Mario Batali 6-qt Dutch Oven

Last year, in addition to a solid five pounds of cookie weight, Christmas brought me another wonderful gift: An enameled cast iron Mario Batali Dutch oven. As orange and rotund as Batali himself, this 6-quart pot has already proven itself a dream come true for making perfect soups and stews. An elementary measure that I employ when assessing the quality of a new piece of cookware is the old onion test, and because this thing has some serious weight, onions sauté to perfection (though in about twice the time as the Cusinart stainless steel pot that I have recently forsaken in its favor). It’s all about heat distribution. Porcelain-coated cast iron may take longer to heat up, but it succeeds in retaining heat, and therefore cooks things evenly. (A sign of a lesser pan is often the speed in which it gets hot. Test this theory by witnessing the 1.5 seconds it takes for an aluminum pan to become a branding iron.) Yes, speed often equals convenience, but we’re making homemade soup here, a labor of love. What’s the hurry? The enameled interior of the Batali Dutch oven isn’t what I’d describe as “non-stick,” but clean-up is incredibly easy thanks to its dreamy, smooth surface. At less than half the price of a Le Creuset dutch oven, it’s an excellent bargain to boot. And if it’s good enough for Mario, it’s good enough for me.
Retails for about $100.

Pacific Rim

Pacific Rim is one of Burlington’s greatest little gems. Nestled on Saint Paul Street among the popular larger venues of American Flatbread and Vermont Pub & Brewery, the tiny Asian café is nothing more than one little room; a petite, cozy place with fogged-up windows and noodles that will rock your socks off. Just don’t call it Pacific Rim Job, like certain friends insist upon doing. I mean, we’re eating here. Read more

The Wayside, Berlin-Montpelier Line

I hate the phrase “down-home.” I know it’s supposed to make you feel all warm and cozy, designed to suggest an unpretentious, throw another log in the pot-bellied woodstove, ya’ll-come-back-now-ya-hear setting, but when describing a restaurant, it’s not the first word I hope to hear. The very reason I go out to eat is because I want something different than what I prepare in my own home. However, at the Wayside Restaurant, down-home eventually won me over. Read more

American Flatbread — Burlington Hearth

Pizza and beer. Since the dawn of time, have there ever been two more perfectly suited best friends? Give me a plain cheese and a six-pack of carbonated swill on a Friday night, and I’m not going to lie, I’m pretty happy. Give me a night out at American Flatbread in Burlington, I’m so overcome with epicurean joy that I could almost weep. It’s that good. Read more

Montpelier Pizza

For a small city, Montpelier is overrun with pizza places; some good, some bad, some gloriously cheap, some with $25 price tags and toppings like kale and tempeh, and some just plain greasy. People say that pizza is like sex, and even when it’s bad, it’s still kind of good. I see several flaws in that theory and as a Montpelierite and a lifelong pizza fan, I have found that when a person knows what they’re doing, it will be really great. The pizza, I mean. Here’s a rundown of the noteworthy: Read more

Penny Cluse, Burlington

Penny Cluse serves the best breakfast in Vermont. Hands down, case closed, all other morning eateries can dry their eyes on their own half-rate pancakes.

Located on Cherry Street in downtown Burlington, “The Cluse,” as we insiders affectionately call it, has been serving up their in-high-demand brunch since Charles Reeves and Holly Cluse opened in 1998. I think I’ve actually eaten breakfast there fifty times or more, and I can’t think of a single time that I’ve been disappointed with the comforting, fresh, impeccably prepared food. I’ve tried almost everything on the menu, but for the last several years I’ve been ordering the same thing (tofu scram with salsa, side of fruit, chicken sausage) and when I think about that perfect plate of food, I could actually cry — it’s just that good. Read more

Hen of the Wood, Waterbury

Hen of the Wood is a restaurant that will change your life.

Okay, maybe I’m just floating on the euphoric high that a late summer dinner at the place induced, maybe I’m remembering those corn fritters that I ordered, and how they brought me back to the Augusts of my childhood, seeing my father coming in from the fields with the first bushel of sweet corn under his arm, but until I take some sort of downer or eat a bad taco, I’m riding this lovely, buttery cloud and sticking by my statement. Read more

Mario Batali Silicone Spoonula

Mario Batali Silicone SpoonulaUsually I would hate this item based solely on the word, “spoonula,” not actually a word, but just a grammatical annoyance like “spork,” “guesstimate,” or “funexpected.” But I love it! I love it for its heat-resistant silicone, oval-shaped head, as bright orange as the neon Crocs that Batali boldly sports. I love its burly, wooden handle. I love its not-quite-a-spatula, not-quite-a-spoon identity crisis characterized by its slight curves. It’s incredibly heat resistant, perfect for pushing around scrambled eggs or caramelizing onions, safe for all of your non-stick pans, and there’s just something cheerful about its sunny presence in your utensil crock. It cost me about $7, but it was money well-spent, because every time I use it, it just feels like it was meant for my hand. Spoontacular.

All-Clad Double Burner Griddle

All-Clad Double Burner GriddleOde to All-Clad, the cookware that I long for yet I can’t afford. I have satisfied this craving for $150 sauce pots with a line of Cusinart stainless pans, an elegant knockoff, right down to the style of the riveted handles — the poor-man’s All-Clad. The Cuisinart has been good to me over the years, and continues to exhibit a solid construction and absolute reliability. But All-Clad, the supermodel of pans still calls my name. So recently, like a drug dealer offering me “just a little taste” before I become a strung-out junkie, All-Clad sealed the deal with the LTD Nonstick Grande Griddle. The griddle has been my doorway into the world of All-Clad, and seriously, I want to go to bed with this thing at night. It’s a double burner affair, so it performs really well on a gas stove, since heat control is a no-brainer. It’s passed the pancake test with flying colors several times over, with the flapjacks that are positioned on the surface between burners cooking evenly. Fried eggs can be flipped with ease on the nonstick surface, and sautéing large quantities of peppers and onions will make you feel like you’re working the flat-top at your favorite diner. It’s enough to make you want to shout, “Order up!” when the French toast is done. Clean-up is painless, though I wouldn’t suggest putting it in the dishwasher or using any kind of abrasive sponge/brush on it. I mean, this is All-Clad for Pete’s sake. Have some respect.

Retails for about $170 at some stores, though it can sometimes be found on Amazon for $99.

9” Scanpan Ceramic Titanium Skillet

I think I’ve found the perfect omelet pan and I am ready to shout from the rooftops that Danish company Scanpan’s 9” skillet is my new best friend. The ideal size for a three-egg omelet (I am ridiculously hungry in the morning), the pan continues to dazzle me with its magical non-stick powers, and manages to do so with zero Teflon in sight. Not a coating or some kind of low-rent factory spray, the Scanpan is made of ceramic titanium, which, when treated with care, can be indestructible — this is space shuttle stuff. The company even claims that it’s safe to use with metal utensils, and backs up that saucy declaration by guaranteeing it for life. I have never had to use any kind of scouring pad or brush during clean up, even after scrambled eggs, and omelets actually slide right out of the pan with grace, thanks to its shallow, gently sloped edges. It takes a while to heat up, thanks to the heavy aluminum bottom, but that will only serve you well, if, like me, you detest brown, overcooked eggs. The pan retails for around $50 and is absolutely worth the investment.

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