1. Fresh Herbs – There is NO exception for the use of fresh herbs. Some fresh herbs are already pretty widely used, like basil, but really make an effort to replace all of your herbs with fresh. It will make a huge difference in the taste of your finished product. Start with fresh thyme and oregano to see the difference right away. To keep the balance of the recipe just right, make sure to multiply the amount of dry herbs by three if you are substituting fresh, and add the fresh herbs later than the dry. An herb keeper will help preserve the lives of your tender herbs.

2. Dijon Mustard – combined with vinegar & oil, it’s a must for emulsifying a quick salad dressing. It adds an unmistakable tang to potatoes, grilled cheese, roasted fish, pan sauces and so much more.

3. Lentils, Quinoa, Polenta, Grits…all of these are lovely substitutes for rice, bread and potatoes, the one area of the square meal that could really use some jazzing up. They are unique and delicious, and they are no more difficult to prepare than the more traditional starches!

4. Roasting Vegetables – many of us treat veggies as an afterthought, nuking them in the last five minutes, but just 20 minutes in a 400 degree oven turns broccoli, cauliflower, and so many other vegetables into stars in their own right.

5. Lemons – If a sauce tastes “boring”, chances are it either needs salt or acid. Lemon juice can provide that acid like little else can, and it adds freshness and complexity to almost anything. Don’t neglect the zest of the lemon…it works in marinades, sauces and rubs. Always zest before you juice!

6. Butter – that’s right, butter. Many “low-fat” cooks see the word butter and panic, instantly substituting margarine or some odd replacement. There is absolutely no equal to butter’s taste and usefulness in the kitchen. Use it without regret to make the best food you’ve ever made. Eat a normal portion and you’ll be just fine.

7. Good Quality Cheeses – First and foremost, throw away that dreaded green can of parmesan cheese and grate your own…that stuff is practically sawdust! And don’t be afraid that you won’t use up the block of parmesan in time to get your money’s worth; it lasts a good, long time. But don’t stop there! Try shredding some gruyere instead of American in a grilled cheese, and tell me if that isn’t the biggest difference in the world. You will not need to use as much, because the flavor is so much more intense. It’s so worth it!

8. Salt and Pepper – No Joke. Don’t just save these for a last-minute sprinkle, or the flavors won’t generally get into what you’re preparing. Make sure to salt and pepper both sides of your food before cooking. Taste your food before serving it (seems basic, but people don’t do it enough!), and realize that, yes, you will need to add some salt. Chances are good that that is all that stands between a decent dish and a really great one.

9. Paper Towels – Dry off all meat and fish before you cook it. If you are breading it and it’s still damp, the coating won’t adhere properly. Searing is best done on dry proteins. A simple tip, but an important one.

10. Wine – When a recipe calls for wine, use wine you would willingly drink. If there is a bottle left over from Thanksgiving that has been in the refrigerator for months, it will not impart the proper flavor to your dish. That said, don’t use your best bottle of Pinot in your pan sauce. Just make sure you pour yourself a glass from the bottle you do select, and you’ll be all set.


As any mom with a couple elementary schoolers could tell you, the birthday party invitations come faster than you can keep up with gift buying. That’s why I like to have a generic gift drawer full of great go-to gifts that are ready to go at a moment’s notice. I am not including any Wii or DS games, although they are always a hit. Here are some of my favorite non-electronic toys.

1. Apples to Apples Junior-this is wonderful for 7-8 year olds and up. The kids love the “anybody can win” aspect of this game, and it isn’t too painful for adults to play, either!

2. Mini Boden T-Shirts. Boden is a British company with the cutest darn T-shirts around. Because they aren’t widely available here in the US, it’ll certainly be something the recipient doesn’t have yet, and the quality is so nice that Mom will be pleased. There are tons of whimsical designs for girls and boys, and they are so “cool” that kids don’t mind receiving them…in fact, they really love them!

3 & 4. Shel Silverstein Poem Books – Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic are classics for a reason. They will be the best books in the recipient’s collection from here on out. The humor and sentiment in the poems is timeless, and can inspire even the most disinterested reader to give a poem or two a spin before bed. One of the BEST gifts a kid can ever get.

5. The Guinness Book of World Records. What kid doesn’t want to read about the tallest person alive, the highest score achieved in their favorite sporting event, or the fastest animal ever clocked? Every kid is sure to find some records they are interested in reading about, and maybe even interested in breaking!

6. Yamslam Game. Way too addictive for kids and adults, it’s like a combination of Yahtzee & poker with a cool felt rolling tray. Order it in bulk!

7. Find-It Game. It sound simple enough; a clear plastic tube full of little sprinkle pellets. But inside these pellets are hidden 47 little trinkets (think a safety pin, a pearl, a penny, an elbow macaroni) that you check off as you find them in the craziness. Both kids and adults will find it hard to set it down, and it’s a very original gift.

8. Sticky Mosaic Kits. Everything from fairies to dinosaurs to classic art can be turned into a super-cool mosaic just by peeling some paper. Art kits are always a good bet, because by their very nature, they are disposable. A guaranteed hit!

9. Make-Your-Own-Storybook Kit. What kid doesn’t like to draw, to color, to tell stories, and best of all, to read about THEMSELVES? One of the best-reviewed gifts out there, perfect for a rainy day.

10. E.T. The Extra Terrestrial DVD – The best movie from your childhood still has it! If you (and your recipient’s Mom & Dad) can get past a couple less-than-clean words, this is a wonderful movie for all kids and will surely go down as one of their favorite films ever.


Ten Best Kitchen Items to Add to Your Bridal Registry

February 16, 2011

After ten years of marriage and a steadily improving cooking repertoire, I know a little something more than I knew 11 years back. 1. Le Creuset Dutch Oven – worth the money!  This is a heavy, no-nonsense piece of cooking equipment that will prove indispensable when preparing stews, chili, roasted chicken, you name it!  I [...]

Read the full article →

Top Ten Unique Party Themes for Adults

February 15, 2011

1. Kentucky Derby Party – Held on the first Saturday in May, this is a wonderful opportunity to welcome spring and maybe even do a little betting.  The only musts are a big screen TV to play the horse race for all to see and a good mint julep recipe.  Have party guests dress in “festive [...]

Read the full article →

Top Ten No-Sew Original Halloween Costumes

July 21, 2009

Spaghetti – Dress child in red sweatshirt and sweatpants.  Drape four 25-inch lenghth of quarter-inch polyethylene tubing around the sweatshirt, hot-gluing every couple of inches to secure.  For meatball hat, cover small plastic foam balls with red modeling compound, like Model Magic, making the finish bumpy like a meatball.  When dry, use brown acrylic paint [...]

Read the full article →