Our houses have been working overtime lately, so I think they all deserve a few gifts, don’t you? I’m assuming you nodded in agreement, but first I wanted to share this quote I recently came across.
It’s okay if you fall apart sometimes.
Tacos fall apart and we still love them.–Unknown
Just in case you had a hard week and had to shove your figurative fillings back in when no one was looking.
You’re human and that’s what we do. We fall apart, scoop up our stuff and carry on. But while we’re carrying on, we might as well do it in style, right? So here are some items you may want to gift your kitchen as a big, “Thank you for working so hard!”
Ideally every kitchen is stocked with the heavy-hitters used in the actual preparation of food/drinks: a Vitamix blender, Cuisinart food processor, KitchenAid mixer, and Nespresso coffee and espresso maker. They are the well-made, work horses that make cooking easier and more efficient. But since each one alone is a bit of an investment, I’m going to focus on the items less likely to break-the-bank, yet still make your kitchen work better and look prettier!
A Citrus Zester When recipes called for citrus zest, this is your friend! It makes zesting so easy, I’d go so far as to say it’s fun to use. If you want a fancier version, it’s now offered with an olive wood handle that looks great, but since water and wood are generally foes, I’d stick to the one that can fall into a sink full of liquid and be forgotten about for a while without the fear of the wood splitting. And it makes an awfully cute stocking stuffer!
Dash Egg Cooker This egg cooker is what celebrity Chef Alton Brown would call “a unitasker” (a one-use appliance–which he says with the greatest disdain); however, it’s so good at its one use and is no more than 8″ across so I’ve made room for it in my life, and our pantry. When JB bought if for my birthday last year it almost seemed like a gag gift. “Why would I need such a thing? If I can make Martha Stewart’s recipe for Ile Flottante, I can certainly boil an egg!” But he reminded me that our son’s favorite breakfast is soft-boiled eggs and, for some reason, so many of the eggs I was soft-boiling were either too runny or too firm and thus repellent to our five-year-old and/or possibly still laden with the salmonella bacteria of an under-cooked egg.
I hate tossing food (even the unpalatable variety) so if this product offered perfectly cooked soft-boiled eggs every time–it can also make omelettes and hard-boiled eggs–the thought of which makes me summon some of Alton Brown’s disdain-–those things I can make without the the assistance of a gadget thankyouverymuch!–I was willing to try it. And now our soft-boiled eggs or “stick toast eggs”, as they’re called in our house, turn out just right every time.
Sponge Holder We all use sponges and even though there are some attractive ones on the market (sounds like I’m being overly kind, but see for yourself), I believe the sponge should be tucked away, out of sight. It’s my personal “No wire hangers!”
When I’m styling an in-use kitchen (as opposed to one in a new-build that’s never had any food grace its counters beyond the cookie platter at the real estate caravan), I like to use an OXO Rust-Proof Aluminum Suction Sponge Holder. The suction cups cling to the interior of the sink and you can place it on the side that’s closest to you if you’re standing at the sink so it’s out of view. Not only does it hide the sponge, but the holes in the bottom allow airflow and any excess water to drain avoiding the dreaded stinky sponge. It’s also aluminum and rust proof–and fits in a stocking!
Pretty soap dispensers These days we’re washing our hands so much, why not use pretty soap dispensers? While I love a good Savon soap, at almost $30 a pop it can feel like throwing money down the drain. Instead, I use an attractive dispenser I can refill with an equally safe, non-chemical soap (like this) for a lot less money.
A word about dish soap because, almost without exception, the bottles it comes in aren’t very appealing whenever I style a kitchen, I pour the dish soap into a more decorative dispenser and stash the original dish soap bottle in the cabinet below for handy refills. What’s great about these brown bottles is they’re labeled “hands” and “dishes” eliminating any confusion about which soap is which.
Soap dispenser tray I used to just plop pretty soap dispensers next to the sink and call it done, but realized in our own house that drips of water soon ran down the bottles and collected on the counter creating a yucky smelling puddle. Now I use a tray that collects the drips keeping them off the counter (this is especially helpful if you have natural stone or marble counters that will develop marks where moisture is absorbed). Note: the tray will still collect stagnant, soon-to-be-smelly, water and will need to be routinely cleaned. If rounded shapes aren’t your thing, here’s a rectangular option.
Decorative dish towels Every kitchen benefits from a decorative dishtowel, like a scarf that ties an outfit together, and I’m partial to ones with tassels.
I fold them in half and rest one next to the sink so you can dry your hands after washing them umpteen times throughout the day.
Or hang one from the handle on the stove. I love the graphic print of the one below (and being devoid of fringe they’re likely to hold up fairly well).
Flour sack dish towels But the reality is after too many washings the fringe on a tea towel can look a little frazzled so I keep these towels around for sopping up spills, wiping counters, and cleaning the food I’m making off my fingers–I even wad them up to use as potholders. I’ve come to terms that they’ll be stained after the first day I put them to use and I don’t care because they’re reasonably priced, slightly larger than most dish towels and highly absorbent. Note: they can be bleached; using a non-chlorine bleach will help them last longer.
Salt and pepper mills When I’m getting a kitchen ready for its closeup, I usually end up hiding items that don’t need to be out all the time and just leave the pretty ones. But knowing the reality is a kitchen has to not just look good, but function well, I’m always on the lookout for things that serve a dual purpose: utilitarian and good looking. These sculptural salt and pepper mills check both boxes!
Cloches Do you remember the buzz about how Khloe Kardashian arranged her Oreos? Really, it was a thing and once I saw how she did it I could never place cookies in a pile before closing the cloche without feeling a little bit brutish. Khloe’s super-civilized method is to create concentric rings, each slightly overlapping the other, producing a very structured display of baked goods. But if you prefer small stacks or even creating a mini mountain, that’s okay too, as long as you have something pretty, like this to display them in.
We have a similar one to the glass/marble one below and it just happens to be on sale!
Jean Dubost Laguiole knives Years ago I bought Jean Dubost Laguiole knives and they’ve been my go-to knives ever since. They’ve stayed sharp after daily slicing and dicing of carrots and cucumbers and the like. I bought mine at HomeGoods where they were not very expensive (like most things at HG!), and was happily pleased when after years of use they were still as great (and sharp!) as ever. So recently when I thought I’d give myself a present and splurge on some more Laguiole knives, I bought them from the reputable source Sur La Table imagining since they cost so much more than I’d paid for the HG version, they might be even better. Instead they were so awful, I immediately returned them but not without doing some research on what a “real” Laguiloe knife is so I’d never be swindled again.
Turns out any knives from Laguiole (a small village in France) can be stamped as such, as well as knives not from the region, making the stamp of “Laguiole” equate to a whole lot of nothing. Per Wikipedia, “‘Laguiole’ no longer refers to the French knife brand, but to a generic term that has become associated with a specific shape of a traditional knife common to this area.” When I looked more closely at mine I noticed they were also stamped “Jean Dubost” which does seem to mean something (the company has been making knives in France since 1920 and said knives can only be purchased directly Jean Dubost or one of the exclusive sources that carry them). In summary, I think if you stick to the Laguiole knives bearing “Jean Dubost” you should be buying the good ones–but make sure there’s a great return policy before hitting “Add to cart” knowing you’re either about to get the best knives of your life–or crappy imposters.
Wooden cutting boards For the past few years wooden cutting boards have been popping up all over Pinterest, and the like, in photos of kitchens we all wished we had. Funny how something we used to scratch our heads about how to stash away (in a spot that still let them dry properly after washing–which was always a conundrum) is now set out as a point of pride: Look how used mine looks because I cook that much!
Being on the edge of the cutting board trend, I purchased the one below because I already had a more expensive one and wanted one dedicated solely to stinky stuff (garlic, onions, leeks) and keep the other for things I didn’t want to have a savory scent: fresh fruit, anything sweet, baked goods, etc.. I’ve used it for about six months and it has held up well and now it rests on my counter, scratched from use, in all its cutting board glory.
Wooden trivets I found something similar to these a few years ago at a yard sale and now I set it out almost every time I serve dinner. Ours is about the size of the small one on top and it functions not only as a trivet (to protect the finish of our dining table from heat/steam) but nicely elevates whatever dish I’ve placed on it making it look just a little more distinguished.
Attractive fruit basket/bowl I don’t own this exact basket (although my addiction to wicker makes me want to) but it’s another one of those items that falls into the category of “Since you’re going to put your fruits/veggies in something, why not make it an attractive something?” In our house we have such an overflow of fruits/veggies that I put the fruits in a dough bowl and the root vegetables and smellier things (garlic, onions, shallots) in a basket. In this way I can separate them so they don’t commingle and mix savory and sweet scents and it’s also an excuse to have two pretty vessels out because…well, sometimes two pretty things are better than one!
Wooden salt cellar with spoon Almost every recipe I read recommends Diamond Crystal’s Pure and Natural Kosher Salt so I finally succumbed and shelled out the $10 for a box on Amazon. I do think it’s a good salt and it’s supposed to keep your measurements more precise (if the recipe is created using this salt and you use, say table salt, you’re likely using too much salt); however, the box is a big and not something I want to stare at but it is handy to have your salt within arm’s reach while cooking. Enter: the wooden salt cellar. I still get a kick out of sliding the attached lid to the side to reveal the contents even if I know what I’ll find in there (expensive salt). And, it looks cute on the counter. This one even comes with a spoon.
A plant in a cute pot In my opinion, each kitchen (heck, every room in the house!) benefits both in looks and air-cleaning properties from a live plant. Cute containers like this one are small enough to live on the windowsill or kitchen counter and large enough to house a small indoor plant such as a fern or small orchid.
Now that you know how to stock your kitchen in style, here’s something you may want to make in it. I was looking for a recipe for cinnamon rolls that was as easy as it was delicious and found Ina Garten’s Easy Sticky Buns. They’re made using store-bought puff pastry which means most of the hard work is already done for you. The rest is just sprinkling, rolling, baking and eating to your heart’s content. And your heart, or at least your taste-buds, will be so contended!
Not only were they delicious straight out of the oven while still ooey gooey, but the next morning they were still great, but in a different way, more like a rugelach. NOTE: I substituted walnuts for pecans and that worked just fine, but we (three adult cinnamon roll connoisseurs, I might add) all decided they’d be even better if, next time, I doubled the cinnamon.
Miso Soup The other day I was mentioning to a foodie friend that in order to avoid gaining 500 pounds from all this holiday baking (and eating), every few days I’ll make miso soup for a meal. It’s warm and comforting and delicious, yet low-calorie which is good for the ol’ waistline. One tub of red miso seems to last forever–I’ve made this soup probably fifteen times now and the container is still half-full.
Recipe: I use a tablespoon of miso per cup of water, tear up some dried seaweed (I buy the individual snack packs which are so small in size I can consume that amount of seaweed before it goes stale), slice up some scallions and heat it to boiling. Of course you can add tofu to make it a bit more like what you’d order at a sushi restaurant, but I find I can’t seem to finish a tub of tofu before it goes bad, so I skip the tofu and find I’m not missing much-except the extra calories!
Lastly, I went for a walk the other day and saw these pine boughs, red berries and pine cones and thought “Now how could I use those?” I remembered I had a dough bowl and a whole lot of battery-operated LED candles on-hand and whipped up this centerpiece for the coffee table. I set the candles to timer-mode so just as the sun goes down, they turn on and add a soft, cozy glow.
I hope some of these ideas will inspire you and here’s hoping you’ll have a week full of light and love…and that all your “cheese and lettuce” stays in place! But if it doesn’t, just scoop it back in and no one will be the wiser. 🙂
Happy holiday and thanks for stopping by!