I will begin by saying that my husband knows that I love food related gifts for any occasion. Christmas, birthdays, the anniversary, I’m happy with anything that makes cooking even more fun, easy or exciting. Actually, he has known this from the very beginning. I will never forget the very first present he ever gave me: a bag filled with gift-wrapped veggies. It doesn’t sound great, or even interesting, but it was one of the sweetest gifts I’ve ever received. At the time, I was vegan and courting a vegan girl is not an easy task for a non-vegan boy. One day, while I was away at work, he left a giant blue bag with my roommate and I arrived home to find it filled with strangely shaped, brightly wrapped objects festooned with bows. I ripped open the presents to find that he had individually gift-wrapped an eggplant, an artichoke, a pepper, a bottle of kalamata olives, and lastly, a bag of vegan cookies.
He’s had a hard time outdoing himself ever since.
Although, last Christmas he got me a lovely French cookbook and before that a wok set, he sometimes misses the mark. Like the time that he got me a giant, magnetic oven timer that sticks to the fridge….for my birthday! To his credit I’ve never let on that I would like anything else. Leave the diamonds to Marilyn Monroe, I’ll take a slow cooker and a bamboo steamer any day.
Unfortunately, most people wouldn’t appreciate a bag of produce for the Holidays. Which is why I’ve taken the time to round up some of my favorite kitchen gadgets just in case anyone out there is wondering what I’d love Santa to send me *wink *wink.
Click on the title for a link to Amazon.
The Ronco Five-Tray Electric Food Dehydrator
I distinctly remember watching infomercials for this item in the early ’90s. I’ve always wanted to make my own fruit leather.
Kotobuki 2-Tiered Panda Bento Box
I can’t think of a reason why I wouldn’t want a Panda Shaped Bento box.
This one might seem a little strange, but personally I’ve wanted a potato ricer for ages. It’s not really necessary, as I prefer to mash potatoes by hand anyway, but I’m enticed by the prospect of “silky mashed potatoes.” Also, you can apparently make a ton of other useful things like tomato sauce and apple sauce, all without electricity! I need silky mashed potatoes for the zombie Apocalypse!
Reusable Produce Bags
For the eco-conscious consumer (and really, we all should be eco-conscious by now) these bags are fantastic. I try and avoid using plastic packaging whenever I can and it breaks my heart a little to visit the produce aisle and have to use those flimsy plastic bags for everything.
Demarle Silpat Non-Stick Baking Mat
Beautiful, durable and multipurpose.
Cuisinart CSB-77 Smart Stick Hand Blender with Whisk and Chopper Attachments
Years ago I had one of these bad boys and it was sadly lost during a move. I just didn’t have the heart to replace it, but time heals all wounds and I’m realizing now that the Smart Stick is perfect for the kitchenspace-challenged. I have virtually no counter space. I actually had to ditch my old countertop food processor when I moved to my apartment because there was nowhere to put it and I have been hurting ever since. I think this is perfect for anyone with limited storage space.
Wilton Whoopie Pie Pan
Talk about gratuitous. A few months ago, I mentioned to Chris that I was going to make whoopie pies and he looked alarmed and asked, “What?!” I have never even heard of a whoopie pie pan until I found it while rummaging around on Amazon. It seems kind of pointless, but when I really think about it I can see the potential. Not only will this pan make delightful little cakes that you can then sandwich with any kind of cream imaginable, but it would also work nicely for quickly baking batches of blini or making tart shells. Which is why I immediately wanted one as soon as I saw it.
I would never buy these for myself but I think they’re awesome. I realized, especially during the Thanksgiving weekend, that it would really be great if I could chop a large amount of onions without enduring torturous eye stinging.
Japanese Sometsuke Bowl Set
I have a weak spot for bowls. I don’t really care much about plates, but I like a nice bowl. Probably because there are so many things you can’t eat on a plate but there’s almost nothing you can’t eat in a bowl. Right? And Japan has a long tradition of beautiful bowls.
Himalayan Salt Block
While I’m sitting here thinking of wildly original foodie gift ideas I might as well throw this one out there. I would recommend pairing your giant block of salt Mark Bitterman’s excellent book “Salted.” Himalayan salt is incredibly beautiful and while you can actually cook on the salt block, it also makes a lovely serving tray.
Mussini 14 Year Balsamic Vinegar, Riserva di Famiglia, 3.38-Ounce Glass Bottle
I know Chris loves me, but I don’t think he loves me enough to spend $35 on a bottle of balsamic vinegar. A girl can dream…
p.s. All photos are taken from Amazon.com. I did not take the photos, I do not own the photos and I have provided links to their appropriate pages. While I love using Amazon for general shopping, I am not a paid endorser for Amazon.
I’m almost embarrassed to admit how long it took me to realize that one could actually make cranberry sauce from scratch. For some reason, the thought had lodged in my brain through habit and advertising that cranberry sauce came from a can. Every Thanksgiving I would anticipate the slurp of the jellied cranberry sauce as it slid out onto a plate. I would designate myself the “cranberry sauce slicer” and happily slice up the jello-y, ruby-colored cylinder using the ridges from the can as a guide. These experiences account for my confusion as to why it was called “sauce.” Cranberry sauce is one of my favorite things about Thanksgiving because it’s one of those “Thanksgiving and Thanksgiving only,” foods. We might enjoy turkey, mashed potatoes, yams, or gravy throughout the year, but let’s be honest, the cranberry sauce makes Thanksgiving.
Growing up, my family was less fortunate and relied heavily on cheap, packaged foods that mostly came in the form of donations to the needy. Mine was a childhood mired with Velveeta cheese, Spam, and neon-orange colored, powdered juice mixes. Thanksgiving was one of the few occasions where fresh foods were prepared, but even then they were limited. Freeze dried potatoes were an abomination on the holiday, and my father would make gravy from the drippings of the turkey, but my family still preferred the pre-made pumpkin pie found in the grocery store, along with whipped cream from an aerosol can, stuffing from a bag and any combination of frozen corn, beans and peas.
It was only a few short years ago, while working at a natural foods grocery store (where I learned more about whole foods than I ever could have on my own) that I got my first taste of homemade cranberry sauce. It was that very moment when I realized that the “delicious,” jellied cranberry sauce in the can was nothing more than corn syrup* with some cranberry flavoring. Now that I know the difference, there’s no substitute for homemade. Over several holiday seasons I have spent time perfecting my own recipe for cranberry sauce. I don’t much care for like the leathery cranberry skins that seem to stick in your teeth all day, so I strain them out to get a velvety texture.
I learned the basic recipe from watching over the shoulder of a chef in the natural foods deli where I used to work circa 2006. I have added fragrant orange zest and crystallized ginger. The sugar can be adjusted to taste, as the orange juice will add sweetness as well as flavor.
Orange Ginger Cranberry Sauce
16 oz cranberries (fresh or frozen)
1cup/ 8oz fresh orange juice
1 Tblsp grated orange zest
3 large pieces of crystallized ginger (or to taste), chopped
Pinch of sea salt
1 – 1 ½ cups evaporated cane sugar (or other natural sweetener)
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp of cornstarch (I use non-GMO) added to
Rinse the cranberries. Add orange juice, orange zest, ginger, sea salt and cinnamon to a large pot over medium heat. Let the juice come to a slow boil, this infuses the liquid with the ginger and cinnamon. Add cranberries and slowly add the sugar to dissolve. As the cranberries begin to heat and turn bright red, begin mashing or blending. I personally using a potato masher and it works just fine. A hand blender would also do the trick. As the mixture begins to boil and the berries are mashed, the juice will thicken. I add a little cornstarch to make a more jelly-like sauce, it’s completely optional.
Once the sauce has cooked and thickened (5-10mins). Turn off heat. I strain the sauce with a fine wire sieve. Chill 1 hour to overnight. Serve. See how easy that is? Who needs a can of sugary, processed cranberry jelly when you can make something as good as this.
The spices in this recipe make me think of Christmas. I can almost hear the jingle bells off in the distance.
*There is a lot of information on the web about high fructose corn syrup. In my personal opinion, it is not healthy to consume in even moderate amounts. See this study done at Princeton. This is one example of many that provide reasons to drop corn syrup from your diet. And again, this is not professional/medical advice but only a personal opinion informed by research.
I wouldn’t say I’m a particularly patriotic person, but every year I tend to find myself participating in a get together of one sort or another on the Fourth of July. Where I grew up, in Phoenix, Arizona, fireworks did not happen every summer because of the risk of brush fires. Then, in college I moved to a mountain town in Northern AZ where the entire area surrounding the city was liable to spontaneously combust at the mere mention of an open flame.
It wasn’t until last year, when I moved to Chicago that fireworks were back on the table, in a big way. We live right next to a park that literally crackles and sizzles with the sounds of explosives for the entire holiday weekend, and rather than find that annoying I think it’s great. I think it’s great that once a year it’s entirely acceptable to set off explosives in a public park.
So, with the sounds of whizzing cherry bombs infiltrating my kitchen, I decided to make a French cake and top it with strawberries and blueberries. “Why not pay homage to the contributions the French have made to American culture,” I thought. (Well actually, I got the berries because they were on sale and they looked so sweet and delicious, and the french cake has been on my baking set list for a while now.)
I could have made biscuit-like shortcakes instead, but this moist, citrus-y cake evokes something a little more elegant.
I can not and will not take any credit for the cake recipe. It unabashedly comes from Molly Wizenberg, author of “Orangette” one of my favorite food blogs. The only tweeks I made were adding valencia orange zest, vanilla, and baking it in a loaf pan as opposed to a 9X9 round, cake pan.
French Yogurt Cake
1 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp valencia orange zest
1/2 cup yogurt
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup lemon and orange juice
1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
Heat oven to 350. Whisk flour, baking powder, salt and zest until just incorporated.
In a large bowl, mix yogurt, sugar, eggs and vanilla until smooth. Slowly fold in flour until a creamy batter.
Lastly, add in the oil and mix thoroughly until smooth. Pour batter into an oiled and floured loaf or cake pan. Bake for 25-35 mins until a toothpick comes out clean from the center. When done, transfer to a rack and drizzle the syrup over the warm cake.
For the fruit topping, I simply rinsed the berries, quartered the strawberries and tossed with a bit of the juice and about 2 TBSP of confectioner’s sugar. Let the berries sit in the fridge for an hour or two so the juice from the berries can pool at the bottom of the bowl.
I topped mine with hand-whipped cream. For that, I pour the cream into a chilled bowl, add a few TBSP of confectioner’s sugar and a drop of vanilla and beat until stiff.
I’m certainly not a nationalistic type, but I have to thank the French for their cake recipe. I intend to devour every bite under a sky of sparklers.
I did it.
I survived the Great Chicago Blizzard of ’11.
In case you’re wondering, this was the view out my back window about two days after the blizzard:
To be honest, it wasn’t all that bad. I got two days off from work and I had all of that time cooped up in the apartment to get some actual work done. I played some guitar, I caught up on my leisure reading and I baked magnificent cookies.
It is that time of year again, when hearts grow all a-flutter. Oh, Valentine’s Day, you are both a joy and a scourge. I enjoy the idea of publicly celebrating love and all its pleasures, but I do not enjoy all of the packaged, trite, crap that lines the grocery shelves every February. Yes, we all need a little distraction from the snow and why not treat yourself to a nice dinner with the one you love? But it really is a bit much to press everyone to load up on unpalatable, corn syrup-laden garbage. With all of this free time, I decided to treat my darlin’ to some goodies baked with love. I found a recipe online from recipegirl.com, tweeked it a bit and made some delicious, decadent sugar cookies. I added the coffee, you can use water instead, but coffee brings out the flavor of the cocoa.
1½ cups (6¼ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
¾ cup (2¼ ounces) Dutch- process cocoa powder (or Special Dark)
½ tsp salt
½ tsp baking powder
¾ cup (1½ sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup (8 ounces) granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 Tbs extra strong, brewed coffee
1 tsp vanilla extract
1. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, salt and baking powder, whisking until no lumps remain. In a separate, larger bowl, beat the butter until light. Add the sugar and continue beating until it’s well incorporated. Then add the egg, water, and vanilla and beat for at least 2 minutes, until the mixture has lightened both in color and texture. Gently mix in the dry ingredients.
2. Shape the dough into a flattened disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30-40 mins, or overnight. This dough is very soft, so it’s imperative that it’s been chilled before you roll it out.
3. Preheat oven to 325°F. Lightly grease (or line with parchment) two or three baking sheets.
4. On a clean, heavily floured work surface, roll the dough to a 1/8-inch thickness, and cut to desired shapes. Place the cookies on the prepared baking sheets. They won’t expand a great deal, so you don’t need a lot of space between them.
5. Bake the cookies for 17 to 18 minutes. (Watch carefully; it’s difficult to tell when they’re done, as they’re so dark you can’t see if they’re brown, but when you start to smell them they’re probably done. If you smell even a whiff of scorching, remove them from the oven immediately.) Transfer the cookies to a rack and cool them completely.
Yield: 8 to 9 dozen cookies
Recipe Source: King Arthur Flour: Cookie Companion
I can’t think of a better gift for your sweetheart than these cookies. They are crisp and have a deep, fudgy flavor. They would go well with a nice cup of coffee, or a glass of wine.
I prefer to eat them while watching this movie
Happy second day of 2011. I’ve been lounging mostly, traveling for the holidays and letting other people feed me rather than attempting much cooking by myself. I spent Christmas in Washington and indulged in some local salmon, even though I try and maintain my vegetarian façade, it’s hard to pass up local food when traveling. The smoked salmon was the most delicious I have ever had, it retained the flavor of the sea so perfectly each bite brought forth the memory of visits to the coast. My in-laws in Washington are quite adept in the kitchen and I enjoyed several delicious meals at their table over the holiday.
Chris and I spent most our time off indulging in our meal of choice: bread, cheese, wine, olives and pickles. Of all the things we could eat, something about this simple combination provides the utmost pleasure. Few foods can rival a quality loaf of bread. So many giant supermarkets sell paltry, air filled, bleached loaves of baguette, that hunting for a good bread can turn into quite the venture. I have never been skilled with breads. How I wish I could produce the perfect, crispy loaves that the French know as a birthright. Which brings me to resolutions. We all know that New Year’s resolutions so often fall by the wayside at January’s end, but I have a simple hope for my new year.
I would like to cook from scratch more often, using whole, natural ingredients, and try new recipes.
I have no official way of going about this besides reading the new cookbook Chris gave me for Christmas (“La Cuisine” by Francoise Bernard), and trying to write up new blogs about my cooking experiences. I am eager to try my hand at soufflé, baking breads with yeast (yikes), and maybe pickling some vegetables (sauerkraut and homemade pickles). The new year is brimming with possibilities, I just have to make time for it to happen.