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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Tawashi

This is my all-time favorite and most used kitchen gadget. Hard to even label it a gadget because it is a very traditional item made from natural bristle.

As I show you what it is, I’m not going to be able to resist the corny, sorry old joke that I never fail to make about this item.  Ready?

This is called a tawashi. (Pronunciation here.)

Still LIfe With Tawashi

Still LIfe With Tawashi

It is used TA-WASH-Y your fruits and vegetables. Hahahahahahahahahaha!

This is a truly effective scrubber that doesn’t damage your veggies! Buy it in your local Asian market or mail order.

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!

It All Started When the Pot Called the Kettle Black

Let’s talk dishes, shall we?  By that I mean dirty dishes.  As much as I love to cook, I have an equal and opposite dislike for washing dishes.  I don’t think my husband likes washing dishes either, but since his cooking repretoir seems to be limited to making mac and cheese from a box and putting together a liverwurst sandwich, he valiantly concedes to washing and/or drying the dishes in exchange for one of my good meals.  Fair enough!

Yes, we do have a dishwasher but we rarely remember to use it because when it’s just the two of us it takes days to fill the thing and by that time the bits of food and food juices are totally “set” and the dishes don’t get completely clean.  Unless they are pre-washed in which case—what’s the point?

However when it comes to the pots and pans, that is another story altogether.  

I love my pots and pans.  It’s true!  I have some of the most well-seasoned cast iron frying pans you can imagine.  Had them for thirty-five years.  My pressure cooker that I use to make brown rice has been with me for about that long too and it is fantastic!  And I’ve got some of the best stainless steel, copper-core pots and pans made.  In fact, one of my pots is an All-Clad Copper Core 1 1/2 quart pot that I got for Christmas a few years ago (Thank you Danny!) and I use it sometimes more than once a day.  It is a perfect cooking pot and I don’t ever put it away.  I keep it out on the stove ready to go.

And my knives!  I have some of the best!  I gained an appreciation of good food-preparation knives early on when I studied macrobiotic cooking with an accent on Japanese style.  My teachers had excellent knives that I was impressed with.  I’d never used such big and extremely sharp knives before.  I not only learned how to use them to cut the finest, most aesthetic matchstick, sliced or flower-like veggies, I learned how to sharpen them and keep them in shape.  In fact, I don’t let other people sharpen my good knives—I do it myself so I can ensure they are not weakened or chipped by another person’s pressure or angles.  Or, I sometimes send them to the manufacturer to sharpen.

I take pride in the care of my cookware and actually don’t mind washing these so much .  I wash my knives and immediately dry them and store them most of the time.  I am willing to tackle stuck or burned food (yes, it happens sometimes) on the bottom of a pan. Just last night I started popping some popcorn and turned away from it just long enough for about half of it to burn and stick to the pot.  It was a stinky and ugly sight!  But this morning it is all back to beautiful.  There is something very satisfying in restoring a well-loved item back to its clean and proper condition—at least in my experience.

I have come to believe that the quality of your cookware is fairly important just like the quality of your food is important.  For someone who dislikes washing dishes, you’re probably wondering why I don’t just get some good non-stick coating cookware and be done with it.  Nope.  Don’t really like that stuff.  I know the technology of non-stick has changed over the last couple of decades, but I personally don’t like the idea of a chemical coating on the inside of my cookware. That is because non-stick coatings contain highly poisonous chemical substances and can release very harmful gases and particles when heated during cooking.

Today in a typical store, you will see many, many non-stick brands of cookware and the marketing and advertising of these will have you think that you are living in the Dark Ages if you don’t use them.  While I’m sure they are convenient in the short run, I am absolutely positive that in the long run they are detrimental to the health of you and your family.  And honestly, if you’ve got good-quality cookware and the right tools to clean them, you will not have any trouble at all caring for your pots and pans.

I also don’t use aluminum pots and pans.  Aluminum is not something that should go in your body and you have the same problem with aluminum in that it can leech into your food.  Aluminum is a soft metal that can scratch and dent easily.  Annodized aluminum is harder, darker and less porous but can still scratch and dent if you’re not careful.  Many brands of cookware use aluminum as an inner layer to take advantage of its light weight and ability to heat up fast.  I would say this is fine as long as the aluminum is on the inside, and not on the cooking surface.

Even stainless steel—depending on the quality—will have a mix of metals in it so you should be aware of the composition of any cookware you’re buying.  Scratched and dented  stainless steel pots can also leech unwanted metals into your food.  Many people feel enamel-coated cookware is a good and healthy choice and I can agree with that.  But you still have to care for it so it is not scratched.

So no matter what you are using, it all comes down to how you care for it.  I say, get the best quality you can, avoid chemical non-stick coatings, and avoid aluminum.  Get yourself some excellent Japanese-style cooking knives—they will make your food sing!  Give your knives and cookware some love and TLC.  And if the pot starts calling the kettle “black,” send them both to the sink to be washed clean!

What type of cookware do you like best?