Rachel’s Favorite Kitchen Things

Rachel's Favorite Kitchen Things

Trying to shop for a foodie friend or just planning your own list and not sure what kitchen item you might want or need next? These are some of my go-to, use almost daily, wouldn’t want to be without them items.

Under $10

Trader Joe’s Olive Oil with Pour Spout – I have bought at least six olive oil pour spout jars over the years and every one of them has failed me. The cork crumbled into the oil, the plastic spout slipped out every time I poured, the handle broke, the spout clogged… Recently, I tried the $7.99 bottle of Trader Joe’s olive oil. At 32 ounces, that’s a fantastic deal. And the best part–the spout that comes with it stays put, doesn’t fall apart, doesn’t slip out! It isn’t as pretty as my others, but it’s not an eyesore either. And at that price, I don’t even have to mess with refills. I can just buy another bottle.

Cute Easy Pour Spice Jars – I found these jars at a closeout sale at the container store Outlet. Of course I did. And of course, I immediately regretted not buying more. I love  the three generous pour options on this set. It’s too generous for the table, but when I’m cooking, I can pour a teaspoon or two of salt easily without breaking out the big carton of Morton’s like I used to. I keep salt, pepper, and seasoning salt in them because I tend to reach for those most often when cooking. But I’d love one for my nutritional yeast, smoked paprika, garlic powder, onion powder. I have a lot of favs! I found this set from IKEA that while not quite as easy because you have to pop open the top, they are cute enough to leave on the counter and cheap. These are pretty too. I might have to snag a set of them for the seasonings I tend to measure out, like cumin and chili powder. Oh and these are nice as well but pricier. They have the twist lids I prefer, so if you don’t close them, they don’t look sloppy.

Come Apart Kitchen Sheers – I use these every day for cutting up toddler food, to clipping flower stems, to cutting pizza. I have a red pair and black pair. I used to designate the red ones for meat (great for cutting chicken into strips and such) and the black for everything else–just so I never accidentally cross contaminated anything. Now I don’t need to do that since we don’t eat meat, but I still love having two pairs because I use them so often.

Ikea Stainless Mixing Bowls – I have a lot of  pretty (and pricey) mixing bowls, but I reach for these 95% of the time. They are lightweight, easy to clean, easy to store, unbreakable. Love them!! I have two really big ones, two medium ones and four small ones. The really big ones are wonderful for kale salads or kale chips. Plenty of room to toss a head or two of kale around in some seasoning or dressing.

Under $30

Pampered Chef Cutting Board – I’m sure there are other great cutting boards out there, but of the ones I have, this is my favorite. It’s simple, dishwasher safe, grips well to the counter so it never slides out from under me. This cutting board by Cuisinart looks like a good option with a similar size and feel.

Old Fashion Popcorn Maker – I wish we didn’t love this little guy so much…but we do! Jared’s mom bought him this for Christmas last year. I never liked popcorn and didn’t understand why Jared’s family loved it so much. But I’d never made fresh popped popcorn. Sprinkled with a little nutritional yeast, smoked paprika, onion powder, and seasoning salt…it’s so good. (Note: since writing this post, we’ve upgraded to one with metal gears after the nylon gears broke on us. If you make a lot of popcorn, go with the Whirly-Pop with metal gears. We have the red one and it’s super cute!)

Rice Maker  – I actually have a cheaper model, a $15 Rival model from Wal-Mart I think (probably on par with this less expensive rice cooker Amazon). It is fine. It would make a great under $20 gift. I use it all the time…but it’s not perfect. It sticks some and doesn’t have different settings for brown rice, so it’s a bit of a guessing game. If I were to buy one now, I’d buy this model. I mostly use it for quinoa and brown rice, but apparently you can cook all kinds of things in a rice maker. Who knew? (Update: I have an Instant Pot now too and I have made rice in it, but honestly, nine times out of ten, I still reach for this little white workhorse. It’s easier to pull out and tends to make just enough rice for our family.)

Under $50

Salad Spinner – Every healthy kitchen needs a salad spinner, in my opinion. Washing and drying lettuce without it is a pain…and when something is a pain, you’re less likely to do it (and therefore eat it). Bagged lettuces have their place, but other than delicate lettuces like baby spinach, I generally prefer buying heartier lettuces like kale or romaine by the head. A salad spinner makes  it a cinch to wash, dry, and store for later use. It’s also perfect for washing and drying herbs like parsley and cilantro. The OXO brand is my favorite. If you shop sales, you can find a good deal on it. I found one last year at Kohl’s for $20 with a sale and a coupon.

Cuisinart Stainless Steel 3.5-quart  Saute Pan – I wanted a set of heavy-bottomed stainless steel pans last year for Christmas to replace my old warped pans that heat unevenly on my glass stove top, but I couldn’t decide which set to buy so I bought this one pan at a steep discount from Home Goods to see if I liked it (and stainless in general). I could not love this pan more. I use it every day. I plan on completing the set at some point, but if you just want to add one good pan to your collection this year, this is a great starting point. Mine is a different model number and came with a glass lid, but I think this one is basically the same thing.

Baby Bullet or Magic Bullet – I received this as a gift for a baby shower. I already had the Cuisinart food processor and a blender and thought I wouldn’t need a little one. Plus, I had a Magic Bullet years ago and the motor burnt out and I just never felt like it did a good job at blending. I think I had a dud…or I just expected too much out of it as it was my only blender at the time. But I use the Baby Bullet all the time now. I blend up a can of black beans to make quick refried beans, make quick small batches of white bean dip or hummus in it, blend salad dressings, and of course, you can blend up a little bit of dinner to make a quick meal for baby too. I underestimated this little guy. We even bring it with us on vacation. (I will say that I hated the baby food freezer system. I much preferred regular ice cube trays, but Jackson has fun playing with it, so there’s that.)


Vitamix – I finally got a Vitamix…and I’m a believer! Smoothies and soups and cashew queso and banana soft serve…oh my! I could do all of these with my blender and food processor…but Vitamix does it better and faster. I bought the refurbished model during their November sale. Today is the last day for that sale. If you use my affiliate promo code 06-009318, you’ll get free shipping anytime. I believe they are doing free shipping right now on all orders for the holidays, but if you use my code anyway, I’d be super grateful as I’ll earn a little kickback to put toward expenses related to running this blog.

Luca and Company’s Little Helper FunPod – I talk about the FunPod all the time. As a mom, this is my absolute favorite kitchen product. I could never get all the cooking I do done without it. It safely elevates children to counter height so they can help in the kitchen or watch you cook, or play in the sink independently while you make dinner. Total lifesaver for toddler moms and dads (and Grandmas too).

What are your favorite kitchen items?!

I’m on the lookout for a better set of measuring cups and spoons and a go-to water bottle for sipping on around the house and throw in my bag or purse when I’m out and about.

I was thinking of doing a favorite things for little boys post too. Would anyone be interested in seeing some of Jackson’s favs (or my favs for him)?


Cooking with Kiddos in the Little Helpers FunPod

Welcome to the WeAreTeachers Blog Hop Stop #9. If you’re just joining us, head back to the BLOG HOP LAUNCH POST to find out how the Blog Hop works so you can collect all of the necessary clues for a chance to win an iPad, a $50 gift card and much more!

As a participant in this blog hop, I’ve been asked to write a review of my favorite educational gift. I’ve chosen:

Product: Little Helpers FunPod from Luca & Company
Age range: 1-4
Subject areas: cooking, science
Hot Deal: 10% off code at http://www.rightstart.com Code: Save10

Be sure to read all the way down. One lucky reader on this blog will win a $25 giftcard to Wayfair.com!

For Jackson’s first birthday gift, I splurged on a Little Helpers FunPod from Luca & Company, a fairly pricey European contraption (at just under $200 full-price) that safely elevates children to counter height. It looks like a chair with four walls and an adjustable platform.

Best. Purchase. Ever.

Jackson’s birthday morning. He was stoked about his present and equally excited to play with a package of spinach while I whipped up special Birthday Blueberry Green Smoothies for the family.

We use the FunPod every day. He drags me to the laundry room where it lives when not in use and points to it, asking to be put in. Now that summer is over and our outside water play has come to an end, I am so thankful for the FunPod. It lets him play in the sink safely while I get other things done nearby. Water play is great for little minds. This morning I snapped this photo of him using a measuring cup to transfer water from one side of the sink to a pot on the other side. Then he used the whisk to stir the pot. Pretending to cook, perhaps?

Filling the pot up with water. “Watcha making buddy?” (Notice the salad spinner in the background — that’s probably my second recommendation for an “educational” child’s toy. Endless entertainment from that thing!)

Speaking of cooking, the FunPod has not only been a life saver for me when it comes to getting dinner on the table, but it has been a wonderful tool for letting Jackson experience food with me. He uses all five senses as he stands at the counter in his FunPod helping mommy cook. He smells garlic and onions simmering, he sees the steam rising from a stew and tells me “awwt” (hot), he squishes cookie dough through his fingers and giggles, he watches with enamor as flour sifts through his grip. He tastes olives before they go in the pasta sauce, “mmmm,” he says. He takes a bite out of an unpeeled avocado I’ve accidentally left in his reach. “Yukky, Yukky,” he says spitting out the rough outer layer, before taking another bite to get to the creamy flesh inside.

“Helping” mommy make a Pumpkin Spice Butternut Squash Cobbler. He’s in charge of quality control.

In just five months, the FunPod has given us so many food memories and given Jackson a leg up in learning about healthy eating and getting him to try new things. The other day, I gave him some kale to play with and a few other kitchen gadgets. I looked back over and he was tearing the kale into tiny pieces and putting them in the bowl…his first salad. It’s my proudest parenting moment yet. Thank you FunPod.

Stirring the quinoa before I take it to simmer on the stovetop.

He first learned the concept of Peek-a-boo in the pod. He would duck himself down and I would say “Where’s Jackson?” and he would pop right up, thrilled that he had fooled mommy.

Where is Jackson?

Though my son was only one when we got it, because the pod’s platform adjusts to different heights, it is good for any child who can stand on their own all the way up to six years old. As Jackson gets older and grows out of his high chair, I see us using this for craft projects when I want to make sure the mess is contained, play dough fun, snack time, and at some point, he could potentially be a real help in the kitchen. At this rate, I won’t be surprised if he’s washing the lettuce and preparing the family salads by age three. Talk about a great return on investment!

The FunPod is relatively small, about the width of a cabinet and has different levels to make learning in the kitchen safe and fun for babies, toddlers, and young children. I recommend a rug beneath it for water play. It will be a little messy…but it’s so worth it. This is a $20 rug from Costco and is really absorbent and doesn’t slide around at all.

Because the FunPod is a UK product, you probably won’t find this in stores in the U.S.A. I bought mine through one of those daily deal sites and got a pretty steep discount. I found a 10% off code to Rightstart.com (Code: Save10) where it is $190 with free shipping. Amazon.com and Wayfair.com both have them for $190.00 with free shipping as well.

You may want to google these similar models as well: The FunPod 5-in-1 High Chair, Little Partners Learning Tower, and GuideCraft Kitchen Helper. I haven’t used any of these models so I can’t offer my own reviews, but if you’re like me, you probably like to consider all your options before making a big purchase. The Learning Tower is wider to hold two kids and has open sides so kids can climb in and out (I found this as a negative with one 1-year old, but others may see these as great bonuses). The Kitchen Helper folds away and is almost half the price as the other two; it might be a good choice for small spaces.


WeAreTeachers Blog Hop Clue #9: SURROUND

The next stop on the blog hop is: Surviving The Stores



As part of this blog hop, We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook is offering a $25 gift card to Wayfair.com! To enter, do one (or more) of the things below by November 23, midnight (Central Time):
Four ways to enter! #1-3 are optional, #4 is required.
  1. Subscribe to our blog via email (one optional entry)
  2. Like the We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook Facebook page (one optional entry)
  3. Follow us both on Pinterest: Becky and Rachel (one optional entry)
  4. Leave a comment and let us know which of the above you did or have already done in the past and answer this question: What is your favorite thing to cook, bake, or make in the kitchen with kids? (One REQUIRED entry)

Please be sure to include your email in the contact form so we can notify you if you win.

Legal Jargon: All opinions and recommendations in this review are my own. I was not compensated by WeAreTeachers, Luca & Company, or Wayfair.com. I paid for our FunPod with my own money and am personally paying for the WayFair.com gift card as well. Each entry will be assigned a number. We will use a random number generator to pick the winner. The winner will be notified via email. If we do not hear back from the winner in 48 hours, we’ll randomly pick another winner.

Kid-Friendly, Vegan-Friendly, Simply-Friendly – Alberta Street in Portland

Vita Cafe in Portland’s Alberta Arts District.

My first post-convention meal in Portland was a quarter of a mostly brown avocado and a peanut butter bagel I scrounged together from snacks I packed in my suitcase. Not exactly the kind of veg-friendly Portland grub I had been anticipating.

After the International Food Blogger Conference this weekend, my mom and I (and baby foodie Jackson) met up with my sister-in-law and nephew to explore Portland. By a miracle of God, we squeezed three adults, a baby in a car seat, a toddler in a booster, four suitcases, two backpacks, one diaper bag, two totes filled to the top with swag from the conference, a stroller, and a bag of legos into a little Toyota Corolla. Starving, we headed to the new hotel to unload and get ready for an early dinner, but the hotel didn’t have our room ready. Not willing to drive much farther in these cramped quarters, we settled on having dinner at little diner down the street. The vegan options were sparce, even the veggie burger had dairy in it, so I ordered a side of avocado and went to my car to make a pb sandwich from the food I’d packed for our trip.

At least Jackson didn’t mind eating a peanut butter sandwich, his new favorite lunch, for the fourth day in a row. He was much more interested in hanging out with his big cousin George than food anyway.

My nephew George, always on the look out for super hero attire, turned Jackson’s bib into a cape. Jackson watching the birds with his Nonny and big cousin.

I, on the other hand, was still hungry. I decided to hold out for the real deal. That night we headed to Alberta street, apparently the new up and coming vegan hot spot in Portland.

We walked into a hip little restaurant with big windows open to the street and a dessert counter that had my stomach growling before we even saw the menu. The cool air gently breezed through the restaurant and for a moment I thought it was November. It’s been so long since this Texas girl has felt cool outside air. Aaaah.

It must have been that feeling of crisp Fall air, but I looked at Vita Cafe’s menu with tons of vegan options and settled on beer and wings: an espresso stout (a coffee lovers dream beer) and a Buffalo Tofu Wrap. I actually made and blogged a very similar recipe back in 2010 on my old food blog, Life in Bites. This wrap took me right back to those early days learning how to cook a plant-based diet and finding my passion for being in the kitchen. The next day we came back to the same place for lunch and we ordered their Buffalo Things appetizer to share. Even someone with a tofu aversion would love these spicy fried bites.  I continued with my fried food fest and had a Tempeh “Chicken” Fried Steak with mashed potatoes and almond gravy. The waiter told me they are known for that dish. I could see why. Amazing. Who knew I would find an old favorite southern comfort food in Portland, Oregon.

Vita's Tempeh "Chicken" Fried Steak with Almond Gravy

“Chicken” Fried Steak with Almond Gravy. Very close to what I remember a good CFS tasting like. Dare I say better?

Buffalo bites. Ooops, looks like someone dove right into the ranch before we took a picture. Capturing pictures while dining in a group with two kids is no easy task!

Cafe Vita's Buffalo Tofu Wrap

Night time pictures didn’t turn out great. It was much prettier in person!

Espresso Stout

Smooth, rich and slightly sweet, this local (Eugene, OR) Espresso Stout by Oakshire Brewing was one of the best beers I’ve tasted.

Mom’s Supergrain Salad and Thai Coconut Soup. (Sorry for the bad pics, but mom raved about this salad.)

Julie had a beautiful Mediterranean appetizer plate and Jackson had a delicious house-made veggie burger.

We ordered a piece of raw toffee cheesecake to go. I dropped the box on the side before I could get a picture of it, but it was one of the best desserts I’ve ever tasted. I would fly back to Portland just to have another slice.

Not only was Vita Cafe a really cool place with plenty of vegan options, they also encourage you to bring kids along. They had toy boxes in the waiting area and kids eat for $1 between 5-7 every day. The kids menu included a veggie burger, vegan mac-n-cheese, nachos (vegan or regular), among other items and all in really generous portion sizes.  I forgot Jackson’s sippy cup in the car and they even had a sippy cup for him. Nice touch.

George was pretty thrilled with his cheesy vegetarian nachos.

Hanging out the open airy windows at Vita Cafe.

George, my nephew and mom’s grandson, lives in Seattle. He loves his Nonny even more than cheesy nachos!

Within walking distance, there were several other cool spots, like Back to Eden Bakery and Dovetail Bakery, both award winning vegan bakeries, Salt & Straw ice cream parlor, several veg-friendly food trucks, Caffe Vita Coffee Roasting Co, and more.

Sip – An all vegan drink truck on Alberta Street.

VegNews Magazine voted Back-to-Eden as 2012’s Vegan Bakery of the Year.

While the others had ice cream from Salt & Straw, I had an amazing chocolate cream pie from Back to Eden.

A funky little restaurant across the street from Vita Cafe.

Julie and George on Alberta Street on a quiet Monday afternoon.

Portland hipsters.

A funny little sign on Alberta Street. “…we hold no social bias and welcome all for non-authentic tacos and over-ambitious cocktails.”

Alas, my quest for a veg-friendly, kid-friendly, simply-friendly Portland foodie experience was conquered. If you’re in Portland, skip the chain diner and run straight to Alberta street.

An Evening at Sundown at Granada in Dallas

I’ve become accustomed to the typical vegan dining out experience at non-vegan restaurants. Look up the menu in advance, call to find out if the beans and rice are cooked with lard or chicken stock or if they are willing to make something off the menu for us, trust that the hostess on the other end is actually informed enough to answer correctly, show up and hope for the best. Most places are willing to make modifications for us if we explain what we can and can’t eat and I’m genuinely grateful for their willingness to take these extra steps, but dining out is still one of the most difficult parts of eating a whole foods, plant-based diet. Even a lot of vegan dining places can be difficult because they use so much soy and processed fake-products, which I try to limit.

Last week, I happened upon a restaurant in Dallas called Sundown at Granada Restaurant & Beer Garden. They were voted Best Vegetarian-Friendly Restaurant on D Magazine’s 2012 Best of Big D list. I started my usual routine of checking the menu online and was immediately impressed.

They had me at A.N.D.I salad! Our regular readers should know my love for kale and it’s ranking as one of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet by now. Any chef that names a salad after the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index has this health geek’s attention. The menu also had several other options, clearly marked vegan.  Jared and I called in the grandparentals to watch the little one so we could enjoy a dinner out that didn’t involve cutting our food into tiny pieces or chit-chatting with every stranger around us whom Jackson has befriended with a flash of his smile.

Sundown is nestled right next to the Granada theater in a cute/funky little part of town on lower Greenville. Though it was July, we sat outside on the covered patio; with shades and fans, we were quite comfortable. The hostess immediately brought us a chilled bottle of water, a nice touch for my water-chugging husband.

It was happy hour, so we put in an order for our $4 margaritas and perused the menu. Though the A.N.D.I salad was tempting, I had just eaten a big kale salad for lunch, and besides, there were so many other things I wanted to try.

The word that kept coming to mind as I looked at the menu was thoughtful. The chef didn’t just slap a pre-made veggie burger on the menu and call their restaurant veg-friendly, he included us in very thoughtful creative ways. Another thing I appreciated, even though I don’t eat meat, is that they use all grass fed beef and free range chicken.

We started with the Stuffed Avocados with Endive, a trio of avocado halves, each stuffed with a different flavor combination: Italian, Southwest, and Waldorf. I would never have thought to mix avocado, blueberry, and candied walnuts together, but it was delicious. We expected the Southwest to be our favorite, but the Italian actually took both of our votes. Again, I don’t think of Italian when I think avocados, but the sun-dried tomato, basil, and almonds married wonderfully with my favorite fruitable (fruitable: word I just coined for a “vegetable” that’s really a fruit).

Stuffed Avocados with Endive (the vegan version)

We decided to share the Quinoa Burger and the Vegatative State Wrap for our entrees. To our surprise, the chef, Patrick Stark, delivered our meals to us. He talked with us for a good bit about his health journey and the process for writing the menu (it took three months to complete). He’s a young and tatted up guy, but killer talented and incredibly kind. After meeting him, I could see his story and personality shine through the menu and was inspired to step up my own cooking game. Oh, and if talking A.N.D.I wasn’t enough, one of his specials that week was “The Liquid Dinner,” a super food “Green Drink” with kale, berries, mint, agave, pineapple, bananas. I’m telling y’all, green smoothies are fine dining!

Me and the chef, who delivered the food to our table personally. Nice guy.

Back to the food. It was delicious. We ate it all. I will be back for more. The end.

The Quinoa Burger topped with avocado and chile-lime slaw, served with sweet potato fries. A nice thick patty made with the super healthy grain. I was surprised how well quinoa worked as a veggie patty, it wasn’t mushy or crumbly at all.

Side of root bear onions. Oh my yum! I assume these are sweet onions slowly cooked in root beer and generously seasoned with cracked pepper. Whatever they are, they are good enough to eat right out of the bowl.

The Vegatative State (Technically not vegan as the wrap has milk in it. They did tell me though, but I already had my mind set on drunken mushrooms and decided to let it slide.) An interesting combo of sweet potato, drunken mushrooms, sweet potato, spinach, and sunflower seeds. Nothing here is run of the mill.

My hot date patiently letting me take pictures of our food at the table and even asking the chef if he would take a picture with me when I was too shy to ask. That’s why I love this guy!