2011: The first year of Country Cooking's Favorite Things.
These are all the things I made the most use of in 2011. And should any of them be missing from your kitchen, they're a great way to start off the new year.
- Rival Crock-Pot When I registered for this gem back in '04, I had no idea what a huge role it would play in my life, especially since becoming a mom. At first I used it to make applesauce and the occasional pot roast. But now I use it for all kinds of meals in spring, summer, fall, and winter. And since '04, the crock-pot has become more sophisticated. There one that actually has three pots, great for buffet-style entertaining. And now they have timers so you can easily control when it turns on, off, and what time it cooks at which heat. (I only have 4 and 6 hours for LOW, and 8 and 10 hours for HIGH.) I really can't imagine my kitchen without it.
- Giada DeLaurentiis 6 qt. dutch oven Despite having a crock-pot, sometimes there's just so substitution for a good 'ol Dutch Oven. My recipes I made leading up to and early in my marriage had a maximum of 6 ingredients. (I actually cooked from 4-ingredient and 6-ingredient cookbooks.) So I couldn't imagine a time when I would need this kind of pot and didn't bother to register for one. Seven years later, I had collected many recipes that required a dutch oven, and I still didn't have one. Thankfully I received one for my birthday this year, and I have not been disappointed.
- Canned pumpkin A working mom's dream. I love pumpkin, but it sure is one difficult gourd to work with. The peeling, roasting, and pureeing to make the equivalent of a 15 oz. can? Sorry, but I just don't have that kind of time. (And odds are, neither do you.) There was a pumpkin palooza in our house this fall, and canned pumpkin found its way into the following recipes: pumpkin ricotta stuffed shells, pumpkin cupcakes, dutch apple-pumpkin crisp, spiced pumpkin waffles, pumpkin french toast, pumpkin mochaccino, pumpkin pancakes.
- Grill Mates Montreal Steak Seasoning from McCormick I love this stuff. So much so, that I'll take a few sniffs whenever I'm using. Being that it's steak seasoning I use it on the obvious: steaks, london broils, hamburgers. But one place where it really shines? Roasted asparagus. That's right. Just drizzle olive oil and season with this steak seasoning, and you'll have perfect asparagus every time!
- Monroe Farmers' Market One of the best things about living here in the Poconos is all the farmers' markets. And from May through October, you can find me at the Monroe Farmers' Market every Saturday. The produce this past season was at its best (The peaches were just unbelievable!), and I was even introduced to some new fruits: sugar plums and Italian prune plums. This fall gave us delicious butternut squash, spaghetti squash, and fresh apple cider. Nothing better! It's the last day of 2011, and already I'm yearning for warmer weather and my weekly trips to the market. (Only 125 days to go!)
- Dutch Hill Preserves Peach Blush Jam Heaven on a spoon. Summer in a jar. I don't know how else to describe this jam other than fantastic. Dutch Hill Preserves is one of the vendors at the Monroe Farmers' Market. They had this jam out as a sample one week. I tasted it on some fresh bread -- from another vendor -- an knew I had to buy a jar for myself. As she bagged it the proprietor told me "It's delicious on vanilla ice cream." Delicious is an understatement. This jam over vanilla ice cream is the definition of summer in a bowl. I'm counting down the days until summer (156) and I can partake in this magnificent treat again.
- Pampered Chef Pizza Stone Growing up, my grandmother would make pizza as a special treat. Grandma's pizza. I even remember one summer day we had all the kids on the cul de sac over for a pizza party, with the pizza prepared by my grandmother. Over the years my husband and I have made the occasional pie, but were always disappointed in the crust. It always seemed to come out soggy in the center when cooked on a baking sheet. Enter the pizza stone. We've been using it for about a year now, and we have great crust every time. No more sogginess! And it's not just for pizzas. We also make strombolis and calzones on it. It's like having our own, personal pizza parlor.
- Sutter Home White Merlot I'm not a big wine drinker, except when it comes to this one. Whites can be too dry, reds too strong. I prefer the blush wines. The white merlot is rosier than a zinfandel, but not as strong as a red. And it goes great with anything: chicken, pasta, fish. My favorite time of year to drink is in the summer, along with a london broil prepared on the grill. A perfect pairing!
- The Pasta Shoppe Pasta may just be pasta to some people, but I like to mix it up and use different shapes for different dishes. And you may have noticed that most supermarkets aren't carrying as many shapes as they used to. (Just try finding long fusili or orcchiette, for example.) But if you're looking for different shapes, look no further than the Pasta Shoppe. They have all kinds of fun shapes that are the perfect size for soups, salads, macaroni & cheese, and other dishes where small-shaped pastas are used. I like the holiday shapes, and the turkeys are a great addition to chicken or turkey noodle soup. So browse the site and put a new twist on pasta night in your house.
- Mason Jars I don't do any canning -- not yet anyway -- but I do make my own applesauce, jams, sauces, and chicken broth. And when I do, I like to store them in mason jars. They're pretty and I like how they can go straight from the fridge to the table when you're entertaining. And since you can reuse them over and over, they help reduce your waste.