ACC’s Kitchen

ACC’s 2017 Gift Guide

Somehow this year December just sort of snuck up on me so I was a bit behind the ball on gifts.  Usually I purchase them throughout the year when I find something just right, but on Thanksgiving I realized I had no gift pile started!  If you are in the same boat as me never fear – I have picked out a bunch of fun items at all price levels for friends and family that like eating, drinking and entertaining.  Happy holidays!

For your city dwelling cook – Food 52’s Grow-Anywhere Herb Grow Bar

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This genius bar can be added right under your kitchen cabinets so you can have a thriving herb garden right in your own kitchen, no backyard or window required.

For your preppy entertainer – CB2’s Franklin Double Old Fashioned Glass

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I love anything tortoise and these glasses have that great Ralph Lauren look to them (at a much more reasonable price).  They would be a great way to punch up your table as water glasses or as aptly named – for a delicious old fashioned.  I would love to see these under the tree (hint, hint).

For someone who has everything – William’s Sonoma Outdoor Pizza Oven

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It’s pricey (around $300) but think how much you would save on delivery!  Also a great gift to go in on with other family members.  Our neighbors have a wood fired one and it’s really terrific but this one is even easier as you can hook it up to a propane tank just like a grill.

For the Scandal (or wine) fan – Crate and Barrel’s Camille Red Wine Glasses

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Yes these are the exact glasses that Olivia Pope comes home and swirls red wine in on her pristine cream colored couch (which may be the most unrealistic thing about the show).  I love how delicate they are with the large globe – these have been on my list for years but Patrick knows me well enough to know I would probably break them in a minute…

For the cocktail lover – Mouth’s Mini Gin Gift Pack

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There are so many great craft small batch spirits being made now and Mouth.com has a great selection.  I love the pretty bottles on a bar cart especially these gins made in Chicago.

For the book lover – l’appart or Rasika

 

I love getting cookbooks as I usually don’t buy them for myself – the Rasika Flavors of India book is an exception because I just had to run out and get the book from one of my favorite restaurants.  The book is beautiful and the recipes are a lot less complex than you would think.  David Lebovitz is a terrific American writer who lives in Paris and his new book is a funny and yummy look at his life there.  It also has some great recipes as well.

For your silly friend – Tukernuck’s Buzzed Cocktail Napkins

 

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My friend Hilary LOVES entertaining gifts with funny sayings on them and I have been the lucky recipient of many (some of you may remember the “When I dip you dip we dip” dip bowl I have featured).  These cocktail napkins are a great stocking stuffer.

For pankcake lovers – Stonewall Kitchen’s New England Breakfast Gift

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My Aunt Janice got me this one year and it’s the perfect gift – we all end up feeling like we don’t need more “stuff” but who wouldn’t want yummy breakfast food?  Especially at a time of the year when you are bound to have more guests, this is a great gift from a delicious Maine based company.  Best of all it comes in a great Nantucket style basket you can keep and reuse.

ACC’s Fave Registry Items for Wedding Season

And so it begins – wedding season.  I am so excited that this year 3 different couples we are friends with have gotten engaged, love is in the air!  Of course that also means showers, registries and combining households.  When Patrick and I got engaged people almost immediately asked where we were registered, as if we had stepped off the beach in Puerto Rico and directly into a Target to start the list.  I know a lot of couples, especially those who meet each other later in life when they are more established, say they don’t need anything so they aren’t going to register.  However, the reality is that people are excited for you and the way they know how to show it is to buy you table linens!  If you don’t register then people will freelance and you will end up with a lot of stuff you don’t need.  Registries have some a long way – you can use sites that consolidate several different stores,  register for travel and other unconventional things.  We registered for a bar for our basement and we use it all the time (thanks Auntie Jan!).

My friends have been asking me what they should register for their kitchen so I figured I would pull some tips together for folks looking to make the most out of their registry and for guests who are struggling with what to buy for their friends and family.  Don’t look for a one size fits all list – every registry is personal to the couple so don’t trust any resource that tells you it has “everything you need.”  The first thing you should do is take stock of what you already have as well as what type of lifestyle you have or plant to have.  Are you big entertainers?  Cocktail enthusiasts?  Cooking shortcut specialists?  This will help you narrow down what direction you should go in.  Then follow some of these themes (I have linked to the items that I registered for and love).

UPGRADE!  This is a familiar refrain in my family as I love to upgrade (sometimes by force) people’s stuff.  I am sure you didn’t wait to meet the love of your life to have coffee cups but do you really like them?  Do they all match?  How about your cookware?  Pots and pans are great for this, especially if you are still using the set you won for free in college.  I love All Clad for saucepans and roasting, Le Creuset for dutch ovens and Swiss Diamond for non stick pans.  Knives are also a good upgrade – your cooking will be so much better if you have good quality knives.

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Small Appliances – The first thing that went on my registry was a Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer.  I had always wanted one, and really could have just bought it for myself, but it always seemed a little extravagant since I already had a hand mixer.  My Aunt Carol got it for me and I use it every single week.  If you don’t have one I cannot recommend it more – it is a counter hog but its such a workhorse and you can buy attachments that make pasta, ice cream, and on and on so you don’t have to buy other appliances.  Other great items are a really nice coffee maker, wine fridge, or food processor.  (This is also a good place to upgrade – how long have you had that toaster??)

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Shop Local – Registering at a small local business not only helps support your community but really gives you the personal touch you lose in the big box stores.  We registered at Hill’s Kitchen, a store you will find me referring to a ton on the blog.  For people who like to actually shop in a brick and mortar store this gives them that option and usually local businesses have unique items you won’t find anywhere else so your registry doesn’t feel as generic.  Leah, the store’s owner, spent a ton of time with us helping us pick out items that were absolutely perfect.  Even better, now when Patrick needs to buy me a present he knows he can head to Hills Kitchen and Leah will know exactly what I like and already have!  I am sure if you ask around in your own town many of your favorite stores are registering people as well.

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Go with the classics – I know a lot of people in my generation think they don’t need fancy china to entertain.  You absolutely don’t need it but once I started thinking about it I really liked the idea of having the same pieces for years and years with all the holidays and family memories attached.  Make sure to pick a pattern that is timeless, we went with Golden Grosgrain by Vera Wang for Wedgewood.  I love the very subtle gold details and how fine the pieces are.  Best of all they go right into the dishwsher, which was a must for me.  I also don’t wait until a holiday to use my china, I pull it out for week night dinners or casual brunches.  Nice heavy flatware is also a good idea – I have 6 place settings for everyday by Laguiole but registered for 12 settings at Crate and Barrel.  Once you start to have larger family meals you will be glad not to mix and match.  Just like with the china, make sure its a classic pattern that isn’t so trendy you will be bored with it in a couple of years.

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Entertaining Pieces – I entertain all the time so glassware, table linens and serving dishes were really important.  Think carefully about how you entertain – if you do lots of dinner parties then tablecloths and linen napkins are a good idea.  Stemless wine glasses work for just about any kind of drink and are easy to store.  Are you the one who always hosts for the big game?  Get a big beverage bucket and a dish for chips and dip.  We actually have two beverage dispensers – they are great for punches for parties or even just water for backyard BBQs.  If you are big into cocktails this spherical ice maker is Patrick’s favorite toy and these shakers are the best.

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Hopefully for couples looking to start their registry this gives you some ideas.  For guests I usually recommend sticking to what the couple wants (thats why they created the registry right?) but that doesn’t mean you can’t still be creative.  I really love to get one thing off of someone’s registry and then building a gift around it.  If someone asked for a cocktail shaker get them the one they want along with a bottle of St. Germain, a good cocktail book and some cute glasses to match.  Here is wishing you and your friends and family a lifetime of love and happiness!

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Making Your Own Compound Butter

Possibly one of the easiest way to impress your friends and family is to “make your own butter.”  No I am not advocating churning butter by hand, just taking regular butter and making it more awesome by adding lots of flavor.  This is an easy way to perk up winter veggies, just toss with compound butter after you roast or steam squash or root veggies.  Here are some ideas to get you started but really everything goes better with butter to just use this to get started and let me know what you come up with.

Blue Cheese Butter:  As evidenced by the picture above blue cheese can actually turn your butter blue but its so delicious you won’t notice.  PERFECT for on top of a steak you can also use it on top of a backed potato.

Herb Compound Butter:  This is by far the most versatile version.  I use it to flavor and baste my cornish game hens in one of my most popular recipes.  Its great slathered on bread or added to steamed or roasted vegetables.  The best part is you can use whatever herbs you have handy and in whatever combination you would like.  Sage and rosemary go great together as do thyme and parsley but the sky is the limit.

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Roasted Garlic Butter:  Make a bunch of roasted garlic and combine some with butter and you have a great addition to mashed potatoes, pasta, or cream sauces.  This is great for shortcut garlic bread as well – just toast up crusty bread, spread on roasted garlic butter and season with salt and pepper.

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Cinnamon Butter:  Salt is really key here – combine salt, cinnamon and butter together and put it out for a pancake bar, to top an English muffin or with scones.

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Chipolte Butter:  Finely chop some chipoltes in adobo and add to butter to create an instant sauce for vegetables.  A nice light side for taco night the butter will melt right away when added to roasted asparagus or green beans.  Its also great on top of carne asada or corn on the cob.

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Thanksgiving Recipe Roundup

For those of you who didn’t come up with your Thanksgiving menu months ago (better known as sane people) I decided to post some ideas from the A Capitol Contessa archive to inspire you.  I also included a couple of vegetarian main dishes if folks in your family don’t do turkey.  This year we are having a small group, just 4 people, but for a special meal you should always go all out on the table.  I based my table around antique “turkey plates” that were my grandmother’s.  They don’t have turkeys on them, actually they show scenes of Boston, but since they were used every Thanksgiving, my mom, aunts and uncles started calling them the turkey plates and it stuck.  My own wedding china, Vera Wang for Wedgewood, goes really nice on top as a salad plate.  To add some texture I used these Pier 1 Rattan Chargers (on sale now!) and tortoiseshell napkin rings.  To add some sparkle I used my favorite gold flatware set from Target and my new Gem Toned glasses from Pottery Barn in Amber.  Thanksgiving is definitely were you want to use a tablecloth instead of place mats to catch errant gravy drips.  I used a neutral beige once (similar here) – now all I need is flowers, a pitcher of water and lots of wine and my table is all set.  If you are having an even smaller Thanksgiving for 1 or 2 people I am posting a great weeknight turkey dish on Thursday that would work well.  Next week we will be dark for the holiday but when ACC returns it will be all holidays all the time!

Drinks and Appetizers

The Fall A-Way Cocktail

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Mascarpone Blue Cheese Dip

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Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese Crostini

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Vegetarian Mains

Roasted Cauliflower and Farro

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Pumpkin Lasagna

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Sides

Roasted Carrots with Vadouvan Yogurt Sauce

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Over the Top Mashed Potatoes

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Lemony Brussel Sprouts

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Holiday Salad

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Roasted Onions

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Desserts

Individual Apple Crisps

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Peanutty Oatmeal Cookies

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ACC’s Kitchen: Favorites from Trader Joes

Hello wall of cheese!  I hope most of you are lucky enough to live near a Trader Joe’s – I can hardly contain myself that one is actually opening in walking distance from my house!  For anyone who has survived a Trader Joe’s parking lot then you know how amazing that is.  The reason those parking garages are like the Hunger Games is that once you get hooked on Trader Joe’s you just want more.  I will admit that it is not the best store for everything – the produce can be iffy, same with the meat selection and you won’t be finding rolls of Bounty or boxes of Lucky Charms here.  However, for life’s important things – cheese, wine, croissants and fresh flowers – TJ’s is the best.  Shopping there can be a bit overwhelming, especially at peak times, so it’s easy to pass right by terrific items if you don’t know what to look for.  I have seen a couple articles on the best TJ items, all which left out some of my favorites and then my dad introduced me to their chocolate croissants which I had been missing for years!  Clearly it was time to share A Capitol Contessa’s Best of TJ’s to hopefully help you get out of there with all your limbs attached and a cart full of goodies.

Flowers

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Starting here since they are usually right by the door.  I love having fresh cut flowers in my house especially when it starts to get cold and nasty out but it’s an expensive habit.  TJ’s doesn’t have the biggest selection but the quality is good and the prices cannot be beat.  I like to grab a couple bunches of a single flower so it looks really bountiful – I will usually go with the alstroemeria (also known as Peruvian lilies), roses, tulips or hydrangeas.  If you like a little more variety they have mixed bouquets as well.  Grab some flowers and add them to your cart and they will bring a sense of clam as you enter the breach.

Produce

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As I mentioned, this is certainly not TJ’s strong point.  I have often found a giant pile of avocados just to discover that every single one is almost liquid inside.  Same for pre-washed lettuce – just don’t, the odds are about 99% that once you get home it will already be rotten.  However, there are a couple of notable high points where TJ’s gets it better than most grocery stores.  Jalapenos for instance, TJ’s sells them in plastic clamshell boxes so you get about a dozen or so and they are big, spicy and are always in good shape.  Perfect for making jalapeno chips.  Also terrific (random I know) are their bags of green scallions.

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I find that even in the best grocery stores often green onions are tiny, or totally limp, or half rotten.  The ones at Trader Joe’s are really good and keep for a while in the bag (pro tip – add a paper towel to the inside of that bag before you put it back in the fridge and they will last even longer).  You can sometimes get lucky with other fruits, veggies etc but these are the two that really stand out to me.  I am going to skip the meat section entirely because unless you are in a pinch and just need to grab chicken breasts there is really nothing to recommend there.

Refrigerated Dips and Pastas 

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I have never had a hummus from Trader Joe’s that I didn’t enjoy, and look at all the different varieties they have!  Great for taking into work as a snack (and yes they sell snack size too), their dips are also great for parties.  If you are hosting a ton of people grab their white bean spread or spicy hummus and just keep them in your fridge for back up.  Also delicious their fresh pastas that can be found right next to the hummus.  Don’t skip the Chicken Pot Pie Ravioli.

All the Cheese

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Now we are about to get serious.  If you go into Trader Joe’s for one thing and one thing only, make sure it’s a visit to their cheese wall.  For someone who makes a lot of cheese boards and has what some might qualify as a cheese problem, Trader Joe’s is the solution.  Extremely reasonably priced cheeses and a huge selection.  My favorites are the Dubliner Cheddar (which you will not find cheaper anywhere, ever), St. Andre, a brie like cheese, the Drunken Goat, Trader Joe’s brand Feta Cheese in Brine, their Goat Gouda, their fresh mozzarella…I could go on and on.  It’s a great place to grab cheeses that can get pretty pricey elsewhere like grueyre as they are sold in sealed packages so last for a long time until you have a french onion soup emergency.

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Also right next to the cheese is a deli meat display.  Please skip past all the sad looking pre-sliced turkey and go right for the prosciutto.  I like this brand in the picture better then their own Trader’s Joe brand but either way they are both very inexpensive and another great staple to have in your fridge (grilled cheese with prosciutto emergencies are a real thing too).

Nuts and Dried Fruit

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Make sure to hit the nut aisle before the holidays – the prices are out of this world.  I buy in bulk and then make my famous spiced nuts as gifts for people all season long.  I also make sure to have a bag of roasted and salted cashews on hand for any impromptu happy hour.  TJ’s also has a great selection of dried fruit like cranberries, apple chips and crystallized ginger.

Canned Goods

There is usually one aisle next to produce that has various canned goods, condiments and the like.  I am a snob when it comes to oils and vinegars so I usually skip past those.  The canned beans and coconut milk are good and cheap but not really any better then what you get at a regular store.  What are great are these Yellow and Red Roasted Peppers.  Not only do I like that they use two different color peppers (presentation is everything!) but they are nicely charred, and are a great deal.  Another terrific pantry staple to turn into crostini or pizza topping.

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This aisle or perhaps the end of it, is usually where all the seasonal stuff is.  When fall hits I head straight to Trader Joe’s and buy all the pumpkin everything.  That Pancake and Waffle mix is incredible and I will be posting a recipe next week for a dip to go with their Pumpkin and Cranberry Crisps that would be perfect for Thanksgiving.

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Sweets

A lot of the stuff at Trader Joe’s is meant to support a healthy live style, organic, etc etc but they also have some really dangerous treats scattered around the store.  My friends Debbie and Toby introduced us to these Dunkers that are just awesome with coffee.  Usually they are in the frozen food aisle.

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Also in the frozen aisle are their incredible self rising croissants.  On a recent visit to my dad’s house he opened my eyes to these babies and as soon as I came back I had to get them.  They are sold frozen but you have to make sure to plan in advance as they rise over night.  Take them out of the packaging and place them on a baking sheet the night before and viola, the next AM they have tripled in size and are ready to bake off.  20 minutes later it’s like you have a French cafe right in your own kitchen.  They have plain mini ones, my favorite the chocolate ones and my dad’s favorite the almond ones.  They are the perfect thing to make when you have overnight guests.

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Unfortunately they didn’t have any of my favorite sweet treat last time I visited – the Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramels.  They usually carry them around Christmas, though this year they also did a pumpkin version for fall.  SO good – make sure to stock up this December to last you through the first nasty snow storm.

Wine and Beer

Now that you have all that cheese you are going to need wine to go with it.  Again low prices and a pretty diverse selection though you can run into some duds here.  The craft beer selection is always solid and usually features whatever is local (in DC is its a good spot to pick up Port City or DC Brau beer).  For wine I usually go with the Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc or the Rabbit Ridge Allure de Robles but there are also some nice Italian reds and French roses.  Avoid the 2 buck chuck and go for those with the “staff pick” signs and you should be good.

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I am always on the look out for new great Trader Joe’s products so make sure to leave your favorites in the comments section.  I looked like a total ass taking pictures in the store but I do it all for you dear readers!  Luckily I had a couple nice bottles of wine and a whole cart full of cheese to help get over my embarrassment…

House Wine Part Deux – Rose and Sparkling

This is part two of a post I  did on choosing your own house wine back in May of last year.  It is still one of my all time most viewed posts (even though back then my photographs and formatting were a little struggles!).  People really responded to the idea of keeping on hand some classic, go with anything wines that were affordable.  It makes life really easy and entertaining a breeze if you know you have a half case of a favorite red and white in your basement that you can pull out at any time.  Well since that post I have finally settled on a house rose and a house sparkling so I wanted to share those with you as well.  Perfect summer sippers, they are a great addition to your “house” collection.

 

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If I had unlimited funds, for sure my house sparkling wine would be Veuve Clicquot.  It is my favorite champagne, so much so that we visited their caves while on our honeymoon.  However, until I win powerball, the Vueuve is going to have to wait for special occasions.  Luckily I stumbled across a terrific cava that is light and crisp with just the right amount of bubbles.  Dibon Cava Brut Reserve can be drank on its own or mixed in a cocktail or mimosa.  I have found some of the cheaper sparkling wines really must be mixed with something but this one stands on its own.  The price point cannot be beat – I have found it for as low as $9 a bottle, usually its around $11-12.  I have seen it at Wegmans, Total Wine and even Harris Teeter.  For folks that are on Capitol Hill you can also find it at P&C Market on Lincoln Park.  Even better, it has a very similar color label to that of Veuve so if you just sort of squint your eyes you can pretend its the real thing!  No really, having a couple of bottles on hand is great for the impromptu brunch or when something unexpected comes along that you want to celebrate.  Add this to your house collection and you won’t have to wait for New Years to be popping corks.

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It took a while to finally nail down my house rose.  To me a good rose is dry, slightly fruity and light in color.  It should be drinkable on its own but also have enough acid to be paired with food.  Finding all that with an affordable price was not easy until I found Famille Perrin Reserve Cotes du Rhone Rose.  It has nice subtle berry flavor but is also really crisp.  Many of you are familiar with Cotes du Rhone reds from France and this family run vineyard produces those as well.  However, with their rose they use stainless steel tanks to give it a lighter body.  I often find this at World Market – if you wait until their White and Rose sale that they have several times a year you can pick one of these up for as low as $7 a bottle.  With the chic French label and its drinkability people will never know you could buy a whole case for less than $100.  I really like this rose paired with French cheeses of course but it also really pairs well with light summer foods like my summer Chicken and Rice Salad dish or my corn risotto.  Also since France has finally gotten on the screwtop train this becomes the perfect picnic wine.  If you already have a sparkling wine and rose that you really love no worries – these are just my favorites.  Either way make sure to stock up and your summer will be spent sipping stress free.

 

One Whole Year for A Capitol Contessa

It is really hard to believe that a year ago I was celebrating with my friends and family the launch of A Capitol Contessa (and Cinco de Mayo).  One year, 139 posts, over 3,500 visitors and a zillion pictures later I feel like I have learned so much.  The pictures from some of those first posts are truly horrifying, why so small??  I have gotten way better at the technical aspects, though my food photography could still use some work.  I have learned the hard way that the best dinner parties are often the hardest to capture for the blog -too much wine and too much fun means forgetting to photograph whole courses or pics that are less than stellar.  My friends have gotten so good about holding back and waiting while I take pics – all of you are so generous and supportive, eating my experiments, helping come up with ideas and cheering me on.  I love knowing that friends and family far away are making the same food as me and enjoying it even if we cannot be together.

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What??  How did this possibly turn into Osso Bucco?

My process has evolved a bit but its still hard for me to be consistent with writing things down as I cook.  Years of throwing things in the pan and eyeballing everything is tough to break.   In the coming year I hope to post more entertaining ideas and build up my recipe collection.  I would love to have some guest bloggers and already have some volunteers so be on the look out for those posts.  I love highlighting local restaurants and shops and hope to discover new gems to share with you all.  I also want to conquer homemade pasta once and for all – it’s my white whale for some reason!!

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My last attempt…FAIL

What would you all like to see?  Please send me a note through the website or on social media.  Inspiration has been coming from a lot of different sources but the best by far is my readers!  I also hope to increase that readership so please share A Capitol Contessa with anyone who loves to cook or host.  Also please sign on and follow me on Instagram or Twitter.  I am still getting the hang of this whole social media stuff but I try to keep my content fresh and different on the various platforms so you don’t see the same post 4 different times.  For my part I promise to keep testing, testing, testing so that anything of mine you try, you know it will be a home run on the first shot.  Honesty is my policy – even if it means sharing the less glamorous side of food blogging.  How about this photo-interruptus?

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I have some great stuff lined up for the summer – a rum tasting party, wedding registry suggestions and lots of grilling recipes.  I am also going to do some follow ups to your favorite posts like Pick Your Own House Wine, my gluten free and make ahead dinner party plans, and of course Nutty’s French Toast.  I hope you all have had fun following along with me on this ride the last year.  I love to hear that a post inspired someone to just go home and cook.  Remember, no one is perfect – not even Ina or the sainted Julia.  So keep cooking and try not to burn anything!  Cheers to another year – XO, Alex

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yep this happened

 

ACC’s Kitchen – Spring Cleaning Your Kitchen

So hopefully you have already cleaned your fridge after my horrifying post from last week – if not that really should be the priority for your spring cleaning.  I was so impressed by how many pics I got of people of their nice clean fridges!  Remember you can always tag me on insta as well @capitolcontessa.  Once I had finished my fridge overhaul I wanted to immediately tackle everything else.  When I start cleaning and organizing it becomes a bit of an intense campaign – poor Patrick came home from the gym to discover all of our kitchen island drawers emptied out on the floor.  However, once its all done I feel immensely better and I know you will to.  So here is a check list for the rest of your kitchen.  Make sure to treat yourself with a cocktail like this or this afterwards – you deserve it!

#1 – Clean out your pantry.  Just like the fridge the pantry (or cabinets that act as a pantry) can become a graveyard of unused or expired items.  My pantry is my pride and joy (as you learned in this post) but it get get overstuffed. Pull everything out, wipe down any surfaces that need to be cleaned and then take a good look at everything.  Check for expiration dates and chuck anything that’s past its prime.  This can also be a good opportunity to consolidate if you have a couple of bottles of the same item (why so many soy sauces???).  I like to keep a pad handy to start a grocery list to either replace things you trashed or for anything you are getting low on.  If you are a baker its a good time to make the investment in new baking powder and soda since after about a year they start to lose their leavening power.  I also use this as an opportunity to meal plan.  If you want to make space or use up something put it back right in front so you can clearly see it and make a plan to use it in short order.  Once you have culled through everything put them back but with at least a semblance of order.  Oils and vinegars together, dried grains and pastas on one shelf, baking ingredients on another etc.

 

#2 – Tackle your cutlery/utensil drawers.  I am lucky enough to have two dedicated drawers to utensils and everyday flatware but if I don’t keep it in check somehow both drawers get totally out of control until I can barely close them.  Take everything out of your drawer/s including any kind of flatware organizer (I love these bamboo ones from Ikea).  Wipe down everything – only clean stuff goes in those drawers but yet somehow an army of crumbs had settled there!  Then go through everything and decide if you need it/use it.  I discovered that we had 2 pizza cutters but yet when we make pizza I always just use a big knife!

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anyone need a pizza cutter??

 

One goes to goodwill and hopefully the other one I will actually remember we have the next time we grill pizza.  Then put things back thoughtfully, wine stoppers went with corkscrews etc.

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Nice and organized

#3 – Sort through your larger drawers/cabinets.  Here is where every kitchen is going to be a bit different.  We have lots of upper open and glass fronted cabinets so I keep those very organized year round since they are so exposed.  It’s the deep drawers in our kitchen island and the ones that hold my pots and pans that were just a mess.

These cabinets are relatively easy to organize since most of the items are bigger but they also require more thought.  Does that cabinet or drawer really make sense for the item that you have in it or would it be better elsewhere?  When we first moved into our house I just sort of threw everything into the cabinets and called it a day but once I had everything out I realized that the way I was storing my pots and pans took up WAY more space than I needed and keeping my placemats and napkins separately didn’t make a whole lot of sense.  So once everything was out I mentally thought through what should go with what and what would fit where.  It has been a revelation.

I had all my placemats stacked in a deep drawer and couldn’t get access to them at all.  Turns out I have over 15 sets (!!!) but I only ever used the ones on the top.  When you put stuff back really make sure to think about the way it looks.  Call me crazy but having a nicely styled, color coded table linens drawer makes me so happy every time I open it.  Setting the table is an everyday, tedious task that’s made so much nicer by having a Crate and Barrel worthy display.  At the end of the process I ended up with an entirely empty drawer in our kitchen island.  Such a luxury!!!  I am sure it won’t last long, by this time next year it will probably be stuffed with 3 new pizza cutters.  But set aside an hour or two this weekend to do your own kitchen spring cleaning and you too may end up the winner of extra kitchen space you never knew you had!  Happy cleaning!

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ACC’s Kitchen – Cleaning Your Fridge

Spring has sprung and that means it’s time to clean house.  There is something I find really satisfying about giving everything a good once over but I am always a little shocked by how dirty my house and particularly my kitchen are.  This year I decided to tackle my kitchen spring cleaning in two parts – first the fridge, then the pantry and kitchen drawers.  I will post next week on doing a through scrub of the rest of your kitchen but it’s wise to do the fridge separately as it’s somewhat labor intensive.  I will warn you – this isn’t the prettiest post!  I think of myself a clean and tidy person but man was there some gross stuff in the fridge.  So this is me being open and vulnerable as a public service announcement that you just never know what you will find once you start cleaning.

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Um, totally disgusting!  Discovered once the fruit drawer came out

I usually wipe down the shelves every couple of weeks and of course clean up spills etc as they happen but at least once a year (I try for twice) I do a wholesale cleaning.  Make sure to set aside at least 45 minutes for this task.  You will need a small bucket or container (I used a large tupperware), a sponge preferably one with a scrubby side, baking soda, and paper towels.  You will also need a large cooler with ice packs to store the more temperature sensitive items like meat and milk.  

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#1 – Fill up that cooler with everything you can’t leave out for an hour.  Some will tell you to unplug your fridge but mine is wedged into a weird corner of our pantry – I am not even sure I could unplug it if I wanted to.  I think as long as you work fast keeping it running is just fine.  Also fill up the tub with cool water and about a tablespoon of baking powder.  It’s not an exact science – you don’t want to use too much water as you will likely have to change it out a couple of times.  Also use cool/cold water as opposed to hot.  If you have glass shelves in your fridge like I do hot water plus cold fridge can equal a cracked surface.      

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#2 – Clean out the drawers in your fridge.  I have 2 produce drawers and one I use for cheese (a cheese only drawer = heaven).  Pull everything out and check for freshness.  With produce if something is starting to go can you use it in short order?  Or is it something that can be frozen?  If so leave it to the side and deal with it later, if not chuck it.  Cheese is a pretty simple binary choice of keep or toss – just make sure to really assess everything that comes out and whether or not it should go back in.  Pull out the drawers (if you can, at least one of mine can’t come out) and bring them over to the sink.  Rinse thoroughly, using your baking soda and water mixture to get out anything stubborn.  Leave to dry.  Any drawers that can’t come out use the sponge to clean and then dry with a paper towel.

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Round one of the water/baking soda solution…ewww

#3 – Clean out the shelves.  Pull everything out of your shelves and give them a once over just like your produce.  Is the orange juice still good?  Do you need four half full bottles of water?  Toss anything you don’t need.  Again use your sponge and water/baking soda mixture to tackle the shelves.  If anything is particularly stuck on (hello maple syrup spill) shake on a little baking soda directly on the spot and use the scrubby side of the sponge.  Don’t use any kind of kitchen cleaning spray as the smell can get in your food and many are not safe to touch edible items.  At this point my water mixture was looking really gross so I changed it out with fresh water and baking soda.  Dry the shelves with paper towels.

#4 – The last frontier – the door.  The door is where most food goes to perish, at least in my fridge.  Mostly condiments and mostly underused, the door items really need a close inspection as you take them out.  Check all expiration dates.  I have no idea how but there was a bottle of ketchup in my fridge with an expiration date in 2014 but yet I clean it twice a year!  Also lots of the door inhabitants are sticky like jam or BBQ sauce.  When you pull the bottles and jars out give them a once over and see if you need to wipe off the bottom with a damp paper towel.  No sense in cleaning the door if you are just going to put back in dirty items.  Once everything is out give them the same treatment as the shelves, making sure to get the corners of any shallow shelves.

#5 – Restock and organize.  This is one of the benefits of cleaning the whole fridge at once – you can really take stock of what you have and put it back in a more systematic way.  Once the whole fridge was empty I was able to group like things together.  Beers in one section, yogurt, sour cream and buttermilk in another.  This is especially helpful in the door section where items can sort of get lost.  I created an Asian shelf with my garlic chili sauce, pickled ginger and curry paste all together.  Of course in our fridge we need a mega shelf to handle hot sauce so I used a smaller one to house our jams and jellies.  I am sure in no time my fridge won’t look as styled but at least it will still be clean.  Check back next week when I go through the pantry and the oh so scary utensil drawer.

 

The Gift of Food for New Parents

I am just about the luckiest auntie in the world, as my friends and family just keep having more and more adorable babies.  The newest addition to the club is lovely little Kavi Stephens born one week ago today!  I wish my friends Scott and Semonti lived closer so I could spoil them, and him, rotten but his birth did get me thinking about good gift ideas outside the normal onsies and baby books.  I am what you call a PANK – Professional Aunt No Kids (there is a whole industry based around us according to the New York Times).  For me that means that I get a never-ending supply of yummy baby smell and lots of frazzled friends.  Whether it’s your first baby or third, a new addition to the family can send everyone’s schedules out of wack.  So I always make sure to try to provide a little relief in the way of food (and free babysitting).

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I wasn’t always a pro – me and my BFF’s first daughter 

Even if your loved ones are not procreating at the moment, the gift of food is a great idea for anyone who needs extra help, be it because of a medical issue, a new job or simply being overtaxed.  It’s important to think about food the recipient would like, and remember that in the first couple of weeks often new babies come with excited grandparents so there might not be an immediate need for a home cooked meal.  I play it by ear with each situation but usually I wait a week or two and then bring by a couple of meals that can be frozen or stored in the fridge for a while.  Make sure to include clear instructions on how to heat and serve whatever you drop off so they don’t have to guess.

I often gift homemade jam along with something to spread it on.  The featured picture above is the Pound Cake Perfection along with apricot jam.  A couple special touches take it to the next level like cellphone wrapping, cute ribbon and personalized labels.  I am obsessed with the labels done by an incredible artist from Massachusetts, Felix Doolittle, who does precious watercolor images on personalized labels.  Go ahead and slap one of these on a store-bought item and it will instantly become special.  Gift baskets are also a great way to show you care without having to make everything yourself.

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This brunch in a basket is perfect for new parents (especially the coffee!).  Some chipolte vodka goes great with Gordy’s Bloody Mary Mix, along with pancake mix and syrup.

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Another idea is doing a nice Italian dinner all in one.  Usually after a new baby it’s pretty hard for date night but everything you need is right here.  Instead of using a basket I used a colander – sort of a cute pasta twist.  A delicious bottle of red pairs perfectly with Cipriani pasta and Rao’s, the best of all jarred pasta sauce.  These are just a couple of ideas to get the creative juice flowing – just think of things that go well together and that are easy to prepare.

I also like to drop off already made items that can be frozen or eaten straight away.  Some good ideas are my two lasagnas, the Goat Cheese and Prosciutto or the Pumpkin Lasagna.  The Chicken Enchiladas are a good option or for easy breakfasts go with the English Muffin Toast.  You can also reach the site for the freezer friendly tag for other ideas.  Any way you slice it your friends are going to be grateful and hopefully a little less stressed.  Welcome to the world Kavi – can’t wait to meet you!!!

 

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