Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Things Every Girl Needs: Kitchen Essentials

Today I'm so excited to have Julie from the amazing blog Julip Made here to post about something every girl needs: essential kitchen items.  I love reading Julie's blog and fantasizing about whipping up great meals every night, and appreciate that she posts simple but impressive recipes that any of us could recreate.  Please go pay her a visit when you're done here and then resist the urge to grab a snack because you'll be hungry.
Hello Lovely Cardigan Junkie Readers, Julie from Julip Made here.  I adore Haley and her sense of style and often find myself following her work wardrobe advice to a tee!  I am delighted to be taking part in her “Things Every Girl Needs” series.  Today I’ll be sharing a few kitchen essentials that can help any girl (or guy) make the perfect meal.   My philosophy is that by using fresh ingredients and simple recipes/ techniques, anyone can make a fantastic, mouthwatering meal.  These tools can help you make that meal…

1. Chef’s Knife- The workhorse of the kitchen, this is probably one of, if not the most useful tool and one item that you should definitely not skimp on.  Several things to keep in mind when picking out your chef’s knife:  material (Japanese harder alloys versus German high carbon stainless steel), length (8”-10”), weight, and tang (the extension of the blade into the handle, which can provide strength and balance).  My advice would be to actually go to the store and test out the feel of the knife.  How the knife feels and how you hold the knife can really make a difference in the speed as well as comfort, especially when prepping lots of food.
2. Cutting board with grip- A good cutting board with grips can make prep work go more smoothly and help eliminate injuries caused by your cutting board shifting.  I’d also recommend getting at least two different colors of cutting boards (red for meats, other for veggies) If you don’t have a cutting board with rubber grips, place a damp dish towel beneath the cutting board so it doesn’t slide on the counter.
  Spicy Peanut-Ginger, Chicken, and Bok Choy Saladsitting in prep bowls
3. Microplane (grater/zester) -   This tool is a secret weapon in the kitchen used for adding flavor to a dish.  It can be used to zest citrus fruits, grate nutmeg for some spice, or grate cheese.  I especially love using lemon zest to add flavor instead of using such a heavy hand with salt.
4. Mixing and Prep Bowls-    One of the first things we were taught in my culinary class was to keep an organized “mise en place”.  This means to pretty much get all of your tools and ingredients set up and prepped before you cook so that while you are actually preparing the meal you aren’t running around the kitchen like a crazy person.  Mixing and prep bowls are essential to this process.  
  Pesto made with KitchenAid mini-food processor
5. Food Processor- This is a great tool for expediting food prep and can be used to: slice and dice veggies; grind meats, spices, and nuts; and shredding meats, veggies or cheeses.  The food processor can also take the manual aspect out of tasks such as mixing or kneading doughs, and grinding sauces or spreads such as pesto or tapenade.  
 Bacon Egg and Arugula Deep Dish Pizza made withcast iron skillet
6. Cast Iron Skillet- Another workhorse of the kitchen, because of its heat retention and diffusion properties, the skillet can be used for searing, frying, sautéing, stewing, and braising.  It can be used on the cook top, in the oven, or a combination of both.  My favorite, more recent discovery is to use the skillet to create delicious deep dish pizzas.   
7. Dutch/French Oven- Also made out of cast iron, but covered in enamel, the Dutch or French Oven has the same heating properties as the skillet, but its deeper sides and lid make it more useful for stews, braises and sauces.  It also can be used on both the stovetop and the oven, making it a multi-purpose tool.  
 Braised Beef Short-ribs and Potatoes Daphinois madewith Le Creuset French Oven

8. Tongs-  A relatively overlooked tool, tongs are a very useful tool and can be used for everything from turning meats in the pan, tossing salads, turning hot dishes, tossing veggies in the sauté pan, removing items from boiling water, and plating your cooked ingredients with accuracy.  There are many different types of tongs out there, but my favorite are the standard metal scalloped restaurant tongs pictured above.
As a foodie, my birthday and Christmas wish lists are often filled with kitchen tools, cookbooks, and appliances, most of which are definitely not essential for the kitchen.  Like I said before, you really only need a few basics to make great food, but of course there are some fun tools to experiment with.
9. Pasta Roller- Pasta is obviously a very accessible ingredient with most grocery stores even offering fresh pasta varieties.  However, in my opinion, if you have the time and equipment, home-made pasta is far superior in flavor and texture.  You can also play around with various flavorings and colors that really elevate your dish to the next level such as squid ink, beet juice, black olive, or wasabi pasta.
10. Silpat Mat-  Although not essential for baking, the silpat mat is a non-stick backing mat that also helps to insulate whatever you are baking from burning, helps cookies form their shape, and can even be used for frozen objects. 
11. Mandoline- The mandolin can help if you are looking for very precise and even prep cuts such as various juliennes, crinkle cuts, or waffle cuts.  These can really add to the presentation of salads, beautify fried foods, and create pretty garnishes. 
I hope this can help you all get started in the kitchen and stop by Julip Made if you want more recipes - including cocktail recipes !  Thank you again Haley for having me!
Xo, Julie
Thanks so much for stopping by, Julie!  I am happy to know that I only have a few more essentials left to buy, but definitely could use the ones I have more effectively.  If any of you would like to participate in this series, shoot me an email and let me know - I love meeting new bloggers!
Please note that this series is intended to offer exposure to other independent bloggers - no companies, please.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Cool color blocking - farylrobin footwear

This weekend I was playing around with the Gilt app on my iPad and immediately regretted seeing these wedge sandals in the most gorgeous shade of green.  Even if I weren't on shopping hiatus, they cost more than I usually spend on shoes, and I did not need this kind of temptation.

 look how pretty - they'd be so cute with shorts, and skirts, and dresses, and pants...

Then, I certainly did not need to search for the brand, farylrobin, on and discover that they are masters at color blocking and could fill my closet for seasons to come:

So far I've stayed strong and purchased nothing.  But don't think I didn't consider my birthday money and Paypal account balance to make those green wedges mine.  What shoe is your favorite?

P.S. In case you're wondering, farylrobin does not know that I exist - I just like the shoes.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Tile shopping: What would you do?

This fall will be a busy time at the casa de Cardigan Junkie, and our plans began to come together this weekend when N and I scoured Dallas area tile outlets for the right sample to redo our kitchen tile and extend it through our dining area, which is currently carpeted.  We also selected some unexciting Martha Stewart carpet to replace the old, worn beige carpeting in our living area and bedrooms. 

It's hard for me to get excited about this, mostly because our kitchen was redone by the previous owner and it's just not what I would have picked for us (light maple and slate).  However, it's well appointed, and was quite costly, so redoing anything beyond the flooring would be a foolish investment for a house that we only plan to live in for about 5 more years.  That means I need to get my head out of the clouds and make a smart choice, but I cannot bring myself to put down 12 inch square beige tile.  I just can't.

I came across this photo on Pinterest, and it looks very much like my kitchen, doesn't it?  I'm liking the wood floor with the cabinets and gray/steel hues.

And this is mine...

We found a long plank tile that looks like wood that would get us closer to the inspiration photo, and I think it looks pretty nice.  We're also kicking around the idea of bringing the tile into the living room so as not to create an island of carpet.  At first, faux wood sounded horrid to me, but after visiting a house where this material is in use, I quickly changed my mind.  It's durable and fairly affordable, and doesn't make that loud clacking sound you hear when people walk on laminate.  Unless you get down on the floor, it really doesn't feel like tile.  (And in case you're wondering, we live in a neighborhood full of 1960's era ranch houses where nice hardwoods are not common, and our house is already one of the nicer ones on the street so it wouldn't be a good use of our budget.) 

We also picked up a large neutral stone tile that looks like a larger version of what's already on the floor, minus the chips.  Boooooring.

So, now that I've overshared and potentially lost some of you, I'd love to know what you think I should do!  Any other tips now that you've seen my kitchen?  (That white wall will be painted eventually, you can be sure of that, but I haven't decided on a color.)

Friday, August 26, 2011

Currently Loving List

Happy Friday, ladies!  I cannot wait to get out of an office and into my house for a weekend of relaxing, and possibly a little redecorating with things I already have.  (I get bored with rooms every six months or so)  One thing I will not be doing is shopping... despite wanting to show up at NorthPark Center on Saturday morning and wander around before popping in to West Elm.  Hopefully I can stay strong and hold out for a couple more weeks!

Since I'm not buying things for myself and saving up for some bigger Fall purchases, I am making do with pinning and sharing my favorite items below for those of you not abstaining from retail therapy.  Here are some things I'm currently loving:

This david aubrey necklace is so bold and playful.  Some of his other designs are available at Anthropologie (for cheaper than the company site, go figure) and I'm hopeful this one will be too one day!  I'm glad Aubrey posted about his jewelry this week!

I think this watch is so classic and ladylike, and I love that it's only $60!

I think this sweater from LOFT is so classic that I would wear it for years.  It's taking all my willpower not to click add to cart since it's on sale for $33.

I've been thinking about these flats ever since I included them in my Polyvore set this week, and now they're on sale for $99.  That's still too much to me, but the color is so rich and the style is so chic that I know I'd wear them a long time.  If they're still available in September, they may become a Fall purchase.

And finally, I've been admiring this amazing silk pillow from Furbish.  I'd love a pair to display on a bed, but mine is unmade far too much to justify something so beautiful.

So... is there anything you've been lusting over this week?  What are you going to buy so I can live vicariously through you? 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Reader Request: Corporate to Casual

A couple of weeks ago I got a reader request email from Natalie, who is leaving the corporate world behind in favor of a new career in nursing.  She's obviously quite brave to change direction and follow her dreams, but she's reluctant to get rid of her huge career wardrobe that boasts dozens of skirts, pants and jackets.  She's asked for ideas on how to wear the items she already has in more casual ways, and since I'm still pretending that Fall us upon us, I've made some options for her to consider:

Pencil skirt - Casual

Pencil skirts look a lot more casual when you pair them with a pullover, flats, and a bright scarf.  This outfit would be cute for dinners out when it's cool outside. 

Blazer Two Ways

I'm not sharing any sort of secret when I say that blazers can be worn far beyond the office.  Here's two examples of a daytime and evening look with the same blazer pulled from a suit.

Work shirt gone casual

And of course, button down oxford shirts look very casual with the sleeves rolled up and paired with shorts and sandals.

I will admit that I've not come up with a way to style wool trousers in a way that isn't totally obvious and business-like.  Stylist fail.  That said, I will encourage Natalie to take this opportunity to pick the pieces she really likes that make her feel great and keep them, and sell the ones that are unlikely to be worn very often.   That will bring in some extra cash, that she could use to build a wardrobe of awesome tennis shoes to wear with her new scrubs  :)

Shoes for scrubs


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