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!