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April 29th, 2016

Let’s Shop: Knife Party!

knife
Everyone has that go-to friend. The one you reach out to when you need very specific advice. I’m the person my friends reach out to whenever they have cooking related questions and this includes how to stock their kitchen with tools and appliances. Despite what people may think, I’m not one to have a million gadgets in my kitchen and therefore, won’t encourage you to waste your money on anything that isn’t super useful.

 

One of the most common questions I get asked by my friends is:

 

“What knife should I buy?” or more specifically “What knife set should I buy?”

 

I take these questions very seriously because purchasing kitchen equipment and especially knives can be daunting for someone with little experience. When it comes to stocking a kitchen with tools and appliances, there’s a few things you should know about my approach:

 

1. I firmly believe that a cooks best tools are their two hands.

2. I don’t like uni-tasker gadgets.

3. I don’t believe that more expensive always equals a better product.

4. When there’s a tool that I love, I love it fiercely and will praise it to the hills.

 

Knife shopping in specific can be extremely stressful. You walk into a store and are immediately inundated with big, complicated sets that carry even bigger price tags. It can make people feel really overwhelmed and many times they just purchase or “add” the most expensive set to their registry because that’s what they assume they <should> be doing.  But fear not good people of the internet, I got ya back! I’ve complied some info that I hope you will find helpful on your knife seeking journey.

 

Real Talk: Any knife brand that I’ve mentioned below I have used myself. This is not an AD. I am giving my personal opinion from my personal experience. It’s important for you to know that I was not paid by anyone to write this post or given any free product or compensation. This post was created to share my real home-cook knowledge with other home-cooks out there.

 

Ready?

 

Let’s get at it!

 

I’ve been around a lot of knives in my life thanks to my 7 years on staff at national consumer magazine with an amazing test kitchen, and my time as the Culinary Expert for Williams Sonoma. Working at WS gave me a lot of hands on experience with different high end knife brands. While I don’t believe you have to spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars on knives, I do believe that this is an area that you should “invest” in if you are someone who enjoys cooking. If you buy the right kind of knives, they will last you a lifetime.

DSC_0012My Knife Buying Tips:

-Knives are an investment and they should be. If purchased and cared for correctly you will have them forever. This is not the place to skimp.

-Arm yourself with some basic knowledge before you head out into a store and feel pressured into a $700.00 knife block set “newlywed special” that you don’t need.

-Don’t buy online before seeing them in person. Go to a store where you can actually handle the knives. We all have different sized hands and what’s comfortable in my hand may not be comfortable in yours.

-You don’t have to buy a set. Sets are not designed with your personal needs in mind. I know the fancy knife block is something everyone pictures on their countertop, but I think it’s much smarter for you to assemble a set that works for you and your individual needs as a cook. if you aren’t de-boning a chicken anytime soon, Guess what? You don’t need that type of knife.  Sure there are a basic grouping of knives that I feel everyone can use in their kitchen but you don’t have to have a million expensive knives to be a great cook.

-There are different knife brand levels. Ex: Not all Zwilling JA Henckles knives are created equal. There are different grades of them, some, very very cheap in quality. Know what grade knife you are buying.

 

How Do I Choose A Brand?

There are many different brands of knives made in many different countries but in my opinion, you should stick with stores that carry quality brands. Places like Williams Sonoma carry a good group of high quality knives. You can pretty much bet that whatever they have in their store is a good brand and their staff is usually well trained and very helpful. I know this first hand as I’ve been trained by them. You can also find some decent options at stores like Macy’s and even Bed Bath and Beyond. Once you get to these stores, you’ll realize that there are quite a few knife companies out there. It can be confusing as to whether you want to go with a European knife vs. a Japanese knife. I will always say that testing the knife in your hand is the best determination on what works best for you. Each manufacturer is different and it helps to know a little about how each one is made and what it’s made from in order to make an educated decision.

 

Knife Features:

Blades/Metal Composition: European knives like Wüsthof and F. Dick are made from high-carbon stainless steel and need to be sharpened fairly often, whereas a Japanese knife such as Global is made from a new alloy of stainless steel called molybdenum/vanadium, which is harder than other stainless steels. According to Global, this metal doesn’t stain or corrode, and the blade is extremely sharp because it is evenly tapered lengthwise and crosswise rather than only at the edge, as European knives are.

 

You also want to take a look at the knife to see if the blade runs all the way through the handle. The part of the metal that runs into the handle is called “the tang”. Full Tang knives are made out of one piece of metal that extends all the way back to the handle. I prefer full-tang knives as they are heavy, but unless you are doing heavy duty chopping this may not be a huge deciding factor for you. I am heavy handed with everything in my life so having heavy duty knives is a super important for me.

Handles:

as I’ve mentioned above, of the reasons I feel that it is so important to see the knives you are considering in person is so you can feel the weight and how the handle fits in your hand. Each knife has a very different feel. Handles can be made of wood, metal, plastic or rubber. I don’t like the rubber handles at all. The feel is just not for me but some people love them. I prefer the one piece metal style of the Global or the handles on my Wustof to rubber any day.

 

When you start to look at knives you’ll notice that some of them have black handles with rivets. This is a good thing. If you are going for a knife that has two pieces (the handle and the blade), The Wüsthof-Trident Grand Prix’s is molded high-impact polypropylene. That type of handle is becoming very popular, it looks sleek and feels really nice in your hand.  The material is nonabsorbent, durable and easy to keep clean. The lightly textured surface feels good in the hand, and rounded edges allow for a more comfortable grip.

 

The Global handle is flatter and can be turned easily to shift the blade from one cutting angle to another. Even with the bigger Global knives, the blade performs so well and is easily maneuverable.

 

global 1Essential Knives:

-A 7 inch Santuko knife (pic above), this is the knife I use very single day. If I had to own one knife in my life, this would be it. Period.

-A Chef’s knife – has a long sharp blade for slicing meats, dicing, chopping. I don’t use this as often as my Santuko knife but it is helpful when you need a super heavy knife to cut through very large tough veggies like butternut or spaghetti squash.

-A small paring knife – to core fruit, peel and slice vegetables and other tasks.

A utility knife around 6″ long – for slicing meat and vegetables, plus various chopping needs, with a non-serrated blade edge.

-A bread knife – long serrated blade for slicing bread.

-A sharpening steel or stone. This is helpful to have on hand because a sharp knife is a safe knife. I repeat. A sharp knife is safer than a dull one!! I know one may think a sharp knife is dangerous but a sharp knife will cut through things easier preventing you from having to use a sawing motion which can lead to the knife slipping and cutting your hand.

 

Knife Storage:

I totally understand the sex appeal of the knife block on the counter top but you don’t have to buy a pre-assembled set to get one. Many places sell the blocks on their own. If you don’t like stuff on your countertop, they also sell really awesome magnetic strips like this to place on your wall. Some people think it looks a little dangerous but I say it’s badass. I have both storage options and actually like the ease of the magnetic strip the best.

I’m Broke But I want a Good Knife:

Truth be told, I have quite a few knives in my collection and literally, 95% of the time I reach for my Global 7-inch Hollow Ground Santuko knife (see image below). I use it for everything. This knife is an extension of my hand and my most favorite item in the kitchen. If you are on a super tight budget I would honestly say just get this knife. You can always add to your collection when you get more cash and you will not be disappointed.

 

Overall Opinion:

I own both Wustof and Global and my favorite brand hands down is Global. It is the perfect knife FOR ME. I love the way it handles and the lightness of it. I love that it’s one piece and therefor without rivets. The overall design of the Global knives is so artistic and well thought out that I find myself still to this day staring at them (yes! loserville!).

April 25th, 2016

Spinach Skillet Lasagna

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Last week I showed you a super easy Slow Cooker Mac and Cheese and today, I’m here to entice your tastebuds with another ridiculously easy recipe, Skillet Spinach Lasagna. That’s right, you heard me correctly. I said skillet, as in lasagna without turning on your oven. I know. I know! Two recipes in a row where we keep the heat out of your kitchen. What can I say, this spring-like weather is giving me alllllll the feels… Oh and did I mention this lasagna cook up in under 30 minutes? Yup! This means you no longer have to save lasagna for those times when you have all day to cook. If you’re anything like me, those days of leisurely cooking for hours are long gone! My life now is all about maximum taste with minimal effort and this recipe definitely qualifies. If you are super busy like me but love to eat, let me be your source for no-stress cooking. We got this.

 

 

April 21st, 2016

Slow Cooker Mac and Cheese

 

mac n cheese

 

Slow cooker recipes seem to be more prevalent in the cooler months. Stews, soups and roast recipes are everywhere when it’s cold out but I happen to think the slow cooker is an amazing appliance to use year round. Think about it. When it’s hot outside the last thing you want to do is turn on your oven or stove which is exactly why I often reach for my slow cooker when the temps begin to rise here on the east coast.

 

One of my favorite recipes to throw together is this Slow Cooker Mac and Cheese. It’s not low fat. It’s not supposed to be. It’s a comfort food and is every bit as creamy and decadent as you would imagine. This recipe makes enough for a small army and reheats beautifully the next day. I’ve gotten nothing but rave reviews every time I’ve made it. The next time you are too tired to cook, think: Slow Cooker and thank me later.

 

 

April 20th, 2016

You’re New Breakfast Crush: Tahini Toast

toast1

 

Move Over Avocado….There’s a new toast in town.

For the last year or so, anyone who’s anyone has been seen munchin’ on avocado toast. Truth be told, one hashtag search on IG and you can see that the love affair is still holding strong. Still, every once in a while a girl needs a little variety and I’ve recently found myself crushing on a new topping for my toast—Tahini!

 

Tahini is a paste made from ground sesame seeds. You may be familiar with it as one of the key ingredients in homemade hummus but it’s extremely versatile and can be used in dishes from savory to sweet. We love to top our morning toast with it because it’s packed with essential vitamins and minerals such as phosphorous, lecithin, magnesium, potassium, and iron It’s also one of the best sources of calcium out there and is high in vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5 and B15 and has 20% complete protein making it a higher protein source than most nuts. Much like avocado, it’s high in unsaturated, good fats.

 

Next time you are looking for a way to change up your morning breakfast routine, give one of these recipes a try.

 

Other uses for Tahini:

  • As a salad dressing mixed with olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper.
  • Mixed into stir fry.
  • As a spread for a sandwich or burger. (Think: lamb burger…Mmmmm)

 

toast2

 

 

 

 

April 18th, 2016

Potluck Recipe: Mediterranean Rice Salad

 

I’m not sure about you but when I’m invited to a potluck, I am half excited and half stressed out. I enjoy cooking but I also enjoy being fed so being required to bring a dish somewhere often makes me a little annoyed. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for contributing and sharing recipes with others (duh, this blog!) but since I’ve had kids, I just never seem to be able to get it together and despite the fact that I write recipes for a living, I almost always end up scrambling to make something last minute. So basically I’m a awful mess like many of you. Potluck slackers, unite!

 

Since I’m admittedly a potluck procrastinator, there are a few recipes I have in my mental archives that almost always save my ass. This rice salad is one of them. It’s easy, healthy and inexpensive. In fact, it can be made with items you probably already have on hand. Feel free to substitute whatever veggies or cheese you want. You can even toss in dried fruits or nuts if that’s your thing. This recipe is meant to be simple and stress free so keep it that way, use what you have and don’t freak out if you don’t have one of the ingredients listed below.

 

 

April 15th, 2016

How To: The Best Bacon Ever!

eggs

Since I’ve had a love for cooking practically my entire life, I tend to forget just how many cooking tips and tricks I use every single day without even giving them a second thought. I don’t often realize that the things I do as a natural course of action are anything special until someone brings it to my attention. Bacon, for example is something I prepare quite often and I always get compliments on how crispy it is. When I tell people that I bake it, they are always shocked. I grew up with a mother who always fried it in skillet which is how many people tend to cook bacon. However, since I learned the baking method many, many years ago, I’ve never turned back. Frying bacon in a pan if you are not careful is messy and often produces a bacon that is wavy in shape with spots that are burnt and spots that are raw. Nasty! Baking bacon requires no flipping and minimal mess. I don’t want to have to babysit a pan and deal with oil splatters and children running near pans with searing hot bacon grease so the skillet method is not for me.

 

For those of you who have never put your bacon in the oven, this post is about to change your life. It really is a no-muss, no-fuss method that produces the perfect bacon. Every. Single. Time. People will be asking you your secret and I bet they will even compare it to good restaurant bacon. Do you want to know why? Many restaurants bake their bacon too! So now you are one of the cool kids. Go forth and make some badass bacon.

 

 

 

April 12th, 2016

Matcha Chocolate Chip Waffles Aka Ninja Turtle Sewer Cap Waffles

matcha waffle2

 

A while ago my girlfriend came home with some matcha tea powder that someone gave to her at work. She handed it to me kind of nonchalantly and said “Maybe you can use this for something.” I was super excited! She had no idea that I had secretly been following the matcha craze for a while trying to justify the pricey ingredient purchase but never managed to pull the trigger. Despite my enthusiasm, it sat inside our cubboard for over a month before I got the idea to use as an ingredient in my classic buttermilk waffle recipe.  It was a risk for many reasons but the main one being, it was going to be served as dinner to the family. Now before I go on let me just say that my crew knows food. My girlfriend is my greatest critic and greatest supporter. She likes to say that she eats a wider variety of food since shacking up with a recipe developer (that’s me!) but I believe she was born with a discerning palate and just needed me to bring it out. Our boys, ages 5 and 7 can pinpoint a single ingredient that’s new or different in any tried and true recipe. Cute, right? It’s annoying! But I digress…

 

Back to my story… it was 6pm on a Tuesday night and I was going for it. Out came the waffle maker and the matcha powder. There was no turning back and no back-up dinner plan but starvation or take-out. The kids and the dogs swirled around me as I mixed up the batter which is normal except tonight, the kids were pretending to be dogs so I essentially had 4 living creatures barking and tripping me as I furiously tried to Make. This. Shit. Work. After unlocking the 5 year old from the little dogs cage and helping the 7 year old out of a sneaker induced melt down, I lifted my first waffle from the maker. It looked and smelled delicious but I still wasn’t sure about the flavor profile. My 7 year old curiously asked “What’s that mom?” aka “Am I gonna starve tonight?” and in an attempt to make him like the freaking things, I said “Ninja Turtle Waffles!” Now, anyone who knows me knows I don’t do “kid food”. I have nothing against it if you want to cut shit up into cute shapes and go HAM on molding your kids food into little characters, I just ain’t doing it. Ya dig? Well, it freaking worked cause the kid said “Cool! Can I have some?”. And of course being the food blogger first, I said “Sure!, right after you help me photograph it.” So off we went to photograph the waffles and as my kids helped me set up the shot, the 7 year old said “Good, job mom! You made sewer cap waffles.”. The shot was taken, the kids and the girlfriend ate every damned bite! Praise the lord!

 

So here it is folks, I took a fancy pants expensive ass ingredient and turned it into a sewer cap. Gotta love how kids bring you right back down to earth.  Right? No fancy stuff here. Just one home filled with chaos, love and food, lots of food.

 

matcha waffle2-2

 

 

 

 

April 11th, 2016

Peanutbutter & Jelly Sticky Wings

 

My love for food and cooking started when I was really small. My godmother had a catering company and a passion for food in a way that was infectious. I loved watching her and learning from her and became obsessed with watching Julia Child, Jacques Pepin and Graham Kerr. The Food Network didn’t exist and neither did the food bloggosphere. Despite my love for cooking, I never chose to become an accredited chef. I actually went to the School of Visual Arts and got a Bachelors in Fine Art majoring in Photography. Cooking was my escape, my way to relax. Through the years, my love for food remained fierce and somehow I always knew I would end up finding a way to make it my career. Then one day, I was fortunate enough to land a job working at Every Day with Rachael Ray magazine as the Executive Assistant to the Editor In Chief. My boss, Silvana Nardone and Rachel herself saw my passion for creating recipes and encouraged me to write for the magazine. I am, forever grateful to those amazing women for giving me the chance to follow my passion and the ability to learn on the job so to speak. In my opinion some of the best cooks, like my boss, Rachael Ray have no formal chef training at all.

 

Throughout my 12 years as a recipe developer I’ve received many questions about the profession. People are really curious about my career, how I got started and how one goes about creating recipes. People almost always assume I’m a restaurant critic which I am most definitely not, at least not professionally. 🙂 Anyone who dines with my girlfriend and I would say we definitely critic our experience but that’s just us, no one is paying us for that service. HA!  When I tell people that a recipe developer actually creates recipes, the conversation usually goes something like this:

Them: “Wait. So you make up the recipes? Like, actually come up with the ingredients and stuff?”

Me:  “Well . Yeah!”

The follow-up question is almost always “Are you a chef?”

My answer: “No. I’m not a chef, I just really have a passion for cooking. ”

 

Everyone is so amazed that I am able to come up with different ideas and be so creative without having a degree to back me up. They always want to know where my ideas come from if they aren’t coming from already published recipes. Honestly, I think its different for every person. Some food writers and chefs are heavily influenced by eating out, some by travel, some even by non-food related experiences. I would say that many things influence me. Sometimes a small idea or flavor profile is all I need to lead me to a recipe idea like these wings for example. I was thinking about peanut butter and jelly and how amazing they taste when you stir them together. Then my mind lead me to a sweet peanut sauce, like the ones served in Thai restaurants. Before you knew it, I thought about using it as a topping for sticky wings and POW this recipe was born.

 

I hope that by reading this blog you are able to feel inspired and allow yourself the freedom to create in the kitchen without the fear of “screwing it up”. You don’t need to be a chef to be a great cook. Don’t let seemingly perfect, fancy food images scare you away from the joy that a meal can bring you and your loved ones. Get in the kitchen, roll up your sleeves and have fun!

 

With Love,

Christina

 

April 8th, 2016

I Come Bearing Food.

Hey Everyone!

It’s been FOREVER!!! I know. I know! Before you start hatin’ on me for being gone for so long, let me try and smooth things over the best way I know how.

FOOD!

Credit: Photography by Ted Cavanaugh; Styling by Jen Beauchesne

 

Here are some links to some recent work that I’ve created for Refinery29:

 

One Grocery Bag. $20. Three Meals!

Mason Jar Lunches That Aren’t Boring Salads

Never Throw Away Takeout Rice Again

These Pizza Hacks Will Change your Life

 

I may have been away from my site but I promise you I have a great excuse. I’ve been crazy busy raising kids, creating recipes for all sorts of cool projects and coming up with new ideas to take this site to the next level! This is truly my home and the place I feel most creative and at ease. I am back not only to bribe you with food but to also let you know I have big plans for this site and I hope you’ll come along for the ride. As always, I love hearing from you. I hope you enjoy these recipes and are as excited as I am for what’s in store!

XOXO,

C

September 22nd, 2014

{Sponsored} New School Year, New Play dates with LEGO JUNIORS

My oldest son just turned 6, which means he’s at the perfect age for play dates. In theory, play dates should mean he’s occupied with his friend so that I have time to get stuff done. But after two or three of these “play dates” I’ve realized that expecting kids to entertain themselves or come up with a constructive (and not destructive) activity all by themselves is a joke. That’s why I’ve found that it’s always, always, always a good idea to plan an activity ahead of time.

Enter LEGO Juniors


My boy is really into construction vehicles so I decided to try out the new LEGO Juniors Digger set on his most recent play date. I created a construction theme and set out a sensory tray (more on those here) with dried beans to give the boys a chance to dig as if they were in a real construction site. I also included some construction hats, cones, and even a super simple snack of “Sandy Yogurt” (yogurt topped with graham cracker crumbs). The boys had a great time!





I must admit, my son only got into LEGO sets hardcore in the last year or so, and I was a little scared that I would get stuck building things all by myself. Nope. Not true at all. The sets are well-designed for specific age groups to help ensure that children can tackle these projects on their own (or easily work as a team with a peer or parent), so my son hasn’t been frustrated once. He’s at an age where I can see how important it is for him to build self-confidence and LEGO has done just that. He feels so incredibly proud of himself for being able to follow the directions and build the digger without any help from me!


Sometimes I just sit and watch him while he plays. I absolutely adore watching him tear into the cellophane bag that contains each LEGO set and run his little fingers across the bricks when he begins a new project. I can see his wheels are really turning, and his younger brother is getting into LEGO too. It’s sweet to see him use his own imagination to create his own masterpieces right alongside his big brother. I kid you not, LEGOs keep my boys (and their friends) busy for an hour at a time. Parents of multiple young boys know this is HUGE! Can I get an Amen?!