, recently used. I like it because it extracts the juice quickly and easily. You’re not grinding it on a point like the juicers that catch the juice in a dish. And you don’t need to by some fancy automatic juicer. Just slice in half, squeeze, enjoy.

Amco 8-inch Two in One Citrus Juicer/Squeezer, $27

And…the stock

Made the chicken stock, just like I promised! Was the simplest thing I think I’ve ever cooked.

The recipe calls for quite a bit of chicken parts. I only had 1 pound, so I guesstimated on the ingredients, but it turned out wonderfully anyway. The timing is also very vague here; I did mine for about 10 hours.

Chicken Broth from Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cookbook

3 1/2 pounds of chicken parts and bones, or a 3 to 4 lb whole chicken cut up, trimmed of fat

1 large yellow onion, quartered

1 large carrot, cut into chunks

2 to 3 celery ribs with leaves

8 sprigs fresh flat leaf parsley with stems

black pepper and salt

1. Combine everything but the salt in your slow cooker. Add cold water to cover by 2 or 3 inches. Cover and cook on HIGH for one hour.

2. Skim any foam off the surface. Turn slow cooker to LOW, cook 6 to 16 hours. If the water cooks down too much, you can add some boiling water.

3. Uncover and let cool. Set a large colander lined with cheesecloth over a large bowl. Pour the broth through to strain. Squeeze veggies to get more liquid out. Discard veggies and bones. If you have meat, reserve it for a salad, soup, etc. Taste the broth and season with salt if necessary.

4. Broth is good in the fridge for 2 or 3 days, frozen for 3 to 4 months. Bring the broth to a boil when you do use it.

Amazing Slow Cooker Chicken

So, in high school, I worked for a pet store that was in the same building as a veterinarian’s office. Sometimes they would call us over to help out in the clinic, administering meds and stuff. It was so exciting, and I had all these fantasies about becoming a veterinarian myself.

Until the day I sat down in science class with a dead frog in front of me.

Okay, once all the cutting and slicing and dicing is done for me, I can look around at an animal’s insides like none other. Intestines and hearts and kidneys and livers and blood and guts. It’s all very fascinating. But, cut open the animal? Even a dead one? No thanks. No siree. Nope.

So, as domestic as I claim to be sometimes, I’m leap years behind some because until this afternoon, I had never touched a whole raw chicken. Not even once.

But, I got this great new cookbook, and there are all these delicious sounding recipes that call for whole roasters or broilers. And finally I was like, WTF I AM GOING TO TRY THIS. AAAAAAAAAH (Imagine a pro football player after a locker room pep talk).

Directions said: Rinse with cold water and pat dry. Remove neck and giblets. I am immediately turned off by the neck. But, I remove it with a knife, and a little gagging. Then, unbeknownst to me, this chicken was sans giblets. However, I did not want to stick my hand in to retrieve them, so I did not find this out for oh, about 15 minutes. I tried to dig them out with a spoon, I tried to rinse them out with the water, and finally I got the balls to shine a flashlight inside the cavity (yes, yes I did). And after 5 minutes or so on the Interwebz, I determined that my chicken had no giblets. Okay.

After that, aside from the creepy way that the wing and leg joints still work making the chicken seem a wee bit alive when you’re rinsing it, the rest was a piece of cake. Here’s the amazing recipe that I tried for you to give a go yourself. Bear in mind (only because I cluelessly did not know) the chicken will be falling apart when all is said and done. And, ahem, it will be DELICIOUS.

Slow Cooker Lemon Chicken with Potatoes and Mushrooms

From: Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cookbook

One 3 or 4 pound broiler or fryer whole chicken

2 cubes chicken bouillon

1/2 large lemon or 1 small lemon

1/4 tsp paprika

3 tbsp minced fresh flat leaf parsley

2 medium or 1 large onion, cut into wedges

2 cloves garlic, chopped

2 tbsp soy sauce

salt and pepper

6 to 12 small gold potatoes (Yellow Finn or Yukon Gold), unpeeled

6 oz. fresh mushrooms, sliced thick

1. Rinse and dry chicken well, cut off large lumps of fat. Put one bouillon cube in the cavity. Squeeze the lemon juice into a dish and reserve. place the lemon rinds in the cavity. Place the chicken in the slow cooker, breast side up. Sprinkle with the paprika and parsley. Place onion wedges and garlic around the chicken. Pour the soy sauce and lemon juice over the chicken, then season with the salt and pepper to taste. Crumble the other bouillon cube over the chicken. Place the potatoes and mushrooms on top. Cover and cook on HIGH 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 hours, or LOW 6 1/2 to 7 1/2 hours, or until a thermometer reads 180 F at the thickest part of the thigh.

(The cookbook insists that the flavor is superior if you are able to cook it on HIGH for less time, but I cooked it on LOW and it was pretty freaking amazing.)

2. Discard lemon rinds and portion the mushrooms, potatoes, onions and chicken in shallow bowls or on plates. Discard skin and bones, reserving for another use if desired.

Okay, now I am the domestic goddess I once claimed. (Except, um, I still have not made my own stock. Stay tuned.)

Grilled Cheese for the Kiddos

Since embarking on this hiding-the-veggies-in-his-food regimen, I have found that so many of these mom chefs are getting the nutrition in either by frying up the food with hidden veggies in oil or hiding the veggies in a dessert full of sugar. Both of which I was trying to avoid. I mean, once in a while is fine, of course, but not three meals a day or anything.

One recipe stuck out to me as a pretty good course of action, and I make it for Bowie nearly every day for either lunch or dinner: grilled cheese with veggie puree. It’s got several healthy elements, and kids tend to scarf it down, plus it’s super easy to make. And it’s even tasty for adults, because the veggie adds such a nice, creamy texture and a richer flavor to it. AMAZING with a bowl of tomato soup.

Grilled Cheese Sandwiches with Sweet Potato or Butternut Squash

(Adapted from a recipe from Deceptively Delicious)

Makes 1 sandwich

1/4 cup shredded cheddar

1/4 cup butternut squash or carrot puree*

butter or spread of your choice

two slices bread (use whole wheat for another health boost)

1. Mix the cheese and the puree together in a small dish.

2. Butter both slices of bread on one side.

3. Heat a non-stick skillet on medium low.

4. Place one slice of bread in the skillet. Place the cheese and puree mixture on top of this slice. Then place the other slice on top. Allow it to brown, then flip and allow that side to brown (a couple of minutes on each side). Transfer to a plate and allow to cool.

*To make carrot puree, peel carrots and cut into 3 inch chunks. Steam for 10 to 12 minutes. Puree in a blender or food processor, adding water if necessary. Carrots are a great source of beta carotene and fiber.

To make sweet potato puree, cut whole sweet potatoes into quarters (leave peel on). Steam for 40 to 45 minutes or until easily pierced with a fork. Alternately, leave them whole and roast them at 400 degrees for 50 to 60 minutes. Scoop the flesh from the peel and puree in a blender or food processor, adding water if necessary. Sweet potatoes are a great source of fiber, beta carotene and antioxidants.

Purees can be stored in the fridge for a couple of days, or can be frozen and stored for several months. I freeze the puree in ice cube trays so I can easily pull out small amounts at a time (great technique if making your own baby food too!).

You could use other veggie purees if you have them, but for this recipe, the carrot and the butternut squash have a creamy and mild enough flavor to blend right in.


Beth’s Picks: The CaliBowl Cali Stack Nesting Bowls

In my quest to teach myself how to cook, I noticed something about a lot of the chefs and cooks that I watched work their magic: they were prepared. Many chefs refer to it as “mise en place”, a French phrase basically meaning “everything in place”. It just means that you should have all of your necessary ingredients ready at hand, measured and prepared (peeled, chopped, sliced, minced, etc.).

When I began doing this, my cooking was taken to the next level. Having everything at the ready like that makes it nearly impossible for you to screw up a dish. No more burning something because the next ingredient wasn’t ready. No more realizing halfway through cooking that you are out of a key ingredient.

So, with the holidays coming up, and all the cooking that goes along with that, I want to propose that you get your hands on a good set of prep bowls, which are fantasically handy when it comes to getting your mise en place on. A great set that I have found on OpenSky is the Cali Stack set from CaliBowl. They’re cute, they’re affordable and they’re made well.

These bowls are made of durable plastic, partially recycled materials, and are BPA free. They are also conveniently microwave and dishwasher safe, and they are nesting bowls (fitting inside one another) for easy storage in anyone’s kitchen. The bowls hold 1 cup, 1 1/2 cups, 3 cups and 5 cups.

I’ve got the Retro Aqua Blue pictured here (my personal favorite), but there are a few colors to choose from in my shop (including the Lime Green which is currently available for an amazing sale price).


Buy Now

And the super news is, OpenSky has generously offered me another coupon code for the next ten people to make a purchase from my OpenSky shop! Save 25% off your purchase of anything from my OpenSky shop with the code VERYBLOG30PCT (enter at checkout). Expires October 31.

Happy cooking, and happy shopping!

Beth’s Picks: Play With Your Food

My husband and I are really into getting wooden toys for Bowie. Not only are they better for the environment and safer for kids, but they are also more durable and can hold up longer. And some of the best wooden toys we have found are made by Melissa & Doug. So when it was time to get him some fun food toys (because every kid has to have play food!), we turned to them.

I got this great set of pots and pans to start. The set comes with these three pans, two lids, a potholder and some utensils. It’s a great little starter set for the beginner tyke chef.

Then we also got the four food groups set. Not that they stayed in their cute little educational four food groups packaging for very long, but it was a cute set for a great price, and one of the only wooden sets I could find in a sea of cheap plastic food sets.

Their slicing sets are adorable, kids can “cut” the fruit and veggies up into pieces, just like a grown up, and then put them back together and start again. Let the creativity begin!

We have a lot of other products from Melissa & Doug, but their food toys are hands down the best in that category that we have found. If you’re in the market for some good, solid kitchen toys, take a look in my OpenSky shop!

Beth’s Picks: Zhena’s Gypsy Coconut Chai Tea

We live in one of the coldest places on earth now: the Sunset district. Ok, I may be exaggerating a little, but it is pretty foggy and chilly out here for a good part of the year. I was so depressed to leave sunny Potrero Hill, but alas. They just want too much money for that sun.

But, I think we’re settling in ok. I’m the weird kind of gal that would much rather put on a sweatshirt and make a nice hot cup of tea than sweat to death on some beach. So I suppose this is really the perfect place for me.

I drank a lot of tea before, but now I’m drinking probably 5 or 6 cups a day, especially when I’m powering away at my desk. For everyday cups of tea, I usually stick to the basic Earl Grey, but when it’s really cold and I need a little treat, I like to throw something a little more exotic in the mix for a change.

I recently stumbled upon Zhena teas, and let me tell you what, people. The coconut chai flavor is out of this freaking world. The coconut provides a smooth, tropical flair and the chai warms you up from the inside out. You would swear you were sipping tea in some remote Indian street market or something. Absolutely hands down the best chai I have ever tasted, and I mean that. It becomes a luscious treat with milk and honey but is also still spectacular on its own.

And sometimes with a fruity or sweet tea, the fruit or sweet flavor is just too much. Not so with this tea. There is just the slightest hint of coconut, but enough that you can still taste it. Amazing.

If you’re a tea lover like me and you also like the spicy warmth of a good cup of chai, you gotta get your hands on this stuff! So good!

Beth’s Picks: Mimi The Sardine Lunchbugs

I did more shopping around for Bowie’s lunch box than I did when we were buying our car. I just had a very clear picture of what I wanted, and it had to meet a few requirements:

It had to be eco-friendly, because…well, it just had to, okay?

It had to be affordable, because we are a family on a budget.

It had to be durable, because I am generally not easy on my stuff.

It had to fit in my purse or the diaper bag, because the whole point was eating on the go.

It had to be able to house a whole bunch of food, because Bowie’s tastes change daily.

At first I resisted the Mimi the Sardine Lunchbug because every single other kid in our neighborhood had one. I was hoping for something that would stick out in the crowd, for school purposes down the line. But, the more hunting and shopping and researching that I did, I figured out that every other parent was buying these bags because it turns out, they really are a great product.

The Lunchbug met every single one of my criteria, and was cute to boot. You can also so easily clean it by just tossing it in with the laundry, and it really doesn’t get much easier than that. I hadn’t thought about ease of cleaning as a requirement, but that is an important one too, am I right?

We happen to have the Hybrid Cars print, because the kiddo is wild about anything with wheels. But, this was a tough choice, because I thought the Propeller, Stripes, Bugs and Jungle prints were also completely adorable.

This bag has turned out to be an invaluable product for me, and I give a big recommendation for any busy mama who packs lunches.

Lead in our Food

I ran across something on the inhabitots blog today that I found to be incredibly disturbing. 85 % of kids’ fruit drinks and snacks are tainted with lead. LEAD. Here’s the specific post. And the NPR story.

What I find the most disturbing of all the disturbing-ness here (well, aside from the fact that my son has had more than one of the items on this list recently) is that there are varieties being sold at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. I have made these my go-to stores for food now, because of their reputation for safe, wholesome, organic foods. Well, not so much I guess.

This kind of thing makes me sick. Well, not literally. Unless you count the salmonella. But I got that from a contaminated restaurant kitchen, likely from fish that came from China. That’s a whole other story. But, Stewart Parnell could have given two craps about the people that were sickened with his peanut butter. And that’s a problem for me.

Food companies and packaging manufacturers DON’T CARE ABOUT US. People can die, what do they care, as long as they make the money off of you. And if it has to be under the guise of “organic” and “all natural”, then so be it. Salmonella in the spinach? Sorry! E. coli in the meat? Oops! But, don’t expect us to actually do anything about it!

Something has got to give here, and soon. Consumers should not be afraid to eat what’s on store shelves. Worse yet, they should not be afraid to feed it to their children. I tried to do my best to get food from stores that I thought had my best interests in mind. And that was not good enough.

This country needs a food revolution. We need to wake up, and stand up, and demand that we be supplied with safely made/grown, safely packaged food with integrity. We are human beings on the other end of this food supply chain, which some food company executives seem to be forgetting. Makes one wonder: do they feed their own food to their families?

I’m livid about this. And you should be to. Lead is nothing to mess with. And they have been letting us feed it to our children. I am seriously worried now. This is the latest bottle of juice he’s been drinking from. It’s on the list:

A Call for Kiddo Food Ideas

Food isn’t the four-letter word it used to be in our house. (I mean, in regards to our toddler son. My husband and I LUUUURV food, in all shapes, colors, sizes and forms, mkay?) Bowie is eating a plethora of new things (including cheese tortellini and eggs!). Stuff he wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole just 2 weeks ago.

BUT, I’m out of ideas. I mean, I know what he likes to eat, and I make that for him all the time. But, I’m not sure what new foods to introduce or re-introduce. Here’s what he’s totally into right now (and please RELAX, I buy it all at Whole Foods/Trader Joe’s):

mac and cheese

chicken nuggets

edamame

rice

berries, well fruit in general

toaster pastries (fancy word for Pop Tarts)

pita bread

almond butter & jelly sammies

cereal bars

Yo Baby

crackers

pretzels

On a really good day, he’ll also eat:

pasta

scrambled eggs

Pirate’s Booty

raisins

grilled cheese

I want to expand this list. So I’m not rotating the same foods all week long. And also, what types of recipes can you make for the whole family that a toddler might also deign to eat?