Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Gift of Food

Pin It
So my last post was gifts for the cook.  These are food gifts for the cook and the baker.  Sometimes people just hedge on spending that extra money for something better quality or cool to have.  So here are a few ideas.  Things I certainly enjoy.

If you read my blog, ever, you know that this is the only vanilla I use.  Nothing else tastes like it, and although it is a little pricier, it is worth every penny.  The vanilla paste is a wonderful treat for someone who makes their own ice cream, meringues, whipped cream...It is basically all those little vanilla bean specks in a sugar based suspension.  It keeps a long time, much longer than vanilla beans, which tend to dry out.  It really eliminates scraping the bean, and there is no waste.

Seasoning your food is paramount.  Maldon sea salt crumbles perfectly on your salads and meat.  And tellicherry pepper is all I would ever put in my grinder.  I never believed there was a difference, but there is.  Truffle and Salt is an expensive addition to a pantry, but nothing tastes as decadent as truffle.  It is amazing sprinkled on pasta, potatoes, even popcorn.  Finally, the tin of Potlatch Seasoning.  We sell out of it often, and for good reason.  It is terrific on salmon, but also makes a yummy sour cream based chip dip and season your chicken with it before you make chicken salad and wow...whole new level of flavor!

My dad buys Hot Rocks in bulk.  We all get them.  It is a chunky salt and pepper mixture with a little lemon in there as well.  It is so good on a steak!  The little jar on the right comes from the St. Helena Olive Oil Company.  It is a darling package with some great herbs inside.  Just add a great olive oil and dip your bread.  I also sprinkle it on pasta.

The baker in your life will thankyou for any of these. Instant espresso powder enhances anything chocolate, but also can bring a great coffee flavor to baked goods without adding any additional liquid.  This is my favorite brand.  Some are very bitter, almost burnt tasting.  The Pernigotti cocoa is something I talk about frequently, it just beats anything from the grocer.  Lyle's Golden Syrup is delicious and beats out corn syrup every time.  And local honey is a gift everyone would love.  Honey has many benefits, and local honey is shown to help with seasonal allergies.  I also love that I support a local bee keeper.

I have sung the praises of Captain Rodney before.  These are usually found in a specialty store, and are fun additions for the holidays.

If your food lover doesn't have a Trader Joe's and you do, here are some suggestions.  I stock up when we go to Nashville.  The nut selection is vast, and priced very well.  Almond meal, raw almonds, sliced almonds, pistachios (out of the shell) and macadamias are some of my favorites.  The white balsamic is my everyday vinegar, I buy 4 bottles at a time.  The peanut butter cups?  Delicious.  I bought them in August and they have been in hiding for 3 months.  I treat myself to one every week or so.  They also usually have some good special chocolate things for the holidays.  I just love this store.  Wish we had one in Memphis....hint hint hint.

So certainly there are lots of other great food items, but this is a good start.  A change from the classic olive oil, bottle of wine or Christmas candy route.  So head and out and make your food lover happy.  You may reap the rewards of your gift as well!  So what are you waiting for?  Shop, and maybe someone else will cook!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Christmas Shopping For The Cook

Pin It
Selling kitchen stuff has been my job for the last 17 Christmas seasons.  I obviously love what I do.  But I also live what I love.  I cook or bake, or both, pretty much every day.  There are many things I use in the kitchen that I believe to be great tools, indispensable in what I like to make.  These have nothing to do with the cookie world, we are talking everyday use...or close!  Most were bought at Williams Sonoma, some are different or no longer available.  I also shop at Crate and Barrel, Sur la Table and Baker's Catalog, etc. so no paid endorsements here.

The Food Lover's Companion is a must have for any foodie.  Really, it is way better than Google when you want to learn about an ingredient or something food related.  It is updated every few years, so if your food lover has a dog eared copy, update it for them.  I have learned a lot from this little book.

I call these tail-gate knives.  They are made by Kuhn Rikon and come in an assortment of colors and blade styles.  Paring, serrated utility, bird's beak, even cleavers.  They are metal blades and are very sharp.  And if you are smart enough to wash and dry and put its little protective sleeve back on, they will stay sharp.  I always travel with one.  They run about $10 and are handy to peel an apple on the go.  Toss one in your tail-gating box or glove compartment and always be ready!

These juicers have changed form many times over the last few years, but it really beats a reamer for juicing a lemon or lime.  They aren't terribly expensive, and I feel like I can really wring out the citrus with it.

I have acquired a lot of cookware over the last 16 years, and this grill pan is my latest.  It is called a Komin and is a light weight cast iron.  I love the thin ridges on it, as I can get great grill marks on my meat and vegetables indoors.  It cleans up like a breeze. Runs about $100.  All my old grill pans are gone!
You will also see 2 measuring containers.  Neither one is from WS, but I use them all the time.  The one on the right is a plunger mechanism, and if you are measuring peanut butter, syrup, Crisco or anything dense it pushes right out.  Comes apart for easy cleaning and has lots of measurement capabilities all around it, including liquid and dry.  Yes, they are different!  The small glass beaker is also for liquids, and when I need 6 Tablespoons of something this is what I use.  I do use this for every cookie recipe I own!  The small wooden spoon is made of olive wood, and is rather flat.  It is for avocados.  Can I get an avocado out of its skin without it?  Yes.  But it is a beautiful piece of wood, was really cheap, and slides that gorgeous green flesh out perfectly every time.  Finally is the Microplane grater.  Do not accept any substitutes.  This is the original which zests citrus in a flash.  I also like the snowy fluffs of parmesan cheese it makes.  And it's made in Arkansas.  USA.

If the cook in your life is buying jarred garlic, please buy them a garlic press.  You will thank me.  Nothing tastes like the real thing.  After you squeeze your garlic, let the press sit on the counter for an hour or so.  The garlic remnants inside will dry up like parchment paper and fall right out.  The wash in soapy water.  Like just about everything on this list....do not put it in the dishwasher.

Inexpensive things I use all the time.  Ramekins.  I have made creme brulee in them once or twice, but I pour hot bacon grease in them and the chill until it is hard and pops out into the trash, I use them for mise en place when I am cooking, I use them to store leftovers, lay out pizza toppings, eat juicy food out of them so it doesn't touch other things on my dinner plate.  These can go in the dishwasher.  Mine are Apilco, French porcelain, and will outlive me.  The blue and red things are the greatest for sealing up bags of powdered sugar and brown sugar.  Spring loaded and easy to use...they come 3 in a set, but buy more.  People steal them.  I am guessing Bed Bath and Beyond for these.  And finally tongs.  Once you use them, you can't live without them!  These have silicone tips so they don't scratch a non stick pan.  You can get them stainless too.  Buy 2 pair.  Trust me.  And they don't have to be expensive.

This photo should go under food gifts, but I have to brag on the BonJour blender.  Battery operated, I use it every day to emulsify my salad dressings.  I also use it to mix up sauces.  It has a home in the top drawer, and I buy batteries in the jumbo pack.  Hands down beats any salad dressing maker out there.
And what to season your life with?  Penzey's of course.  I am a big fan.  The cinnamon is flavorful and they offer many kinds.  The salt free Mural of Flavor, Tuscan Sunset and Sunny Spain are fantastic.  My hubby loves their cinnamon sugar, and the Black and Red Pepper blend is my go to for everything.  Heat and flavor!  If you sign up for the catalog you get coupons to try free jars about 4 times a year!

I have seen both of these tools on lists of ridiculous kitchen gadgets.  But if you eat mangoes or pineapple, they make your life a lot easier.  Both do the job, and for the price, you can't beat them.  The one on the left will core and slice a pineapple like nobodies business.  I don't care how good your knife skills are, it is awesome.  The mango pitter on the right makes a very messy job much easier, and I get so much more mango to use in my salsa.

My favorite knife.  The shape is a Santoku, a flat Asian blade that makes any knife work a breeze.  This particular brand is Shun (pronounced shoon...really), and I love everything about it.  No matter what kind of knife you buy, hold it in your hand, understand how and who is going to sharpen it for you when the time comes and NEVER, EVER, put it in the dishwasher.  Or else.  The cutting boards....4 for $10.  I have gorgeous wood boards I use all the time, but these are great for cleaning meat, chopping juicy pomegranates, stinky onions etc.  They are thin, fit in a drawer on top of other stuff, go on the top rack of the dishwasher.  Sometimes I use them all prepping dinner.  No cross contamination of flavors, meat juices, anything.  Not designed to last forever, but they make easy work of a big chopping job.

Finally, this book.  I have bought a number of them for Christmas gifts, and if you come to visit me, there is a good chance I will take you to Hog and Hominy to eat some of this amazing food.  It is very on trend, and the chefs are honestly 2 of the nicest guys you would ever meet.  I will be giving away a signed copy of their book before Christmas, so stay tuned!!!

So, what are you waiting for?  Get out there in the madness, stimulate the economy, SHOP for the food lover in your life!  I'll be the one in the green apron....

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

50 Chefs for 50 Years and Giada's Pumpkin Spice Cookies

Pin It

 The House Smells Like Fall!
Giada.  What can I say.  She is one of the smallest Italian women, ever.  I have seen her appearances on the various morning shows, and her cookbooks have been a staple at the store since she started writing them.  I own a few myself.  I like her approach to food, family and her books are pretty straight forward, even a little basic.  She seems like an instinctive cook (which I am; open the vegetable drawer and invent dinner), and her books are written in a way you can change ingredients and understand how things go together.

Another in my vast collection!

This week was my last cooking class of the year, as Thanksgiving looms!  It was a cookbook club class featuring Giada's newest book: Giada's Feel Good Food.  A cookbook, yes, but also a lifestyle book to answer the question she is most often asked: How does a chef (she went to the Cordon Bleu) stay so darn thin!?  It isn't a diet book, no fear, but rather a book full of healthy recipes (nothing artificial), gorgeous pictures and plenty of great information.  It was really one of my favorite classes, likely because it was topped off by Pumpkin Spice Cookies.  I loved them!  I decided to make them at home with a few changes, but lets break them down first.

The original recipe calls for all purpose flour which we used in class and was fine.  I made my home version with Spelt Flour and it was seamless.

The recipe also calls for Raw Sugar.  We used a Demerara Sugar when we made them in class, and I opted for Light Brown Sugar at home, both produced fine results.

The recipe also calls for Raisins, and well, I opted for chocolate chips.  Yes, really.  I love pumpkin and chocolate, and I decided this was going to be my one pumpkin baked good this season, so I went for it.  And the results were just delicious!

At the store we used our famous Pumpkin Butter instead of canned pumpkin.  I was out of pumpkin butter at home, so had to go canned pumpkin.  I bumped up the spices to try and make up for the depth of flavor found in our pumpkin butter, but I would use pumpkin butter it if at all possible.  The recipe calls for 1/2 cup of canned pumpkin, and this really bugs me.  That amount is less than half a can, and what are you going to do with the rest?

And here's where my "aha" moment came.  Prior to class, one of the managers does the grocery shopping for class.  He goes through the scullery for ingredients and lays them all out for me, and there on my cart was a bag of whole allspice.  The recipe of course, calls for ground.  So as I was prepping, I got out the mortar and pestle and ground it up.  Wow!  The aroma was intoxicating, almost overwhelming.  And that came through in the baked cookie in the most delicious, fall-flavored way!  I have been a big fan of fresh nutmeg, fresh ginger, even fresh ground cinnamon, but this was a first.  I immediately went out and bought whole allspice and will never have it anyway but fresh ground again!

Smellavision would be good right about now!

Here's the recipe as written, and my substitutions.

Spiced Pumpkin Cookies
by Giada, adapted by me

1 cup all purpose flour  (I used 1 cup spelt flour)
2/3 cup old fashioned oatmeal
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (I used 2)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice (I used 3/4 teaspoon of fresh ground)
3/4 cup Raw Sugar (I used light brown sugar)
1/2 cup canned pumpkin (I used half a can, but you should use Williams Sonoma Pumpkin butter instead!)
1/3 cup safflower oil
1 Tablespoon maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla (I used 2 of the best vanilla...)
1/2 cup raisins (Ew. I used chocolate chips)

Mix the flour through the all spice in one bowl.  Use a whisk to make sure there are no clumps.  In another bowl, mix the rest of the ingredients except raisins, and again whisk to make sure your sugar isn't clumping.  Finally mix the bowls into one, and stir it up well.  Add your chocolate chips or raisins (or both!).  Drop onto parchment covered baking sheets, and bake about 15-18 minutes at 350˚.  Cool thoroughly before packing into airtight containers. Makes about 30 cookies.

If you have been around awhile, you may have read a similar recipe for Pumpkin Cookies and a nostalgic little story.  Don't tell Betty, but Giada's cookies are tastier! It must be the fresh allspice!  What are you waiting for?  Get in there and bake!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Cookie Round Up, So You Don't Think I Gave Up on The Sweet!

Pin It
So fall means sports around here.  And while football is king, volleyball rules in this house, but a friend has a daughter off to play lacrosse in Vermont.  I was delighted to make these for their fall game vs. Harvard~

U of Vermont Lacrosse team had these at the Harvard tailgate!

My friend's children are all at football powerhouse schools!

We had a great volleyball season....lots of cookies!
I didn't get around to Halloween cookies yet again....but I did whip these up for my sister.  I sent her mor Hobbit cookies, below, and she wanted a little something for her!  Last year I made them speckled and they were gorgeous.  But time got the best of me here.

I put these in a box for my sister...these were just snacking cookies for her!
 I love this platter for baby Camp's shower.  Very sweet, fun colors.

A sweet combo of colors for a baby boy's shower

And yes, more of the Hobbit.  You may have seen my previous post on the cookies that went to a Hobbit employee my sister works with in LA.  She asked if I would send more for her to send to another co worker, in New Zealand!  You know, home of the Hobbit!  So I was happy to make them again.  I love the inside of the Hobbit door as much as I love the outside!