Tag Archives: 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


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


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


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


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


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



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


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.




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??)



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.


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.


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.


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!





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.



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.



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.


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 


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


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.


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


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.  


#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.      


#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.


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.


Peep my Cookbooks

With the holidays around the corner (and Cyber Monday in full swing) I thought it would be helpful to walk through my favorite cookbooks, as they make great gifts.  Cookbooks can either be aspirational/inspirational or they can be regular work horses that get used often.  For people new to cooking, cookbooks can provide needed guidance on methods, amounts and menu suggestions.  To folks like me, who are very comfortable in the kitchen, a good cookbook is almost like a good novel.  As soon as I get a new one I curl up with it and read it cover to cover.  This way I really get a sense of how that particular book it going to fit into my repertoire.  I will be honest, I have had my fair share of duds on the bookshelf.  Cookbooks I bought or was gifted that seemed to have such potential but were either too dry, the recipes weren’t good enough or they didn’t speak to me and sat and collected dust on the shelf.  To help you avoid those kitchen space killers here are my top picks in several categories.  What are your go to cookbooks??

All Purpose Cookbook: The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook – The New Classics 


This book was gifted to me a couple Christmases ago by my cousin Meg and I am so glad to have it on my shelves.  This book has everything you ever might need – looking for low calorie main entrees?  Want to throw a Chinese dinner party?  Hankering for a piece of chess pie?  You can find it all here.  Some Martha recipes can be complicated but she included only the  simple ones in this book, nothing with more than 6 or 7 ingredients and clear, concise instructions.  Some of my favorites from this book are the Orzo Salad with Roasted Carrots and Dill, the Lemon Madelines and the Ham and Cheese Tartines.  Many of the recipes here can be found online but with all purpose books like this it really is best to have the physical book in front of you to be able to refer to over and over – mark up the margins with your thoughts and tips because you will have this book for a long time.  It also includes a really helpful section that has suggested menus for every season and every occasion – no brainpower required to pull off a festive holiday cocktail party worthy of Martha.

The Contessa – Back to Basics and How Easy is That?


Yea she really does deserve a category all her own.  I have all of her books and use them often.  There is a reason her show is tremendously popular and her books are all best sellers.  These two books are probably my favorite of her collection but if you have the space and the cash I would recommend going ahead and buying them all.  Her recipes are well written, and the food is comforting and approachable.  I sometimes put my own twist on her food but often just cooking things as written, will result in perfection.  I can only think of a couple bombs (looking at you Chicken Boulubaise) but that’s over hundreds of meals.  In Back to Basics you will love the Parmesan and Thyme Crackers, Parker’s Beef Stew and the Brownie Pudding which I featured in this post.  How Easy is That? has some winners like the Celery and Parmesan Salad, the Tarragon Potato Salad and Steakhouse Steaks.

Italian – Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking


Published in 1992 this is still the best survey of Italian cooking.  It’s not surprising that Marcella Hazan wrote the seminal Italian cookbook since she is the mother of Italian cooking in America.  It’s not the most visually pleasing book – there isn’t a single color picture.  Instead she uses chic pencil drawings to either add interest or to pictorially walk you through a process.  This book taught me how to make risotto which I passed along to all of you in this post, it includes the world famous Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter, and it also list the key ingredients you want to have to build a classic Italian pantry.  Substance over style is Marcella’s way and you just cannot go wrong under her tutelage.

Mediterranean/Middle Eastern – Ottolenghi


How does style and substance sound?  Ottolenghi, written by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, is a beautiful book with absolutely delicious recipes.  The Jewish and Palestinian duo hail from Jerusalem and run a series of specialty food stores in London.  Ottolenghi is their first cookbook but they have 3 others that are worth checking out.  This book will help you explore the dazzling flavors of the middle east.  Some of the ingredients may be unfamiliar to you but they are worth tracking down – sumac,  manouri cheese, jerusalem artichokes – they all bring unique flavors to these dishes.  Included along with the recipes for Grilled Broccoli with Chile and Garlic, Roast Chicken with Sumac, Za’atar and Lemon, and Turkey and Corn Meatballs with Roasted Pepper Sauce are beautiful pictures of the food and their shops.


French – Patricia Wells at Home in Provence 


My dream is to actually eat at Patricia Wells’s farmhouse in Provence but until that happens this is the next best thing.  Wells has been writing amazing books for decades but this one really highlights the best of French cooking – olives, fresh goat cheese, mushrooms and thyme run all throughout these dishes.  Serve the Pear and Watercress Salad, Daube of Veal, Wine and Green Olives and Braised and Gratineed Fennel along with some delicious French wine and you will be in heaven.

Mexican – More Mexican Everyday


I posted about this book before in this post on creamed onions.  Rick Bayless is a master of Mexican cooking and in this book he makes it easy for you to become one as well.  I have other Bayless books but they are much more complicated and directed towards advanced cooks.  This book is the exact opposite – every recipe could easily be made on a weeknight.  He also includes a litany of variations on each recipe so you can adapt them depending on what season you are cooking in or what you already have in your fridge.


Desserts – Rosie’s Bakery All Butter Fresh Cream Sugar Packed No Holds Barred Baking Book


This book inspired me to start baking at the ripe old age of 10.  Rosie’s Bakery is a terrific local spot in Boston that turns out diet busting desserts.  The title of the book says it all, this is pure indulgence.  My mother bought me this book when it was hot off the presses in 1991 but it was reissued in 2011.  I wouldn’t exchange this one for the new version for a million bucks – this one still has my handwritten notes (spelling is a bit questionable) from when I was in grade school.  Rosie’s Award Winning Brownies are a good place to start but don’t sleep on her Tart Lemon Squares or Pineapple Upsidedown Cake.

Inspirational – Bite By Bite 


I mean, how cute is that???  Peter Callahan, caterer to Kate Spade and Martha Stewart, wrote this book to share some of his most adorable canapes with the public.  Every dish is tiny, to be eaten in one bite, and insanely cute.  I put this book in the inspirational category because a lot of the recipes you are just never going to make. Callahan actually had tini tiny pans made to make his adorable postage size grilled cheeses.  Until Martha starts paying me I will just cut out regular bread myself!  However, the ideas you get from this book are endless.  Some of the most inspirational is the full Spaghetti and Meatball dinner that fits on a fork, the Fish Tacos that fit on top of a lime (this one is all over Pinterest).  Have fun with it, try some of them out and treat your friends to these miniature treats.

Aspirational – ad hoc at home


This mega tome by Thomas Keller is not something you are going to be cooking out of on a busy Tuesday night.  While there are several simple dishes included Keller really puts an emphasis on presentation and technique – things that are very important in his restaurants.  Some of these recipes are ones I would just never take but they aren’t all out of reach – please, please make the Fried Chicken and the dry rub for meat is the standard in my kitchen.

Different ways to use familiar things

I absolutely hate single use items in my kitchen.  Even with my pretty large for DC kitchen, there is always a premium on space so something that has a single utility (looking at you madeline pan) is really annoying.  Over the years I have figured out that some items have more than one use even if it’s not immediately obvious.  Here are some of my favorite tips for getting more out of everyday items.  Do you all have any tricks to share?

Take out container lids – Who wants to chase cherry tomatoes around a cutting board when you can cut a whole handful in one fell swoop?  This genius trick uses the tops of take out containers.  Just fill the top with small tomatoes (I guess it could really work well with anything small) take the second top, flip it over and cover.


Then with one hand on top to guide you, use a sharp knife to cut between the two lids and voila!  Cherry tomatoes cut in half no fuss no muss.


Tube or bunt pan – Hate having a pan you can only use once in a blue moon.  However, turns out these pans are perfect for cutting corn off of the cob.  Just cut the end of the ear of corn off at the bottom so it’s flat, place it on the center part of the pan and use a knife to cut the kernels off.  Instead of flying all over your kitchen the pan will catch those kernels and collect them as you cut.  Genius.


Ice cream scoop – Want perfect bakery looking cupcakes or muffins but always end up with some that are flat little pancakes and some that bubble over the edge of the pan?  Look no further than your ice cream scoop.  The volume of a standard ice cream scoop (I have and like this one) is the perfect amount of batter for cupcake pans.  Just scoop the dough into the liners and you will have perfect cupcakes every time.


Scissors – Chopping herbs can be tedious and then you dirty the knife and the board just to garnish a dish.  Next time just pull out a pair of scissors and snip away over the plate.  This isn’t recommended if you need a lot of herbs but for garnishes it’s great, like some parsley or chives.  You don’t need special scissors for this just make sure they are clean (a damp paper towel does the trick).


Peep my pantry

Andrew, a good friend and also our real estate agent, says the moment he knew we were going to buy our house was when Patrick saw the deck and when I saw the pantry.  He is right – it was love at first sight.  It didn’t hurt DSC04473that the kitchen it was attached to was also beautiful but after living in tiny cramped apartments with galley kitchens for years the thought of an honest to goodness pantry stopped my heart cold.  Even before we moved in I was already at Home Goods buying clear glass containers with images of perfectly coordinated dried goods dancing in my head.  The girl who has been reading Martha Stewart magazine since she was in elementary school designed and redesigned what these magical shelves would look like.  The reality is a bit less adorable and more practical – though I did get me a lot of those glass containers.  A pantry is meant to be used and cannot just hold artisanal olive oils and dried apricots (for color of course) but also has to house the industrial jar of Skippy and packets of Equal.  One must be realistic about your family, lifestyle and the kind of cooking you do as well as space constraints.  I have the luxury of buying random jars and bottles that catch my eye at ethnic markets without the first clue of what to use them in because I have the space.  If you don’t be choosy and just keep on hand the necessities.  Think about how you eat – do you do a lot of whole grains?  Then it makes sense to buy wheat berries in bulk and keep them in a large refillable container.  Are you a baker?  Then it’s not unreasonable to have 3 or 4 types of flours in hand to bake with (and yes you can tell your spouse I said so).

No matter what size your pantry is (and let’s be honest for most people its half of one cabinet in your kitchen) you should arm yourself with key ingredients so that you can easily pick up one or two things at the store and be able to create a whole meal off of what you already have on hand.  This makes life easier at the grocery store and for those times where you get really stuck – sick kid, snow storm, Scandal marathon that you don’t want to leave the house for – and just want to make something easily.  Here are some suggested lists of what would be helpful to have on hand.  Remember – this is all personal so don’t go out and buy things willy nilly, use this as a guide to think about what you already have and what you could probably do without or what you could augment your existing stock.  Once you start cooking a ton or stubble across the dream pantry then you can buy all the pomegranate molasses and rice flour to your hearts content.


General Pantry

  • olive oil for cooking and olive oil for finishing – a high quality olive oil will get ruined when cooked with so just use the good (i.e. expensive) stuff for dressings etc.  I get amazing quality stuff imported straight from Italy at A. Litteri in D.C.
  • vegetable or canola oil
  • a variety of vinegars – I have sherry, red wine, white wine, balsamic, apple cider and rice wine but try a bunch and see which works for you
  • dried pasta – I like De Cecco
  • rice – I keep basmati, aborrio (the kind for risotto), and brown rice
  • couscous
  • whole grains – I like farro or wheatberries
  • breadcrumbs (regular and panko if you have the space)
  • honey – good quality honey makes all the difference.  Discovered Savannah Bee Company when I was in GA and love it for baking and with cheese)
  • soy sauce – go low sodium if you have the choice
  • fish sauce
  • sesame oil
  • agave
  • polenta (and grits if you live south of the Mason Dixon)
  • canned beans – I always have black beans, chickpeas and cannellinis
  • boxed chicken and beef stock – I usually use my own chicken broth but its good to have on hand in a pinch
  • cornstarch (for baking and also to thicken sauces)
  • cooking spray like Pam
  • spices (this could be a whole post but have on hand what you find you use most and toss after a year or so.  I just counted mine and I have 73 so that’s probably not for everyone)


For the bakers:

  • all purpose flour
  • granulated sugar
  • light or dark brown sugar (trust me you can really use these interchangeably)
  • baking powder
  • baking soda
  • good vanilla extract – I use Nielsen Massey, pricey but lasts forever
  • chocolate chips/baking chocolate
  • espresso powder
  • cocoa powder
  • oats
  • cupcake liners


In the fridge

  • dijon and whole grain mustard – Grey Poupon is the standard for a reason and for whole grain Les Trios Petits Cochons just blows the competition away
  • hot sauce – Patrick has a collection of over a dozen but my favorite is Devil’s Duel from Syracuse, NY
  • tahini – great for making hummus and all sorts of mediterranean dishes, also lasts forever
  • hoisin sauce
  • garlic chili sauce like this
  • jams for meat glazes or baking
  • maple syrup – I am lucky enough to get incredible maple syrup made by a dear family friend Beverly at her sugar farm Erabliere De Winter in Canada.  Just make sure to get high quality sttuff and please no fakes!
  • anchovy paste
  • mayo
  • walnuts, pine nuts, pecans (if you keep them in the fridge they won’t spoil – key for those of us who live in hot climates)
  • greek yogurt

Ok so what do you all keep on hand?  Did I miss a staple in your house??  This is the first of a series of posts on the best ingredients, tools, and party gear to have to make cooking and entertaining fun and easy.  Let me know what else you would like to “peep.”

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