Thursday, December 17, 2009

Joseph Joseph and the kitchen of many colors

As I was making my $10 kitchen gift list, I was remembering my list from last year- particularly the colorful and fun products by Joseph Joseph. I love the idea of taking our every day tools and utensils, and turning them into something beautiful.

So, using this list of the "top ten cooking tools a chef needs" as an inspiration, I have interpreted the guidelines to make own my list.

10. Durable non-plastic oil/vinegar cruets and spice containers

Easy, thanks to World Market. This even comes with spices already in it.

9. Tough wood and plastic cutting boards

Wood is always pretty, but nothing compares to stripes.

8. Multiple non-stick-safe spatulas and stirring spoons

You can't mess with the simple design of a spatula, but a little barnyard motif never hurt anyone.

7. Sharp peeler

Hands down. Cutest. Peeler. Ever.

6. Sharp can opener

Aaaand we can continue the bird theme with a "tou-can-opener"

5. High-quality boning knife

Cute? No. Beautiful? Yes.

4. Forged chef's knife

Of course you know I think Bob Kramer's line of knives for Shun are the most beautiful. I heart them.

3. Pyrex glass measuring cups

Pyrex doesn't really change their design very much, but remember these measuring cups?

2. KitchenAid mixer

You really get the punch of amazing color when you see them all together.

1. Quality pots and pans

Le Creuset is easily the prettiest set of pots and pans you can get. Also perhaps the awesomest. Mix and match!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Catering a christmas party

For 60 guests. Love it when I get to put my pastry school skills to work. The hostess wanted all cakes, so here is what she is getting:

-Flourless chocolate decadence cake with crumbled pistachios on top

-Cranberry eggnog cheesecake

-Angel food peppermint cake with crushed candy cane garnish

-Sherry cake (Have you had this? It's southern, and pretty darned good)

-A lot of cookies for the kids. (I learned my lesson last year about greedy little kids at Christmas parties after they stuffed their faces with all my beautiful petit fours before any of the adults even saw them. The plan this year: make them sick on cookies and then put out the cakes for the adults to enjoy.)

I'll let you know how this goes!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Current obsession: whole grain mustard

I have never been a mustard fan. This has always been a sad reminder that hangs over my head reminding me that no matter how hard I try, I will never truly be a European (I know, I know, that little red EU passport is also a minor detail). Try as I might, if I was honest with myself I would say that whatever I was eating would have tasted better to me sans mustard- dijon, French's, whatever. Now I realized I was just uneducated.

I discovered whole grain mustard a couple months ago when I was making a turkey, spinach, and potato hash. It called for 1/4 cup of the mustard. It was obvious while eating it that the whole grain mustard made the dish. Then again, about a month ago, I made a beef stew, and what made it super tasty? Oh, yes. Another 1/4 cup of whole grain mustard! It just turns out that it makes everything....just plain better. It's definitely another one for the "make people think you did something really fancy" list. It acts like a secret ingredient. It's not sour and acidic like other mustards. It's just more tart and flavorful.

Now I won't have to feel bad about now getting the nutritional value of the superfood known as mustard. Do you know how healthy this stuff is? Speed up your metabolism, improve digestion, decrease cancer cell growth, help migranes, asthma, arthritis....I pretty much put a spoonful in and on everything savory that I cook now.

By the way, my favorite brand is Maille. You can for sure get it at whole foods, and probably other stores, too.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A feast for your eyes

For your viewing pleasure, I have put Christmas in a blog. These are some of my favorite photos of Christmas food that I have collected. Maybe they will inspire you to make something beautiful. Or maybe they are just fun to stare at:

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Marshmallows and dresses

What more are the holidays about?

I happened to be watching Martha Stewart the other day while I was wrapping presents. She was making marshmallows with Claire Danes. The show brought to my attention that marshmallows would be a really fun bulk gift to make for all your friends and neighbors (and not to mention that Martha reminded us that they were "trendy" about 65 times). I tried very hard to pay attention to the recipe and the method, but pretty much spent the entire time drooling over Claire Danes' dress and wondering who the designer was.

If you find the task of making marshmallows interesting, here is the recipe:


Makes about 16

  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 3 (1/4-ounce) packages unflavored gelatin
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure peppermint extract
  • Confectioners' sugar, sifted, for coating


  1. Lightly spray a 9-by-9-inch baking pan with cooking spray. Line pan with plastic wrap, leaving a 2-inch overhang on all sides; set aside.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, sprinkle gelatin over 1/2 cup cold water; let stand for 10 minutes. In a medium saucepan, combine sugar, corn syrup, and 1/4 cup water. Place saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil; boil rapidly for 1 minute. Remove from heat, and, with the mixer on high, slowly pour the boiling syrup down the side of the mixer bowl into gelatin mixture. Add salt and continue mixing for 12 minutes.
  3. Add peppermint extract and mix until well combined. Spray a rubber spatula or your hands with cooking spray. Spread gelatin mixture evenly into pan using prepared spatula or your hands. Spray a sheet of plastic wrap with cooking spray and place, spray side down, on top of marshmallows. Let stand for 2 hours.
  4. Carefully remove marshmallows from pan. Remove all plastic wrap and discard. Cut marshmallows into 2-inch squares using a sprayed a sharp knife. Place confectioners' sugar in a large bowl. Working in batches, add marshmallows to bowl and toss to coat. Marshmallows can be stored in an airtight container up to 3 days.
And if you just want to drool over an amazing dress, here's the link to the preview:

Isn't that dress awesome? If I had it I would wear it every day, I think. And I would most certainly make marshmallows while wearing it. Yeah.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

If you don't like to bake... know who you are.

So many parties, so many pot lucks, so many "bring along dessert!" invitations. What do you do? Pick up packaged cookies from the grocery store? Noooo, you make caramel corn! This definitely goes on my "easy things that for some reason really impress people" list. I made caramel corn recently for a party when I ran out of time to bake something, and people were raving, I tell you!

I got the recipe from Gourmet, and as amazing as it is, it fails to include the secret ingredient: popping the corn in coconut oil. Not only is coconut oil one of the healthiest fats for high heat, but it also gives the popcorn an ever so slightly sweet flavor- not strong enough to identify, but enough for everyone to think that you've done something really important.

So here's the rest of the recipe from Gourmet- no pastry chef degree required!

Maple Pecan Popcorn

Makes about10 cups
  • About 8 cups plain popcorn
  • 1 cup pecans (3 1/2 oz), coarsely chopped and toasted
  • 3/4 stick unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups pure maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Equipment:

    a candy or deep-fat thermometer
  • Toss popcorn and pecans in a large bowl.
  • Line bottom of a 17- by 11-inch 4-sided sheet pan with foil, then lightly oil foil.
  • Melt butter in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add maple syrup and salt and boil (still over medium heat), without stirring, until thermometer registers 300°F, 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Pour syrup over pecans and popcorn, stirring briskly with a lightly oiled spoon or silicone spatula to coat, then immediately spread popcorn in pan in 1 layer. Cool completely, then break into bite-size pieces.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Fun fact of the day

Did you know that pine trees are edible? I just found this out. Apparently some breeds of pine have needles and bark that you can consume if you're ever stuck in the wilderness. Maybe boys scouts already know this? You can consume pine needles or brew pine needle tea- they are very high in vitamin C. Also, some Native Americans ate the bark of pine trees (that part I probably wouldn't recommend trying).

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Only the best

Does anyone question that I loooove kitchen stores? I think not. When I buy my tools, I want quality, long lasting items. The problem is sometimes being able to decipher whether or not the quality that I want comes with the price tag. I'm smart enough to not assume that just because a wooden spoon is within the four walls of Sur La Table and priced at $25 that it is going to be the best wooden spoon out there. In fact I know this is not true.

I went to college in a tiny little town in the middle of Indiana called Winona Lake, and, while Wal Mart was certainly always 8 minutes away in the next town, Winona Lake had quite a standard of what businesses were allowed to be within its city limits. The water front was dotted with artisans and small shops. One of which is what I consider to be the best thing (if not the only good thing) that comes out of Indiana.

I was too wrapped up in college to care about domestic things, but when I graduated, got married, and started taking care of a house, my mind immediately went back to Whetstone Woodenware. The story is that the owner was a furniture makes and that his wife asked him to make "a wooden spoon that would not break." What came out of it was an entire business model. They have cutting boards, spoons of all shapes and sizes (the flat paddle is my favorite, and I literally use it every day), rolling pins, tongs, etc...all hand carved from wood! I'm telling you, these are by far the best kitchen tools that money can buy. Seriously, this guy could be charging three times as much as he does, but keeps all his merchandise at small town, midwest prices.

In this economy, and especially during the holidays when businesses expect a rise in sales, it's so important to support small businesses. And really, if they're selling the better product for the better price you have no excuse. This year, skip Williams Sonoma and browse through Whetstone's website instead. Instead of dealing with parking and crowds, you can sit at home on your computer, put on Christmas music, and sip tea all while you shop!