Tuesday, December 16, 2008

What a Cook Wants, 11

Faux-scratch Cookies
I am very, very tired, dear readers. The move went well, but I'm beat! So when contemplating an ideal gift, today I'm envisioning a very tired, slightly cranky cook who can't find most of her kitchen tools and toys because they're ALL IN BOXES. Rrrrgh.
What does that cook need, besides a nap and perhaps a massage? Holiday cookies that aren't "from scratch" but rather "faux scratch". Enter The Lazy Baker cookie mix. The company's founder used to make cookies with her Nanny from Czechoslovakia, but as a kid would only show up at the end for the fun part. Well, I'm ready for the fun part and I bet you are too. Mmm, cookies. Then we can all enjoy some good cheer!
The Lazy Baker cookie mixes in chocolate chip, oatmeal cherry raisin, double chocolate chip, brown sugar pecan shortbread and holiday gingerbread, each $11 except the gingerbread, which is on sale for $9. At Whole Foods and Bristol Farms on the West Coast, otherwise you have to use the interwebs.

Friday, December 12, 2008

A Quick Note

Hello, my loyal tens of readers.

I am moving in with my lovely fiancé this weekend. My apt. looks like a tornado ran through it, and I am quite certain there will be no time for posting. So please hold tight until Monday, when I'll offer more lovely gifts for your favorite cook.

This is what the inside of my brain looks like right now.

So pray for me as I make this big change! I can't wait to meet you again on Monday.

What a Cook Wants, 10

Chocolate Babka
My West Coast friends have rarely heard of babka, unless they're Seinfeld fans. But for those raised in the Northeast, even us gentiles, chocolate babka is a magical treat. It looks like a loaf of bread, but inside is a magical, sweet eggy bread-mine with veins of rich chocolate. It's dessert pay-dirt.
It's a thoughtful gift for your Hebrew pals, but who wouldn't like their very own loaf?
Chocolate Babka, $10, serves 6-8 (but who are we kidding, it serves 1 just fine) and is Parve (dairy-free). In cinnamon also, but why bother?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

What a Cook Wants, 9

A Cheese Cave in Your Fridge
This paper is designed for storing cheese. According to the manufacturers, it recreates the conditions of a cave for cheese-aging right in the cold cut drawer of your refrigerator, and keeps other odors from invading your sacred wedge.
I haven't tried it, but I do love cheese and it's a good gift for your favorite fanatic. I'll admit I'm a little heartbroken each time I pull out the drawer to discover the last tasty morsel has turned a hostile shade of blue. Save the cheese!
Formaticum Cheese Paper, $9 gets you fifteen 11x14-inch sheets and labels.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

What a Cook Wants, 8

Clean Water *Without* Killing the Earth
This isn't technically a cooking thing, but it relates. I've noticed most cooks have a better sense of the cycles of nature than the average non-cook; we know (and anticipate!) when certain fruits and veggies come into season, and have perhaps a deeper appreciation for an orchard's beauty. We also feel the pain when swordfish is over-fished, or farmed salmon pollutes the waters and we have to give them up.
Good cooks have been selfishly green-minded way before it was hip: veggies just taste better when they haven't traveled 1,000 miles to the dinner plate.
So what's the next sustainable step? Enough with buying and tossing all those water bottles! Here's the solution: the a self-filtering water bottle. It's the last bottled water you'll ever buy. There's a built-in Japanese-inspired water filtration system, and the exterior is made of those plastics that won't kill you. Once a year you replace the filter. That's it.
The water tastes great, one bottle is cheaper than a year's worth at the store *and* you can sleep better/lord your green superiority over your friends.
Wellness H2.0 Enhanced Water Bottle, $50. Yearly filter, $20. Saving the earth? Priceless.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

What a Cook Wants, 7

Serious Salami
This salami makes me want to cry. In a wonderful way~ kind of a watered-down version of how I felt the first time I kissed my husband-to-be. The first taste wiped out all memories of salamis past; in that transcendent moment I was tasting salami for the very first time.
Armandino Batali (yup, Mario's dad) has been turning out the Lord's salami in Seattle for the last 6 years with delightful results. And though perhaps his initial splash was fueled by the name, the success is because of the old world love and luscious umami in each succulent slice.
I love the lardo for its decadence, the smoked paprika for its gentle heat and the mole for its exuberance, but any of them will astonish your palate.
Salumi Artisan Cured Meats, 1 12-inch, 1.25-1.4 lb. gorgeous salami in a variety of styles, $15/lb. They also sell other cured meats.

Monday, December 08, 2008

What a Cook Wants, 6

A Rainbow of Cutlery
Throwing a great party comes down to the details. What I delight in at any shindig are the small, thoughtful touches. Sure there may be a taco bar, but the embroidery on the edge of the napkins? Fantastico!
That is why I love love love this festive cutlery. It's made by an Italian company of super-sturdy plastic and was inspired by some baroque flatware from the 19th century. The colors sing, and best of all? You can throw it in the dishwasher. Fabulous and eco-tastic? Let's get this party started!
Pandora Design's Baroque Plastic Deluxe Cutlery, $20 for 4-piece setting in a rainbow of colors.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

What a Cook Wants, 5

The Newest Toy for Espresso Fiends
You've heard by now about my little coffee, uh, problem. Not that it's really a problem because I can stop any time. I can... I just don't feel like it right now. Whatevs. You're not my mom. Back off.
*cough* Anyway, you don't have to be espresso-obsessed to enjoy the ingenuity of this electricity-free press. The guy who invented the aerobie frisbee is also a fan of the dark bean, and he designed the acrylic tube system that uses simple physics to brew the espresso in less than a minute, thus avoiding a lot of the harsh tannins and bitterness. And satisfying your serious coffee jones, pronto.
Heck, you could even take it camping.
The Aeropress Coffee & Espresso Maker, $30 and worth every cracked-out nickel.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

What a Cook Wants, 4

F***ing Good Beef Jerky
My dad loves beef jerky. This means I gnawed my way through a lot of it growing up, and I still think about him whenever I tear into a dried slag of meat. So when my foxy fiancé and I spent a night up in Big Bear and drove past a boldly lettered, big white sign that said BEEF JERKY, we had to stop. You know they're confident when the sign only names one food.

Inside the store they were selling overpriced candy and beef jerky in a room temperature glass case. There were 7 or 8 different flavors: hickory smoked, teriyaki nuggets, turkey teriyaki, hot chile bbq and others. The fellow behind the counter, Chris Wilson, told me he'd been making jerky for over 20 years (he must've started at 17 because he had very smooth skin and wrinkle-free blue eyes. Must be all that clean mountain living). I tried almost every bit in the case and went home with a half pound, some for me, some for my dad's Christmas present... if I can keep from eating it up!

This jerky is surprisingly moist for dried meat, expertly seasoned and very satisfying. It's probably the best I've had. And I ain't jerkin' you around.

Smokey's Beef Jerky & Candy Co. 909.866.4511. (no website!) Gift baskets start at $30 and they'll ship anywhere. Bon Appe-meat!

Friday, December 05, 2008

What a Cook Wants, 3

Storage that Doubles as Design
I love this wall-mounted wine storage unit. It's made of walnut and is silly and useful at the same time. How many pieces in your home can say that?
Full disclosure: The guy who runs Modern Cellar, the company that makes it, was kind to me when I misspelled the name of his co. in an article I wrote. Forgiving *and* makes gorgeous products? I'm a fan.
Sporadic Wall Panel in walnut by Modern Cellar, $160.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

What a Cook Wants, 2

A Knuckle Sandwich
This is for the big bruiser in your life. Maybe it's your cousin who works in "sanitation" and is always disappearing at 2am, maybe it's your high-powered attorney friend, maybe it's your mom. (We've all met those moms.)
The mug is actually a slightly fabulous piece of art, from the L.A. duo P.A.D. They're only doing runs of 100 each, so give 'em to your favorite tough cookie fast... you don't want to fight for this.
Gold Knuckles Mug in black or white from P.A.D., $98. It makes the coffee stronger and a little bitter. Grrrrrr.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

What a Cook Wants, 1

Now That's a Knife!
When you see the price of this knife, you may be confused. You may ask, but how can you recommend a common, inexpensive knife when there are gorgeous, $100-plus blades for sale out there? With a much finer pedigree, by the way.
To which I would reply: sometimes we get lucky. Sometimes we do eat the free lunch, find true love, elect the right guy. Sometimes it just works out.
This Victorinox 8-inch chef's knife with Fibrox handle sits well in the hand, has a lovely balance and a blade that will slice that carrot tip clean off.
*A note on knife giving: some folks believe it's bad luck to give someone a knife, that it's a cosmic act of aggression that brings misfortune to the receiver. Well, I'm pleased to report superstition has given us a cure, too: if the receiver offers the gifter a penny, all otherworldly threats are mitigated... if only it were that easy at all holiday gatherings.
The Victorinox 8-inch chef's knife with Fibrox handle, a mere $22. Sounds like a Christmas miracle to me!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Yoga Soup

I've noticed a funny thing: the more yoga I do, the less meat I want to eat. I've been on a bit of a yoga binge lately~ my pass was about to run out and I hate to waste money! Plus, kundalini yoga chills me out like no other legal substance or activity I've ever found.
But it's odd, afterwards I usually crave lentils. Last night I'd been to five classes in seven days, yeah! But what to eat for dinner? The exercise speeds up my metabolism, so I couldn't wait long for food to cook and was out of tofu. (Yes, I've learned to make tofu worth eating. Well done, Philly girl!)
Then I remembered, I have those white beans in the fridge I made from scratch... wow, it's been a summer of beans, hasn't it? I like to saute a mirepoix (which is diced onion, celery and carrot, the holy trinity of cooking) with a clove of garlic, throw in a pound of dried great northern beans and add a bay leaf. Pour in six cups of water and let the slow cooker do its magic on medium-high for about 6 hours. I add a spoonful or so of salt at the end, and voila! Healthy deliciousness.
Here's the soup:

Here's the recipe:

Nearly Instant Yoga Soup
serves 1 hungry yogini or 2 as first course

1 1/2 cups cooked white beans (drain and rinse a can's worth if you're not hanging out making beans from scratch)
1 handful fresh spinach
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 1/2 tsp. grated fresh ginger
1 tsp. garam masala
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. curry (if it needs it)
hot sauce to taste (sambal olek if you've got it!)
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 diced plum tomato
2 tbs. chopped peanuts
handful of fried shallots (only if you have them on hand)

Put beans and enough water to thin to your liking (about 3/4 to 1 1/4 cups) in a medium pot over medium-high heat. Add spinach and next 5 ingredients. Bring to boil and simmer 3 minutes.
Pour soup into blender or food processor. Whiz until pureed (thin with more water if desired). Return to pot and add hot sauce, salt and pepper to taste. Heat through 2 minutes more.
Pour soup into bowl and sprinkle with tomato, chopped peanuts and fried shallots.
Sat nam!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Beans of Love

Dear reader, I have discovered a true love potion. It was not what I imagined, not at all my vision of oil of rose and powder of dove with a pinch of mystery mixed under the light of the full moon.

Turns out it's Baked Beans.

I know, I felt the same way. If you told me Boston Baked Beans paved the road to true love, I would've refused to date you. But hear me out: on 4th of July, my boyfriend and I went to his mom's house to celebrate the holiday with the fam. My contribution was homemade Boston Baked Beans, prepared in my slowcooker from scratch. It's a dish I feel all native Californians could learn more about; I was doing my part. They were a hit; I made them with turkey bacon because his family is 'healthy'~ they can't help it, they're from here~ and the beans turned out nicely balanced between sweet and savory with a teensy kick from the cider vinegar to keep it interesting.

When the festivities ended, he and I headed to the LBC (Long Beach, that is) to see if we could catch the fireworks down by the water. Snoop Dogg blaring, wheels bouncing, we finally made it off the 710 to discover the cops were blocking all roads into the LBC. I guess the party reached capacity.
"Why don't we drive up the coast and try to find another spot by the water where we can watch fireworks," he suggested. He's not usually a 'let's go to the ocean' kind of guy, but I love to be by the water and it wasn't that late. Why not? As we drove the cars thinned out and the surroundings became increasingly suburban. We ended up somewhere in Palos Verdes, and I thought, 'We're lost. He has no idea where he's going. It's getting late, the fireworks are done for tonight.' I looked at the clock and decided I'd go another ten minutes before saying, 'Baby, I'm tired. Can we go home?'
30 seconds later we pulled off the side of the road onto a bluff overlooking the ocean. There were no streetlights. In the moonlight the ocean was vast and black, and when we looked up the stars shone brilliantly where the water began. We pointed out the few constellations we knew, "Is that w-shaped one the crab?" and then fell into silence.
He turned to me after a few moments and said, "Tory, I'm so glad we're best friends," and I answered, "I know, this last year has been wonderful with you Adam. I'm so glad we found each other."
Pop! About 50 yards away there was a hiss and crack as a wily teenager set off two elaborate (and illegal) glorious purple fireworks. We both were stunned and still for a few seconds as the lavender lights faded. As I turned I said, "Wow, I guess we got fireworks after all," and there he was on one knee, ring in hand.
"Tory Davis, will you marry me?" Before I could respond he jumped up and said, "I want to spend the rest of my life with you!" My hand shook as I said, "Nothing would make me happier."
We spent the rest of the evening tearing up and making out. I feel like we said our vows that night, in between weeping and kissing.

So here is my favorite photo of us, and the recipe for slow-cooked Boston Baked Beans. They taste best the day after you make them. I can't guarantee they'll bring you love, but it worked for me!

Beans of Love

serves 6 as a side dish

2 cups dried great Northern beans (they're white in the bag)

2 strips thick-cut bacon, sliced into thin strips (I like Niman Ranch)
1 small white or yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
5 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup dark molasses
1/2 cup maple syrup, ideally B grade
1 bay leaf
1 tbs. dry mustard
1 tsp. fresh minced ginger
pinch ground cloves

1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
2 1/2 tsp. salt

Rinse and sort beans. Soak overnight in enough water to cover, or pour boiling water to cover and let sit for an hour. (Or do neither and just let them cook longer at the end.) Drain.
Saute bacon, onion and garlic in slow-cooker until bacon is crisp and onion is soft. Add beans, water, molasses, maple syrup, bay leaf, dry mustard, ginger and ground cloves. Cover; cook 6 to 8 hours on medium until beans are tender.
Stir in cider vinegar and salt; cook at least a half hour more, until beans are tender and tasty.
Serve immediately, or the next day when they'll taste much better.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Cukes and Cukes Alone

Dear reader, I'm back! And I missed you. I'm sorry I was gone so long, if I were a lover I'd totally break up with me. Fortunately, I'm just your friendly food writer and intrepid eater... hopefully we can rebuild our delicious trust!

In LA we're at the tail end of a heat wave, ugh, and the only food I can think about while sweating is... cucumbers. Cool and refreshing, our long green friends came originally from India or Thailand (locales that know unrelenting heat!) and have been cultivated for thousands of years by grateful panting people.

I like that these humble, low-cost veggies can be transformed into fancy finger sandwiches for wedding showers.

Some friends and I hosted a wedding shower tea for our friend Tanya. It was a delightful soiree:

Because Tanya is of German descent, I also made tea sandwiches with very dark pumpernickel bread: I smeared them with whipped cream cheese (it's easier to spread), draped some smoked, wild-caught Alaskan Sockeye salmon (wild-caught has a brighter color, tastes better and lived a happy fish life until it got hooked) and topped each with a dill sprig.

(That's me worrying that I didn't make enough... and I always make too much.) The colors popped and livened up the fairly monochromatic cucumber sandwiches, they tasted great, and I like including elements of people's heritage into shower celebrations. That stuff matters when you're creating a new family.

So thanks for checking back in, my friends! I've got plenty more to say and eat as soon as it cools off. We'll be chowing down again soon.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Perfect Omelette

Dear readers, check it out: a three minute dinner with class... and my small screen debut as a Kitchen Coach! Please, tell your friends and fellow eaters :)

Many thanks to the ever-talented LJ: director, producer, dear friend and omelette-lover rolled into one!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Sickie Soup

Oy vey, the first part of this month I had a terrible cold, replete with fluid that filled my ears and made it hard to hear. What? Oh yes, I'm feeling better now, thanks. When one is sick and has a partner, spouse or roommate, there's a built-in Nurse Agreement for when one of you can't leave the couch (well, hopefully; if your arrangement does not include this deal, perhaps it's time to re-examine your options?). However, when you live solo and have difficulty asking for help *ahem* it presents a problem: what do you make for yourself when you're ill and just getting up to use the loo makes you sway?
I offer you my solution: Sickie Soup.
Please forgive the shaky hand~I was super-sick when I took this!
This soup has just 3 ingredients (with 2 optional additions), all of which can be kept in your larder so you don't have to forage beyond the front door. The best part? It's delicious even when you're not ill; serve it to guests and they'll never suspect you tossed it together in a mattter of minutes.

Sickie Soup*
Serves 3-4

about 1/3 of a 1lb. bag of dried cheese tortellini (Trader Joe's brand is nice)
2 14-oz. cans chicken broth (Swanson's is tastiest)
a fist-sized chunk of frozen spinach OR 3 handfuls of fresh spinach
optional pinch of nutmeg
optional grated Parmesan cheese for sprinkling

Boil the tortellini in a pot of boiling salted water until just barely al dente. (Resist the urge to boil them in the chicken broth; canned stock has a fair amount of sodium and in the time it takes to cook the pasta the broth will reduce and become terribly salty.) Drain well. Rinse out pot; add chicken stock, cooked tortellini, spinach, optional nutmeg and ground pepper to taste. Briefly bring to simmer over medium-high heat. Serve with additional ground pepper and optional Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top.

*This recipe was inspired by a similar version made by my Aunt Linda Petrone, whose cooking and warm heart always made me feel loved and cared for.