Christmas 2014 Top Ten Gifts for An Adventurous Cooking Life

HOLIDAY GIFTSSometimes it’s hard to know what that crazy cook in your life would really like for Christmas. And because of that, since we too are crazy cooks, sometimes we don’t always get our heart’s desire either!

Last year for Christmas one of my sons gave me something truly adventurous to try in the kitchen—a Molecular Gastronomy Kit. That’s a mouthful all by itself. It is a selection of natural texturing agents that can be used to deconstruct any dish or cocktail using molecular techniques. Still don’t get it?  Me either until I tried it out. Lots of fun and adventure here.

So let’s get shopping! There isn’t much time left. Most everything can be purchased online to make gift giving easier for us last-minute people. Luckily “cyber Monday” has become “cyber Everyday ‘Til Christmas!” There are lots of sales yet to be found.

Top Ten Gifts for An Adventurous Cooking Life

10. Cookie Cutters from cookiecutter.com. Yes they have a lot of cookie cutters including for Christmas but also for all the other holidays AND you can have a custom designed cookie cutter made! Now that’s a cool idea! Shipping is free for all orders over $50.

9.  Suzanne’s Specialties brown rice syrup. Traditional rice syrup plus flavored syrup such as chocolate, maple, raspberry and more!  High quality, no sugar, complex carb sweetener with flair. Maybe your favorite health-conscious cook will make you some cookies! You can get a mix and match pack of 4 or 12 of these through Christina Pirello’s website, Christina Cooks. (Yes, I confess, I just bought a four-pack for myself the other day.)  The pricing is good and includes shipping. About $30.

8. Winter Forest Soaps and Lotions from Williams Sonoma. I usually don’t go in much for scented things but this one made with essential oils, Winter Forest, really captures my imagination and it is delightful! It comes in a dish soap, a counter cleaner and a hand lotion. My Hubbin’ gets this for me almost every year!  $12-$42.

7.  The R-Evolution Molecular Gastronomy Kit. This is the one I described. There are several places to order this from and here’s one—Cookswarehouse  About $60.

6. Teavana Perfect Tea Maker. I saw this demonstrated at my local Teavana store and I have asked Santa for one (Pleeeease!) If you love loose leaf teas you know that they can be messy and it’s easy to waste the tea. You can put the tea in an unbleached tea bag, But it is not so easy to reuse the tea for a second cup. If you try to use the tea loose in the tea pot, you have to strain it out and the clean up is tedious as well as wasteful. This little glass teamaker comes in two sizes and is very reasonably priced. Teavana does have a website.  $20.

5. Vitamix on QVC. I always wanted a Vitamix and two years ago I saw it on a great sale on the QVC on TV. They ship it to you when you order and you can make payments. This turned out to be a less painful way for me to purchase—and immediately receive—my Vitamix which I love love love. So if you’re favorite cook has this expensive piece of equipment at the top of his or her list, I highly recommend getting on the QVC website and watching for those holiday sales and easy payments. It is very well worthwhile.  $500.

4.  Back by popular demand! Flavored high-quality balsamic vinegars from Oleaceae. No limit to what an adventurous chef can come up with using these! Cocktails, dessert sauces, dressings and marinades all from vinegar?  Yes! Unfortunately it is too late to get a delivery by Christmas but don’t let that stop you! These are incredible gifts even if late. $20 a bottle.

3. DIY photographic light box. If your chef is also a food blogger, maybe you’ve seen how frustrating it can be to take decent photos of food! Believe me it is really hard to get a good result unless you can control the environment your photographing in—especially the light! What could be more thoughtful than a hand made gift that takes about 20 minutes to make and uses only a few common and inexpensive materials? (Etsy entrepreneurs would also love this.) Learn how to make a light box here.  $10 or so and a little of your time.

2. Personalized Chef gear from Chefwear.  I once got a personalized chef hat and chef pants for Christmas and wore them and wore them. What a fun way to acknowledge the chef in your life! They even have them in kids’ sizes!  $10.95-$32 plus personalized embroidery.

and the number one fabulous gift for the chef in your life . . . . .

1. Every chef enjoys a night off from the kitchen. Or a long weekend. Or even a week! But if your fave chef is very health and natural food conscious, you probably know that he or she has a hard time finding ANY restaurant or resort that serves meals that are up to their own standards. I can tell you that around my city, I’m the best chef I know and I enjoy my cooking better than any I can buy in any restaurant. What’s a hard-working chef to do?

How about a Healthy Cruise!!!!? Now you’re talkin’!  This is the one to take.

Holistic Holiday at Sea March 12-15, 2015  Features macrobiotics, vegan, T. Collin Campbell, seminars, excursions and cruise ship entertainment and amenities. $3,000 – $8,000 or so per couple.

Wishing you and yours a wonderful holiday season!

 

 

Not Just Brownies Any More

Stoner Lasagna. I'm sorry but "stoner" is not a description to be proud of.

Stoner Lasagna. Nothing to be proud of.

Since it is the holiday season, what better time to return to my blogging after a three-month hiatus? After all, ’tis the season for all kinds of festive foods, holiday cheer and good wishes to my readers.

Yes, but that is not why I decided to write today. You can call me a Scrooge or a Humbug and I won’t mind. I came back here to have a little non-Christmasy rant about something.

I came across an Associated Press article about Executive Chef Chris Lanter who owns a French restaurant named “Cache” in Aspen, Colorado. Lanter was demonstrating to a group of “marijuana aficionados” how to prepare foods with marijuana in it. How to deglaze a pan with pot-infused brandy. How to “pair” marijuana with fine foods.

GIVE ME A BREAK!

Pot foodie:  “Excuse me Chef, but is it okay to pair Northern Lights with fish?”

A hip Chef: “Yes that is a lovely combination. And if you find you don’t like it, just take a few more hits and you won’t care!”

This is not new in Colorado ever since they passed a law legalizing this drug. The pot industry there is said to include “a booming trade in cookbooks, savory pot foods and frozen takeout dishes that incorporate the drug.”

REALLY?  FROZEN DINNERS?

Kid to big brother: “I’m hungry and Mom’s not home from work yet.”

Big brother: “Don’t worry. I’ve got this frozen lasagna in the microwave and you can have some.”

Kid: “What’s that funny smell?

Big brother: “Who cares you doofus. Just eat it!”

Chef Chris Lanter. A stoner who thinks he's going to make money pushing the envelope to get on-site pot consumption legalized so he can serve his "cuisine" in his chic restaurant.

Chef Chris Lanter. A stoner who thinks he’s going to make money pushing the envelope to get on-site pot consumption legalized so he can serve his “cuisine” in his chic restaurant at the vast detriment to our society, especially our youth.

What really irks me is the way this whole thing is being positioned.  Chef Lanter is “acclaimed.” His eager audience paid $250 to see his pot demonstration and attend a special weekend celebration in Aspen.  Lanter’s French restaurant Cache is described as “tony.”

WELL LA DEE %^$#*& ING DA!

There is an ongoing public relations campaign to make consumption of marijuana acceptable. One must understand that there are vested interests and when you see a story about illicit drug use becoming okay to do, you are looking at someone’s PR campaign. All you have to do is follow the money.

Most people—even pot users—are not rock-solid certain that usng and consuming marijuana is a good idea because we all know it is a drug, it lessens our awareness, makes us introverted, and can be addictive and it has other undesirable side effects.

Or do we?  [No wait. It’s an ingredient, right? Like an herb? It’s natural and organic. It has to be safe because the government is legalizing it. I heard it’s even medicinal, dude! Look–here it is in this cookbook. How bad can it be?]

One wise person said to me, “It’s not just a ‘gateway drug.’ Let’s face it. It’s a full-blown addictive drug with damaging side effects all by itself.”

Justifications for legalizing this illicit drug are plentiful. In the meantime, the PR Spin goes round and round and has even targeted those of us who love food and cooking. What a frivolous excuse for a covert enterprise.

I will never be that kind of “chic” or “tony.”

I will never be that stupid and uninformed.

Here’s a link to some very good and accurate information about marijuana. The entire website is really, really excellent and I suggest it for yourself to be informed and of course for our children so they don’t grow up thinking marijuana-laced steak au poivre is fine dining. They need to know what it REALLY is.

The Queen’s Navee Beans

1024px-Pinaforeplaybill

“When I was a lad I served a term
As office boy to an Attorney’s firm.
I cleaned the windows and I swept the floor,
And I polished up the handle of the big front door.
I polished up that handle so carefullee
That now I am the Ruler of the Queen’s Navee!” — Sir Joseph

H.M.S. Pinafore by Gilbert and Sullivan

~~~~~~

No idea why they call these little white beans “Navy Beans.” Anyone have a guess? Unfortunately for the introduction of my blog here, these small white Great Northern beans, also called “pea beans,” got the name “Navy Beans” because they were a popular staple for the U.S. Navy in the 20th Century.

Small white great northern beans

That doesn’t stop me from singing Gilbert and Sullivan while making my Navy Bean Soup!!

One little trick in preparing these beans (or any beans for that matter) is that I use a bit of kombu seaweed in the bottom of the pot while cooking the beans. Kombu adds minerals which help you digest the beans without an unintended “musical accompaniment” to your chorus.

Lest you think that kombu seaweed is only Japanese, let me remind you that kombu grows in cold Atlantic waters too and seaweed was used to wrap and eat pickled herring in the northern British Isles. Blimey!

The Queen’s Navee Bean Soup

(Makes One Gallon – eat some, freeze some)

  • 2 cups of white navy beans, soaked in spring water
  • 1/2 cup of pearled barley also soaked in spring water (you can put both the beans and the barley in the same soaking water after they’re washed, of course)
  • 1 4-inch piece of kombu seaweed
  • 1 large diced onion
  • 2 large diced carrots
  • 3 diced ribs of celery
  • 1 cup of diced mushrooms
  • sea salt
  • parsley
  • black pepper

What you need to know for this soup is basic bean preparation from dried beans:

First sort through the dried beans and barley and take out any stones or mysterious pieces of stuff. It’s so tempting to skip this step but much better to take the time now than to go to the dentist after someone has chipped a tooth on a small stone left in your soup. At the very least, stones are painful to bite down on.

Thoroughly wash the beans and barley in cold water. Do this by putting the beans and barley in a big bowl and filling with water. Use your hands to swish the beans around and pour off the dirty water. I don’t recommend a colander or sieve because they don’t allow the dirt to float away efficiently. Do this at least twice until the water comes out clean.

Soak the kombu, beans and barley in spring water for at least 2-3 hours or as long as overnight.

Place the kombu in the bottom of a large soup pot and layer the beans and barley over it. Cover with spring water and bring it to a simmer.

Do not add any salt at this point. If you add salt now while the beans are uncooked, they will not soften. Salt is added when the beans are almost done. At that point the salt will help finish the beans and sweeten the dish. (Yes I said “sweeten.” That is what good sea salt, properly used will do!)

Continue cooking the beans in this layered fashion without stirring. When the water cooks down, add more cold water to cover again. Do this as often as needed but only when the water has cooked down to almost gone. Adding the cold water to the hot beans will drive the heat into the beans and help them get cooked inside. The result is fully cooked beans that are not mushy.

The beans should soften up in an hour or so but there are no rules about this. You just have to see when they’re done. When the beans are about 2/3 done, add the diced onion, celery, carrots and mushrooms and cook them in until tender.

NOW add sea salt – about 1/2 teaspoon or more if your taste demands it. NOW you can also stir the soup up. [Note: I almost never take the kombu seaweed out. It cooks into the soup and usually breaks down into bits. Or, you can remove it and cut it up and put it back in. No point in wasting this fabulous source of plant-based minerals and trace minerals!]

When the beans are fully cooked, add more water to make the right consistency for soup. Season with pepper and garnish with parsley.,

Serve with greens or a salad and some crusty bread. I sometimes will mix in sauerkraut (Yes! Try It!) or serve pickled vegetables or a semi-pickled pressed salad with a hearty soup like this. It’s a meal to keep anyone’s Navy hard at work and soon they’ll be calling you, “Sir.”

BEAN AND BARLEY SOUP WITH KALE, PRESSED SALAD AND CRUSTY BREAD

Navy Bean and Barley Soup, Lightly Boiled Kale with Toasted Sesame Salt (Gomasio), Pressed Salad Pickles and Ye Olde Crusty Bread

Preserved Lemons – A Tradition in Moroccan, Mediterranean and Indian Cuisine

mycookinglifebypatty:

Throw Back Thursday With A Twist! (Of lemon, that is.) I ran out of my home-preserved Moroccan Lemons and decided to start another batch ASAP. And the twist is—a new use for these—-chopped preserved lemon rinds and mashed artichoke hearts as a spread on crusty bread! If you don’t want to wait a month while your lemons preserve to try this spread, some of the Whole Foods stores have both preserved lemons and artichoke hearts in their olive bar. Certainly no substitute for what I’m making in my kitchen, but not a bad alternative. Enjoy!

Originally posted on mycookinglifebypatty:

I’ve been longing for preserved lemons and their uniquely intense flavor for months now.  What a wonderful flash of zing!  What a refreshing, piquant, tart highlight to bring simple dishes alive!

You will find recipes using preserved lemons from Northern Africa, the Middle East, from India and even in some Caribbean cuisines.  They are extremely easy to make, too!

Step One:  Gather up your ingredients.  You’ll need fresh, organic lemons.  Pick ones that look good and don’t have a lot of blemishes.  You may choose Meyer lemons or regular ones.  Wash these thoroughly.  You’ll also need course sea salt.  Do not use regular commercial salt as this has additives and it is too harsh for this use.  You’ll also need a clean jar in which to put your lemons while they preserve.  I chose a Kerr one-quart jar with  tight-fitting two piece top.  You can also use the kind of jar…

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Strawberries, Figs and Pears . . . Oh My!

Now that I’ve taken more than a month off from blogging, I better get back to posting wouldn’t you say?

My latest adventure in the kitchen is short and very sweet! My local store is featuring fresh organic figs and while I don’t eat figs very often, I was drawn to these with dessert in mind. I thought of pairing them with pears (forgive the clumsy quip) from my backyard tree. My pears were ripe and tender which was perfect with the figs. I have some wonderful “Cafe Espresso” Balsamic Vinegar in my refrigerator. Throw in a few bright strawberries and add a touch of mint and there you have a late summer dessert that will satisfy any sweet tooth.

Figs are pretty amazing looking, aren't they?

Figs are pretty amazing looking, aren’t they?

 

Figs and Pears with Savory Balsamic Sauce (one serving)

  • A half-dozen fresh, ripe organic figs
  • 1 organic pear
  • A few strawberries
  • 1/4 cup aged balsamic vinegar (You can add instant espresso powder for the “cafe” flavor, but I have seen espresso balsamic in several stores lately. Look in the gourmet section.)
  • 2-3 tablespoons of organic barley malt
  • pinch of sea salt
  • a dash of triple sec
  • Mint leaves

Wash the fruit thoroughly. Core the pears and slice anyway you want. Halve the figs and the strawberries.

In this combination, you want to adjust the fruits so they are pleasant and easy to eat together.  If your pears are very crisp, you can blanch them for just a few seconds in salted boiling water.  This has to be really really fast because you don’t want mushy fruit compote. You just want to take the edge off the crisp pears so they can be easily eaten in this dessert without losing the contrast between the softer fruit and the crisp pear.

In a small saucepan, bring your dark balsamic vinegar, barley malt and sea salt to a simmer and reduce the sauce to the desired thickness. Watch that you don’t over-boil the barley malt. If it gets very hot and boiled it will turn into a soft and then a hard candy texture.  Just simmer.

Assemble the fruit in bowls and put the sauce on them just before serving. Garnish with mint leaves.

Sweet as sweet can be!

Taming this fruit and sauce for photos was certainly a challenge!

Taming this fruit and sauce for photos was certainly a challenge!

What you don’t see . . .

What you don’t see on this blog are all the meals I make from day to day for myself and my husband.  So I thought I’d share a little of that with you.

I am no different from most of us in that from day to day, I do not always have time to make a full blown gourmet meal. Sometimes I am literally cooking on the run, throwing together whatever I’ve got and calling it done.

I always strive for deliciousness no matter what though, and sometimes I hit on something surprisingly tasty!

The other day, I was driving home from work—hadn’t done any food shopping—and came up with something based on what was in the pantry.

Can you say Mediterranean/Mexican?

This turned out to be a real taste sensation and we’re still savoring the last little bits.

MEDITERRANEAN LAYER CAKE PAINT

Maybe I could get away with calling this “Mediterranean Layer Cake.”  With Salsa.

Whole Wheat Couscous cooked in water and salt with diced carrots and organic corn kernels. Turn the couscous out onto a baking pan, flatten it out and let t cool. You’ll be able to serve it in neat squares.

Hummus can be store-bought or homemade. Mine was made in a hurry with a large can of organic cooked chickpeas, about 1/3 cup of tahini, juice of one large lemon and 3 cloves of garlic.

Here you see the couscouse layered with hummus and decorated with medium salsa. (So many many great salsa’s here in New Mexico!)

But in reality, this whole thing gets put into a bowl and gobbled up with a spoon or crammed into a food container and taken to work and then gobbled up with a spoon!

Under the Banner of Veganism. Deprivation Diets, Eating Disorders and Orthorexia.

I reblogged this post by Somer at Vedged Out for us today. I so agree with her about deprivation diets. I did not know veganism was linked with eating disorders, did you? My immediate thought–that is a money-motivated effort by the vested interests in some food industries to sabotage healthy eating and creating less need for medical care. Even the term, “orthorexia” sounds just like some made up “disorder” created by psychiatrists in order to find yet one more reason to drug us. Beware — what better way to control a population than via their food.

Sweet and Savory Apricot Salad

apricots in basket

Apricot Harvest!

Our first apricot harvest was quite a surprise. We just walked out back one morning and there they were, ready to be picked! Literally two days before they were not ready.

They turned out to be very good eating so I didn’t want to cook them. I opted for a simple fruit salad but with a little twist.

The apricots were washed, pitted and cut into halves. I added some blueberries and dressed them with a drizzle of olive oil, white balsamic vinegar, lemon zest, chopped raw almonds and topped with coconut flakes. You could easily imagine an herb in there such as a touch of sage. A pinch of sea salt would enhance the sweetness, too.  I didn’t add salt this time because I didn’t want the salt to pull out more purple blueberry juice than I already had!

Fresh, light, sweet and slightly savory!

SWEET AND SAVORY APRICOT SALAD PAINT

Sweet and Savory Apricot Salad – not just for breakfast.

Shop Your Local Farmer’s Markets

mycookinglifebypatty:

It’s Throw Back Thursday! Let’s take a little toss back to May 2012 and honor our local farmer’s.

Originally posted on mycookinglifebypatty:

The growing season is upon us in the Northern Hemisphere and soon we will be able to get freshly picked, locally grown foods!

Copley Square Farmer's Market

Copley Square Farmer’s Market (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the best things you can do to improve the nutritional value and taste of your cooking is to venture over to your local farmer’s market or roadside stand and buy fresh, locally-grown produce.  Your local natural food store may even feature local food growers and producers.  Mine does and they usually have special weekend events where you can meet and talk with these local growers and ranchers.

I would much rather make the acquaintance of the people who are actually growing and raising my food than suffer a distant, from-my-wallet-to-your-cashier relationship with a huge mega-supermarket conglomerate food chain.  I am much more interested in supporting a local grower and seeing that my dollars go into his/her hands rather than having…

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What’s Hiding in My Pancakes?

Wait just a minute!

What is hiding in my pancakes this morning?!

They look pretty normal. In fact they look pretty darned good. They tasted really good too. They had something extra—a taste, a texture, an additional je ne sais quoi!

HIDING IN PANCAKES PAINT

What’s hiding in these pancakes? (Hints:  A full serving of veggies but you can’t see them even on the inside. Yellow and stringy but so tender there’s no telltale sign of it. Delicate in taste, but so subtle one might never know.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Did you guess?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I cup of cooked spaghetti squash mixed into organic, whole grain pancakes.