Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Ten Gifts for Food Lovers

I hate the word foodie.  I always have.  I'm not good at articulating why I have such a strong negative reaction to the word - I just do.  There is just something about the word and all it connotes.  A foodie, to me, is someone who is snobby about food and takes it much more seriously than one has to.  A foodie is someone who takes all of the enjoyment out of food and makes everything to do with it a competition.  A foodie is that bore at the next table, loudly analyzing every last morsel that goes into his mouth.  A foodie takes ten minutes to order a salad.  A foodie has been everywhere, has eaten everything, and believes she always knows *just* a little more than you do about it all.

In essence - a foodie is a jerk.

Now a food lover - that's my kind of person.  A food lover is, well, someone who loves food.  A food lover can appreciate the beauty of an expertly prepared seven-course restaurant tasting dinner but has equal appreciation for a humble home-cooked meal where love is the main ingredient.  A food lover might know the recipe for every Mother Sauce by heart or he might just understand the gorgeous simplicity in a perfectly crispy French fry.  A food lover has fun when it comes to food.  A food lover doesn't make it a game.  A food lover shares her food.

In that spirit I have pulled together a short list of some fun and (mostly) budget-friendly gifts for the food lovers in your lives.   These are just some items that I either own and love or that I currently covet (hint, hint).

The holiday season can be full of stress so as it begins take time to enjoy a quiet moment every day.  I know it's what gets me through this time of year.  I do hope this list offers you some guidance for the food lovers on your lists.  And if you have any ideas to contribute please add them to the comments!

Cook This Now by Melissa Clark
I have a cook's crush on Melissa Clark.  Not only is she  an inspiring writer, brilliant cook and hugely (though humbly) successful; she is an all-around lovely person.  I have always enjoyed her NYT column but her books blow me away.  Her latest is a collection of perfect family-friendly meals that coordinate with the seasons so there's no hassle and no fuss when shopping.  Every recipe of hers that I have had the pleasure to cook has turned out delicious.  Buy this for friends.  Buy this for yourself.  Just buy it!

Denim Apron
I love this apron.  I have two of them: one going on eight years and one going on ten.  Both were gifts from people who clearly know me well.  This apron is indestructible.  I am a messy cook and no matter how I treat it and what I get on it, this apron always comes out of the wash looking like new.  I love the two front pockets, the extra long ties and the adjustable neck strap.  It comes in a variety of colors but I am partial to the denim version (it is thinner than denim for jeans).  You can personalize it too!

Fooducate App
This is a handy app for anyone with an iPhone, iPod Touch or Android phone.  You can look up the nutritional information of foods and compare them with other choices.  However the best feature is the scanner. When you're in the grocery store you can SCAN in the item you are considering and it will provide the nutritional data and allow you to compare it with other foods in the same category.  This allows you to be an educated consumer and make better choices or at least weigh your options more carefully.  Everything in moderation!

Milk Frother/Steamer
OK - so this one isn't so budget-friendly.  But that's why it makes such a great gift.  Plus the Fooducate App is free so you can average the cost of this plus that if you need help rationalizing...  It's the type of thing someone might not buy for him or herself but a coffee-lover will think of you every morning if this ends up under the tree or beside the menorah.  I can't say enough wonderful things about the Nespresso Aeroccino 3.  It steams.  It froths.  It can steam or froth HOT milk.  It can steam or froth COLD milk.  I bet if you asked it nicely it would empty your dishwasher, too. 


Mydrap Napkins
These are amazing!   Actual cotton napkins that come 100 to a roll.  You can wash and re-use them up to six times before recycling.  And they come in a variety of colors and patterns.  They are great for parties, picnics and even lunchboxes.

Recycled Coasters
Fun coasters made out of recycled newspapers and magazines.  A cute, quirky find that makes a nice host or hostess gift if you are attending any parties this holiday season.  They are food-safe, good for both hot and cold beverages and water repellent.  

Recycled Glass Pitcher
A sturdy glass pitcher is always a great investment and it makes a good gift.  You can never really have too many pitchers.  I find that water, juice or a cocktail always look more festive when in a pitcher.  And, in a pinch, a pitcher always makes for an extra vase.   This one is earth-friendly as it is made from recycled glass.  Always a bonus to think green when buying gifts.

Seltzer Machine
I know I have written about this before but I cannot say enough positive things about my SodaStream.  We drink a lot of seltzer here at Everyone Into the Kitchen and I really couldn't reconcile recycling upwards of 12 bottles a week.   Enter the SodaStream.  To be honest I don't like their soda syrups at all but we don't drink much flavored soda anyway.  The occasional root-beer is about it and when we do, this is the syrup we use.  The SodaStream is fun and simple to use and comes with reusable bottles that last for about two years before they need to be replaced.  Two bottles vs. 1,248?  SodaStream wins.

Soup and Sandwich Tray
I just love the idea of this serving piece.  Sold in sets of two these trays make lunch fun.  Who doesn't love soup and a sandwich (especially the seminal comfort food combo of grilled cheese and tomato soup) on a blustery winter's day?  I imagine that eating lunch (or dinner) off this piece would put a smile on anyone's face.

Whiskey Stones
The husband and I are known to drink scotch on occasion.  We may or may not have consumed a little too much of it on our first date.  As someone who prefers my scotch on the rocks I love the idea of these stones.  Instead of ice, these go in your drink (any drink - it doesn't have to be scotch).  Simply put them in the freezer to chill and add them to your drink of choice.  They cool the beverage without diluting it with any of that pesky water stuff.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thankful (and a recipe for simple and delicious Herbed Turkey Gravy)

The child, with my parents - 11/23/11
I know a post about how we all need to sit back and smell the roses is trite at Thanksgiving but this year I have something of a Thanksgiving wish.  And in hoping for this wish to come true I have spent a lot of time contemplating what it means to be thankful.  Is it selfish of me to have this wish?  Isn't this the time of year when we are supposed to be humble and appreciate what we have?  Who am I to want MORE?

Those of you who know me in real life probably know what I want.  It is a very simple desire but for some I guess it could seem petty and small.  Last year my father started a downward medical spiral.  On Thanksgiving.  I won't go into detail but it started with him leaving his and my mother's home in an ambulance and ended when he returned home, to a very different way of life, five whole months later.  He is doing quite well now but last Thanksgiving and the ensuing months hold nothing for me but horrible memories and anxiety.

Believe me when I say I am unbelievably thankful that my father is home, with my mother, where he belongs.  I am thankful for my family (the one I was born into and the one I married into).  I am thankful for my friends (near and far, new and old) who, in my life, are often as close as family.  I am thankful for my health and the health of those around me.  I am thankful for those of you who read my ramblings here.  I am thankful for the life I lead.  But what I really want is for my family to create a new, positive Thanksgiving memory to replace those from last year.  I have been visualizing a day like this - a simple day where we eat some good food, laugh a little and no one ends up in the hospital - not much to ask for I hope.  I have friends, who are more religious than I am, praying for the outcome I desire.  So if it is a little selfish I am going to live with it.  I don't take what I have for granted.  I *am* thankful. 

I just need to WANT a little and then I'll be even more thankful.

This recipe has nothing to do with being thankful but maybe your guests will be thankful you made it.  Or maybe you'll be thankful that you stumbled across this recipe in a last-minute Thanksgiving panic.  Either way, it's a terrific gravy recipe and method that is good to have in your recipe stable.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Herbed Turkey Gravy
Yields about 4 cups

  • 4 cups chicken stock (either your own or the best low or no-sodium store-bought you can find)
  • 1 turkey neck
  • turkey giblets (heart, liver, etc. from inside the turkey cavity)
  • 1 cup onions, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup celery, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup carrots, roughly chopped
  • 2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 small stalks fresh rosemary
  • 5-6 fresh sage leaves
  • 2 TBS medium brown roux (recipe follows)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Combine stock, turkey neck, giblets, onions, celery, carrots, and herbs in a large pot and bring to a boil.
  2. Cover and reduce to a simmer.  Allow to simmer for 60-90 minutes.
  3. Remove from the heat and allow to cool completely.
  4. Strain out the vegetables, herbs, bones, giblets, etc.
  5. Turkey stock will keep for 1 week in the refrigerator or can be frozen for several months.
  6. To make the gravy heat the stock over medium high heat. Bring to a boil and whisk in the roux making sure to leave no lumps.  Allow the stock to thicken (the roux will do this).  Remove from the heat and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper to your liking.  If you desire you can add in a handful of finely chopped fresh herbs and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice just before serving.
To make the roux heat 2-3 TBS of butter or oil in a pan (I prefer butter for flavor) and allow to melt (if using butter).  Whisk in an equivalent amount of flour and continue cooking and whisking until the flour-y smell is gone and the roux smells toasty and resembles thin peanut butter.  Allow to cool. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

And Now for Something More Traditional (A Recipe for Creamy Oven-Baked Polenta)

It seems like corn pudding or a variation thereof is a common menu item on Thanksgiving.  Growing up in my home - not so much.  My father is allergic to corn.  Read that again.  Yes, corn.  All forms of corn.  Do you have any idea how difficult it is to be allergic to corn?  It's in EVERYTHING.   Don't believe me - read a label in your supermarket.  You're sure to find corn syrup or corn starch somewhere on the list.

Needless to say there weren't a lot of corn products on-hand or on-table when I was younger.  In the years since striking out on my own I have developed a healthy appreciation for corn meal and corn flour.  I love baked goods made with both products.  And I can't get enough polenta.  I also make quite a mean polenta; a polenta that pretty much secured my "A" on my culinary school final cooking practical.  But making delicious, creamy, luscious, lick-the-spoon polenta is a huge pain in the, ahem, arm.  All that stirring.  And waiting.  And stirring.  And waiting. And stirring... You get the picture.   Once you add a job and a child into the dinner-time mix something as time consuming and attention-stealing as polenta slowly fades from your repertoire.

Enter my savior:  oven-baked polenta.

I'm not sure where I first heard about this technique or what prompted me to try it but it is revelatory.  This method produces a swoon-worthy polenta that is rich in corn flavor, creamy in consistency and all-around delicious.  As an added bonus you can bake it right in the dish you plan on serving it from so there is one less pot to clean.  This is a perfect recipe for Thanksgiving or any time during the winter.  It makes a great accompaniment to braises and anything with a sauce.  And, I have it on good authority (OK, my own) that it's quite delicious on its own topped with some fresh ricotta cheese and toasted walnuts.

Oven Baked Creamy Polenta
Yields 6-8 servings as a side dish

  • 1 cup corn meal (coarsely ground is best)
  • 4 cups unsalted chicken or vegetable broth (you can use water but broth adds more flavor)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2-3 TBS unsalted butter
  • ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (or more to your liking)
  • ¼-½ cup toasted walnuts (optional)
  1. Preheat the oven to 375˚F.
  2. Grease a 9"x13" baking dish and set aside.
  3. Combine the cornmeal, broth and salt and pepper and pour into the prepared baking dish.
  4. Bake for 45 minutes.
  5. Remove from oven, stir to mix thoroughly, dot the top of the polenta with butter and return to the oven for an additional 10 minutes.
  6. Remove from the oven and stir in the Parmesan cheese.  Taste and adjust the seasoning to your liking.  Top with toasted walnuts if using.  Serve immediately.

Monday, November 7, 2011

"Delicious!" (Plus a recipe for Apple-Cranberry Bread) #savethanksgiving

I have always loved tart flavors.  My parents love to tell a story of me, at a very young age (young enough to still be in a high chair), sucking on lemons, grimacing horribly and then eagerly asking for "MORE!"   I still love citrus, especially lemons and grapefruit.  I add a squirt of lemon juice or a dash of lemon zest to any dish that will accommodate it.  I love a vinaigrette that makes your lips pucker.    So it shouldn't come as a surprise that I am crazy about cranberries.  I buy them all fall and freeze them for use throughout the year because I just can't get enough of them when they are in stores in November and December. 

I can't remember exactly when I had my first cranberry bread but it had to be when I was about seven or eight years old.  I remember this taking place in our "old" house and we moved just before Thanksgiving the year I was nine.  My mother and I had read a book where part of the story included baking cranberry bread and the book included the recipe (I wish I could remember the title of the book!).  I begged her to make the bread for Thanksgiving that year and, being the awesome mom that she is and was, she made it of course.  I distinctly remember it including orange juice because I was blown away at the idea of baking! with orange juice!  Every since that Thanksgiving our family dinner has included cranberry bread.  Now that my parents live in Florida Thanksgiving definitely has a different feel to it - hello we eat in shorts with the air conditioning on - but a cranberry bread is always part of the meal.

In developing this recipe I wanted to keep the feel of that long-lost recipe but also wanted to boost the flavor a bit.  My favorite banana bread in the world is by Dorie Greenspan and that is the inspiration for this recipe.  Her banana cake (as she calls it) is extremely moist and quite sweet.  I figured the sweetness would play nicely against the flavor of unsweetened fresh (or frozen) cranberries.  Homemade unsweetened applesauce subs for for the mashed bananas and the flavor is enhanced by the addition of cinnamon and ground ginger.  This recipe is extremely moist from the addition of sour cream so rather than adding liquid in the form of orange juice I added the zest of a good-sized orange.  My tasting panel (aka my daughter) declared the bread "delicious."  I hope you do, too.

Apple-Cranberry Bread (Cake?)
Yields 1 Bundt Cake or 2 standard loaves (recipe can be cut in half)
Adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 2  tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2  tsp cinnamon 
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 8 oz unsalted butter at room temperature (2 sticks)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 large eggs at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened applesauce (preferably homemade but store-bought is fine)
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • 1 cup plain yogurt or sour cream (Greek-style is preferable if you opt for yogurt)
  • 1 12 oz bag fresh or frozen cranberries, coarsely chopped (not dried) 
  • 1 TBS flour

  1. Center a rack in the oven and preheat it to 350˚.
  2. Generously grease a 12 cup Bundt pan or two standard loaf pans (I have used three mini-pans in place of a standard loaf pan as well - great for gifts!)
  3. Combine the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and ginger in a bowl and whisk to combine.  Set aside.
  4. Using either a standing mixer with the paddle attachment or a hand mixer on medium speed, beat the butter until it is creamy.  
  5. Add in the sugar and continue beating until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
  6. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat in the vanilla.  Add the eggs in one at a time taking care to incorporate each egg fully.
  7. Decrease the speed of your mixer and beat in the applesauce.  Add in the orange zest.  Don't worry if the mixture looks curdled at this point - it will come together when the dry ingredients are added!
  8. Add in the dry ingredients alternating with the yogurt or sour cream in two batches and mix to combine between each addition. 
  9. Toss the cranberries with about 1 TBS of flour to coat evenly (this will keep them from sinking to the bottom of the bread).  Mix in the cranberries by hand to distribute evenly.
  10. Scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the top.
  11. If using a Bundt pan it should take about 65-70 minutes to bake.  If using standard loaf pans baking time will be reduced to about 50-55 minutes (The mini-loaves take about 40).  If the bread is browning too quickly during cooking you can cover it, lightly, with some foil.  You'll know they are done when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean or when you press on the top it bounces back leaving no indentation.
  12. Allow the bread to cool in the pan for about 15 minutes before removing.  Allow to cool completely on a rack before slicing. This recipe actually tastes better the next day (just wrap the bread tightly for storing).


Saturday, November 5, 2011

A Confession (Plus a Recipe for Roasted Cauliflower with Cumin, Yogurt and Pomegranate) #savethanksgiving

I have a confession to make. It's a little embarrassing.  Some might say it's downright un-American.  But for you guys I'm willing to come clean (takes a deep breath):

I'm one of those people who prefer the side dishes on Thanksgiving.  Left to my own devices I would skip the turkey altogether.

(Hangs head in shame).  I know, I know.  I'm sure my family and guests would revolt so I make a turkey every year - a damn good turkey I should add (dry brine, herb butter, 2 kinds of dressing [not stuffing] and an herb-kissed turkey-based gravy - posts on this forthcoming!).  But the few years I was a vegetarian (11 to be exact) I didn't even miss the turkey on Thanksgiving at all *gasp*.  Plus, if we're going to be historically accurate, it is more likely that the Pilgrims and Native Americans ate lobster or venison than turkey but let's not quibble, OK?

I realize that the center-piece of most Thanksgiving tables is a turkey and I will give the bird its due at some point (see above).  In fact I have taken a pledge to Respect the Bird.  Join me and others who love Thanksgiving in an effort to savor the fall and give Thanksgiving its due before moving on to the craziness of the winter holiday season.  You can follow them on twitter and on Facebook.

But right here, in this little post, I want to to focus on a side dish.  This is a recipe you can use all year long - not just on one day of the year and, while it is my goal to #savethanksgiving,  my ultimate goal is to get everyone cooking a little more  (you know - the whole Everyone Into the Kitchen thing).

As the darker days of fall settle upon us, come dinner-time, I find myself preheating the oven and then digging around the refrigerator for something to roast.  Combined with a little oil, some salt and maybe some herbs or spices, vegetables and meats are transformed by the proper application of dry heat.  As an added bonus roasting doesn't usually involve a lot of advanced preparation, is simple to do and often results is pretty easy clean-up.  

The beautiful, sturdy vegetables of fall lend themselves so well to roasting.  One such vegetable is the often maligned cauliflower.  People are used to eating cauliflower as an overcooked part of a steamed or boiled vegetable medley and I can see why it isn't appealing to many that way.  But once you have eaten roasted cauliflower you'll never look at it the same way again.

Gone is the strange mealy, bumpy texture and lack of flavor.  In its place you will find a subtly sweet, crunchy yet supple vegetable with a complex almost nutty taste.  I have made simple roasted cauliflower for children who claim they "HATE it" and it's "yucky."  But toss it with some oil and a little salt, pop it into a 425˚ oven and call it "popcorn cauliflower" and you've got a hit on your hands.  Combine it with some spices, yogurt and herbs and it is transformed into a sophisticated holiday table worthy side dish or, dare I say, main dish for vegetarians.

Roasted Cauliflower with Cumin, Yogurt and Pomegranate 
Serves 4 as a side-dish
Adapted from Cook This Now by Melissa Clark

1 large head cauliflower, cut into bite-size florets (yes the one in that picture is purple - I'm a sucker for interesting vegetables)
1-2 TBS olive oil
1 tsp whole cumin seeds
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup plain yogurt (I recommend Greek-style)
pinch of salt
2 tsp chopped fresh parsley or mint leaves (or a combination of the two)
2-3 TBS pomegranate seeds (optional)

  1. Preheat the oven to 425˚F.
  2. Toss the cauliflower with the olive oil, cumin seeds, salt and pepper.  I do this right on the baking sheet - no need to dirty a bowl!
  3. Spread the cauliflower mixture out on a baking sheet leaving room between the pieces for air to circulate and prevent the cauliflower from steaming.
  4. Roast, tossing the pan from time to time, for about 25 minutes.  You want the cauliflower to be golden brown.  In this case I used purple cauliflower and it is a little harder to see.  Some pieces will be crunchier than others based on the size.  This makes for a nice variation in texture in the dish.
  5. Remove the cauliflower from the oven and transfer to a serving bowl.
  6. Combine the yogurt with a pinch of salt and drizzle over the cauliflower.  Top with chopped parsley or mint and pomegranate seeds.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

#savethanksgiving (Plus a Recipe for Butternut Squash Soup)

I am on a one-woman mission to save Thanksgiving.  (#savethanksgiving) Over the years I've noticed that Christmas seems to come earlier and earlier.  I'm pretty sure things hit an all-time low this year when I saw tinsel in a local Duane Reade drug store on October 5th(!!).  

Before you get the wrong idea you should know this about me:  I am, quite possibly, the biggest "Christmas-loving Jew"™ you will *ever* meet.  Ask anyone who knows me.  I deck the halls. I am jolly. I don gay apparel.  I make cookies.  I listen to music.  I have a TREE (well I am married to someone who isn't Jewish but I am so very happy for the excuse to have a tree!).  And, mom, before you freak out, Chanukah always gets equal treatment around these parts.

But Thanksgiving has always been and will always be my favorite holiday.  Long before I discovered my love of food and cooking I adored Thanksgiving.  I mean, really, what's not to love? It's a holiday that is solely dedicated to the art of eating.  I have fond childhood memories of watching the Thanksgiving Day Parade in my pajamas while delicious smells wafted through the house.  And, although I have since discovered more complex and ingredient-laden recipes, I still make my mother's cranberry sauce because without it it's just not Thanksgiving. 

In my one-woman effort to #savethanksgiving, I am going to use the month of November to post some seasonal recipes that will hopefully make it onto your Thanksgiving table.   This first one is a crowd pleaser which can me made a few days ahead and is a great start to any meal or a meal in itself paired with some crusty bread and a green salad on a cool fall evening.

Butternut Squash and Apple Soup with Coconut Milk
Yields approximately 3 quarts

2 TBS oil (canola, olive, grapeseed - whatever you prefer)
1 1/2 cup of diced onion (about 1 large onion or 2 medium onions)
2-3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 1 /2" piece of ginger, peeled and chopped
1/4-1/2 tsp ras el hanout (or whatever spice you choose to add - curry would work well as would cinnamon but I would add more cinnamon as both ras el hanout and curry have more spicy kick.  I buy ras el hanout at Fairway in NYC but you can order it from a variety of sources )
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 medium butternut squash, peeled and diced with the seeds reserved
4 medium apples, peeled, cored and diced salt and pepper to taste
1 cup of low-fat coconut milk

  1. Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a pot that can hold all of the ingredients.
  2. Add in the onions and saute 2-3 minutes until they are just translucent.
  3. Add in the garlic and ginger and saute for about a minute until they are fragrant.
  4. Add in the ras el hanout or spice of your choice and stir to coat the vegetables with it and saute another minute more.
  5. Slowly pour in the stock and bring the mixture to a boil.  Season with salt and pepper.
  6. Add in the apples and squash and allow the mixture to return to a boil.  
  7. Cover and reduce the heat so the soup is simmerig gently.
  8. Allow the soup to cook for about 45 minutes until the squash is softened.  Don't worry that the apples will cook at a faster speed.
  9. Working in batches puree the soup in a blender with the coconut milk.  
  10. Return the soup tyo the pot to gently reheat.  Taste and adjust seasoning to you liking.  
  11. Serve, garnished with the roasted seeds (if you'd like).

For roasted squash seed garnish:
  1. Preheat your oven to 350˚F.  
  2. Separate the seeds from the stringy squash innards (I find a colander and running water work best).
  3. Dry the seeds and toss with a little olive oil and salt.
  4. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet (I line it with parchment paper to prevent sticking).
  5. Place in the oven and bake for 15 minutes until lightly browned and crunchy.  Check them every few minutes and shake the pan to ensure even browning.  They may take more or less time depending on their freshness, water content, your oven, etc.  Just don't let them burn!
  6. The seeds will keep well in an air-tight container.