Kitchen Must Have – Electric Skillet

In the kitchen, one of my “go-to” small appliances is my Presto® Electric Skillet. It’s a really useful appliance that makes frying and cooking up food so much easier. The best part? It comes with a really affordable price tag too! You can grab the same one I own for around $40 on Amazon using this link: Presto 06852 16-Inch Electric Skillet with Glass Cover

I use my electric skillet most often for frying meatballs and chicken cutlets. Because of its large size, it can hold a full two pounds of meatballs all at once as well or a slew of chicken cutlets. The glass cover allows you to see your food cooking while keeping all of the grease splatter in which is a real saving grace at cleanup time. No more scrubbing the stovetop, backsplash, range hood, etc. after frying. It also has a nice, slick Teflon® coating so food slides out easily and cleanup is a breeze because nothing sticks to it. Even the burnt bits come right out with ease. Another great feature of electric skillets is that they are able hold a nice steady temperature as they cook so food cooks and browns evenly.

Electric skillets are really great when it comes to cooking for a crowd as well! Whip up a big batch of scrambled eggs, hash browns, sausage and peppers, ground beef for tacos or even the meat for a Philly cheesesteak! The skillet can also be used to make pancakes, frying homemade doughnuts, burgers, sloppy joes, lo mein and even stir-frys! The possibilities are truly endless because you can use the electric skillet to make almost anything you’d make in a traditional pan on the stovetop.

Electric skillets come in all sizes as well from a small square to a large rectangle. I prefer the larger size as it gives me more flexibility when I am cooking. Some of you might be wondering why you’d need an electric skillet if you already have an electric griddle and to that I say, while a griddle is great to have its lack of high sides limits its functionality. If I had to pick only once of these appliances to own, without hesitation, I would choose the skillet. I find it far more useful in the kitchen than my griddle pan.

If you decide to dust off your electric skillet or run out and buy yourself a new one, give some of these delicious recipes a whirl. You won’t be disappointed!

“Saucy” Italian Sausage and Peppers

Italian Meatballs

Boogaloo Wonderland Sandwich

Steve’s “Special Pancakes”

Kitchen Must Have – Deep Dish Pie Plate

Happiness is Homemade Pie

I readily admit that I have a slight obsession with all things kitchen related, particularly serving pieces such as bowls, platters and dishes. Recently, I came across a really nice deep dish pie plate at Sur La Table that I just couldn’t pass up, even though I already have one.  It was a beautiful color and on clearance for only $10 so I scooped it up! It’s been a very useful addition to my kitchen because it serves so many functions aside from holding pie. Here are just a few ways that I put my deep dish pie plates to work:

  • Serve chips at a party
  • Use it for a crudité plate – place a small bowl in the center for dip and surround with fresh veggies
  • Cook up a shepard’s pie
  • Serve homemade candies such as cut-up pieces of fudge
  • Bake a basic round cake
  • Whip up some creamy macaroni and cheese
  • Use it as a bread basket for sliced Italian bread or burger and hot dog buns
  • Stack homemade cookies inside
  • Use it for your next family breakfast, it’s perfect for holding a ton of scrambled eggs
  • Make a casserole for dinner
  • Serve pasta for two
  • Flip it over, place a plate on top, and you have a makeshift cake stand
  • Use it as a serving dish for mashed potatoes, rice, or other side dishes
  • Bake a batch of cinnamon buns
  • Use it to serve up hot, layered dips
  • Make a hearty quiche
  • Cook a family style chicken pot pie
  • Use it as a serving dish for fresh fruit salad
  • Fill it with mini muffins and pastries at your next brunch

In short, the best pieces for your kitchen are the ones that can perform double and triple duty so get the most out of the kitchen things that you own by figuring out how you can use them in another way. It’s so nice to be able to use all of the pretty things that you own instead of watching them accumulate dust. 

Lastly, and of course obviously, a deep dish pie plate makes an awesome, kick butt, sky high fruit pie. Shallow pie plates are great for things like pudding pies, custard pies, or pumpkin pies but for a fruit pie, deep dish is the way to go in my opinion. I love that you can pile in loads and loads of fruit without having to worry about it spilling over and creating a mess in your oven. Plus, what is better than a big, thick slice of pie smothered in vanilla ice cream or freshly whipped cream? My most favorite pie is Dutch Apple , it is filled with a ton of cinnamon sugar coated apples and finished with big, buttery crumbs on top. It’s definitely a crowd pleaser!

So go ahead and pull out those pie dishes and get creative. If you don’t have one, get one! You can find great deals on pie dishes at places like Home Goods, Target, Amazon, and especially clearance racks. A good rule of thumb is to have both a shallow and deep dish pie pan on hand, having both will allow you to create an endless amount of food and baked goods. 

Kitchen Must Have – Vanilla Paste

Vanilla Paste 2

Aaaahhhh……………vanilla. What’s better in baking then the rich, deep flavor of vanilla? It adds such amazing flavor to everything from candies to cakes to cookies, it’s an absolute staple in every kitchen the world over. Like most people, I use to always bake with vanilla extract but then I discovered vanilla paste and once I did, my whole world changed. Vanilla paste will take your baked goods to the next level, it’s THAT good!

Vanilla paste can be used in exactly the same way as extract only it has a richer, stronger flavor. It also imparts all of the appealing vanilla flecks into your baking so not only will your baked goods taste better, but they will look prettier too! Although called “paste” it really doesn’t have the consistency of paste at all, it’s more like a thick, rich maple syrup. Because vanilla paste is made from the scrapings of a vanilla pod and not alcohol, it won’t have the unpleasant flavor of extract if you taste it straight. Instead, it will taste rich and delicious.

I keep both vanilla extract and vanilla paste in my spice cabinet but I use them in different ways. For recipes where the vanilla flavor will be very pronounced (buttercream, custards, pound cake, puddings, sugar cookies, etc.) I will opt for the vanilla paste since the flavor is stronger. Plus, I love the flecking in baked goods that are very vanilla forward. On the flip side, when a recipe calls for vanilla but it’s not really the “star of the show”, I’ll use the vanilla extract instead. The nice thing is they can be used interchangeably and they measure out teaspoon for teaspoon. That being said, I have been known to double the vanilla paste in some recipes because when it comes to vanilla, you just can’t go wrong with adding a little more!

Vanilla paste is readily available in many stores, especially cooking stores such as Sur La Table and Williams-Sonoma. A popular brand is Nielsen-Massey (pictured above) which is absolutely delicious and reasonably priced. You can also find vanilla paste online, my favorite site for all things vanilla is Beanilla . Their prices are fantastic and their products are wonderful, especially their Grade A vanilla beans which are so fresh, soft, and oily. Generally speaking, expect to pay a little more for the vanilla paste then you would for vanilla extract however, I think the extra cost is worth every penny.

I truly cannot recommend vanilla paste enough, it really is a “Kitchen Must Have” and it’s one of my most favorite ingredients. The next time you’re baking up a cake or a batch of sugar cookies, definitely give it a try. I am confident that once you try vanilla paste, your little bottle of extract will start to collect some dust in that spice cabinet!

**Tip** – When using vanilla extract always use “pure vanilla extract” and NOT “imitation vanilla extract”. Pure vanilla is made by extracting flavor from real vanilla beans using 35%+ alcohol. Pure vanilla should be dark and rich just like the beans it was extracted from. Imitation and “clear” vanilla extracts are made from artificial ingredients.

For more information on vanilla extract and to learn how to make your own, click here .



Kitchen Must Have – Sur La Table Stoneware Casserole with Lid

SLT Baker 2.jpg

(Photo courtesy of Sur La Table)

Let me start by saying that I absolutely adore this piece of bakeware. It was one of those things that I didn’t even know that I needed until I got one and now I absolutely cannot live without it. My mom got me this little beauty (mine is an awesome burnt orange) for Christmas last year and it was truly the best gift that I received. It’s such a versatile piece and the perfect vessel for almost anything you can think to make. I’ve used it for roasts, veggies, cakes, baked ziti, Brown Butter Chocolate and Vanilla Krispie Treats“Saucey” Italian Sausage and Peppers, and it’s even perfect as just a beautiful serving piece. If you’re limited on space and want one dish that can pretty much do it all then this is the one to get!

Because it’s stoneware it will retain the heat very well which means your food will stay hotter for a longer period of time, especially if you use the domed lid. I love that it can go from the oven to the table and then right into the fridge. Less mess in the kitchen! Not only does it cook and bake well, it’s also very well made so don’t worry about having to be extra delicate with it, it can stand up to a lot. The best part about this casserole dish is that it cleans up like a dream. I’ve braised short ribs in it for HOURS and by the time it came out of the oven I would’ve sworn it would never be clean again but after a little soaking with warm water and dish soap everything wiped away with ease. I highly recommend this casserole dish and I think you will find that it will quickly become an invaluable little workhorse in your kitchen too!

Sur La Table sells this casserole dish for $60 however, it does go on sale from time to time and you can use their 20% off coupon on it as well. If you would like to purchase one you can get them in their store or right here.

Pictured below is Chicken Lombardi that I made in my casserole dish.


Kitchen Must Have – Vacuum Sealer

If you don’t yet have a vacuum sealer you REALLY need to get one.  It’s truly an indispensable part of my kitchen and I save so much money because I can buy in bulk and everything stays fresh.  FoodSaver has a few different models at all different price points so you should be able to find something that meets your needs.  I just bought myself a brand new vacuum sealer with all of the bells and whistles but for years I’ve been using the most basic model that they have with great success.

My favorite thing to buy in bulk is meat, the prices are so much better and the quality of meat that I can pick up at BJ’s is SO much better than any supermarket.  I usually buy ground beef, chicken, steaks and stew meat in bulk.  Another must have in your kitchen is a scale, you’ll need it to break up these huge packs of meat into specific portions and sizes.  With chicken and ground beef I prefer to make one 1 lb packs since most recipes call for 1 lb servings.  Large steaks I vacuum seal individually and for my stew meat I freeze packs in the exact amount that I need to make a batch of stew.  You can literally keep your meat frozen for MONTHS once it’s vacuumed sealed.  Everything stays super fresh and there is literally not a lick of freezer burn on any piece of meat.

The vacuum sealer is also great for snacks, deli meats, bulk packs of cheese and even fruit.  My sealer has a great feature where you can “pulse seal” so that you don’t crush delicate foods like soft fruits and breads.  They even have resealable bags which comes in handy when you want to seal a food that you use regularly.  There is really nothing you can’t seal with this machine and I think you’ll find that it will quickly become one of the most useful appliances in your kitchen.  I absolutely love mine and sing its praises to everyone!

FoodSaver V4440 2-in-1 Automatic Vacuum Sealing System with Bonus Built-in Retractable Handheld Sealer & Starter Kit, Black Finish