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Monday, December 23, 2013

Chestnut and Celery Root Soup Recipe

My CSA or community supported agriculture box of produce from Eatwell Farms challenges me with every delivery this season. Bok choy? Cabbage? Celery root? Sure I have a recipe or two for each of those, but week after week and I get bored and need to find something new. As much as I love celery root salad and mash I think I've discovered a recipe I like even better, Chestnut and Celery Root Soup. It would be perfect to serve on Christmas or on New Year's Eve.  This is the epitome of a shortcut recipe with few ingredients and a reliance on a couple of convenience items namely roasted, peeled and vacuum packed chestnuts I find at Trader Joe's and canned chicken broth. I've mentioned it before, but when I don't have homemade chicken broth, I find Swanson's to be the next best thing. The prep for this soup takes more time than the cooking and it's just a matter of peeling, slicing and dicing onions, celery root and an apple pear.  Chestnut and Cele...
Thursday, December 19, 2013

Christmas Cakes & Drink Like a Kiwi and more

My latest stories on Recipe.com and 7x7.com Holiday Quick Breads And Cakes: Easy Does It Fancy Christmas cakes are best left to professional bakers, except for those rare  read more Easy Salads & Desserts With Winter Citrus Fruit Much as I love those little juicy citrus fruits — clementines, mandarins and  read more The  America's Cup  is over, but our love affair with New Zealand is far from finished. Read more > Stuart Brioza chef owner of  State Bird Provisions , which won the  James Beard award for Best New Restauran t, was a presenter at the  CIA Worlds of Flavor conference  earlier this month. We sat down to talk to him about one of the themes of the conference, creativity.  Read more > ...
Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Cool Gifts for Cooks 2013

Here are my picks for things that cooks will find particularly useful: AnySharp bills itself at the world's best knife sharpener. I'd say it has the world's best knife sharpening video ever . I can't say if it's the best, but it is definitely the smallest, most convenient and easy to use sharpener. It uses a powerful suction cup to keep it in place and lets you sharpen serrated knives as well as scissors. The Pro model is $26.97 on Amazon I have gone through more kitchen shears than I can count. They just don't seem to hold up very well. But so far I am having great success with the Smart Sizzors (from the makers of the AnySharp) They have lots of nifty features that allow you to open bottles, crack nuts or even crush garlic. Mainly I like the feel of them and how well they work on poultry. $20 on Amazon .  Once you become a customer of Thermoworks , you may find you want a little bit of everything in their product line. I have been using a...
Thursday, December 12, 2013

Eggnog Product Taste Test

The last time I made eggnog was in college. It was a recipe from one of the first cookbooks I ever owned, the  Joy of Cooking , and it involved whipped egg whites and heavy cream, lots of sugar and brandy. It was voluminous, fluffy and delicious but a fair amount of work and it served an army.  When the holidays roll around, I'm always tempted, but often disappointed by the eggnog available at the supermarket. This year I was sent a sample of eggnog from Organic Valley and was surprised by how good it was. It wasn't fluffy, but it was rich and creamy and it didn't have any strange flavors or weird texture. I wanted to see if other eggnogs were equally as good. Thanks to a connection at Whole Foods , the next thing I knew a handful of local food writers and bloggers were sitting around a table tasting eggnogs and also some desserts, cheeses (Uniekaas  truffled  gouda, oh la la!) a  delectable  baked spiral sliced Wellshire  ham and wine for good measure (more about t...
Monday, December 09, 2013

Americana Culinary Roots

Most cookbooks focus on what's new, but not all of them. And there are definitely some advantages to looking back. These books are all about American cooking, but each takes a closer look at our culinary history and regional differences.  Inside the California Food Revolution is an amazing book that details the "thirty years that changed our culinary consciousness." It WAS a revolution that took place in California, but truly the effects were felt all across the country. Joyce Goldstein was there, a successful restaurateur and chef as well as food writer and so her connections and knowledge of the time make this book really stand out. She tells the stories of the people who shaped what and how we eat in the crucial era from 1970 until 2000. Her admiration for the pioneers of the time comes through and her engaging style make this a must read. No recipes are in the book, but a number of menus that help document the time.  A Century of Restaurants is another ...
Friday, December 06, 2013

Sweet Dreams: Movie Review

What brings joy? Dancing, drumming, ice cream? Yes, yes, yes! Sweet Dreams is the story of a group of women in Rwanda who come together first breaking barriers as drummers, and then in a cooperative where they make and sell ice cream.  The documentary juxtaposes the personal stories of the women, who have suffered so much as widows, orphans and children of some the murderous perpetrators during the genocide in their country, with the story of their journey forward, trying to find meaning, reconciliation and joy again--all in a country where there is no ice cream. And so the Sweet Dreams are for the future, a future you can actually taste.  It's impossible not to be moved by these women, and to admire their resilience, creative artistry, hard work and hopes for the future. Can the land of "milk and honey" find redemption? That's the real question because this is not just the story of a group of women, but the story of Rwanda. Their path is not without d...
Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Christmas, Italian Style

Italians really know how to celebrate Christmas, called Natale in Italian. It's not about tacky decorations or shopping frenzy, if there is any excess, it's of delicious food, well wishes and love for family. The traditional celebration of " La Befana" for the epiphany, Christmas eve midnight mass and multi course meals with lots of special dishes are all wonderful, but it's the " fare gli auguri " that I appreciate most about Natale.  Like so many concepts in Italian auguri which is translated as "best wishes" is a multilayered and complex concept and almost impossible to fully translate into English, and it has significant religious and moral dimension. And I promise if you spend time with Italians around the holidays,  you will experience it. My friend Valeria describes it much better than I possibly could.  "Currently auguri is used for every good wish, from a birthday to a degree to a wedding. But I think that Christmas...
Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Cran Raspberry Crumb Bars Recipe & $100 Giveaway!

November means the arrival of cooler weather, and the beginning of the holiday season. Cranberries play a starring role in holiday fare, in part because their season is so fleeting. But raspberries, which grow practically year round here in California make for attractive co-stars (check out their availability on the Driscoll's calendar ). With this in mind, I set out to make a jam bar that would highlight both fresh berries. Tangy and buttery my Cran Raspberry Crumb Bars are the result of a happy accident because I let the food processor run a little too long. Instead of chopping the nuts, I pulsed the almonds along with the sugar until they were completely pulverized. Oops! But all is well that ends well. Perhaps jam bars are popular because they are hard to mess up?  Cran Raspberry Crumb Bars would be perfect for a holiday cookie party or to give as a gift. The bottom of the bars is basically almond shortbread and the filling is a very lightly sweetened combination o...
Monday, December 02, 2013

Finishing Oils

There are cooking oils, and then there are finishing oils. Finishing oils are used as a condiment, to finish a dish. They add flavor and texture and generally a little goes a long way. Use finishing oils on salads, pasta, pesto, vegetables and grilled meats. Some finishing oils can also be used in cooking or baking, but that's not their primary use. The less heat they are exposed to, the more nutritional value and the more you will be able to enjoy their flavor. The roasted nut and seed oils from  La Tourangelle  are made from local ingredients, pressed in a traditional French oil mill. They are particularly great for salad dressings. If you are using pistachios, hazelnuts or walnuts, adding a splash of these roasted nut oils really intensifies the flavor. Because they are roasted, they have a natural sweetness to them. But they are very delicate and need to be stored in a cool dark place. You can also use them in baked goods, especially nut cakes and tossed with pasta. My favo...
Saturday, November 30, 2013

All about Parmigiano Reggiano & Parmigiano Reggiano Night

Last year I got a chance to visit a caseficio, or cheese maker where Parmigiano Reggiano is made. I had to go early in the morning so I could see the cheese being pulled from curds out of large copper vats.  I also saw where the cheese rested, where it was bathed in a salty brine and the delicious smelling room where it was aged. And of course I got to try the cheese at various ages. The main way to distinguish between different types of Parmigiano Reggiano is by age, 14-18 months, 24 months, which is most popular with Italian consumers and 36 months. Generally speaking, 14-18 month Parmigiano is paler and fruitier, with notes of citrus and pineapple. 24 month Parmigiano is nuttier and more buttery. 36 month Parmigiano is drier and spicier. As it ages, the cheese develops more crunchy crystals and more intensity. Here in the US we buy Parmigiano Reggiano grated or in chunks, but we don't usually pay much attention to the age, season it was produced or the type...
Friday, November 29, 2013

Family Cookbooks Roundup Review

I generally avoid reviewing "family cookbooks" because they tend to focus on food for children. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but I don't happen to have any. Happily several new cookbooks also expand the notion of family and as a result serve a much broader audience. After all, our family should include all the people we care deeply about, not just those related to us by blood. Whenever I'm in London I end up eating at Leon . In a city with frightfully expensive food, Leon serves what they call "naturally fast food." It's healthy, quick and inspired by flavors from all around the world. They source ingredients responsibly and so it's food that makes you feel good and that you can feel good about. Truly a winning formula. The latest book from Leon (there are two others) is Leon Family & Friends . The book has lots of basic kinds of recipes for things like roast chicken and hummus but also amazing stuff like Anna Hansen's ...
Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Last Minute Thanksgiving Tips

Thanksgiving cocktail Ruby Sparkler Recipes from the archive Chutney Cheese Puffs Brussels Aprouts with Brown Butter and Hazelnuts  Brussels Sprouts Slaw with Apple & Walnuts Grapefruit Radicchio Salad Savory Roasted Pears Curried Butternut Squash Soup Apple Crisp Cranberry Coffeecake Turkey help! Turkey Talk-Line 1-800-BUTTERBALL (288-8372) open from 6 am until 6 pm CST What wines go with turkey? Beaujolais Nouveau Pinot Noir Cotes du Rhone Pinot Grigio But really, drink whatever you like! Learn about the holiday? Laura Schenone's Thanksgiving timeline Top 10 Thanksgiving leftover ideas Happy Thanksgiving everyone! ...
Monday, November 25, 2013

Vanilla Purr Cambric Recipe

I'm a tea drinker and I love experimenting with it as an ingredient. I make hot chocolate with tea and use tea to smoke chicken . But I have to admit, I only heard the term cambric to describe tea made with milk, such as chai, at an event recently at the T-We Tea shop hosted by the California Milk Processor Board . It's an old fashioned term for a combination of tea, milk and sugar often served to children. But that doesn't mean you can't make it into something enticing for adults.  The certified tea specialist and proprietor Christopher Coccagna made a number of wonderful drinks for Winter with tea and milk. Some of the drinks had alcohol in them and others didn't. Some used herbal teas and some used black teas. Some will definitely perk you up while others are perfect as a relaxing nightcap. There's really something for everyone, even kids and teetotalers. Check out the recipes for all kinds of luscious tea and milk drinks including Vanilla Mint Ca...
Friday, November 22, 2013

Grocery Shopping for the Holidays

Grocery shopping this time of year can be stressful but it's also a great time to save on lots of pantry items, especially in the baking department. Whether you are looking for an organic turkey, a full Thanksgiving meal or the perfect holiday recipes, here are some tips to help you get the best deals.  1. Cooking, Baking & Holiday Staples This is the best time of year to find good deals on sugar, flour and even nuts and chocolate chips. Many stores also have chicken broth on sale right around now, even Costco. Scour the ads before you shop. I recommend the Safeway iPhone app , it's much better than clipping coupons. You can search for discounts on items you need and save when you shop. This year Safeway is offering a lot of holiday Wilton baking items and decorating kits . See what you can find at out your local supermarket. Look for house brands like the Whole Foods 365 line and bulk bins for good value, and don't forget about fresh cranberries! They can be...
Friday, November 15, 2013

Idaho Potato Quiz & How to Fluff a Baked Potato

Recently I was invited to learn more about Idaho's  number one crop, potatoes. I've written about potatoes before, so this time I've decided share some tidbits I learned on the trip in a trivia quiz format so grab a pencil and paper (no Googling for the answers!). This quiz is just for fun. More giveaways soon, I promise.  1. Potatoes originally came from A. South America B. North America C. Ireland 2. At one time potatoes were appreciated by royals in Europe for their A. blossoms B. skins C. nutritional value 3. School kids in Idaho get time off from school for A. Potato planting in the Spring B. National Potato Day in the Winter C. Potato harvest in the Fall 4. In order to be affected by any allowable pesticide residue, in one sitting you would have to eat A. 1300 pounds of potatoes  B. 130 pounds of potatoes C. 13 pounds of potatoes 5. In Idaho potato farming dates back to A. Prehistoric times B. the early 1800&...