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!

 

 

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Top Five Last-Minute Christmas Gifts for Your Cooking Life

I often receive kitchen and cooking-related gifts at Christmas and I love to give them, too. Recently I have found some great gifts for cooks covering a broad price range so I thought I’d share them with you here.  (I know I said there were five but I ended up naming seven because there was a lot of good stuff to choose from. We’ll call the last two a bonus!)

1.  My favorite dishwashing tool is this little Scotch-Brite ™ “dishwand.” It’s a scrubber that holds the soap in the handle and has a nice scrubby sponge head that can be replaced. I heard some of you groan and chuckle! Commonplace and mundane as it is, I think everyone should have one of these.  Under $5. Buy it in any grocery store.

Dishwand

2. A vital necessity for keeping wooden cutting boards from drying and splitting especially in dry climates is Boos(R) Block Board Cream. Amazing stuff to use in between mineral oil treatments.  Really works.  Buy it in stores catering to cooks and cookware or online. Under $15.00.

Boos Block Cream

3.  Lovely New Mexican linen hand-printed dishtowels made by Kei & Molly Textiles, LLC.  Beautiful for drying glassware and they make great props for food photography.  Only $10.  The website is http://www.keiandmolly.com

RASTA PASTA 2

4.  Cooking for only one or two made simple with the Ohsawa (R) Pot.  You place this earthenware pot inside of your pressure cooker and you can cook small amounts of rice, beans and other things instead of a big potful.  And it comes out great! Starting at about $60.  Order from Gold Mine Natural Foods www.goldminenaturalfoods.com.

Ohsawa Pot

5.  Chocolate.  Gimme  Give someone chocolate from Kakawa Chocolate House in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  Great “forgive me for being late” gift in case you didn’t shop in time for Christmas Day.  And remember, Valentine’s Day is just around the corner!  Prices vary. Quality is consistently excellent.  Go to their website:  www.kakawachocolates.com or better yet, just come to visit in Santa Fe and get free samples.

6.  Amazing and versatile condiments from Olaecea olive oil and balsamic vinegar company.  Try expresso dark balsamic, roasted pumpkin seed oil to die for or lemongrass mint white balsamic and dozens of others.  Each bottle is under $20.00  You can visit them in Santa Fe too and get samples or visit their website at http://www.oleaceaeoliveoil.com.

7.  An excellent cook’s reference book that I keep nearby and use is the New Food Lover’s Companion by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst published by Barron’s. Answers all kinds of questions about ingredients, cooking methods, converting measurements etc. with over 6,700 entries.  Great for food/cooking bloggers, too, by the way!  Under $20 at any bookstore, Amazon, etc.

Cover of "The New Food Lover's Companion&...

Cover of The New Food Lover’s Companion

Happy last-minute shopping!

The End of An Era

I was watching the television show “America’s Test Kitchen” and they were reviewing measuring cups when they announced shocking news:  Pyrex glass measuring cups are DISCONTINUED!!!!!

Maybe this isn’t news to you, but it was to me.  I can’t believe it!  This is such a staple utensil for any kitchen and such an excellent measuring cup.  I still have one of these but I decided to go on a search for a few more.  Maybe they will become a collector’s item.  But mostly I just want to have them to use for years to come.

English: A measuring cup purchased in the Unit...

A measuring cup purchased in the United States circa 1980, showing both metric and U. S. Customary graduations.  Copyright ©2006 by Daniel P. B. Smith and released under the GFDL. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A bit of history–according to Wikipedia, Pyrex tempered glass measuring cups were first introduced by Corning in 1915. Corning discontinued manufacturing them but licensed the name “Pyrex” to a new company they formed in 1998 called World Kitchen, LLC who is still making the “Pyrex” measuring cup.  But . . . they are using a different type of glass that is cheaper to make and per Wikipedia, has less heat-resistance and can shatter because of it.  There are also other manufacturers licensed to use the name “Pyrex.”

C’est la vie.

What made these simple glass measuring cups so good?  They were sturdy and didn’t break easily, they were a good deal for the price, and they measured really accurately!  I use mine so much, I never seem to put it away.  It sits on my counter next to salt, pepper and my oil brush.

If you are also in search of Corning Ware Pyrex glass measuring cups you will have to look carefully to be sure you are getting the original.  So far I found plenty of “Pyrex”-named cups that definitely aren’t the original.  So I’m off to my thrift store circuit this weekend!

Coffee Man (sigh) My Hero

Coffee for Love

Coffee for Love (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is dedicated to my husband who is a hero in many ways.

I had never really learned how to make coffee.  Until about 2 BS (Before Starbucks*),  I didn’t even like the stuff and never drank it.  But it was about 2 BS when I went away to college and took to drinking a little coffee in the college cafeteria.  My appreciation for coffee grew during those college years (enhanced by caffeine-laden stay-awake remedies) until I graduated and was no longer eating in anyone’s cafeteria.

Back at my parents’ house, my mother, who was always on top of the latest food inventions, was convinced that freeze-dried instant coffee was the way to go.  I didn’t like that at all so I didn’t drink it.  I relied on the local diner.

As a young adult on my own, there were no drive-thru coffee places whatsoever except in the land of Seattle where we heard exclusive brands of coffee could be had in stores built just for that product.  This was in the newspapers.  Where I lived, one went to the corner deli or lunch counter and ordered a cup of coffee.  I drank it, but I still didn’t own a coffee pot.

Fast forward a decade or so and there I am, a mother and a wife and I still don’t know how to make coffee.  In fact, there were several years in there when I didn’t indulge in caffeine of any sort because I was nearly always pregnant and/or nursing a baby.  And there were many years when the only caffeinated drink I would take was a little green tea.

Eventually the hankerin’ for some coffee returned and it was off to Seven-Eleven for the best coffee around.  $.79 for a huge cup!

One time I got my own electric coffee pot.  I gave it a good effort—trying to make coffee as good as Seven-Eleven’s.  It wasn’t.  It tasted like coffee that could have been this:

Liquid Mud

I tried to make good coffee.  Sort of.  I tried other people’s electric coffee maker coffee too and didn’t like theirs either.  What I really enjoyed was going out or having someone go out to Seven-Eleven and buy it ready made.  I did this for about twenty years having sold my electric coffee maker in a yard sale.

I’m not sure when I came across my first retail designer coffee outlet, but it was probably around 20 AS (After Starbucks) when I started shopping for hot coffee somewhere besides at a gas station.  Starbucks had oozed out from the land of Seattle and had arrived in my neighborhood!

I got into it.  And even though it sounded absolutely CRAZY to think of making coffee and then “watering it down” to make something called an Americano, I got talked into trying it and loved it.  More and more of it.  With extra shots.  I was so hooked and it was costing me a fortune and making me feel like an addict.

Until finally I decided enough was enough.  I was determined to find a coffee pot that even I could make good coffee with.  I deliberated for a couple of years about this–all the while still ordering at good ol’ Starbucks and pooh poohing my old haunt, Seven-Eleven.

Mind you, I had by that time done a LOT of cooking and knew how to make all kinds of healthy foods, teas, medicinal remedies and drinks—but still not too sure how to make coffee.  So I went to my favorite gourmet cooking supply store, Williams & Sonoma.  They had so many coffee makers!  I didn’t even waste time looking at most of them because I intuitively concluded that the best kind of coffee pot for me was a French Press type.  This is the kind where you put the ground coffee in the bottom and pour very hot (but not boiling) water over it and steep it after which you press down on a plunger that sends all the grounds to the bottom and all the coffee is above the plunger and ready to pour.

There were beautiful French Press Coffee Makers on display all filled with whole coffee beans.  Hmmm I thought.  A young man helped me and showed me the different styles and I chose an excellent mid-priced model and asked him how to make coffee with it.

“Simple,” he said, “You put the whole beans in the bottom and pour the water on top and you have to let it sit for a while and stir it a lot so it will make the coffee, then you press down the plunger and it’s ready to drink.”

“Whole beans?” I asked.

Afrikaans: Geroosterde pitte van die koffiepla...

Roasted coffee beans  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I purchased the pot and took it home.  The directions didn’t really say anything about the coffee beans.  “Nah!”  I thought, “That can’t be right.  That doesn’t make sense.”  I was pretty sure you didn’t use whole beans but after all, this is Williams & Sonoma and they ought to know.  I called my youngest son and he set me straight.

So, the upshot of this saga is that the French Press Coffee Maker turned out to be a wonderful way to make delicious, fresh, non-bitter, heavenly-smelling coffee in minutes.  I save so much money and time!  And I can have coffee whenever I want, though I am no longer a coffee addict and don’t overindulge in caffeine anymore.

But about once a week or so, I get a visit from an All-American Super Hero who brings me a ready-made serving of my favorite Americano after he has driven not to Starbucks but to a local coffee specialty store that has the best.  And I always say,

“Coffee Man, (sigh) My Hero!”

(*The first Starbucks opened in 1971)