Monday, July 30, 2012

Why I Bought (and Love) a $35 Pepper Grinder

My mom taught me that it is better to spend more money on one thing of high quality than several things of lower quality.  A good lesson in general, but bad because I always seem to like the more expensive item. 

I thought I went the more costly route a few years ago when I bought a pepper grinder from Crate and Barrel.  Apparently $16.95 is affordable for a pepper grinder, even one that is called a "pepper mill."  I learned this yesterday when I went in search of a new pepper grinder because my Crate and Barrel contraption is broken. 

After walking in and out of Crate and Barrel (three employees stood behind the cash register talking, so no greeting for customers), I remembered that my used-to-live-in-Cali-but-now-live-in-Boston-friends gave me a gift card to Sur La Table for my birthday.  So, I ventured in there.  A very nice employee, Chris, immediately greeted me and showed me the pepper grinders.  In fact he was so helpful that he tried to show me how to open one of the grinders, and ended up spilling an entire container full of whole peppercorns when the bottom of the grinders unexpectedly dropped to the floor. 

Sur La Table has a very nice selection of pepper grinders.  Of course the one I wanted, the  Cole and Mason Keswick Wood model cost $35.  Yikes.  That was much more than I planned to spend, and it probably falls into the reasonable-range at Sur La Table (there was a $90 model).  But, I was in there because I had a gift card to spend, and isn't that what gift cards are for - to buy something for yourself that you normally wouldn't?  At least that's what I think.

This is a good investment!  I am only two meals into using this mill, but I love it.  It grinds pepper much better than my old one did, and it has six preset grind levels that you set from the outside (see my picture).  It may not be a Peugeot, but the Cole and Mason also has a lifetime warranty on the grinding mechanism.   

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

What are Your Ten Best-Ever Teen Books?

This one's for book lovers, especially those who like to read in the YA genre.  After collecting nominations for a top-100 list of the best young adjust books, NPR has come up with a list of 235 titles, and it's now up to the public to vote.  We can each pick 10 books from the list.

That's right 10 books.  I don't know how it will be/was for you, but it was incredibly difficult for me!

My votes were for:
  1. Anne of Green Gables (series) by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  2. The Dark is Rising (series) by Susan Cooper
  3. Harry Potter (series) by J.K. Rowling
  4. His Dark Materials (series) by Philip Pullman
  5. The Hunger Games (series) by Suzanne Collins
  6. The Princess Bride by William Golman
  7. The Shiver Trilogy (series by Maggie Stiefvater)
  8. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  9. Twilight (series) by Stephenie Meyer
  10. Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt
But, I also wanted to vote for:
  1. Betsy-Tacy Books (series) by Maud Hart-Lovelace
  2. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
  3. Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
  4. The Mortal Instruments (series) by Cassandra Clare
  5. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
  6. A Separate Peace by John Knowles
  7. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
And where in world was A Wrinkle in Time?  I don't get why it's not on the list when the Betsy-Tacy books are there; I could have sworn those were little kids.  But then again, NPR does talk about the debates they went through trying to figure out just what fits into YA.  At any rate, I can't wait to see the final list.  I just may have to re-read some of these titles.

What are your best-ever YA books?  If you voted, what were your selections?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Salt's Cure Equals Yum

If you have ever eaten a meal with me, you know that I am pretty much a meatatarian.  Yes, vegetables can be tasty, and I know they're good for you, but they are generally secondary to me when it comes to food choices.  So I took a little bit of offense to one of Adam Richman's search for the "manliest" restaurant in America.  I know I'm a girl and all, but geez, I enjoy a good steak too. 

Miffed feelings aside, goodness did he pick a fantastic place when he went to Salt's Cure in West Hollywood.  All the discussions about meat, the hands-on approach of the two owners made this a must-try for the B and me; which we finally did on Saturday.  We thoroughly enjoyed every moment...well, almost every moment. 

The restaurant is located at North Vista and Santa Monica Boulevard, and it's a pretty small place.  We walked-in around 7:00 p.m., and they had two seats left at the bar.  Actually, we sat at a regular table, right next to the bar, but we faced their open kitchen.  The B likes to situate us like this because he enjoys watching the cooking process.  Which, I must admit, was a fun experience at this place, except for the part when the workers got in a little bit of a tiff.  It was a little disappointing to hear the exchange, but I guess that's what you get when you have an open kitchen.  We said we would pretend it didn't happen because the food was that good.

We shared the pickled vegetables (served with pretzel roll), a creamy goat cheese (with some sort of nutty bread), the mussels (with toasted rustic/country bread), braised Swiss chard, the bacon cheeseburger, and the bread pudding.  Everything was excellent.  They pickle their own vegetables, bake their own breads, cure their own bacon (truly thick strips) get the picture.  We had to roll ourselves out of there, but it was worth every over-stuffed moment I had that night.

Pickle Plate with Pretzel Roll

The atmosphere is quite nice, but I wouldn't call it romantic.  The menu changes everyday, so you have to look-up on a chalkboard that hangs near the ceiling.  Apparently they serve brunch on the weekends, and are open for lunch on the weekdays.  It's not the cheapest place, but it's not that expensive either; especially when you consider the lengths they go to for food preparation.  We plan to go back for brunch...if we can ever get ourselves away from the brunch scene at the beach.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Pizza! With Spinach, Caramelized Onion and Bacon

I do heart pizza.  It doesn't even have to be gourmet, and I'll probably love it.  But, I do appreciate the fancy stuff too.  This particular pizza is one I would categorize as fancy.  The toppings include spinach, caramelized onion, and bacon.  I think I made it because I had a ton of spinach to use, and pizza just made sense. 

In this instance, I used a regular pizza sauce, but the recipe actually calls for a garlic cream sauce.  On another occasion I made the white sauce version, and honestly, whatever floats your boat is what you should use. 

Hope you enjoy!

Spinach, Caramelized, and Bacon Pizza
found on


  • Pizza dough
  • 4 bacon slices, chopped
  • 1 (10-ounce) package fresh spinach (I used baby spinach)
  • 2 cups (1/4-inch-thick) sliced onion 
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup 2% reduced-fat milk (I used whole milk)
  • 1 tablespoon cornmeal (did not use cornmeal, used flour instead)
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) grated fresh Parmesan cheese
  1. To prepare topping, cook bacon in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat until crisp. Remove bacon from pan, reserving 2 teaspoons drippings. Set bacon aside. Add spinach to drippings in pan; sauté 2 minutes or until wilted. Place spinach in a colander, pressing until barely moist. Add onion and 2 teaspoons sugar to pan; cook 12 minutes or until golden brown, stirring frequently. Remove from heat; cool.
  2. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic; cook 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add 3 tablespoons flour and pepper, stirring with a whisk; cook 30 seconds. Gradually add milk, stirring constantly with a whisk. Cook 5 minutes or until thick and bubbly, stirring constantly with a whisk.
  3. Preheat oven to 475º.  If you are using store-bought dough, follow the directions on the package.
  4. Roll dough into a 12-inch circle on a floured surface. Place dough on a (12-inch) pizza pan or baking sheet coated with cooking spray and sprinkled with cornmeal. Crimp edges of dough with fingers to form a rim. Spread milk mixture evenly over dough; top with spinach and onion.
  5. Bake at 475° for 20 minutes. Sprinkle evenly with bacon and cheese; bake an additional 5 minutes or until golden brown.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Spicy Margarita

 Apparently it's hip to add a little kick to your margarita.  After trying different versions at some local bars, I said I would make one at home.  So, I got out my favorite margarita recipe and added peppers.  The bad thing is that this recipe makes one drink at a time, and squeezing the limes is way more labor intensive than I would like.  That being said, the work is pretty worth it.

Spicy Margarita
adapted from Food Network Kitchens' Margarita recipe

  • Ice cubes
  • 3 oz. tequila 
  • 2 oz. freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 oz. simple syrup (see below for recipe)
  • 1/2 to 1 t orange liqueur
  • 1/2 Serrano pepper or 1 jalapeno pepper
  • 1 T kosher salt
Fill a cocktail shaker with ice.  Slice pepper (do not de-seed or de-vein if you want it spicy) and muddle.  Add pepper, tequila, lime juice, orange liqueur, and simple syrup to shaker.  Cover and shake until mixed and chilled, about 30 seconds.  Place kosher salt on a plate.  Press the rim of a chilled glass into the salt to rim the edge.  Strain margarita into the glass.

Simple Syrup 
  • 1 C sugar
  • 1 C water
Put the sugar and water in a small saucepan.  Cook over low heat, stirring until the sugar dissovles.  Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to one month. Yields about 1 1/2 cups.